DAVID’S DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Ariel Phenomenon (2022)

Regardless of your thoughts on UFOs or UAPs, over the years there have definitely been some cases that have stood out as being very plausible. Whether it’s actual evidence or the stories told by competent people, to this day investigators are still scratching their heads as to what happened. Roswell, Betty and Barney Hill, Travis Walton. These three stories have stood the test of time and continue to be investigated. The Ariel Phenomenon can definitely be added to this list.

On September 16, 1994, there was a UFO sighting outside Ruwa, Zimbabwe, 62 pupils at the Ariel School aged between six and twelve claimed that they saw one or more silver craft descend from the sky and land on a field near their school. One or more creatures dressed all in black then approached the children and telepathically communicated to them a message with an environmental theme.

The BBC’s correspondent in Zimbabwe, Tim Leach, visited the school on September 19 to film interviews with pupils and staff. After investigating this incident, Leach claimed “I could handle war zones, but I could not handle this”. Leach added that stories such as this are career suicide as UFO reports were often met with ridicule.

Cynthia Hind, from the African chapter of MUFON, visited the school on September 20, 1994. She interviewed some of the children and asked them to draw pictures of what they had seen. She reported that the children all told her the same story in such a way that convinced her something genuine happened. She added that if all of their stories were 100% the same then she would know that all of the kids got together and concocted a story. Because all of the children told the same story, but from their individual perspectives, she knew that they were being honest.

That November Harvard University professor of psychiatry John Mack visited the Ariel school to interview witnesses. Throughout the 1990s Mack had investigated UFO sightings and had a particular interest in the alien abduction phenomenon. In May 1994 the Dean of Harvard Medical School, Daniel C. Tosteson, appointed a committee of peers to confidentially review Mack’s clinical care and clinical investigation of the people who had shared their alien encounters with him (some of their cases were written of in Mack’s 1994 book Abduction). The issue was that Mack had communicated to these people that their experience may have been real. After fourteen months, Harvard issued a statement stating that the Dean had “reaffirmed Dr. Mack’s academic freedom to study what he wishes and to state his opinions without impediment.”

Between one and four creatures with big eyes and dressed all in black, exited a craft and approached the children. At this point many of the children ran but some, mostly older pupils, stayed and watched the approach. According to Mack’s interviews the creature or creatures then telepathically communicated to the children an environmental message, before returning to the craft and flying away. According to Dunning, this telepathic message aspect of the story was not included in Hind or Leach’s reports, only Mack’s, although Hind reported it later.

One only needs to look at the interviews with the witnesses after the event. Their stories are emotional, and, in some cases, you can see how scared these children are, on the verge of tears. If this encounter was a hoax, one or more of these children would’ve cracked under the pressure of all of the interviews and said it was all made up. To this day, the witnesses stand by their stories, and they have not waivered. Though many of the children are interviewed as adults, the story really follows one of them, Emily Trim, and her experience and her return to the place where it happened.

Emily experienced this encounter and said she was very close to the beings. After the event happened, her and her brother were pulled out of Ariel School by her parents, and they moved to Canada. Being religious, her parents did not believe her at a time when she really needed their support. As a result, she often felt along and to help cope, Emily turned to her art. Seeing her visit the school, that she claims to be home because she loved it so much, is heartbreaking at times and you know her struggle is real.

Emily was able to reconnect with people from her past, helping to validate what she experienced. Though the visit did not offer closure, it seemed to give her an extra strength in dealing with her encounter. Something she also reconnected with is her original drawing from 1994, something she thought was lost forever. As much as this is a story of children experiencing something that they did not understand, it is also a reminder of how peers should respond to such claims. Regardless of the beliefs of the adults, these young children very much believe what they saw. It was scary and for some, traumatic. Telling your children that they didn’t see what they claim they saw does not help at all. All it manages to do is hurt the child and, in many cases, they may shut down should something scary happen again instead of talking about it. Sometimes they just need to be heard to feel validated.

This documentary is powerful. It is emotional. Director Randall Nickerson should truly be commended for bringing so much heart to a subject that is often laughed at. In recent interviews Nickerson states that there is additional interview footage now seen in the final film. I would love to see a Blu-ray release of this amazing film with that extra footage as a bonus. I have watched Ariel Phenomenon multiple times and have had an emotional response each time. This isn’t about UFOs. This isn’t about aliens. It’s about 62 children who experienced something scary and how their lives were affected by it.

~David Albaugh

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