Strange Septembers


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Strange Septembers
"The film's scattershot approach doesn't really succeed in building up much of a case for the alien theory, nor in mounting an effective challenge to it."

In September 1961, Barney and Betty Hill were driving through rural New Hampshire when their attention was caught by strange lights in the sky. Stopping the car, they later reported, they saw what appeared to be an alien spacecraft descending towards them. Later they would realise they had lost track of time that night, and they would start to have strange dreams, leading them to believe they had been taken inside it. Sure, you might say, a lot of people have told such stories. But the Hills were a mixed race couple - people safer keeping a low profile in Sixties America - and Barney was a political activist, someone whose work depended on people taking him seriously. So why would they make up such a thing?

Four years later, in Exeter, also in New Hampshire, a teenage hitchhiker and two seasoned police officers reportedly saw what they took to be a strange craft in the sky. One of the officers had military flight experience. He said it moved like nothing he had ever seen before. Other people in the area also reported seeing strange things. Alongside the incident involving the Hills, it became one of the most difficult supposed alien encounters to explain away.

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Or did it? This documentary focuses intently on the credibility of witnesses, the details of their statements and what might be surmised therefrom. It spends virtually no time looking at alternative possible explanations (in the later case, ball lightning springs to mind). Some of the supposition is really drawn out, piling one poorly supported conclusion on top of another and ding a real disservice to the initial accounts, which are, at the very least, credible to the point that it would seem the witnesses genuinely believed what they reported. Meanwhile, what might be genuinely intriguing points are overlooked, such as the fact that the star system Betty claimed was drawn for her by an alien would turn out, decades later, to be home to one of the closest Earth-like planets outside our own solar system.

As a record of the original cases this is an important documentary, and it includes some interesting details, such as the fate of a pair of dress shoes which Barney believed where damaged when he was dragged through undergrowth by alien captors. Betty was passionate in her defence of the aliens, insisting that they meant no harm to Earth's inhabitants, and Exeter natives concur, making the reasonable argument that anyone with the power to travel across space could probably have killed us all with ease if they'd wanted to. Some interviewees extrapolate from this in a way that has more to do with the popular science fiction of the era than any meaningful chain of logic, and the selection of interviewees is a bit odd - James Earl Jones played Barney in a film but does that really give him any authority on the subject? There's a disappointing lack of actual scientists but there is at least some input from the military, taking on popular theories abut a military cover up (but not, curiously, looking at issues around the military's own hardware, though anything relevant should be declassified by now).

The film's scattershot approach doesn't really succeed in building up much of a case for the alien theory, nor in mounting an effective challenge to it. What is positioned as enduring mystery seems to be more about muddle. It's a shame because there's lots of interesting stuff to explore here. Nevertheless, Strange Septembers presents an adequate potted history and points the way towards further research possibilities for those with an existing interest in the subject.

Reviewed on: 30 Mar 2016
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A documentary about possible alien contact incidents The Hill Abduction And the Exeter Encounter.

Director: Jeff Finn, Jess Finn

Writer: Jeff Finn

Starring: Peter Weller, James Earl Jones, Stanton Friedman, Judd Fuller, Ted Loder, Kathleen Marden, Dean Merchant

Year: 2011

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: US


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