Since the dawn of man, human beings have been looking to the sky in both awe and suspicion. Be it angels or extraterrestrials, there are literally thousands of reports of people witnessing or even coming into contact with celestial beings, stretching all the way back to ancient times. Of these alleged incidents, however, few are as emblematic to UFO-aficionados as the Betty and Barney Hill abduction, and the Exeter encounter. Jeff and Jess Finn’s documentary Strange Septembers ambitiously attempts to chronicle both events through a series of interviews featuring a collection of ufologists, government officials and a few others.
For those who aren’t familiar with these stories, Betty and Barney Hill were an interracial couple from Portsmouth that claimed to have been abducted by an alien craft in rural New Hampshire in September of 1961. Both were considered respectable members of their community, often involved in civil rights issues, so their story came as a shock when it was finally publicly disclosed in 1963, sparking a surge of public interest in extraterrestrial phenomena.
The Exeter incident, on the other hand, was a highly publicized sighting of unidentified lights in the skies over Exeter in 1965, once again in New Hampshire. The incident was considered notable due to the amount of respectable witnesses present and the apparent proximity to the Hill abduction, leading to a massive amount of conspiracy theories and a new wave of ufologists attempting to piece together the facts and find out what really happened.
Narrated by none other than the original Robocop, Peter Weller, the documentary swiftly explains the basics of these mysterious events while still leaving enough room for the imagination. Interviews with family members of the deceased witnesses help to build a sense of proximity to the events, reminding the viewer that the people involved were just regular folk caught up in extraordinary circumstances, which is refreshing when much of the film can be viewed as purely fact-based and ‘educational’.
Estelle Parsons and James Earl Jones, who previous played Betty and Barney Hill in the 1975 TV movie The UFO Incident, add their own flair to the story, discussing some of the racial and political issues that plagued America at the time and proposing their own theories amongst other relevant figures. Even so, Strange Septembers is informative and surprisingly impartial in its presentation of personal opinions and government responses, neither condoning nor condemning even the most outlandish and obviously misdirected explanations.
This impartial approach is what will ultimately define how much the audience enjoys the film. Some of the information-heavy segments may carry a certain overbearing National Geographic vibe, which reduces the entertainment value considerably for those already not invested in ufology and paranormal studies. Overall, however, Strange Septembers does a remarkable job of making these real life stories seem interesting without resorting to improbable conclusions or exaggerated events, which makes it a must-watch for fans the ‘genre’ and casual viewers looking for a believable mystery.
You can rent the documentary over at the film’s official website.
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