We’re Not Alone in the UFO Encounter Documentation ‘They’re Here’

There’s a documentary subgenre that can be roughly summarized as “look at these freaks.” “They’re Here” isn’t that kind of movie, at least not most of the time. The 74-minute film, directed by Daniel Claridge and Pacho Velez, is short and sweet. Billed as a human perspective on alien encounters, it consists of a series of interviews with people in the apparently sizable UFO community in upstate New York who believe their lives have been affected in some way by aliens.

The directors use an extremely light hand throughout most of “They’re Here.” We never see any of the film crew, and we only hear them briefly, asking a softball question to one of their subjects. The only moments where the film feels like it’s taking on a slightly mocking tone are in a few sporadic fantasy scenes that interrupt the interviews, where a subject is beamed into the sky or re-enacts a UFO sighting via cheap-looking special effects. The directors also avoid being prescriptive about whether or not the things their subjects describe are ‘real’ – it’s a film concerned with emotional truth, not cold, hard facts.

Conspiratorial thoughts are inherently isolating; make it your life, and you end up on the margins of society, often in questionable company. So it’s remarkable how much “They’re Here” goes out of its way to portray its subjects as deeply connected to other people, despite their self-reported encounters with inhuman intelligences.

Dave, a Scarsdale man who thinks he captured cellphone footage of an alien plane during a DIY psychedelic therapy session at his local park, cuddles with his siblings as they rewatch the video, talks to customers at the gas station where he works, and feels sorry for his mother because he feels like he doesn’t belong where he lives: in a suburb of New York City. She tells him she feels the same way sometimes. Multi-abductee Cookie, who has founded a Rochester-based UFO meeting group, supports her boyfriend Steve as he struggles to remember his own encounter through hypnosis. (Steve is the inventor of a board game called “UFOria,” which he hopes will help players remember their own encounters with aliens). The palpably awkward stand-up comedian who fails to connect his UFO material to a crowd can still test his jokes on his roommate, who doesn’t seem to believe as hard as he does, even though they were together during his supposed UFO sighting. Cheryl Costa, a retired aerospace worker and UFO journalist, travels to lecture on alien encounters to a quasi-attentive audience and wrote a reference work – 20 years of UFO sighting data, collected in a bright pink book – with her research partner: her wife .

“They’re Here” is largely an atmospheric film, a collection of short character studies stitched together to create a softly focused portrait of a scene rather than an overarching narrative. As a result, it was not always easy to pay attention to it. In fact, it probably would have been easier to concentrate if I watched it the way many people (anecdotally) watch UFO-related media: stoned.

But even though the interviews sometimes blur into each other, the message of ‘They’re Here’ is clear: we are not alone.

“They’re Here” plays as part of Tribeca Festival on June 11 at 8:15 PM and June 15 at 5:45 PM at Village East by Angelika. Check out other Hell Gate recommendations from the festival here.