Documentary (?) Sidebar : “Six Days In Roswell”

Posted: March 28, 2011 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

So — what really happened in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947? Was it a UFO crash? A weather balloon, as the government later stated? Or something else entirely?

Well, don’t look to 1998’s quasi-documentary Six Days In Roswell for any answers. But that doesn’t mean this bizarre Borat -prototype isn’t all kinds of fun.

The Minneapolis-based brains behind the Trekkies documentaries thought they’d take a look at the world’s largest annual UFO festival as part of their ongoing (although it seems to have stalled out in recent years) cinematic examination of the more bizarre corners of Americana, and the result is, in fact, a pretty solid hoot, yet never degrades its subject, which is rather welcome in the TFG household since my wife and I are firm believers that there is, indeed, something out there. Still, even we’ve got to admit that the flying saucer crowd contains its fair share of eccentrics, and while they get plenty of screen time here to make their case, the filmmakers (specifically director Timothy B. Johnson, producer Roger Nygard, and “star”/host Rich Kronfeld), while never going out of their way to make these folks look — you know, normal — resist the easy impulse to point fingers and portray them as being freaks and losers. Mostly you get the feeling that the folks who head down to Roswell over the July 4th holiday every year are eccentrics with a passion, and surely the world could use a whole lot more of them and a lot fewer corporate-ladder-climbing yuppie assholes.

Rick Kronfeld is our “point of entry,” so to speak, to the whole UFO crowd — he’s essentially portraying a character “based on an exaggerated version of himself” (for instance he doesn’t really still live at home with his mother, doesn’t work at the non-existent “Gopher Pride” electric-power-strip manufacturing company, etc.) and his whole raison d’etre for going down to Roswell is because he wants to be abducted by aliens and that kind of thing just never happens here in Minnesota.

The rest of the film essentially consists of his “in-character” interviews with folks down there and explorations of the various activities that make up the annual UFO festival. Respected UFO researchers like Stanton T. Friedman and Budd Hopkins are allowed to (briefly) make their cases, but mostly he just talks to regular folks, and you come away feeling that the average “UFO nuts” is, essentially, somebody just like you and me — who happens to believe they were abducted by aliens.

Now, how much of this set-up is “for real” and how much is purely staged is a good question, and that’s where the DVD commentary with Johnson, Kronfeld, and Nygard comes in handy. They lay out exactly what’s what in no uncertain terms (and do so in a very entertaining manner), but definitely watch it through first without the commentary and then listen to it to see what you as a viewer may have gotten right and wrong (some of it’s certainly obvious, but other things — such as the fact that they actually went to Roswell two consecutive years, for both the big 50th anniversary shindig in 1997 and again in 1998 — is much less apparent).

And on the subject of DVD extras, the fine folks at Synapse Films have loaded this one up with goodies. Not only do we get the aforementioned commentary, but there are also trailers for the film, a “making-of” featurette, a slew of deleted scenes, and an intriguing selection of earlier works (often of the home-made-when-they-were-kids variety) from Messrs. Johnson, Kronfeld, and Nygard, to boot. As far as the technical specifications go, the full-frame transfer (this was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm) and stereo soundtrack are both just fine.

All in all, Six Days In Roswell is a blast. A certain Mr. Baron Cohen definitely owes these guys a debt of gratitude, but unlike his films, this one never slides into snide condescension of its subject matter, and never becomes more about the “star” than the events he’s observing. Okay, so it’s not an actual documentary per se — it’s still pretty damn honest.

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