UFOs return to Sonoma film fest with 9th symposium

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Alien Encounters

What: UFO Symposium at Sonoma International Film Festival

Where: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St.

Date: Saturday, March 30

Time: 10 a.m. (movies); Noon - 2 p.m. (Panel discussion)

Program: "Aliens at the Pentagon" (2018)

"The Nimitz Encounters" (2017)

UFO Experiencer/Witness Panel with lunch

Information: ufojimsonoma.com.

Take our poll and tell us about your UFO experience in the comments.

Jim Ledwith has been producing his UFO Symposium at the Sonoma Independent Film Festival for nine years. This year it’s Saturday morning, March 30, at 10 a.m. in Andrews Hall.

So what makes this one different? “This year is about disclosure,” he says. “Which we technically had on Dec. 17, 2017.” He’s speaking of the revelation – in the New York Times, no less – that the Pentagon had a secret study called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a “disclosure” that is documented in this year’s symposium feature, “Aliens at the Pentagon.”

The film is narrated by Nick Pope, a former British government investigator who was an inspiration for Fox Mulder in the series “X-Files.” In classic the-truth-is-out-there style, “Aliens at the Pentagon” amasses scraps of unofficial footage mixed with mainstream media, interviews with astonished witnesses, and the exhumation of the Pentagon’s AATIP, a small program that ran from 2007 until 2012.

This is a first-time local screening of “Aliens at the Pentagon,” though it’s available streaming online for a fee. It’s followed by “The Nimitz Encounters,” a briefer documentary about a 2004 encounter between Navy jets from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and dozens of Tic-Tac shaped objects for which no rational explanation has been put forward.

Which is not to say there are not explanations, and the panelists that follow are sure to offer a few. Among them is David Beaty, who produced the Nimitz short to recreate the 2004 sighting. “The answers seem to elude everyone, like reflections on the waves. Yet – they are out there,” the narrator intones. Truthfully the film is more software animation than breaking news, and its disclaimers admit that, while based on real events, the film “is not presented as fact.”

Ruben Jose Uriarte, a field investigator of MUFON (Mutual UFO Network), and military aerospace historian Michael Schratt are the other panelists, as well as Ledwith himself; Stephen Basset moderates. They will explore the two films and possible theories for secret government agencies, UFOs and alien encounters, and are open to questions or shared experiences from the audience.

Ledwith suggests that, since the belief in extraterrestrials is growing, Andrews Hall is likely to be packed – thanks in part to the History Channel’s two popular programs, “Ancient Aliens” and “Project: Bluebook.”

“All of a sudden, people want to talk about it,” he said. “So I believe we’re going to have a major full house; I mean, we’re probably going to be turning people away.”

While the cliché of an “alien encounter” generally produces a tolerant if not skeptical smile, Ledwith himself acknowledges that he has had at least one – the latest five years ago, on Cavedale Road. “That makes me an ‘experiencer,’” he says, using the now-preferred term for one who has met an alien, or possibly paid a half-remembered visit to an alien spacecraft.

UFOs have been reported since the late 1940s – a private pilot reported nine shiny objects zipping past Mt. Rainer in June, 1947, the same month a debris field was located north of Roswell, New Mexico, that many believed at the time to be an alien spacecraft.

Starting in the next decade, alien abduction stories began surfacing with greater frequency, some of them with disturbing tales of probes and experimentation. It’s tempting to dismiss these reports as the result of hyper-active imagination under the influence of motion pictures from “Invaders from Mars” (1954) to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and dozens of others, but psychologists in general don’t find the “abductees” any more paranoid or susceptible to fantasy than the general population.

Over time, it’s probably inevitable that the “aliens are among us” idea caught hold, the latest iteration being a belief in hybrids – half-human, half-alien life forms (which perhaps explains those uncomfortable abduction experiments). Ledwith is one such believer: “We have abductions, we have a hybrid program – or one of the species does – and their possible integration into our society, which is going on right now in my opinion.”

Ledwith said that while “full disclosure” may not come in his lifetime – he’s 73 – he seems dead certain the day will come when alien visitors, hyper-dimensional spacecraft, even hybrids will be widely recognized. He said he’s recognized a few hybrids himself, and they could even be in the audience on Saturday morning.

But they’ll have to wait in line just like everyone else.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

Alien Encounters

What: UFO Symposium at Sonoma International Film Festival

Where: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St.

Date: Saturday, March 30

Time: 10 a.m. (movies); Noon - 2 p.m. (Panel discussion)

Program: "Aliens at the Pentagon" (2018)

"The Nimitz Encounters" (2017)

UFO Experiencer/Witness Panel with lunch

Information: ufojimsonoma.com.

Take our poll and tell us about your UFO experience in the comments.

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