quinta-feira, 12 de abril de 2012

Westall '66 : A Surreal Suburban Tale by Rosie Jones (Australia, 2009)

Nobody denies that if all birds of land and sea suddenly, for any unknown natural reasons, or even perhaps for some mysterious genetic conspiracy, would decide to attack us, we would be really in big trouble. This ad absurdum scenery as quasi last ornithological "fantasy", immortalized in Hitchcock`s classic and its "realism", is nothing else then the actual camera`s cinematographic fictional eye precisely just because those damn bloody treacherous birds do not have good intentions with us and waited patiently for the right moment to attack.

This assumption of verisimilitude underlying each narrative structure also extends to the documentary form as well as to the newspaper news, which is also an exercise of fiction, because the perspective that underlies it is always manufactured, although we see it as a given second nature, as something self-evident.
When man walked on the moon for the first time in 1969, the New York Times produced perhaps one of the the most beautiful and almost "pristine" of all news headlines ever conceived. Playing with the required journalistic distance before an event so colossal, involving the whole of humanity, the NYT staff wished to counteract the tide of feelings around the world. For the first time something like an "unity" around what Humanity should be as a point of view went beyond political divisions, so how to reestablish a journalistic perspective above this consensus at that unique moment in History, in other words, how to achieve that meridian and also fictional point of view also called "journalistic impartiality". This was the chosen headline: “Men walk on the moon”. It sounds like if Martians "saw" men on that satellite who, for strange reasons, should not be there.
What is simply extraordinary in Rosie´s documentary is at first sight how he manages to break that stupid dichotomy around a taboo subject for journalists in general, it means, that silly common place play between "debunkers" and "believers" in this genre, as a high school discussion about what is right or wrong.

The point here is not if you believe or not, or how you interpret what has been seen. It is irrelevant whether if it were a military experiment, an "alien" spacecraft or a mass hysteric panic reaction. What really matters here is how these repressed memories and imaginary haunt and extend their shadow over the lost of the eye`s innocence in the childhood and how to cop with these feelings. Rosie´s point of view emphasizes how the human fictional eye organizes and simultaneously represses the experience, an experience which is always manufactured. But by whom, finally, how to become subject of his own experience and not simply an passive object, since flying saucers, by definition, can not exist. Rosie lights up the shadow zone of this manufacturing, how it is repressed,returns and how it can be re-incorporated into the actual current experience.

What is also extraordinary beautiful in this documentary is the ambiguity between that naive look of a child and the subsequent official denial. Children do not lie and that morning something very strange and inexplicable as the eternal and infernal Hitchcock’s birds invaded Westall to haunt forever their lives. 

Lee Whitmore`s illustrations gave the poetic tone of this nightmare. There is nothing worse for an open society than repression. What is repressed always will return in a brutal way. When printing was invented by Gutenberg, thousands of witches and heretics were burned by the proliferation of fairy tales and hoaxes. My site Urânia is also a plaidoyer for the imaginary and for the desublimation of the eye based on a Fichte´s sonnet, a German idealist Philosopher, about the double look of Urânia on the text of reality, the muse of astronomy and cosmology: "what lives in my life, sees in my seeing". Seeing is manufacturing a fiction, seeing is always a game.
José Galisi Filho

What to my eye has given such wondrous power,
That all deformity has ceased to be;
That night appears as brightest sunlight hour,
Chaos as order, death as life to me?

What through the misty clouds of time and space
Leads me unerring to the eternal flow
Of beauty, truth and goodness and of grace,
Wherein with self is lost all selfish woe?

Tis this : since in Urania s eye, the still,
Self-luminous, blue, and transparent light,
My soul has looked, all thought of self being gone,

Since then this eye rests in my depths
And is my being – The eternal One
Lives in my life, sees in my seeing

When I came across an article about the Westall UFO sighting in The Age in late 2005, I was immediately drawn to it. Here was a surreal suburban tale with a detective character on a search for truth at its core. It embraced themes I had explored in my previous films (Visions of Yankalilla and Holy Rollers), but took them in a fascinating new direction. I met Shane Ryan, the subject of The Age article, and he leapt at the opportunity to be involved in a documentary.

Shane and I both thought we'd have the mystery solved in a year or so, but the story was buried much deeper than either of us expected. Witnesses had moved away or changed their names. Some had died with their stories. Authorities seemed reluctant to talk to us.
Our investigation led us into all sorts of archives and revived an amazing network of friends and families who lived in Westall in 1966. Hearing the stories of the eye¬witnesses who were brave enough to speak to us was a wonderful experience, especially as the sense that something had indeed been covered up grew stronger with each story. Thrilling, frustrating, puzzling and rewarding - it's been an unexpectedly rich experience.

In the course of this extensive research, I discovered how damaging the typical media response of ridiculing witnesses to UFO sightings had been. It took a long time to gain people's trust and some important witnesses are still unwilling to divulge their memories for fear of public ridicule. Although I found out that many top-level scientists had been (and still are) secretly active in UFO research, in public, UFOs are still on the fringes of respectability.
After three years of solid research, filming and editing, we've emerged with a gripping and cinematic story that uncovers new evidence about the sightings while it asks big questions about truth, trust, belief and responsibility. What are the effects on children when adults refuse to listen to them, or tell them that what they saw didn't exist? What are the ripple-down effects on society when those in authority lie?

On 6 April 1966, in the Australian suburb of Westall, hundreds of students, staff and local residents watched as a strange object hovered overhead for several minutes, landed briefly, then lifted off and vanished. Witnesses described it as low flying, silver-grey and shiny, shaped like a 'cup turned upside down on a saucer' and accompanied by five light aircraft.

A mass of excited students surged out of school and ran after the object. Many reported seeing a circle of flattened grass on the ground where it had landed. Others observed men in uniforms cordoning off the 'landing site' and removing soil samples by the truckload. Some say they saw uniformed men torch the area a few days later.

The incident was reported on television news that night and in the local newspapers. But despite the evidence, that day at Westall High School, the headmaster called a special assembly. He told students and staff that they had not seen a flying saucer -in fact, they hadn't seen anything at all. And they were not to talk about it to anybody.
Afraid of being ridiculed or punished, many witnesses kept the secret of that day. Some are still angry about not being believed. Others say the incident has affected their lives and continues to haunt them today.
Forty-four years on, amateur sleuth Shane Ryan is stirring up the past. Motivated by a deep sense of injustice at how the students were treated, he's tracking down former students and staff and searching for the authorities that presided over the day.

This contemporary detective story is set against the backdrop of an Australian city, but it reflects on a fascinating and pivotal period in world history when rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union was played out in a massive conventional and nuclear arms race, the space race and the Vietnam War.

With its undercurrent of Cold War paranoia, and a burgeoning military relationship between Australia and America, this 1960s story has deep resonance in the current climate of cover-ups and lies delivered by governments in the interests of national security.

The visual challenge was in representing something that was officially invisible - the events of the day and the UFO itself. In 1966, people didn't have cameras or mobile phones on hand as they do now, and the only footage of the aftermath of the sighting had apparently gone missing.

I wrestled with the question of how best to represent the past. I hadn't directed drama before and I worried that our very small budget wouldn't allow us the time, crew or equipment to create convincing re-enactments.

The decision to work with the very experienced animator, Lee Whitmore was key to the feel of the film. I'm delighted with the way her highly textured images, laboriously hand-drawn with charcoal and animated frame-by-frame, capture the raw emotions and childlike innocence of the day with great intensity.

Mark Street's multi-layered sound design and an eerie musical underscore from composer Jamie Saxe add tension and mood to the animated memories.
We were lucky that Westall High (now Westall Secondary College) gave us access to formal class photographs of teachers and students and wonderful archival film footage, shot by Westall High School media students around the time of the sighting.

The resulting film is a rich mix of dramatic eye-witness accounts, evocative animation, atmospheric archival footage and stylish motion graphics that tells a compelling story about ordinary people caught in an extraordinary situation.
While it investigates a UFO sighting from the past, Westall '66 also deals subtly with core notions of belief, truth and faith. It's impossible to consider the existence of UFOs without thinking about who or what may be flying them, and many of the witnesses admit the sighting has opened their minds about other civilisations that may exist 'out there'.
Recent statements in the media by highly-respected public figures have re-opened this intriguing debate.
Father Jose Gabriel Funes, the Vatican astronomer and an internationally respected scientist, overturned centuries of Vatican denial by saying he believes it is highly likely that other intelligent life forms exist in the universe.
Then former NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon and a respected scientist, said that he has seen many UFOs and this fact has been covered up by governments for the last 50 years. These statements support our witnesses' claims and challenge current attitudes to UFOs.

Although Shane Ryan and other protagonists are clearly searching for the 'truth', the film is about much more than that. In the process of uncovering what happened that day, it explores issues of personal and national identity, and pits our attitudes to authorities in the past against contemporary expectations about secrecy and government.

Shane Ryan, a Canberra father and teacher, first heard about the Westall UFO story some years ago when he came to Melbourne to attend university. As someone with a deep interest in Australian history, government and the democratic process, as well as a passion for science fiction, Shane was immediately drawn to the story. It was a 'real' mystery that combined his two special interests in an extraordinary way. He started sleuthing in his spare time and very soon was 'hooked' on it.

He says:
This is the biggest mass UFO sighting in Australia, yet it seems to have been suppressed - deliberately kept out of the public view. Like the witnesses, I want to find out why.

As a former teacher, he'd like to see the students' experiences become a point of discussion in contemporary classrooms, through the film. How would teachers and students of today respond if a UFO flew over and landed near their school? Would the authorities be able to suppress information today as it seems they did in 1966? What can be learnt from the past about different attitudes to authority, and the change in teacher/student relationships between then and now?

Shane's quest to find the elusive 'proof' of what happened at Westall has taken more than four years and will continue until he is ready to publish a book that collates his findings.

Jacqueline Argent, Keith Basterfield, Harry Berger, Norman Bury, Bill Chalker, Joy Clarke, Lawrence Cummings, Brendan Dickson, Jeff Holland, Kevin Hurley, Gail McKirdy, Les Medew, Claude Miller, Peter Norris, Terry Peck, Lisa Ryan, Brendan Ryan, Max Samblebe, Suzanne Savage, Gerry Shepherd, Graham Simmonds, Marilyn Smith, Neil Smith, Paul Smith, Ron Sullivan, Victor Zakruzny


We were out playing sport on the oval. One of the kids yelled out 'Look, look - up in the sky - it's flying saucers!'. And I remember we all looked up and it really was - a flying saucer. TERRY PECK

All the students were just running all over the place, hysterical. My girlfriend and I sat on the fence - climbed the fence at the school boundary - and we were crying, thinking it was the end of the world. MARILYN SMITH (NEE EASTWOOD)

Like a lot of other people I just shut up about it because of the ridicule, and it was everybody - you know - you were a kid, you were making it up. So you'd just be quiet and in your mind, you just think, I know what I saw, and no one's ever going to shake me from that. I know what I saw.

You're asking me whether a Research & Development establishment would destroy evidence? Yes, of course they would...

The director, Rosie Jones first contacted me to see if I'd be interested in animating sequences for her documentary after seeing my film, The Safe House on SBS. She was particularly taken by the black and white animated sequences that re¬created newsreel footage from 1954. I agreed right away since the Westall story was so unusual and interesting.

Rosie sent me photos of the school and its students and a set of notes, while I started trying to work out a visual style for the film. I explored paint on glass, charcoal drawing on paper - both with lots of permutations.
I began storyboarding from Rosie's notes and gradually we developed thirteen sequences. The storyboard was done in pencil drawings, working as much as possible from the photos we had from 1966. Some of the sequences we imagined as a series of still drawings and others seemed to call for full animation. I then created an animatic (a storyboard shot to time) to which Rosie added some rough sound, to see how it would work dramatically.
At this stage I asked to go down to Melbourne (from Sydney) to meet Rosie and Carmel and visit the school - the site of the UFO sighting in '66. Perhaps I thought there would be some revelation or even a repeat sighting - I don't know. I wasn't disappointed. It was a very positive step in the process and it motivated me enormously.
Rosie and I then spent a day cutting the animatic sequences into the live action footage, which really helped us work out how best to continue. We were still undecided about the visual style of the finished art, endlessly tossing up between charcoal drawings and painted black and white imagery.
When I returned to Sydney Rosie called: I was to go with the charcoal! And so I did.
The next stage was spent with my head down, fingers covered in black soot, working to get the artwork completed. The animated sections were done drawing directly under the camera - drawing in, rubbing out and redrawing, continually animating until each shot was complete. The images were recorded digitally and put together on Final Cut Pro to send to Melbourne.
It's always good to finish animation work, but I have to say I felt quite sad at the end of this quite long process to no longer be involved with all the wonderful characters who populate Westall '66. I had gotten to know them all and now I would put their photographs back in an envelope and my drawings I would stack on a shelf. I hope the film and the animated sequences bring them and their amazing story to life once again.



Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts Film School in 1985, Rosie Jones has established a reputation as an award-winning documentary writer, director and editor. She directed the one-hour documentary Holy Rollers, a wry look at Christian pilgrimage amid the tensions of Israel (Melbourne International Film Festival and SBS-Television) and Visions of Yankalilla, about an apparition of the Virgin Mary that appeared on an Anglican church wall in South Australia (St John's International Women's Film Festival (Canada), Hot Springs Film Festival (USA), Mumbai International Film Festival and SBS-Television). Her editing credits include numerous single documentaries and series commissioned by Australian and international broadcasters. She is currently writing/directing two documentaries, The Art of Walking: A History of Subversion (in post-production) and The Triangle Wars (in production).

Carmel graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology with a BA in Media Studies and has been producing independently for the past 7 years. She has been commissioned to produce three shorts for the Australian Film Commission including The Audience, which received a Dendy Award nomination at the Sydney International Film Festival, and Paul's Beautiful Laundrette, screened at Silverdocs AFI/Discovery Channel and the Melbourne International Film Festival. Her Film Victoria short drama Parts of a Horse was pre-selected for Cannes Film Festival, received an Australian Teachers of Media nomination, and screened at Kinofilm and Vermont International Film Festivals. In 2004 Carmel formed Endangered Pictures Pty Ltd, to make the documentary Endangered (MIFF 2005, FIFO Tahiti 2006, Real Life on Film 2006, DOXA Vancouver 2007) for SBS Television. That year she also made the short drama The Road Ahead (Palm Springs International Film Festival, Uppsala Film Festival, Sao Paulo Film Festival and Flickerfest 2005). She currently has a feature Love Motel and the documentary The Divided Heart both in development with Film Victoria.


Peter has 25 years of experience as cinematographer on a diverse range of productions, including feature films, documentaries, short dramas and television series. Awards include a Gold Award for Cinematography from the Australian Cinematographer's Society for his work on the feature In Too Deep. Recent projects include the feature Takeaway, the documentary series The Shearers for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Welcome to My Deaf World (nominated for Best Documentary in the Australian Film Institute Awards 2006), and Family Footsteps Series 1 and 2 for the ABC.

Lee Whitmore is a Sydney based independent animator. Her beautiful hand drawn films are mostly autobiographical, about childhood, memory and family. They have been shown at Festivals around the world, receiving numerous awards. They include Ned Wethered (1984), On a Full Moon (1997), Ada (2002) and her most ambitious film to date, The Safe House (2006). Lee has combined her own filmmaking with teaching and creating sequences for many Australian feature films and documentaries.

Chris is an award-winning director, editor, animator and visual effects artist. His short films The Funk, Excursion and The Heisenberg Principle have screened at over 100 international film festivals, garnering countless awards. In 2003, Cris received the Emerging Filmmaker Awards of both the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Film Critics Circle of Australia.


Jamie Saxe has been working on music composition for documentary film and television since 1994. He has composed music for children's television series The Wayne Manifesto and Fergus Mcphail, for which he received a nomination for best children's music in 2004. His documentary film credits include Surviving Shepard's Pie (2001), Last Valley (2005) Endangered (SBS, 2005) and Alter Ego (SBS, 2008) and he has also written for adult drama (Marshall Law) 2002. He has also released an album on ABC music through his rock band for children, 'The Mighty bUZZniks' with whom he continues to perform.


Mark Tarpey is one of Australia's most experienced sound recordists. Over the last 25 years his work has included feature films, television drama and international documentaries. Amongst his many awards are several Australian Film Institute Awards for Best Sound on documentary and drama productions, including the documentary Vietnam Nurses in 2006.

Mark graduated from the Swinburne Film and TV School in 1982. From stills and cinematography, he moved to editing and sound design, joining the ABC in 1989 to work on drama, comedy and documentaries. Here his work was awarded a Gold Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival for Best Sound on Mysteries of the Wandering Albatross. He has also won awards for Best Sound on Lizards of Oz at the Missoula Film Festival, and Best Sound at both the New York Festival and at the Australian Sound Guild Awards for Australia, Land of Parrots. He is now also producing and directing.

The film takes viewers on a journey into the collective memory of this extraordinary event that swept into the everyday lives of witnesses like a "bolt out of the blue". Students, teachers and nearby workers all share, in startling detail, their recollections of the day's events. Many of their stories are revealed here for the first time.
Unfolding like a classic detective story, the film is driven by the search of tireless investigator Shane Ryan, who has his own, very personal reasons for wanting to uncover the truth. It is both a riveting investigation into Australia's own 'Roswell' and a powerful examination of belief, truth, imagination and memory.

- Filmed over three years using thousands of hours of research
- With numerous government departments refusing to comment
- Whole boxes of official files missing, lost or unaccounted for
- More than two hundred witnesses were contacted and asked to speak out for the first time about Australia's biggest mass UFO case.


- 19 JANUARY 1966, TULLY, QUEENSLAND: George Pedley was driving a tractor on a cane farm when he saw a saucer-shaped object rise out of a swamp and fly off at speed. In the swamp he found a perfectly circular, flattened area of reeds floating on top of the water. The reeds were swirled clockwise in a circle of about nine metres in diameter. A search later found two smaller "nests" about eight metres away from the first "nest".
- 24 JANUARY 1966, PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Mr L Benedek was taking photographs during the evening when he saw a bluish green light. He described it as "oval shaped with an antenna on the front" and said it dropped towards the river at terrific speed. He managed to take two shots. The Royal Australian Air Force examined them and later received requests for information from the US Pentagon.
- 2 APRIL 1966, BALWYN, VICTORIA: When his garden was suddenly lit up with a strange light, a witness looked up to see a mushroom-like object that seemed to be floating towards the ground. As it made a 180° turn through its vertical axis, he took a Polaroid photograph. The object then flew away at incredible speed. Seconds later a loud boom was heard.
- 4 APRIL 1966, BURKES FLAT, VICTORIA: Ron Sullivan was driving at night along a straight stretch of road in Central Victoria when he saw a bright, cone-shaped light in a paddock in front of him. Suddenly his car's headlights veered to the right for no apparent reason and he had to struggle to keep the car on the road. He reported the incident after a young man, Gary Taylor, died on the same spot two days later. A saucer shaped depression, about one metre across and 12 centimetres deep, was found in a paddock where the light had been seen. No human or animal tracks were visible at the spot.


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