Phenomenon Documentary

The Phenomenon, James Fox, 2020

The Phenomenon, a 2020 documentary directed by James Fox and narrated by Peter Coyote (whose pedigree includes Ken Burns’ documentaries), is a remarkably credible treatment of the UFO / UAP phenomenon from the 1940s through the present.  The film focuses on credible sightings and credible witnesses, interviewing a wide range of military and government officials, and provides extensive archival images and footage, as well as recreations. 

The documentary ties together seven decades of sightings into a coherent narrative that establishes a consistent presentation of the type of craft and behavior of the craft sighted. Despite the required spooky documentary background music, the power of the interviews cannot be overstated. In fact, for the viewer, the question soon shifts from “Are the alien sightings I hear about legitimate?” to “Are there aliens living on earth right now?”

Documentaries often require a dose of skepticism as the art form can encourage the bias of the directors, who sometimes ignore or downplay contradictory or complicating evidence. One wonders if this is the case in The Phenomenon as the sightings all seem to center on oval craft of roughly the same shape and size. The directors had the luxury to focus only on credible sightings and to ignore sightings that do not adhere to a pattern.

By focusing so much of its 101 minutes on sightings from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the documentary anchors itself in a period of UFO sightings that has been ridiculed in the collective mind of the public.  The director addresses the government effort to undermine what were credible sightings, but through the lens of time and black-and-white imagery even this credible treatment of the issue sometimes seems to suffer from the old stigma. The viewer yearns for a greater discussion of contemporary sightings, and the Phenomenon does deliver, including incidents covered in recent media reports prompted by the New York Times disclosures on USS Nimitz encounters. The film adds several new dimensions to the overall story by providing eye-witness interviews on reported UFO / UAP interference with American and Russian nuclear installations, and on a reported 1994 alien encounter with school children in Zimbabwe — both incidents that might be unfamiliar to the viewer.

Fox chooses to end the piece with the school children episode, perhaps because it is the most exotic story and he wanted to prepare for it by first presenting all the other evidence, or perhaps because the interviews with the children, who witnessed the alien craft and the aliens themselves, are so powerful and credible. The interviews from 1994 and the recent follow-up interviews leave no doubt in the minds of viewers that dozens of honest people fully concur on the same exact details of a close encounter.

Interview subjects include United States Navy Lt. Commander David Fravor, one of the primary witnesses of the Tic Tac craft in 2004; Doctor Jacques Vallee, a French computer scientist and astronomer who has led science-based investigations into UFO encounters; Edgar Mitchell, Apollo astronaut and sixth person to walk on the moon; Harry Reid, U.S. Senate Minority Leader; Leslie Kean, journalist and author; John Podesta, former White House Chief of Staff; Bill Richardson, former Governor of new Mexico, and Christopher Mellon, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

The documentary is currently streaming on Amazon, Vudu and Fandango.


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