Dr. John Mack interviewing Bart, Grade 7

Dr. John Mack interviewing Bart, Grade 7

On September 16th, 1994 at the Ariel School in rural Zimbabwe, over sixty school children described seeing a disc-shaped craft land behind the school during morning break time. Some of them reported seeing two beings approach the group. There were multiple sightings of unusual aerial phenomena by thousands of Zimbabweans during this same time period. 

Whether or not you believe there is life beyond our planet, this is an intriguing story that includes a BBC war reporter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard psychiatrist, hundreds of hours of archival footage with those present in 1994, and interviews with witnesses and others today. It struggles with the aftermath caused by such an event, and strives to answer the question “What happens when you experience something so extraordinary that no one believes you?”

Drawing by an Ariel School student

Drawing by an Ariel School student

The children were interviewed immediately after the event by Tim Leach, BBC Bureau Chief for Zimbabwe, and then by several other news agencies. Noted Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack traveled to Zimbabwe to interview the children in depth due to the unusual nature of this event. After exhaustive investigation, Dr. Mack concluded that the children were not making up the story.

Though this story was initially publicized worldwide, it quickly disappeared from the public eye but not from the hearts and minds of those who witnessed it. For twenty years many of the witnesses have felt that their voices have not been heard. Until now.

Filmmaker Randall Nickerson was approached by the John Mack Institute and asked if he would be interested in making a documentary about the Ariel School event. What struck him about the original interviews was the sincerity and sense of truth demonstrated by the children about what they said they had witnessed. They had seen something that affected them profoundly. Nickerson expanded on the original project and traveled to the school several times, where he began to locate the now-adult children, teachers and other previously unknown witnesses. He has now been to Zimbabwe three times, as well as around the US and UK collecting footage for the film. A character-driven travelogue that follows a witness back to the scene of the event, the film explores the aftermath on the lives of those touched by the event. This story caught the eyes and ears of a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor at Harvard University, Alan Dershowitz, attorney Daniel Sheehan and many others of note which led to a first-of-its-kind battle of worldviews in the ivory towers of academia.

As Nickerson began to interview the children, now in their late 20s and early 30s and some with families of their own, it became clear that this story was not over for them. The event continues to have a deep impact on many of their lives. Their courage, conviction and consistency, both then and now, makes it difficult to dismiss this account as a child’s imagination.