Spring is in the air
|By Billy Cox|
Given his track record for producing straight-up UFO documentaries without all the hysterics (“Out of the Blue,” 2002, “I Know What I Saw,” 2009), filmmaker James Fox’s stumble into a National Geographic Channel “reality” show action-hero caricature last year came from — let’s just get it over with — out of the blue. Not even Fox, who was affixed to a face-camera designed to register every twitch of shock’n’awe in the event of a sighting and presumably knew what was coming, could take it. “The show was terrible. I only watched it two times,” he says “and never turned it on again.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, despite its merciless lapses in logic and common sense, or perhaps because of them, “Chasing UFOs” actually drew decent ratings last summer, maybe even enough to justify a second season. But “I couldn’t have come back even if I’d wanted to. Nobody wanted to work with me,” says Fox, who publicly razzed the producers even before the series finished its run. “We burned so many witnesses, about analyses we never did, things we promised and weren’t allowed to deliver — I can give you examples from every single witness from every single show.”
Well, a year later, “Chasing UFOs” is deader’n hell, but Fox has evidently fallen onto a trampoline. Last month, he announced a $100,000 reward for anyone who could produce proof of an alien spacecraft. That evidence, he told listeners at the 22nd International UFO Congress in Arizona, “can be in the form of a photograph, video or film footage or debris from an alleged crash site,” but “it must be able to withstand scientific scrutiny by our chosen panel.”
No panelists were named, and naturally, critics were quick to pounce. As one Skeptical website noted, “Let’s be clear, ACTUAL proof of UFOs are worth way more than 100K. So, this is sort of a gimmicky thing.”
No doubt. The bounty is part of the buildup to a new documentary, in pre-production, and Fox concedes that $100K ain’t what it used to be. “Frankly,” he said from his home outside San Francisco, “I’d like to put at least a million dollars out there, which would require raising even more funds.”
But the bigger story is how Fox rebounded from the “Chasing UFOs” debacle and partnered with an investor cobbling together a $5 million budget for the film. It’s called “701,” a project so obvious it makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before. The title refers to the number of UFO cases that Project Blue Book — the Air Force study that desperately wanted to bail on its 22-year research — couldn’t explain when it shuttered the windows in 1969. Using the USAF’s own data, Fox hopes to revive a policy-level debate that officially ended more than 43 years ago.
Fox declines to name the “701” rainmaker, but he’s collaborating on the project with Hollywood screenwriter Tracy Torme, with the goal of getting the film onto the big screen. And there’s this nod Fox gave to another big idea while pitching the $100,000 UFO reward last month:
The “Citizen Hearing on Disclosure” is being staged over a five-day span in late April and May at the National Press Club in Washington by Steve Bassett. Like Fox, Bassett has managed to climb out of a self-inflicted hole, turning a $36,000 loss from his 2010 X-Conference into an unnamed $1.1 million sponsorship to float the latest gig. If you don’t know about Bassett, that’s another riff altogether. What’s supposed to distinguish Bassett’s Citizen Hearing from other National Press Club UFO testimonials is a panel of former congressional representatives who’ll listen to the eyewitnesses and conduct the five-day proceedings the same way they did it on Capitol Hill. So far, at last check, no erstwhile public servants are on the roster. And there are few surprises on the witness list.
“I haven’t seen anything in there that’s groundbreaking or that I haven’t heard before,” said Fox. “But I admire (Bassett’s) efforts, regardless of how you might feel about him. I admire his tenacity; if it could lead to congressional hearings, hey, more power to him.”
If only F. Scott “There are no second acts in American lives” Fitzgerald had lived in the 21st century …
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