In 1994, Harvard Professor of Psychiatry John E. Mack, M.D. traveled to Zimbabwe with research associate Dominique Callimanopulos to study one of the most extraordinary UFO sighting/alien encounter cases in modern history.
At the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, sixty-two children between the ages of eight and twelve reported seeing a UFO and “strange beings” during morning recess. Dr. Mack, who died in 2004, wrote about this in his 1999 book Passport to the Cosmos, and he shared 3 minutes of clips from the original video recordings of his interviews with the students on the television programs Sightings in 1996 (2 minutes and 51 seconds, to be exact).
In 2007, at the request of the John E. Mack Institute, filmmaker Randall Nickerson and Dominique Callimanopulos began production of an edited video program that would present all of John Mack’s interviews with the schoolchildren and faculty, digitally remastered from the original Betacam footage that was shot between November 28 and December 6, 1994. This footage demonstrated the skill and sensitivity Dr. Mack exercised when working with people who reported extraordinary experiences — and the power of the students’ testimony never failed to move.
|Listen to an Ariel School student
interviewed by Dr. Mack (mp3)
The film became a consuming passion of Nickerson’s, and he set about broadening the scope far beyond expectations.
In 2008-2009 Nickerson spent 9 months in Africa, discovering new witnesses that corroborate the students’ accounts. In England, he interviewed BBC reporter Tim Leech who was on the scene within days of the sighting, who first brought the case to the attention of Dr. Mack.
And most importantly, in 2010 Nickerson succeeded in finding many of the former students who had since moved from Zimbabwe to other countries. He re-interviewed them to hear their adult perspectives on what happened.
The definitive documentary about the Ariel School sighting is now nearly complete.
As of 2013, approximately one hour of edited program now exists. Refinement of this hour and editing of an additional hour is underway. 2 additional former students have been located (in Canada and Australia) and are being interviewed. (See Updates, below)
Randy Nickerson, Filmmaker
Randy Nickerson has worked on both sides of the camera, as an actor and a filmmaker. He has a keen interest in the human condition and trauma recovery. His most recent work includes a film, titled “A Silence in the Heard”, about the significance of listening and silence on an interpersonal and global level. Randy is also a classical pianist and nature photographer.
The filmmakers have launched a Facebook page. Join this page to be among the first to hear news of the upcoming completion of the Ariel School documentary: www.facebook.com/pages/Ariel-School-Documentary/543246072451817. And remember there is also an official John E. Mack author page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JohnEMackMD
“Remembering Zimbabwe’s Mass UFO Sighting – 20 Years On”, an article about the Ariel School sighting, has been published on the website EducatingHumanity.com. The article is recommended, but be aware that the author’s supposition that Nickerson’s documentary is dead is not accurate; neither is it true that 2 hours of Nickerson’s footage appeared on YouTube – rather, someone bootlegged several minutes of footage that Nickerson had shown to an audience at an event and mixed that together with the usual clips from SIGHTINGS and UNEXPLAINED MYSTERIES and Stephan Allix’s EXPERIENCERS that have been floating around for aeons.
One hour of edited program now exists. Refinement of this hour and editing of an additional hour is underway. 2 additional former students have been located and are being interviewed.
5 minutes of footage (archival footage and/or Nickerson’s new footage) has been licensed to James Fox’s documentary “701” (2015).
Despite the death of the film’s primary funder, former JEMI board member Sandra Wright, work on the Ariel School Sighting film has continued thanks in large part to filmmaker Randall Nickerson, who has endeavored to work on the film between other paid jobs. Naturally this has extended the time-frame for when the film will be completed, but progress has been substantial.
Boston Globe article
Say you’re a documentary filmmaker. Someone comes to you with four hours of riveting archival footage taken in Zimbabwe starring a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard psychiatrist, and asks you to turn it into a film. It involves travel. Investigative work. A mystery… (Read Article)
The South African newspaper The Witness reports on the progress of the John E. Mack Institute’s documentary about the Ariel School Sighting. By the way, the article generated over 8500 views for the newspaper, 6000+ from the United States. As comparison, a top news story in The Witness tends to generate between 1500 and 5000 views, so this article received substantially more attention than usual.
The day the aliens landed
16 Apr 2008 Stephen Coan, The Witness
American film maker Randall Nickerson is currently visiting southern Africa to make a documentary that follows up an incident that happened at the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, in 1994, when 62 children aged between eight and 12 reported seeing a UFO and “strange beings” during their morning break.
Those children are now young adults scattered around the globe. Nickerson is tracking them down and interviewing them about the experience. “Their stories have not changed at all,” he says. “Not what you would expect if they had made it all up.”
So what exactly happened on that day in 1994 at the school in Ruwa just east of Harare? “It was morning break and they were out in the school yard playing,” says Nickerson. “They saw one main silver craft that had four others around it,” says Nickerson. “It came down on a hill beyond the school yard that was out of bounds. The boundary was the edge of the school yard, then it was bush and the hill.
“They ran to the edge of the school yard to see what this thing was. They saw this small creature walk around on top of the craft while another came down to check out the children. He was all in black, with a very tight suit. The children said he had big eyes ‘like rugby balls’.
“The children had direct eye contact with this creature. There seems to have been some kind of communication with the children about the state of the world — what we are doing to the planet, the destruction we are causing, although not all the children got this message. Some of the children were traumatised, others were excited. The young children were the most traumatised as they were at the front of the group.
“They all went screaming back to the teachers. The teachers didn’t believe them at first. But then they went home and told their parents who came to the school and wanted to know what had happened.”
Soon afterwards the children were asked to draw pictures of what they had seen. “They did this separately. The drawings were all the same.”
A BBC television crew were first on the scene to follow it up. In November 1994, Harvard professor of psychiatry John E. Mack visited the school and filmed interviews with the children. He was assisted by South African producer Nicky Carter who had already made a short documentary on the subject for the SABC. “I had a half-brother at the school,” she says. “He was off sick on the day it happened, but the children told him all about it and he contacted me.”
Carter has no doubt the children were telling the truth. “When they were interviewed by Mack with all his professional skills it was clear they were telling the truth — their voice tone, their body language. They were so consistent, they told their stories with such conviction. And they spoke about it in their own language. One child recalled being told by the alien that we should not be so ‘techknowledged’ — why make up something like that?”
Mack, a Pulitzer prize winner for his biography of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) titled A Prince of Our Disorder, was a highly respected psychiatrist. However, when he began researching the phenomenon of reported alien abductions, his fellow academics looked askance. In 1994, when his book Abduction appeared, a committee was appointed to review Mack’s clinical care and investigation of the people who had shared their alien encounters with him. According to the BBC, “It was the first time in Harvard’s history that a tenured professor was subjected to such an investigation.”
After 14 months of inquiry, Harvard issued a statement stating that the dean had “reaffirmed Dr Mack’s academic freedom to study what he wishes and to state his opinions without impediment”.
In 2004, Mack was killed by a drunk driver while he was visiting London to lecture at a T. E. Lawrence conference.
Mack was guarded in his interpretation of the abduction phenomenon. To one interviewer who said that Mack seemed “inclined to take these [abduction] reports at face value”, Mack replied saying: “Face value I wouldn’t say. I take them seriously. I don’t have a way to account for them.”
In a BBC interview he said: “I would never say, yes, there are aliens taking people. [But] I would say there is a compelling powerful phenomenon here that I can’t account for in any other way. Yet I can’t know what it is but it seems to me that it invites a deeper, further inquiry.”
Nickerson sees himself as taking that inquiry further after being commissioned by the John E. Mack Institute, along with producer Dominique Callimanopulos, to make a documentary incorporating the interview footage shot in 1994 with follow-up material shot in the present.
“I want to present the story objectively,” says Nickerson. “To show the original raw material. That’s what initially interested me about this case. These children all describing seeing the same thing. You can tell they are not lying. But having seen this footage I thought: I need to go to this place, to talk to people, I need to investigate it for myself. Did this really happen?
“The subject has to be approached as scientifically as possible,” he says. “There are questions that we need to ask. It’s a case of presenting the evidence just like court.”
Despite this rigorous approach, isn’t there a danger he will simply encounter those on the “lunatic fringe”? “I have found those are the people who have all the answers, but people to whom something like this has really happened don’t. They have millions of questions. There is a humility about them, they realise it’s not about them.
At the beginning of the project Nickerson set about contacting those people who had been among the 62 children who had witnessed the sighting. They are mainly students in Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Britain.
Tracking them down hasn’t been that difficult. “They are contacting us because of what we put up on the John E. Mack Institute website. What is interesting is that their stories remain the same as in 1994.
“They were affected profoundly,” says Nickerson. “At the time one girl was told by her parents not to talk about it, that she had imagined it all. But then she found other people’s stories on the Internet. She got in touch with them and realised ‘Oh my God, that was real’.
“Others I’ve met never doubted it. They say the experience opened up new horizons for them.”
Nickerson cites two students who are now studying in the U.S. “Their father said they would never have done that, but after their experience the children were totally changed, that’s what convinced him that something really happened.”
Nickerson’s first stop during his visit to southern Africa was Ariel School. “I interviewed teachers and workers who were there at the time.” He also came across people from two different schools in the area who had similar sightings on the same day.
Nickerson is now in South Africa trying to track down those living here who were witnesses on that day. He will be here until the end of April following up leads resulting from two radio interviews he has given.
If you witnessed the Ariel School sighting or have any information regarding it, you can contact Randall Nickerson at — — —- or e-mail email@example.com You can also contact Nicky Carter at 072 632 2330 or producer Dominique Callimanopulos on firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2008 The Witness, The Witness, 45 Willowton Rd, Pietermaritzburg 3200
The South African newspaper Cape Times also reported on the continuing progress of the John E. Mack Institute’s documentary about the Ariel School Sighting.
US film maker in city to probe UFO sightings
Tom Powell, Cape Times
American film-maker Randall Nickerson is in Cape Town this week seeking inspiration for a documentary he is putting together about a UFO sighting in Zimbabwe in 1994.
During morning break on September 14 of that year, 62 schoolchildren between the ages of eight and 12 saw a strange craft land 150 metres from the Ariel School in Ruwa, from which two small beings emerged which were described as having “big eyes like rugby balls”.
The children’s individual descriptions of the phenomenon were so similar that news of the sighting spread around the globe.
Nickerson was approached with footage taken by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Professor John Mack, who travelled to Zimbabwe to interview the children after the event.
Nickerson said: “This is a story the world needs to see. Personally, I think it’s moving. I’ve found hundreds, if not thousands, of people who believe it and couldn’t find anyone who didn’t. It blew my mind when I saw it.”
Although Nickerson admits the footage of the event makes it difficult to disprove the phenomenon, he doesn’t want his film to be biased.
“I don’t want to steer the documentary in any direction at all. I’d rather present all the evidence and let people make up their own minds.”
Refusing to believe so many people can be mistaken, Nickerson is visiting southern Africa to shed light on those events.
Having visited the school itself, Nickerson is now in Cape Town to track down some witnesses and investigate some “unearthly” sightings that occurred in South Africa, including two UFO sightings in Port Shepstone and Johannesburg in April.
Anyone who saw the event in Zimbabwe can contact Nickerson on — — —- or by e-mail at email@example.com
This article was originally published on page 4 of Cape Times on August 26, 2008, http://www.capetimes.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=4576833