Ariel Phenomenon

2019 Update

On January 1, 2019, the documentary filmmakers sent out a special announcement to their subscribers:

Happy New Year from Ariel Phenomenon!

What a year we’ve had! The film is completed, mixed and mastered. It is looking absolutely beautiful, and sounding great. We are so honored to have had the chance to give this incredible archival footage, and this unique story, the attention it deserves.

We have found a wonderful composer (whose work can be heard in the recent film Fault in Our Stars, among others) to create some original music; meanwhile, we are beginning to screen it for potential distributors.

This fall we released our newest 2-minute trailer on our website!

Those who have seen the film are incredibly excited about its quality and are helping get it in front of the right people. We just can’t wait to share it with you all as soon as possible!

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the event (coming up this September), we are wishing you the happiest of 2019!

Sending our thanks and appreciation to you, our supporters.

The Ariel Phenomenon Team
Randall, Rebecca, Anne, Chris & Rikk (and many other helpers and volunteers!)

2018 Update

The filmmakers report that Ariel Phenomenon is nearly complete. “We remain humbled by and grateful for the bravery of all of the witnesses and others who have come forward, all these years later, to share their memories of that day and all of the days and years after. This film simply wouldn’t exist without their courage and willingness to be vulnerable in speaking their truth. We hope this documentary will do them proud. There’s a special place in all of our hearts for these incredible people!”

Visit Ariel Phenomenon on Facebook for more updates.

2017 Updates

SEPTEMBER 2017 – New “teaser” poster revealed:

AUGUST 2017 – A new trailer has been released along with a statement from the filmmaker:

Randy Nickerson, String Theory Films

Now with seeing somewhat the light of day on this extensive project, it brings me back to the beginning when I first received the BetaCam footage from the Dr John Mack family members. After seeing this footage, I could understand what Mack saw in the testimony of these children and the events around the Ariel School sightings. That was in 2007. This film was supposed to be just a DVD project with John Mack’s material for online sales but I had so many questions that his interviews did not answer. That began the quest to find the school in 2008. I was told it had burnt down, that it no longer existed, and then I found the name of the reporter who helped out John Mack in 1994. She informed me the school was still there and so were some of the original teachers. I booked the flight to South Africa within days. Landed in Johannesburg, South Africa and was shuttled to where I was staying. There was an armed guard with an M4 in front of the 12 foot wall that surrounded the building. I was definitely not in Kansas anymore. Went into Zimbabwe a week later with a reporter with warnings from our US State Department not to do so. Zimbabwe was in civil unrest due to the elections and the dictatorships actions against its own people. People were starving. It left an impression on me that changed me fundamentally. To be in Zimbabwe covering a story and there being another big story happening at the same time, was overwhelming. I stayed in a shack about 7 miles from the Ariel school with no electricity, no hot water. I had to charge batteries and do everything from generator power when it was running. It was a humbling and I had to buck up and face the music in ways that I was not prepared for.

Seeing the school for the first time was a moment I will never forget and meeting the teachers and those that were there in 1994 was fascinating. The school and the Head Mistress were so gracious and accommodating given the circumstances that they were under.

The Headmistress shared with me photos, drawings, and the story of the 1994 incident.

My question was “Do you really believe it happened?” Her and the 2 other teachers I spoke with and interviewed were convinced that it did. I walked the playground for days and the site where the witnesses said this silver disc was. I met with parents of the some of the children and people from Ruwa that also witnessed unusual things in the sky the day before. A paramedic who met with some of the children who were traumatized after the event. It became more and more apparent that there was an incredible story here.

I noticed on a tiled brick wall and on the walkway were the names of the children that attended Ariel School in 1994. That was the moment when I said to myself, I can find them. I didn’t know how but I was determined to do it. A woman in Johannesburg helped me set up a Facebook page. It was the advent of Facebook and social media that made it possible to find these now adult kids.

It was in 2008 that I interviewed the first witness who was in grade 7 in 1994.It began a long journey of tracking people down.It was not my intention to be an investigative reporter but that is what I had to become in order to tell this story. Locating the BBC reporter who was first on scene was a big moment. I had been looking for him for years and when I heard from him, out of the blue, I flew to England to interview him. He had kept everything from covering that event in 94. Every piece of video and even his paper scratch notes, I found other reporters and investigators had done the same thing. Whatever happened there was important enough for people to make a special place in their homes to save everything from that time.

I would find that these children were scattered all across the globe now due to the situation in Zimbabwe.

Funds were an issue and the credits will be filled with so many people who helped me. Getting to these kids was difficult. It took time, lots of effort and I was learning how to make a feature documentary all at the same time. It was gorilla film making at its core.

I had made several short films with the longest being 18 minutes but a feature documentary was an entirely different animal. The further I went and the more I found out about this story, the more I was convinced that this had to be a done properly no matter what.

There is so much more to this story, John Mack’s story, and the whole issue of life outside this planet. As I get closer to the end of this film I can finally start to talk about the journey and all the things I have kept close to the chest for so long. I look forward to that time and it is near. Thank God! It is indeed time to tell the story and bring the facts around this event to screen.

2015 Updates

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: / arielschooldocumentary.

The Ariel Phenomenon website now features an extended preview of the documentary: Visit

A note from JEMI: Donations in support of the film may be made directly to String Theory Films on their website.

All decisions regarding any additional interviews with former Ariel School students or other last-minute production additions are being made at the discretion of the filmmakers; the John E. Mack Institute trusts their judgement and encourages your support.

Producer Randall Nickerson says, “This film has been a labor of love for many years. There has never been a lack of effort or time; it’s just been a struggle to get the production funded. Nevertheless, we’re close to completion and it will be done this year. This will be the definitive documentary on this incident and will introduce a new audience to John Mack’s heartfelt approach to the subject. Most importantly, it will give a voice to all those who experienced something profound. This is the final push and we could use any help possible.

About the Production

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.

On September 16, 1994 at the Ariel primary school in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, 60+ school children claim to have seen a disc-shaped object land behind the school during the morning break time. Two strange beings were reported, one of which approached the children. What they witnessed had a profound impact on their lives; an impact that has continued to this day.

Dr. Mack (who died in 2004) wrote about this event in his 1999 book Passport to the Cosmos, and he shared 3 minutes of the original video recordings of his interviews with the students on the television program Sightings in 1996, and a couple minutes more with Unsolved Mysteries. On YouTube, the popularity of those brief excerpts (traded around in ever-diminishing quality) has been enduring because of the power of the students’ testimony.

Listen to an Ariel School student
interviewed by Dr. Mack (mp3)

In 2007, at the request of the John E. Mack Institute, filmmaker Randall Nickerson began production of an edited video program that (as originally conceived) would present the entirety 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.

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. Leech’s interview for Ariel Phenomenon was his only interview about his coverage of the Ariel School event, and it was recorded just months before his untimely death.

• 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. As word of the production spread, more former students got in touch with the production and they have been interviewed as well.

About the Filmmaker

Randy Nickerson, Filmmaker, String Theory Films
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.

Earlier Updates

2015 Updates

In December 2015, the filmmakers traveled with a former student (now living in Canada) to the site where it all began. This completes the extra filming that was made possible by donations; editing has resumed.

2014 Updates

Click here to listen to Randall Nickerson talk about the 1994 Ariel School sighting and how the then children feel about the encounter today. Interview by Martin Willis on Podcast UFO, October 1, 2014. This is Randall’s first live interview since he began his research.

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: And remember there is also an official John E. Mack author page on Facebook at

Remembering Zimbabwe’s Mass UFO Sighting – 20 Years On”, an article about the Ariel School sighting, has been published on the website 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.

2013 Updates

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).

Various contractual matters have been agreed to between Nickerson’s String Theory Films and the John E. Mack Institute, providing a clear path forward.

2011 Updates

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.

2009 Updates

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)

2008 Updates

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 —— You can also contact Nicky Carter at 072 632 2330 or producer Dominique Callimanopulos on ———
Check out the website:

© 2008 The Witness, The Witness, 45 Willowton Rd, Pietermaritzburg 3200

Download PDF of the actual newspaper page or Read at The Witness newspaper website

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
2008.08.26 p.4

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 ——

This article was originally published on page 4 of Cape Times on August 26, 2008,