My personal highlight from the 2015 Sheffield’s International Documentary Film Festival is an experimental film that poses a fundamental human question – if aliens were to land on Earth, what would happen?
Sir David Attenborough might be used by the UK government to break the news of an alien visitation to Earth (credit: Rex Features/Daily Telegraph) Sir David Attenborough might be used by the UK government to break the news of an alien visitation to Earth (credit: Rex Features/Daily Telegraph)
What plans do governments and other agencies have in place to deal with such an epoch-changing event? The surprising answer is none, according to a group of experts from the United Nations HQ in Vienna who appear in the European-made film. Among those interviewed are Vickie Sheriff, a former spokeswoman for Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, and Lord Boyce, Admiral of the Fleet. The former British Chief of Defence Staff confirms the ‘there is no contingency plan’ at the Ministry of Defence to deal with alien visitations.
But he says in the event of an alien spacecraft landing on Earth the CDS would advise the Prime Minister to consult with other the members of the P5 United Nations Security Council. Sheriff says the question ‘what do we tell the public?’ would loom high on her list of priorities if information was in short supply. What are the dangers?: ‘Our greatest fear would be of losing control’ and mass anxiety, in that ‘they will panic and think we are hiding something…people have fantastic imaginations and rightly so because this is an unprecedented situation,’ she says.
Admiral Lord Boyce, former UK Chief of Defence Staff (credit: leadersweserve.wordpress.com)
Admiral Lord Boyce, former UK Chief of Defence Staff (credit: leadersweserve.wordpress.com) Sheriff and defence analyst Paul Beaver says they would advise the Prime Minister to ‘keep it political…no military uniforms’.
But with no established rules or procedures and no obvious spokesman for humanity, they might be forced ask a trusted broadcaster like Sir David Attenborough to break the story to the public ‘because he knows about wildlife’. For his part, Admiral Lord Boyce says that despite the UN’s leading role, the default position of some countries might be to launch a pre-emptive attack.
‘When confronted with the unknown we want to bring it into the known and conquer it. My view is this would constitute a threat to world stability and peace.’
Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen‘s The Visit: an alien encounter is both thought-provoking and unsettling in the way it grapples with the theoretical possibility of an ET visit as a philosophical question. It includes contributions by experts from the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the French Space Agency CNES and from social scientist Doug Vakoch who is employed by SETI to compose interstellar messages ‘of the kind that one day may be sent in reply to a signal from ET.’
The Visit is a refreshing change from the tired approach adopted by documentary makers who insist on trying to examine the issue in the context of beliefs about UFOs and alien abductions.
Unusually for a documentary on alien encounters it begins with a direct statement of fact: that, as far as we know aliens have never landed on Earth. The Visit subverts the rules by turning the spotlight back upon humanity, asking the viewer to consider not whether aliens exist, but ‘who are we, as an Other might see us?’ and, ‘if you are truly alien, will we ever understand you?’