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Starlight Express


Tribeca Festival


They're Here (2024)

Those in search of understanding and knowledge in a difficult world can look inward, or outward, or if they're so inclined look upward to the stars in search of alien visitors. "They're Here" profiles a group of upstate New Yorkers on that third path, people who have seen unidentified flying objects or met the U.F.O.s' passengers; events that led them to rethink their place in the world and perhaps who they themselves are as well. This process takes different forms. They seek reassurance from academics that the data does support their experience, or allow hypnotists to root around in their memories, or just seek other people in the same boat who won't stare at them skeptically. Daniel Claridge and Pacho Velez's calm, compassionate, perhaps too restrained documentary is about individuals with a variety of differences but at least one common trait: the wary and weary expression of people whose stable frames of reference were bumped six inches sideways and took them with it.

Close encounters don't make the news anymore, and these days U.F.O.s are to be called Unidentified Anomalous Phenomenon; a dry barcode intended to disenchant the issue. When the film's subjects, whether ardent believers or just seekers, run into these forces of disenchantment the results can only be poignant. Cheryl Costa, a statistician, presents her data showing a modern increase rather than decline in U.F.O. sightings to a professor of science philosophy for affirmation, and gets a gnomic philosopher's response about the nature of knowledge. Twon Wood, trying to build a career as a young comedian, tells an open-mic audience jokes about his experiences; his earnest intensity puts them off, the comedian disconcerting his confessors. Steve Falcone, an older metalworker and craftsmen, processes his experiences into the creation of a board game called "U.F.O.ria," with game play conspicuously requiring one player to persuade another about the veracity of events. Mr. Falcone, now 65, was involved in a car accident when aged only two, and is self-aware enough to wonder what role old traumas play in modern dilemmas.

Mr. Falcone is just looking for peace of mind. And who isn't? As the warming world cracks up, the esoteric margins grow larger, more welcoming, more relevant; and more interesting. But whether U.F.O.s are or are not real is both too crude and too deep a question to tackle, leaving documentaries like this one to look instead into the faces of people who have been dragged deeper into the thicket. In this case those people are pointedly trying to make peace with their experience rather than leverage it. No one here is out in the desert thumbing a vertical ride or pestering the F.B.I. about the stealth government or aiming to leave the planet with Comet Hale-Bopp. Mr. Falcone's knowledge can look a lot like a burden, which is why it was game of him and the other participants to play along with the documentary's decision to ginger up its visuals with some fake lights in the sky for them to look at. The soundtrack includes "Love in Outer Space" by Sun Ra, who famously encountered some aliens of his own before being taken to the planet Saturn for training in the art of conceptual psychic jazz-funk. That one-off option being no longer available, the folks in "They're Here" are just trying to play the cards they have been dealt, much like the rest of us.


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