Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013: Mirage Men

Ashley Clark

Initially, it seems as though tricksy doc Mirage Men is going to focus on a fellow by the name of Paul Bennewitz, an Albuquerque, New Mexico resident who, back in the 1970s began to see odd lights from the comfort of his home. Bennewitz concluded that what he’d seen must have been UFOs. However, rather than be dissuaded by the authorities, Bennewitz was unfortunate enough to find himself the subject of a cruel and bizarre counterintelligence operation from the U.S. government. This mission, led by the implacable, slippery Special Agent Richard Dody – who we meet in a series of vaguely creepy talking heads, and who gradually becomes the closest the film has to a central character – was designed to encourage domestic paranormal speculation and throw Russians off the scent of defense development. 

That Mirage Men spins an initially intriguing tale is undeniable, and moreover its peek into the bizarre machinations of American government intelligence is particularly timely in the present era of NSA surveillance controversy. Unfortunately it’s undone by a distinctly wobbly structural approach. There’s no real thesis to speak of, and the interest generated by the Bennewitz strand fizzles out into an uninteresting narrative of smoke, mirrors and unsubstantiated, patience-testing conspiracy theories from a series of clammy characters in shadowy hotel rooms. There’s also a distinct lack of human interest on show. Other than Bennewitz, who is only ever seen frozen in time in the same haunting photograph, we’re not really given much of a reason to care about anybody. Particularly disappointingly, there is much talk about the “UFO community” but, save for some brief glimpses of conferences, we find out little about their mores, beliefs and history.

However, the filmmakers deserve credit for piecing together some clearly well-researched and evocative archive footage of post-war America (the era in which interest in UFOs took off), and there is some captivating time-lapse photography of the vast, parched Albuqueque landscapes, which will be familiar to fans of TV’s Breaking Bad.

Follow Ashley on Twitter: @_Ash_Clark  

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