Director: Scott Lazer
The American desert is an important location in US culture, a space so desolate that its flat, dusty emptiness offers a blank canvas for all kinds of storytelling. It is a place of spirituality and freedom associated with the Burning Man Festival; a place of violence and confrontation in plays like True West and, perhaps most famous of all, an alleged landing site for UFOs.
Scott Lazer’s short documentary captures the moment when a fake Facebook post had a group of enthusiasts and believers racing to Area 51 in the Nevada desert, the home of a US military base, hoping to find evidence of alien contact. Visitors avoids the hoax itself to focus on the people obsessed with tracking extra-terrestrial activity, and the local residents of Rachel, Nevada besieged by strangers and the intractable desert landscape.
Running at just 11-minutes, there is a lot of content in Visitors, capturing the varied experience of arrivals as well as some interesting associations between the search for non-human life and belief in God. “I don’t believe in aliens,” an unnamed local woman claims, happy to see the town dwindle from 105 to 60 residents in recent years, “but I definitely believe in God… I know how he treats me and blesses me, aliens ain’t done nothing for me [sic]”. By contrast, a young man sitting on the porch of Rachel’s Baptist Church claims to have envisioned a stranger with curly hair who subsequently appears, proof, he states without the slightest irony, that he is a prophet. Lazer certainly has an eye for the quirky and unexpected.
Eschewing voiceover and explanatory screen-cards, Lazer allows his characters to speak for themselves, a wry comment on the obsession with UFO experiences, and various interviewees recount their lights in the sky narratives. But Lazer is equally fascinated by the endless feel of the landscape and how its barren solitude retains a mystical property, waiting to be filled by the imaginings of its visitors with their faith in some form of other-worldly power.
And you can see why. Taylor McIntosh’s cinematography is stunning, from the orange light that illuminates the dust-filled air, dramatic sunsets and the roads that stretch to infinity, the power and beauty of this half-alive place fills the screen. If Visitors feels like a trailer for a much more comprehensive work then we can only hope it follows, as there is so much more for Lazer to explore in the comfort the idea of other realities gives to people, the certainty it creates and the enduring nature of the US desert as the place to imagine it all.
Out Now here