Prior to its Arizona premier at the Sedona Film Festival, I had the opportunity to chat with director Daniel Pace about his new film, The Appearance of a Man, which investigates strange happenings over the Valley of the Sun in 1997:
I wonder if it is wise to show The Appearance of a Man in Sedona, given its reputation for having vortexes and energy fields, but Argentine director Daniel Pace is eager to show his film, where he hopes it will garner the same praise its received in Monaco and San Diego (where Michael Tassoni took an acting award).
NC: Lots of people, myself included, saw these lights over Phoenix back in 1997. What inspiration did you take from them to craft the film? Is it based on any theories that circulated after their appearance?
DP: I didn’t see the lights that night but I heard the news, and the controversy generated by the sightings in the following days, and weeks. I was very intrigued because, coming from South America, I’ve heard of similar stories before, except that in some of the stories I’ve heard, not everything happened in the sky but on the ground as well. The whole episode intrigued me to the point that I wanted to do something, at least investigate it, but while everyone was wondering whether it was a UFO or a military exercise, I went into a completely different direction.
I went to Mexico, where similar sightings had been reported along with accounts of “alien” encounters. After several eyewitness interviews, I started to realize that whatever people were seeing and coming into contact with — man or alien — the experiences these people went through had a mystical, or spiritual dimension. These findings coincided with some accounts from Phoenix, and I began to work on the script as it developed. As I had more conversations with witnesses and people who were coming up with stories, I started to recognize a pattern — there was something paranormal to all this, something even spiritual, something that we can’t just explain with our understanding of science, something that transcended our sense of reality. So the film is not based on and doesn’t address any of the circulating theories, but rather it proposes a different way to look at this phenomenon and asks the viewer a few questions — answers that only can be found within ourselves.
NC: Do you like filming in Arizona? What do you think of your cast (that includes a lot of Phoenix talent like Michael Tassoni, Richard Glover and Tom Basham)?
DP: Arizona is a great place to film for many reasons: consistent weather, great locations, it’s not expensive, but mainly this story happens here, in the city, in the desert, even in parts of Mexico. The actors you mention, along the entire cast, were magnificent, top notch. Michael (who also co-produced the film with me) is an incredible talent who gives you what you want and adds his own touch of genius. Richard is probably one of the best actors in Arizona and the US. Tom is a formidable actor with a profound soul. I can put a camera in front of his eyes and just tell a story by looking inside. He has so much to offer. Slade Hall is another talented actor. He’s the kind of actor that has a terrific film presence. The camera adores the guy.
NC: You've shown the film in San Diego, Monaco and now Sedona. What has excited you most about how audiences react to the film?
DP: It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for the audience and us. People react in many different ways and I guess it has to do with how they perceive it. The film is abstract in many ways because it deals with mysticism, and I wanted by all means not to be preachy or force my views on people, so a lot of the ideas in the film are presented as questions for you to ponder.
I think it also depends on what your expectation is. Since the film is about a UFO episode, some come with a preconceived idea and leave with something completely different. A lady told me that she was so shaken by the film that it helped her resolve a major issue in her life, while a man asked me, very upset, “Where were the aliens!?” Like any film, this one is not for everyone, nor do I expect everyone will love it, but it is thrilling when people come to me and tell me that they were so moved, or as someone said at a festival, “It’s such a profound film”. That makes all the efforts worth it.
NC: What do you want people to take away from The Appearance of a Man?
DP: In one of the scenes, one of the characters says, “Everybody is looking for meaning.” I think we are all looking for meaning, in our lives, in the things we do, in our relationships, in everything around us. Religions have been providing answers for centuries about the meaning of it all, but a lot of us are still looking, trying to comprehend, trying to make sense of everything around us.
For those of us still looking for answers, that is why I made this film. But unlike preachers and gurus and experts, I don’t know it all. I don’t have God (he or she or it) all figured out, or what the hell is a UFO made of, or what is a sin or not. All I know is that I have a few questions and sometimes the answers are not to be looked up in a book, but inside ourselves. That’s all.
The Sedona Film Festival will run from February 24 to March 1. Click here to watch the trailer for The Appearance of a Man.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.