In 2019, a Facebook event called "Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us" was posted by Matty Roberts, a 20 year old student from Bakersfield, California. As a result of his post, thousands of people descended on the small town of Rachel, Nevada - twenty seven miles north of Area 51.
The event, however, turned out to be a hoax.
Fascinated by the reaction to this social media post - and its impact on the town’s residents - director Scott Lazer and his cinematographer, Taylor McIntosh, made their way to Rachel. Their investigation led to the creation of Visitors, a thoughtful and beautifully shot documentary short film.
Visitors avoids the path that you might expect from a film about an alien festival gone viral. It does not explore the event's social media beginnings and it does not exploit Rachel's visitors for comedic purposes.
Lazer treats his subject's beliefs and opinions with respect. No matter how outlandish their views, Visitors remains open-minded. The film is genuinely fascinated by a group of people who dare to be different. This fascination is infectious... and, who knows, they may well be right.
That is not to suggest that Visitors lacks humour or, indeed, moments of skepticism. Interviews with Rachel’s residents give the film balance and some much needed insight into the problematic reality of such gatherings.
Meanwhile, the documentary is particularly easy on the eye thanks to McIntosh’s use of stunning visuals and sepia tones. Visitors' cinematography and John Carpenter-esque score gives the film a mesmerising, timeless feel.
Lazer was inspired to make Visitors after “Storm Area 51” memes began to flood the internet. “If this had taken place in a convention centre or an arena, I wouldn’t have been interested in the story at all. But because this social media phenomenon would be downloaded from the internet to the real world, that hooked me,” he says.
“I had saved a little nest egg with the intention of waiting for a story that intrigued me enough to jump on it quickly, and this seemed like just the right amount of absurd, but also potentially thoughtful, fodder that I would want to make into a film,” Lazer explains.
Intrigued by the convergence of groups of people who do not tend to interact, Lazer and McIntosh booked flights to Las Vegas and rented a van, which then became their transportation, lodging, and production office. Arriving before the world’s media (who, of course, soon descended), they were able to get to know some of the locals and interview a number of the visitors.
Lazer was interested in what their stories would reveal about our desire to know if we are alone in the universe. “I suppose it would be natural to wonder ‘Do I believe that alien life exists? and my answer would be: absolutely,” the director concludes. “I think the likelihood that we are not alone in the universe greatly outweighs the alternative.”
Visitors will be released on Vimeo on 22nd September 2020.