Fantastic Fest documentaries can be a strange proposition. The ones about filmmakers are easy enough to find an audience, but there are always one or two just about flat-out weirdness. This year offers us LOVE AND SAUCERS, the personal narrative of David Huggins, a 72-year-old man who claims to have been abducted by aliens countless times, and bred for hundreds of babies. Later in life, the extraterrestrials gave him permission to paint his experiences and he has produced canvas after canvas from his memories, filling his studio.
Brad Abrahams, the director of LOVE AND SAUCERS, first heard about Huggins through a podcast. He tried to track him down to see if there was more of a story there, which proved difficult because the artist basically has no online presence – he is not trying to sell his artwork, he makes it for himself. Eventually he got a phone number from a neighbor. “I gave him a call and was just like, ‘I think there’s a story here. Has anyone approached you before? Are you willing to at least try to make a film?’” recalls Abrahams, “and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I think the time is right.’”
Abrahams did not realize at the time that Huggins was anxious to tell his story. He had written it is as a one man play (apparently submitted to and rejected by several theater companies) and was currently working on a screenplay. Of course, his primary means of expression is painting, which he does from memory. Going into the documentary, any audience is forgiven for their skepticism. The more Huggins talks, the more unbelievable his story becomes. But the more you listen, the easier it is to believe. His stories never waver, despite the sheer amount of detail, and he believes them so passionately.
I had a chance to speak with Director and Editor Brad Abrahams and Producer Matt Ralston shortly before the film screened at Fantastic Fest.
Abrahams: He invited me actually, for the first round of filming which was just an experiment to see if there was a story there, to stay in his house with him. I ended up sleeping in his ex-wife’s bed, whom he still lives with but she was away on vacation. I spent two or three nights just there, trying to see if this guy’s legi or, is he crazy? By the end of it, I did not have an abduction experience. I did imagine waking up in the middle of the night to him standing over me with an alien mask on. But it didn’t happen. The only strange thing was Theremin music coming from his bedroom at two in the morning. He was just watching Forbidden Planet I think, or The Day the Earth Stood Still.
BEARS: He wasn’t the one playing the Theremin?
Abrahams: No! It just turned out he was just one of the most down-to-Earth, friendly, simple-spoken, normal people that I’ve met, who just happens to have this seemingly insane story.
BEARS: Matt, how did you get involved?
Ralston: We both work for the same production company curator in Seattle. He had already edited the proof of concept for this and it had been online for a while. So I was the one who pushed our company to put some more money into it and flush it out into a feature. The crew’s been small. It’s been me, Brad, and the DP. It’s been fun.
BEARS: David. When you first met with David, what struck you about him as a person?
Abrahams: That he’s so simply-spoken. These are reality-shattering experiences for someone to have, but he almost never thinks about them. He just takes them for what they are. There’s no meta-analysis or deep thought at all about any of this. Why it happened to him, who are they, deeper meaning – anything like that. It’s just like, oh, this happened, I don’t know why. And that’s it. That actually makes it difficult to film someone like that, to craft a story around it because you really have to pull this thing out of him. Definitely a bit of a shut-in. He goes out but he spends like 90% of his waking hours in his room or in his studio, working or watching one of his thousands-strong VHS collection.
Ralston: Being in the same room with him for an amount of time, you really get the sense that he’s telling you the truth. At least, what he believes. Brad and I both believe that he had an experience of some kind. Whether or not it was physical, or mental, that’s not for us to judge. We definitely believe that he believes.
BEARS: A lot of people have these experiences. But they have one, maybe two. I think the thing that makes his story so interesting, so hard to take in, is the sheer number and the specificity of it.
Abrahams: Even chatting with people who specialize in abduction experiences or are scholars of it, they say that’s strange too. I guess he’s had over 100, that he can remember. They’re all of varying quality too. Some of when he was younger, in broad daylight, walking in a field. Then others are closer to dreams. But the fact that, over years and years, every detail he says about every single experience never wavers – it’s almost photographic or cinematic details – he’s recalling a memory.
BEARS: Did you ever think about, as part of the process, talking to people who were trying to debunk him? I would say the film has 67 minutes, so it’s got time for another 10 minutes in there. To me, if you were looking for something that wasn’t in the film – it felt like you could have had a few more viewpoints, in terms of someone saying, “this guy’s full of shit.” Even all his neighbors seemed like, “oh, yeah he’s been abducted by aliens.”
Abrahams: I thought his boss would be one of those people, but he was like, “nah, I don’t see astronauts but he does.” Even this professor at Rice University I thought would be like, “yeah, it’s a pathology or something.” But no, he believes actually in having experiences. Not necessarily alien abduction, but some kind of mystical experience. Then the dissenting voice was going to be his wife – ex-wife. I think they broke up over this. I tried to get her on camera like 10 times. Every time, it was just a flat no. She’s a great woman but I felt like she didn’t want to feed into what she would consider to be “the fantasy.”
BEARS: Right, because when he read the book on alien abduction, that’s when the marriage changed. When he started having the memories.
Abrahams: Exactly, so we did try for a dissenting voice, but it didn’t happen. We even tried to get a psycho-therapist involved and they just wouldn’t. I think this happened with Trump. I think the American Psychiatric Association said to its members, “don’t psychoanalyze him because you haven’t met him.” These psychotherapists similarly, they’re not going to speculate on someone’s mental state unless they’ve actually met this person or done sessions with them. So actually it was not easy to find this dissenting voice but I felt like… it’s pretty simple for the audience to make up that decision.
Ralston: I think Dr. Jeffrey Kripal, who is in the film, gives such a good take on it from a different perspective than a lot of other people as far as the outer body experience and how that is actually fairly common with people. I think the alien thing is pretty easy to debunk even when someone’s mind is dependent on what you believe. It’s up to the viewer to believe him or not. That’s sort of debunking, in your own mind. I don’t know if you need a scholar to tell you, “oh, this is impossible.” It’s either in your head or it isn’t. I think David does a good job of swaying people. At least, making them think that this actually could be a possibility.
Abrahams: Or less than that, just that he’s not crazy. I think that’s what people going into it are going to think. “Is this guy crazy or not? Is this guy full of shit or not?” After knowing him for years, he’s not crazy.
BEARS: Does he think that aliens have only come to talk to him or does he think they’ve talked to other people? What does he think their goals are?
Abrahams: I think he draws from the existing literature as these are experiences that happened to many other people. He doesn’t even think his experiences are that unique. His only guess is that they need people to breed because everything was so sexual. They would collect his semen and show him babies that were made. That’s his best guess, that at some point they lost the ability to breed on their own and they need humans to do it.
BEARS: So he had a little bit of instruction from the Art Students League in New York. And that was before he had the revelation. So I am assuming he painted other things.
Abrahams: Yeah. He painted landscapes and still-life and portraits. I think before the abductions those paintings weren’t really interesting. If you took away the aliens from this painting, it’s just like a naïve – there’s still skill involved but it’s not as fantastical without the alien.
Ralston: We took his paintings to – what’s the show in Miami? What’s it called? The Super Find?
Abrahams: Oh, yeah. Part of Art-Basel in Miami.
Ralston: Yeah, and we asked some of the painters what they thought of his abilities. They all said, “well, he’s not that good, but there’s purposeful brush strokes.” He doesn’t sketch anything either.
Abrahams: He goes right to canvas and paints from memory. Watching him do that is pretty impressive.
Ralston: And his skill has evolved over time for sure. I mean he even admits his earlier paintings aren’t that good. For instance, the eye painting is incredible.
Abrahams: Yeah, just as a painting?
BEARS: Yeah, that could be an album cover. Actually somebody should hire this guy to do an album cover.
Ralston: That’s a really good idea.
BEARS: I’m sure there’s a lot of metal bands who could use that. Is he willing to sell his paintings?
Abrahams: Yeah, but honestly it’s something that would never cross his mind, that he could make some money from them. He paints them for himself and pretty much, only himself. They just gather dust in his studio. When we started approaching him that someone saw the film or at this gallery show, they want to buy your paintings, he’s completely open to it. He told us that if he does sell one, he’ll repaint it because they’re memories for him. Because he doesn’t get out much, we decided to make these prints of his paintings because they’re much easier. We’ve had quite a lot of interest to buy them and it’s unrealistic to go to his home. I don’t think a lot of people want to do that.
BEARS: Where does he live?
Abrahams: In Hoboken. New Jersey.
BEARS: Yeah, nobody wants to go to Hoboken. Not even Chris Christie. Alright, so we gotta get to the real question. Do you believe in aliens? You said that you believe that he believes, but that’s not the question. Do you believe?
Abrahams: Yeah, I think nowadays it’s not even fringe to believe in the possibility of extraterrestrials. I think most astrophysics and biologists will say that there’s more odds that there are than there isn’t. I think that everyone should believe almost scientifically. I think the real question is do we believe they’re here or have they visited here?
Ralston: What’s been interesting, in recent interviews – I don’t know if you know Robert Bigalow, the aerospace mogul – he came out on 60 Minutes and said, “well, not only do they exist, they’ve been here for a long time.” … you’re getting astronauts, and you’re getting retired army generals and air force generals, that say this is absolutely happening and the government is covering it up. I think the only reason is because people would lose their shit. … If you look at the big picture and examine all the evidence, in my mind, I think I’m a believer. But I don’t know if it’s physical saucers coming down and grabbing people, or talking to people. In the film, I tend to agree more with Jeffrey Kripal’s thing that I think we don’t fully understand our own brains and this is something humans may never understand, as far as this phenomenon.
LOVE AND SAUCERS screened this last week at Fantastic Fest and continues its festival circuit at Milwaukee Film Fest, New Orleans Film Fest, Amsterdam Lift Off, and Space Visitor’s Fest in San Francisco in the next month alone.