Calling All Earthlings explores the first UFO cults, led by George Van Tassel, a one-time Howard Hughes confidante. Van Tassel combines aliens with “outsider science” to build a rejuvenation machine. Is he crazy or could the electro-magnetic Integratron really work? FBI agents try to halt the army of eccentrics who gather in the desert to create a collective, possibly threatening reality on the edge of the stultifying American Dream. A gentle inquiry into alternative culture, the story is told by the current residents of the Joshua Tree area, who must defend against rampant militarism and commercialization, all while still waiting for their spaceship. Featuring Eric Burdon, historian Kevin Starr, Morongo Indian elder Ernest Siva; with music by Elliott Sharp, Clive Wright, additional appearances/music from Victoria Williams and Dave Catching. 77 minutes. 2018.
"Flying saucers, visitors from outer space, federal agents, and a time machine all meet up in the Mojave desert in this engrossing look at the life, work, and followers of eccentric George van Tassel. Berman's film offers a candid and unique look at the ways in which our postwar fascination with UFOs has fed both utopian dreams and conspiratorial fears."
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Do you believe in magic?
Calling All Earthlings is the true story of Howard Hughes, the Postwar avant-garde, and a mad genius named George who took off from the California desert in a flying saucer.
In 1947, George Van Tassel, a Hughes employee and confidante, suddenly quits working for his mentor and ditches the straight life, moving deep into the Mojave Desert where he and his family sleep under a rock. He leaves behind a tattered Los Angeles in the grips of postwar paranoia, opting for the quietude of the Joshua Tree area. It is during an August 1953 full moon that Van Tassel has an encounter with extraterrestrials, who give him the information to build a rejuvenation machine he dubs “The Integratron.”
Van Tassel believes he has been chosen by these extraterrestrial visitors, led by Solganda (who “speaks” to him with a voice not unlike that of actor Ronald Coleman) to build a massive experimental dome that will open a hole in time and space. The groovy iconoclast and charismatic leader’s received blueprints from Solganda are soon combined with the work of Nikolai Tesla and other alternative scientists.
Long before the 'X-Files,' and the internet, it was the threat of nuclear bombs and stifling social conformity that drew artists, inventors, eccentrics and postwar seekers to the desert to experiment with alternate lifestyles and futures. They join other do-it-yourself inhabitants of the “jack-rabbit shacks,” the five acres that the government gave to citizens through the Small Tract Act of 1938.
Van Tassel, a pilot and self-taught inventor, becomes a local, and lands as one of the first gurus of alien contact culture. Using 'outsider science” and rugged charm, Van Tassel pursues his dream of combining science and spirit to create a new utopia. The Integratron would not only solve the issue of aging and the attendant loss of seasoned wisdom but would also act as a source of unlimited power for the planet
In the 1950’s, George Van Tassel devises the Interplanetary Spacecraft Conventions as a way to fund the dome and bring attention to his transformative and rabidly anti-militaristic stance. Is he crazy or could The Integratron really work?
Rich Los Angeles playboys help fund the work (seeking rejuvenation, of course) and they fly into his airfield nearby, including his old boss, one Mr. Howard Robard Hughes. Beyond any vanities, Hughes’ concern for contamination bonds him to the anti-nuclear Van Tassel and he adds money to the project.
With his can-do neighbors, including an early disciple of Yogananda, Van Tassel actually builds his dome and prepares to turn it on. People flock to the desert to join in what quickly becomes an alien-guided, peace-loving, revolutionary movement. Questionable science, secret agents, and an army of eccentrics collide on the edge of the American Dream to try to further – or halt – this new reality.
It looks promising but there is a hiccup: the Integratron stands on the border of one of the largest military bases in the world, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, commonly known as Twentynine Palms. It is balanced by its other neighbor, an enigmatic boulder, Giant Rock, that was once revered by American Indians and has had its own embattled history.
Meanwhile, the dome’s workings are mysterious – some of the electro-magnetic processes actually bear merit, however they must be “phased” by the Venusians, as one subject suggests: “otherwise Southern California could be blown off the map.” Nearing completion, Van Tassel’s tale and the Integratron meets an unexpected, twisted end.
The magical 'workings' of the dome emerge in an unexpected way: for some participants in the film it is a simple opportunity for friendship and mentorship, for another it’s a global plan to colonize space, for others it’s a site-specific zone for art and culture. 'Calling All Earthlings' tells the story through their eyes --the current and past residents of the Joshua Tree area -- including singer Eric Burdon, medicine woman Valerie Brightheart, Ernest Siva, historian and elder of the Morongo Indians, L.A. Free Press publisher Art Kunkin, and the current “Stewards of the Dome, the Karl sisters, who now own the property. Rounding out the story are esteemed California historian Dr. Kevin Starr, skeptical astronomer Bob Berman, and legendary “Stargate” participant Dr. J.J. Hurtak.
Featuring a celestial score by Knitting Factory stalwart Elliott Sharp, desert ambient wizard Clive Wright, and other co-conspirators including the legendary Harmonia and Queens of the Stone Age’s Dave Catching, the project is an enigmatic look at the boundary-breaking culture of Joshua Tree and its eccentric residents, still waiting for their spaceship.
Jonathan Berman, Project Director, Producer, and Associate Professor in Arts and Technology • His films explore subculture and identity, challenging and redefining how alternative people, groups and ideas are represented. Berman began by working on Pee Wee's Playhouse, The Toxic Avenger 2, and on other TV, genre and art projects, soon shifting to documentary since “real life is more fantastic than most fiction.” He made The Shvitz, a National Endowment for the Arts supported project that found a wealth of characters and attitudes in the diverse patrons of a traditional New York bathhouse. My Friend Paul, produced with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, focused upon the turbulence of bipolar illness and was one of the first modern documentaries about the friends and family of the mentally ill. Commune was the first recent documentary film to reexamine the legacy of Sixties counterculture wins and excesses through communal living. Other work includes ‘story by” for the feature comedy On The Run, producing the documentary Sabbath in Paradise for German TV, and producing episodes of Maternity Ward for Discovery/ NY Times.
Iain Kennedy, Documentary Film Editor • Kennedy’s film editing credits include Xan Cassavettes’s Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004, Official selection at Cannes, Toronto, LA Film Festivals, and others); Bounce: Behind the Velvet Rope (2000, Best Film, LA Independent Film Festival); Tupac Shakur: Thug Angel (2002); and The Walk (Sundance Film Festival, 2001. He received an Emmy nomination in 2004 for his work as editor, writer, and producer for A&E.
Elliott Sharp, Original Score • A central figure in the avant-garde music scene in New York since the late 1970s, Sharp has released over eighty-five recordings ranging from contemporary classical, avant-garde, free improvisation, jazz, experimental, and orchestral music to “no wave,” and electronic music. He pioneered the use of personal computers in live performance, used algorithms and fibonacci numbers in experimental composition since the 1970's, and is an inveterate performer, playing mainly guitar, saxophone and bass clarinet. Sharp has led many ensembles over the years, including the blues-oriented Terraplane and Orchestra Carbon. Sharp composed the soundtrack for Commune.
International Documentary Association, 501C3 not-for-profit fiscal sponsor • For over three decades, the venerable organization has built and served a thriving documentary culture through artist sponsorship and programs, providing resources, creating community, and defending rights and freedoms for documentary artists, activists, and journalists.
Scrojo, Logan Fidler and Spencer Aldrich-Stone , International poster artist Scrojo: www.scrojo.com created the poster/title graphics, web wizards are Fidler and Aldrich-Stone.
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