One interesting development last year, apart from the obvious, was a spike in the number of UFO sightings. Why’s that? More people were out and about, looking around and noticing things. Some people saw birds and beautiful sunsets. Others saw alien spacecraft zipping around, making a spectacle of themselves. Hey, seeing that makes a change from binge-watching Friends for the umpteenth time.
UFO Town (Saturday, CBC NN 10 p.m. and streams on CBC Gem) is a jaunt into the most famous of all Canadian UFO stories. In the Ottawa neck of the woods in the early 1990s a bunch of people believed that an alien craft had indeed landed in a field in West Carleton, where decent and good people live. There were many who believed it was all a hoax, but there was one twist: U.S. TV got involved.
An episode of Unsolved Mysteries featured the story of how a person who used the nom de plume “Guardian” circulated a blurry videotape of bright flashing lights in a field and also claimed to have eyewitness accounts of unusual activity in the area. A guy named Bob Oechsler, a noted UFO researcher who had the advantage of appearing to be a serious person, received the tape and made hay with it.
The documentary, produced by Nick Crowe and directed by Catie Lamer, takes a serous approach to the story. We hear from people who remember being spooked by uncannily intense white light in the night and from people who speculate that, perhaps, Bob Oeschler was Guardian and looking for attention for his UFO theories. Also, fact is, the area in which this alleged alien activity was unfolding was also used by the Canadian military for manoeuvres and such.
What’s engrossing is the treatment of belief in UFOs. What happened near Ottawa created a feverish excitement for a while. To this day, you cannot dissuade some people from the belief that something significantly suspicious was going on. Long before the internet, conspiracy theories abounded. It’s also interesting to note that the Unsolved Mysteries episode aired in 1992 and a year later The X Files arrived on TV. There was something in the air, you could say, apart from military helicopters buzzing around Ottawa doing whatever they do.
The doc would seem to be moving toward the conclusion that the phenomenon was a hoax that got out of hand. But then there’s a final twist. Yes, just like an episode of The X-Files. All that’s missing is the spine-tingling theme music from the show. What you get is neither an exposé nor a mockery of the incident that drew international attention and tourists to West Carleton, Ont. The upshot is a nifty and relevant rumination on deeply felt but fanciful beliefs.
Also airing this weekend
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (streams on Disney+ from Friday) is a lot more fun and charming than I expected. The Ducks franchise has existed forever and this new TV version has a steep hill to climb. But it does, with aplomb. We are in some town in the United States where hockey is big. Earnest 12-year-old Evan (Brady Noon) wants to play for the Ducks in the 12-14 age bracket. But the mean coach, played with a fine sense of nasty by Dylan Playfair (Reilly on Letterkenny) cuts him from the team. In steps Evan’s mom, a hard-working paralegal and single parent, Alex (Lauren Graham), to berate the mean coach. She says the unsayable among hockey parents: “Guys, shouldn’t kids be able to play sports for fun?”
Undaunted, mom has the crazy idea of starting a hockey team for the uncool kids, the no-hopers and dreamers. But she can’t even get ice time at a rink. Then she meets grumpy rink-owner Gordon (Emilio Estevez), a curmudgeon who announces “I hate hockey and I don’t like kids.” There is quite a bit of this type of formula, but the early episodes are breezily funny and the kids are adorable without being sentimentalized. There are some very good jokes too, about hockey, the Leafs, Toronto and other very Canadian topics. Falling somewhere between being suitable for adults and perfect for kids, it’s a very sweet, nicely crafted show.
Finally, there’s Tina (Saturday, HBO/Crave 8 p.m.) a new documentary treatment of Tina Turner’s career. It’s not as though there wasn’t copious study of that career in existence, with her book I, Tina and the hit movie What’s Love Got To Do With It? But here filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin aim to emancipate Turner from the prevailing story of her abuse at the hands of ex-husband Ike Turner. The film is packed with archival footage of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and puts the work in a music context. It also allows Turner herself to talk about being trapped in a life story that, publicly, is dominated by her escape from Ike.
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