The Hippo


May 28, 2020








See Strange Septembers

The film is available to rent from

Probing NH’s UFO incidents
Documentary features interview with James Earl Jones

By Kelly Sennott

When filmmaker Jeff Finn was 8 years old, he saw the 1975 television movie The UFO Incident, starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons as Barney and Betty Hill, the New Hampshire couple who claimed to be abducted and studied by aliens in September 1961.

“To say it blew my mind was an understatement,” Jeff Finn said via phone last week.
Not long afterward, he and his then 4-year-old sister had their own incident while standing outside their parents’ back door in the Chicago suburbs. They claim to have seen an opaque, shimmery white object a block away, above the big field by their grandparents’ home that used to be an apple orchard.
His obsession with ufology grew with age, most recently culminating with a feature-length documentary he directed and produced with his wife, Jess Finn, called Strange Septembers: The Hill Abduction & The Exeter Encounter. The flick became available for digital download April 1 and contains interviews with more than 100 relatives, coworkers and acquaintances associated with principal witnesses of both events, including both Jones and Parsons. 
Neither of the Finns had ever made a film before, and they joke that this one was built on two flip cams and a dream. It started when the couple moved from California to Arlington, Massachusetts, to be near her parents before their daughter’s birth. New Hampshire, home of two of the most well-known UFO cases in history, was only an hour’s drive.
Jeff Finn was, of course, familiar with both cases. The first, reported to have taken place in September 1961 in the White Mountains, involved Seacoast couple Betty and Barney Hill, who claimed to have been captured, studied and released by intelligent beings from another planet who traveled via a silent, circular craft with blinking red lights. The second, in September 1965, was a reported sighting by Exeter resident Norman Muscarello and New Hampshire police officers Eugene Bertrand and David Hunt.
“In a nutshell, these are the most incredible paranormal cases in history, in my opinion,” Jeff Finn said. “In these two cases, the witnesses … all went to their graves absolutely believing it.”
On a whim, the Finns attended the Exeter UFO Festival in 2010 and asked to interview Kathleen Marden, ufologist and niece of the Hills, and Stanton Friedman, a ufologist and nuclear physicist responsible for reopening the Roswell Incident.
“At the time, we thought it would be something fun to do, and maybe we could put it up on YouTube,” Jess Finn said. “We bought $100 flip cams and did the interview. It was really interesting. We learned a lot more about the Hill case, and while we were at the festival, we met Thomas Muscarello and, just for the heck of it, asked if he’d be interested in an interview.”
The first thought was this would be a “punk rock” documentary, a DIY micro-budget flick. Over the next few months, when they weren’t caring for their daughter or working their day jobs — he as a writer, she as a web designer and digital artist — they were researching. They knocked on many southern New Hampshire doors trying to get information. One woman invited them in for lemonade.
They nabbed an exclusive interview with U.S. Air Force and Army officer Lt. Alan Brandt, who had been involved with both the Exeter encounter and Hill abduction, plus interviews with Jones and Parsons.
“James Earl Jones was really interesting — he had a lot of opinions on the case and ufology, and you could tell he followed it and was quite knowledgeable about it,” Jess Finn said.
When they moved back to Los Angeles, they connected with Emmy-nominated film editor Joe Gressis, who became the Strange Septembers editor and co-producer with Dena Hysell of Secret Handshake Entertainment Production. Before they knew it, they had a legitimate release on their hands.
The first edit was finished in 2011 and shown at the Exeter UFO Festival, where DVDs sold “like hotcakes.” The film has since gone through a 15-minute cut and new narrator, Peter Weller. Its release coincides with the 50th anniversary of the second sighting.
Its completion inspired Jeff Finn to go into filmmaking full-time. His next project: a documentary about The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, which will be released in time for the film festival circuit next year.
The Finns said their company, Z-Machine, was the first to put together a documentary about the New Hampshire sightings. The result is a tiny-budget passion project.
“We’re not Steven Spielberg on a Hollywood budget, and we’re the first to admit that,” Jeff Finn said. “I think if you really dig into the film, certainly those who are interested in the cases or ufology in general will see it’s a true labor of love. We really cared about the cases, and we wanted to know as much as we could about them, and share them with the world.” 

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