MFF: Calling All Earthlings

How’s this for a tale: in the late 1950’s, a man named George Van Tassel built a structure called The Integratron, which was believed to be a time machine. While the building incorporated Tesla concepts into its science and structure, Van Tassel claimed the inspiration came from instructions provided by extraterrestrials.  Van Tassel, who died in 1978, also knew Howard Hughes and has become a legendary figure for UFO enthusiasts. To this day, the Integratron remains in Landers, California, where it acts as a mystical landmark…just waiting for someone to turn it on and see if it really works.

“Calling All Earthlings,” Jonathan Berman’s delightful documentary on Van Tassel and the legacy of the Integratron, is a feast of the strange. It also made a giddy believer out of me. Every time I’d roll my eyes and utter, “aw, come on,” another detail would spring up and counter my skepticism.  There’s clearly something special about the Integratron, which is a marvel to gaze at and holds a history of delicious secrets and mind blowing possibilities.

Berman’s documentary acts as a travelogue, as he and his team journey across country to collect interviews, gather wild facts and spend time at the Integratron itself. We meet the current keepers of Van Tassel’s structure, as well as the creator’s surviving family and many who believe he was on to something monumental. We also meet those who think the whole thing is a bunch a hooey (a nice touch and a proper way to balance the conspiratorial angle).

Among the many fascinating tidbits that emerge about the Integretron: some claim its inactive status has something to do with a conspiracy to control energy. It’s construction in the desert guarantees static electricity. Here’s a real mindblower: its suggested that,  if turned on improperly, the Integratron could act like a neutron bomb (!).

The interview subjects couldn’t be more fascinating. We meet Art Kunklin, the creator of the L.A. Free Press and the late veteran actor Ted Markland, who has an odd connection to the subject matter. Then there’s the earthy channeler, who greets the camera by asking, “You into books?” At one point, Berman and his team appear on Ted Quinn’s Local Musical Showcase, a radio station at Joshua Tree- it’s one of those middle-of-nowhere, transmitting tunes and ideas into the nightly airwaves kind of show, exactly as it should be.

There’s a real elegance to the filmmaking, as the old footage of Van Tassel and modern segments blend seamlessly. Well-done animated segments depict exactly how the Integratron would look if operated, as an outer ring spins and creates an electromagnetic field (indeed, a Tesla concept).

Even viewers who don’t buy into all of this will likely find it as tasty to ponder as I did. Berman (an engaging figure who occasionally appears in front of the camera) has stumbled onto a real life “X-Files.”

Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

-viewed at the 2018 Maui Film Festival