Interview with Randall Nickerson, director of Ariel Phenomenon

In 1994 a group of kids saw something extraordinary on the outskirts of their schoolyard in Ruwa, Zimbabwe; read on for a more detailed description.

Director Randall Nickerson and his team are making a film about the incident and the effect it had on the children. 

Here’s my interview with Randall.

1) What is the Ruwa UFO Incident, in your own words?

Well, in practical terms: on September 16th, 1994, at Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe during the morning break at 10:30 a.m., over sixty children from grades one to seven reported seeing lights in the sky and then heard a sound that got everybody’s attention. Then they saw this silver disc-like thing in the trees about 200 yards out from the school yard, and witnessed at least two figures emerge. The beings were short, mostly black in color, and had large eyes. Several of the students reported experiencing some sort of message that was conveyed to them by the eyes of the beings. And then it all disappeared and was gone.

The local and international news media covered it for a while, but it was eventually forgotten by the media. The kids themselves hardly spoke of it again, even to each other.

In a larger sense, the Ruwa UFO incident is one of the largest reported UFO sightings in modern history. It was witnessed by dozens of children, and adults in the surrounding area. The messages some received were focused on the destruction of the planet due to pollution. So it’s timeliness, and its effects on the witnesses, I think draws a lot of people to the story.

2) How many people witnessed the event?

There were over sixty children on the playground that saw all or part of the event.  The grade 1 and 2s were not included in this number, and many of them had also witnessed it. So the actual number is higher. During the days leading up to September 16th, and even during the day on the 16th, there are multiple reports of adult sightings: pedestrians, pilots, and even people in their own homes reported seeing unusual balls of light or other things in the region.

3) How did you guys become involved with the events? When and how did the idea of a documentary come up?

A woman contacted me who is a friend of Dr. John Mack, a Harvard psychiatrist who traveled to Zimbabwe to interview the children, and is a main character in the film. She showed me John Mack’s interviews with these children and I was blown away – not only by their story, but by their earnest responses. They seemed to be very clearly telling the truth in these video tapes. So I was originally commissioned by her and the John Mack Institute to make a small film about the incident; as soon as I started investigating it, it became clear that this was an incredible story involving so many credible people…I knew it had to be a feature-length film.

There were a lot of compelling pieces to the story that made it great for an investigation: to have an incident happen and have so many media organizations cover it right after the event – and to be able to track down the footage, as I did, is pretty unusual. I have six sources of archival video from that time. Immediately after the event, the children were separated and asked to draw what they saw – those drawings still exist, or at least there is footage of them from that time, which is a unique part of the story.

Once I found out that the Ariel School itself was still in existence – some thought it had closed, or burned down – I just made plans to go despite the dangerous situations in Zimbabwe in 2008.  And I went again in 2010 and the end of 2015.

Of course, tracking down all of the student witnesses as adults was a huge project as well, but it was amazing to find and speak to the same children who appeared in the news footage from that time – and hear them tell the same story to me. I conducted interviews in the USA in 2011, in England in 2012, and in Canada in 2015.

4) You have tracked down some of the people who were there to witness the incident first hand. How did that day change their lives?

Yes, I have found quite a few of the students, who are adults now and up to all sorts of great and interesting careers. They, for the most part, want to keep their privacy, because for many it was a hugely traumatic thing they went through, and many people still don’t believe them. The incident is still very much with them, and they can recall it as is it were yesterday. But they’ve been able to live their lives – I think for a lot of them, it just opened up their eyes to think outside the norm, and to know that we don’t have all the answers, as a society. They are brilliant, thoughtful, sane members of their communities and I hope this film can change the perception of experiencers from “fanatical” to just plain normal people who saw something inexplicable – and who oftentimes want to forget that it ever happened to them.

5) Harvard Professor of Psychiatry John E. Mack personally investigated the Ruwa Incident. What was his conclusion?

The Ariel School case really had a big impression on him. And he had been interviewing other UFO witnesses from other locations at the time, because he was studying this phenomena in general; he had met several people that he could not diagnose with mental illness or anything else that were telling these stories, including abduction cases. So when it came to the Ariel children: after the extensive interviews in 1994 that he conducted, he absolutely believed they had seen something and were telling the truth about their experiences. I think the Ariel School story encouraged him to go even further publicly on this issue, which nearly led to him being removed from his tenure at Harvard. His story arc is covered in the film as well.

6) What’s the “angle” your documentary approaches the Ruwa Incident from? What can we expect from your film?

We keep an open mind, in both directions. We lay out the facts, and a lot of the interview footage, to let the audience draw their own conclusions. We want to present any skepticism or other theories that exist, but the truth is, there aren’t that many convincing arguments to explain what it was. So we ask, through the film, “how does the sighting of something inexplicable change one’s life?” And then we explore the question: what have all of the witnesses, and John Mack, and Tim Leach – who was the BBC reporter first on the scene, and was also greatly effected by this story – done with this experience in their lives?

7) How long have you been working on the film?

It’s been just about ten years this fall, since I started transferring the John Mack tapes. At first I thought it would be a small film I could do on my own, but as the story unfolded I realized I needed help. It’s been a challenge and journey, financially – making a feature-length film averages about $300,000 – $1 million. A lot of people don’t know that, and don’t know that one’s first film can very often take seven to ten years, if you’re doing all your own fundraising – which I am. So it’s been a mixture of film making, then putting the film on hold while I fundraise, then back to filming and editing, for the last ten years. I’m glad now to have a strong team in the edit room and outreach departments to get us past the finish line; we have Christopher Seward, who does a lot of story editing for documentaries and has worked on several of Michael Moore’s films, helping out. But these things are not cheap. We are still in need of funds to make this thing a class act in the next six months: we need to give it the story support it needs in the edit room, and keep these people working on the project. We need to have music composed, master the film professionally, etc. We are very much in fundraising mode right now, while we simultaneously editing our first full cut.

8) When is it coming out? Will be out in theaters or will it have a DVD release?

We’re looking at Spring 2018. We don’t have a distribution plan laid out yet, but I would really love to see it in some theaters. Yes, I’m sure DVDs and digital downloads will be a part of the distribution when it happens. We will keep you posted.

9) Where can people follow and, if they want to, support your work?

We’d love your followers to join the conversation! Our website is We’re active on FacebookTwitterReddit & Instagram at @ArielPhenomenon.

Our current Indiegogo Campaign is at:

Look for an upcoming interview with myself and one of the student wintesses on The Unexplained with Howard Hughes soon – we’re recording an interview with him on Thursday Oc.t 12, so it will air soon after that. The Podcast UFO with Martin Willis will be having us on Oct. 20. And we have a Reddit AMA that we are aiming to have on Oct. 20, so please stay tuned for more details and join us during that, as well. And of course, share us with all of your friends and networks to spread the word. Thank you!

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