Byline: BENJAMIN BELL
This June, we are told, there will be space aliens in Cambridge.
The tale of these interplanetary travelers began in the fall of 1994, many time zones from the Charles River, when John E. Mack, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard psychiatrist famed for his controversial UFO writings, took a trip to southern Africa.
Mack was looking into a claim by 60 elementary school children in Harare, Zimbabwe, that an oval-shaped silver spacecraft had hovered above their playground one day.
What's more, the kids said, a strange being some 4 feet tall, dressed in a black uniform, with black eyes the size of rugby balls, approached them, while a similar being stood atop the alleged UFO.
There was talk of empathetic chit-chat, and Mack said 12 of the children gave consistent accounts of the event, leading him to believe it was not a case of mass hysteria.
"Something strange happened to the group of children that left them with the impression some form of sentient life cared about the Earth and cared about the environment and even cared about the children," said Will Buech, a board member of the John E. Mack Institute in Cambridge.
He said telepathic communication reportedly took place between the children and the being during the 5- to 10-minute encounter. Now, 15 years later, the episode is still being investigated.
On June 12, the Mack Institute will present an unfinished film called "Encounter in Ruwa: The Ariel School Sighting," a compilation of interview footage shot by Mack and new footage by a New York-based filmmaker, Randall Nickerson, 42.
Mack was killed by a drunken driver in London in 2004.
"I have more research to do, but there is a lot of corroboration that tells me something did happen," Nickerson told the Herald by e-mail.
"It does make one think for sure and ask what we are, as a young species, possibly unaware of."
Naturally, there are plenty of people who doubt the incident occurred.
Among the doubters is Robert Sheaffer, 60, a 32-year veteran of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and author of the book "UFO Sightings: The Evidence."
"The bottom line is that there is no evidence," he said of the case. "We don't know what . . . pressure may have been placed on the children to tell the stories the way they did."
Sheaffer said it's possible that the children, who had been left alone, decided to pull a prank. He conceived of a scenario in which the older kids in the group convinced the younger ones to go along with the "sighting," which was taken to the next level when the authorities became involved.
Nickerson says the film, which he hopes to complete later this year, will feature interviews with some of the now-adult witnesses who are scattered around the globe.
It will be up to viewers to decide whether the truth is out there.
"Encounter in Ruwa: The Ariel School Sighting" will screen June 12 from 7 to 9 p.m. at 38 Cameron Ave., Cambridge. Information at johnemackinstitute.org.