Though bright spots in 2020 are few, it has been a good year, so far, in one very specific respect. People who love aliens as much as I do feel a cautious optimism: UFOs are everywhere, offering just a bit of hope that there’s something out there, that we aren’t totally alone.
This hope — that there’s something more out there — is shared by the subject of a new short documentary, out on Netflix on August 20, called “John Was Trying to Contact Aliens.” For 30 years, John Shepherd built and worked in a massive audio lab in the basement of his grandparents’ house in rural Michigan, where he’s from, all with the goal of reaching extraterrestrial life. He decided the best way to do this was through broadcasting music into outer space: German electronica, Afrobeat, funk, disco. For decades, Shepherd was, essentially, a DJ to a hypothetical alien audience, signing off his broadcasts with his name.
If aliens are less your bag than mine, let it be known that this is also a love story. I don’t want to spoil it, because there’s an excellent reveal about two-thirds of the way into the film that made me gasp alone in my room. I’ll just say that this is also a story about human loneliness and human connection, and it has a very happy ending, even if Shepherd never heard back from the aliens, who may or may not be out there. (I think they are.)
Shepherd says something in the documentary that I loved, which is that while he may not have found hard evidence of UFOs, the project provided him with a venue for creativity and purpose, and something he could share with other people. What else really matters?