Hot Docs 2015: The Visit – Dr. Michael Madsen

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If alien life landed on our doorstep, would we be ready? Would we know how to handle it? Are there procedures in place?

The simulated experience of an alien’s (the audience) arrival on Earth is put up onto the screen by Madsen, as he puts the United Nations in the spotlight, as the only body in the world with the ability to speak for the entire planet. And while it seems we would be woefully under-prepared for such a happenstance (if it hasn’t already happened), many of those that shared their thoughts and questions on the screen, speaking to us as if we were the Visitor, are nothing if not earnest in their curiosity and their worry.

Between troubling, and inquiring governmental and scientific bodies, there are beautiful moments around our planet, shot in a unique way, utilizing strange angles, slow-motion and camera positions, allowing us to see things in a new way, making the ordinary, extraordinary, as we see things with out alien eyes.

I found it interesting that most of the film was centered on the UK/European reactions and plans to accommodate our alien visitors, it would have been interesting to see things incorporate a North American angle as well.

For all that, as the interviewers try to garner knowledge from the visitor, though none is forthcoming, they try to define the alien in terms of humanity, and then by turn, define ourselves in our humanity; curious, occasionally fearful, bold, and sometimes hurtful.

The response we see, with talks of controlling information, judging how much to tell the public, not to mention the effects it would have on every society on the planet, edges towards the fearful, especially as we move deeper into the film and see deployment of military forces. Though one does have to empathize with those in the simulation, because as history as shown, whenever a more advanced civilization meets a less advanced one, it is always the less advanced one that suffers for it. Would that happen to us? Would we be able to maintain our identity and culture, or would we be swept up into theirs? Though if they are so advanced, wouldn’t they have already thought of that, and perhaps have something in play akin to the Prime Directive of Star Trek, one of non-interference?

The film posits that the only ways the visitors would arrive is by accident, by intent – one of exploration or one of conquest… And it would seem that we may not be ready for any of it, but we do know that when it happens, it will signify a huge change in our culture, society, and place in the universe.

The Visit screens again today at 1:00 at the Hart House Theatre and Friday, 1 May at 9:30pm at the Lightbox.

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