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Whether you’re a believer or not, Phoenix was once the epicenter of UFO phenomena. It’s been 20 years in March that the night sky caught the attention of those in Valley and world via the Phoenix Lights.
The event continues to be the focus of a worldwide obsession and is a central focus on the 2017 International UFO Congress in Scottsdale. A free film festival kicks off the event on Tuesday, Feb. 14, and the conference runs Wednesday, Feb 15.-Sunday, Feb. 19.
Phoenix Lights back in the spotlight
“The Importance of the Phoenix Lights-Mass UFO Sighting,” a panel discussion, will look at the March 13, 1997, hovering lights and large craft that were witnessed by thousands and later explained — although not to everyone’s satisfaction — as military flares. UFO documentary filmmaker James Fox is moderating and will share his own Phoenix Lights investigation and never-before-seen video of former Gov. Fife Symington discussing his sighting that night. A second discussion led by Fox is a chance to hear from Valley witnesses to the lights.
The explosion of TV shows — including History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” and “Hangar One,” and Destination America’s “Alien Mysteries” — depicting encounters with UFOs and extraterrestrials has both helped and hindered serious research, said Alejandro Rojas, conference organizer with Tempe-based OpenMinds.tv.
“It helps in that it demonstrates there is large interest on what may be out there,” Rojas said. “It hinders in that larger numbers of people gravitate toward the sensational, which lends to television shows deprioritizing accuracy and credibility.”
Bigger every year
Those who watch the shows may recognize some of the conference speakers:
- Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist and co-author of the “Crash at Corona,” a 1992 book about the mysterious incident in Roswell, N.M.
- Ben Hansen, developer of the Syfy channel’s “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.”
- Richard Dolan, a UFO writer and researcher, host of a weekly radio program and guest on the shows “Hangar One” and “Ancient Aliens.”
The conference was listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records 2015″ as the “world’s largest UFO convention,” with 1,500 attendees. The gathering began in 1991 and was taken over by OpenMinds.tv in 2011.
Rojas, from OpenMinds.tv, said determining a specific number of attendees is difficult because people may attend one lecture or all five days, but it’s in the thousands, he said. The We-Ko-Pa Resort in Scottsdale, which hosts the conference, sells out earlier every year. This year, it sold out in October. Last year, it was in November.
The conference caters to the serious and the curious. Here are five finds:
1. Free movies
You have three free chances to watch six films that are vying to win for best feature length and short films at the end of the conference. The movies include “Crop Circle Diaries,” “Awakening of 12 Strands,” “UFOs and Nukes: The Secret Link Revealed” and “Exposing the Agenda.”
2. Variety of vendors
Looking for that hard-to-find tie depicting the race of aliens known as “The Grays” on it? Find it here, along with alien art and sculptures, as well as authors and their books on UFOs, and paraphernalia believed to be associated with an extraterrestrial encounter. There’s no charge to peruse the hall.
3. Out-of-this world discussions
Where else are you going to find discussions of these topics all in one place?
4. Science and military opinions
This conference touts both scientists — a nuclear physicist, a neurologist and Norwegian research professor — and colonels. They will discuss topics as diverse as how astronomers view the UFO phenomenon, alien abduction and research into the strange lights appearing in Norway’s Hessdalen Valley for decades.
Retired Army Col. John Alexander, a former intelligence officer, and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Charles Halt, who was the deputy base commander of RAF (Royal Air Force) Woodbridge near Suffolk, England, in 1980 when strange lights were witnessed, will share their experiences.
5. Famous Arizona abductee
Travis Walton, an Arizona resident, shares one of the most famous alien abduction stories in his talk, “Fire in the Sky: The World Reaction Then and Now.” Walton will discuss how his publicly reported abduction experience near Snowflake in 1975 in the media, his own books and a movie has changed over 40 years.
International UFO Congress
When: The conference runs Wednesday, Feb. 15-Sunday, Feb. 19. The free film festival is all day Tuesday, Feb. 14; and 7-10:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16-Friday, Feb. 17.
Where: We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center, 10438 N. Fort McDowell Road, Scottsdale.
Admission: Prices range from to $30 for morning or afternoon passes to $99 for a weekend pass and $369 for full attendance. Film showings are free.