Sky Watcher

Roppolo has been combing Monterey County skies for UFOs since a 1977 sighting at Bottchers Gap.

Aircraft shaped like slices of pizza. Lights in formations that resemble Christmas trees. UFOs that cause the viewer’s “bowels to jangle around fiercely.”

All of these sights allegedly color the night skies above Monterey, as shown in the emotional and wildly entertaining Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs.

The 91-minute film, which premiered to a full, 50-seat theater at the San Francisco Docfest in June, follows Monterey horror movie filmmaker Christo Roppolo on his quest to document unexplained lights hovering above the coast from Marina to Big Sur. It opens locally with a screening Thursday, Sept. 29, at Monterey’s Osio Theater and will play there throughout the following week.

Since debuting at the San Francisco DocFest, the quirky, Monterey County-based film has played in the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, the Joshua Tree International Film Festival, and Oakland’s Brainwash Film Festival, where it took home the award for “Best Feature Film.” The film also has been picked up for distribution by Virgil Films & Entertainment, which plans to make it available on DVD and by digital download on December 6th.

Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs begins with the unforgettable telling of a UFO hovering above the Pacific Grove Golf Course that, according to Roppolo, causes him to have an involuntary bowel movement. It then continues to other unexplained sightings, including the apparent viewing of a wedge of light floating above The Dunes bar in Seaside.

The movie does include footage of lights fluttering about in Monterey’s skies, but it’s up to the viewer to decide whether the phenomena warrants Roppolo’s obsession. While Roppolo’s gaze is often looking up towards the sky scanning for UFOs, director Justin Gaar wisely keeps his camera pointed at the character on the ground, eventually revealing a touching human story.

Roppolo, who directed the low budget horror movies Flesheaters and The Wooden Gate in the Monterey area, claims he saw his first UFO at Bottchers Gap in 1977. But it wasn’t until 2011 that he decided to document the strange things he was seeing. Roppolo says he even cut his own film that featured “wall to wall UFOs” broken up by footage of a local punk band performing at Mortimer’s.

Eventually, he realized he needed someone to help him edit his movie. Through a friend of a friend, Roppolo was put in touch with Gaar, a filmmaker from Alabama who had recently moved to Los Angeles. “I told him to send me the stuff [the footage], and I checked it out,” Gaar says. “I immediately tried to get out of the job.”

But when Roppolo traveled to L.A. to meet with him, Gaar changed his mind. “I felt like there was a chance that there was a really human story under all of the UFOs and everything,” Gaar says.

For the past two and a half years, Gaar travelled to Monterey as much as he could to film Roppolo’s search for UFOs, and to accompany his subject on trips to Roppolo’s favorite places, including Sushi Moto and the Osio Theater. “He’s a pretty great tour guide to be honest,” Gaar says of Roppolo.

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During their time together, Roppolo realized that his life story was becoming a greater part of Gaar’s movie. “His focus was that what was I doing that was the most interesting,” he says. “He milked me for what was going on in my life.”

The film includes, among other things, a segment showing Roppolo’s former GWAR-like industrial band MPAA performing live along with some scenes from Flesheaters. It also reveals why Roppolo may find it easier to exist with his head in the clouds rather than having to deal with some unpleasant realities here on earth.

The climax of Roppolo’s UFO sightings comes with the appearance of the Chualar crop circle that made national news in late 2013. A Santa Clara-based company took credit for the creation, saying it was a marketing ploy to promote a new processing chip, but Roppolo says he is not buying their story. “That was all a big cover up,” he says.

For Roppolo, seeing himself on camera while watching the first cut of the movie was not easy. “It was so embarrassing,” he says. “I felt like I was so fat.”

But the UFO enthusiast says his awkward moments on film will be worthwhile if loclals realize that there are strange things going on in the sky. “I hope they are entertained by my kookiness, my eccentricities, and my beautiful dogs,” Roppolo says. “I hope they understand that something is happening that is very, very important.”

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