Dominique Filhol, you are a director and screenwriter. You made your first short film in 2017, "The Nine Billion Names of God" adapted from a short story by Arthur Charles Clarke, which won numerous awards, as well as several documentaries for television, including two for the Canal+ group: "Le Bureau des OVNIs" discussing GEIPAN (the official CNES body in charge of UFO studies in France) and "Flying Objects: A State Secret" which were very successful with the public.
Today, with "Valensole," your first feature-length fiction film, you tell us the story of Maurice Masse experienced on July 1, 1965. Your film is based on real events. What exactly happened to Mr. Masse?
On July 1, 1965, Maurice Masse went to check his lavender field at dawn, around 5:45 AM. He heard a strange sound, a kind of persistent whistling that caught his attention. He walked into his field and saw an object that he thought was a Renault Dauphine, assuming it was a parked car. Upon closer inspection, he realized it wasn't a car but an object resembling a rugby ball, with a sort of dome on top. The most surprising part was seeing two small beings crouched in the lavender with large heads, a hole instead of a mouth, no eyebrows, wearing suits. He wasn't necessarily afraid or worried. He approached closer, and one of the small beings noticed him, surprised him, approached him, and pulled out a stick-like object, pointing it at Maurice, paralyzing him for about 15 minutes. This allowed the two small beings to stay a bit longer before leaving. Maurice regained control of his limbs a few minutes later. That's what happened.
Why did you choose this particular close encounter case over others? Was Maurice Masse the only one to witness this phenomenon at the time?
I chose this case because it's very well-known. To my knowledge, it's the only close encounter case that was investigated by the gendarmerie at the time. There was Quarouble in 1954, but that's another story. What's interesting about the Valensole case is the traces left in the lavender field. Where the object landed, there was no more lavender, and the ground had become as hard as concrete, while just after the object's appearance, it was completely soaked. Two hours later, it became very hard, which is also not normal.
In the middle of the trace left by the craft, there was a hole about 30 cm deep and 20 cm wide, corresponding to a landing gear, a sort of foot that Maurice saw entering the ground when he made his observation. This triggered a gendarmerie investigation. The local gendarmerie knew Maurice Masse well, as he had been a resistance fighter during World War II, so he was considered a serious person, even though he liked to joke around like everyone else in the small villages of Provence where people enjoy a good laugh. But in this case, he wasn't joking at all, and he was quite shocked because he experienced physiological effects, including hypersomnia. He needed to sleep a lot, whereas he usually slept 7 hours a night. After the event, he slept around 10-12 hours, almost double; and another physiological problem was that watches stopped working. As soon as he put a watch on his wrist, it malfunctioned as if he carried some sort of electromagnetic charge that disrupted certain objects around him. And someone in his family told me he also became cardiac after this event, so whether that's a side effect, we don't know, but he became cardiac after the event.
Was he traumatized by it?
Yes and no. He took time to accept what happened to him, but in hindsight, it was a very beautiful experience for him, something he considers almost a spiritual experience.
I know you met Jacques Vallée, did he help you with this case?
I discussed the Valensole case with Jacques Vallée two or three times, as he met Maurice Masse in the 1970s, a decade after the event, on, I believe, Aimé Michel's recommendation, a prominent French ufologist. Jacques advised me about Maurice's story and the event, as did others.
I didn't just meet with Jacques Vallée. I met Maurice's daughter, his grandchildren, people who knew him, his friends in the village (many have unfortunately passed away since he died in 2004), but also the next generation who knew Maurice. They told me his story.
So, between my meeting with Jacques Vallée and all the people I talked to in Valensole, I was able to synthesize everything to make the film as close to Maurice Masse's experience as possible.
What Jacques Vallée told me, which is interesting because he doesn't talk much about it and doesn't elaborate on exactly what happened, but he told us in an interview I was able to do through CIPO; Jacques confirmed that beyond the paralysis Maurice experienced, he had a telepathic experience with these beings, which I find fascinating. Now, the content itself, I don't know, but I think it can be similar to many cases, to what witnesses have experienced in close encounter cases.
I was wondering, are you passionate about UFOs, or did you come to it by chance? And have you always wanted to do this job?
Indeed, these are two things that go back to my childhood, my passion for images and my passion for UFOs. I was already interested in this topic at 5-6 years old, and I knew very young that my father had made an observation in the 1970s. He was in Amiens with a friend on the road, and they stopped seeing that there were a lot of cars stopped. There was something strange in the sky, actually a big green star dropping little red capsules that went to land in fields much further than where they were. The fields weren't close, otherwise, I think they would have gone to see what it was. This lasted a very long time, and then they saw these red capsules, which were in the fields, rise towards the bright green object higher in the sky.
That's something that marked me and that he told me very young, so I asked him a lot of questions. It's true that it first came from his testimony, I think really my passion for this subject, but then I recorded a lot of films, documentaries, I bought all the magazines. I collected all the UFO magazines that came out in the 90s, and it's a passion that remained.
At the same time, I had a passion for the image, for cinema. I was lucky enough to play with a camera very early, at 7-8 years old, and to make small edits with the VHS VCR, well, films with friends, and it's a passion that stayed, and I made it my job. So, it was logical for me to make a film about UFOs, several in fact (Laughs).
Indeed, I bounce back on a question I wanted to ask you later: is there a particular director, like Spielberg for example, that you like more than another? A cult film for you? (even if it's complicated to choose).
I find that each director, and that's what's beautiful in cinema, is that each director has his universe and his singularity in general. It's very difficult for me to say "that's my favorite film" "he's my favorite director" because they have such different universes, even if they can have common points. But if I have to mention one, and a film that amazed me and that I can watch several times without getting tired, you were talking about Spielberg, it's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It's an absolute masterpiece because it manages to deal with both the extraterrestrial dimension and especially the human psychological dimension facing the phenomenon.
Are there any films that inspired you for Valensole?
There are certainly films that inspired me for Valensole, but I really wanted to do something that doesn't exist, since we're talking about a real event that takes place in Provence in the 60s in France. To my knowledge, there are no French films that have done something similar. So my goal was to be as close to Maurice Masse as possible, without necessarily drawing inspiration from this or that film.
Yes, since you actually wanted to make an intimate film based on the character rather than a sensational science-fiction film with the appearance of the ship and its occupants?
Exactly, and anyway it was my first film, so I wouldn't have had the budget for something science-fiction (Laughs). But yes, that was the idea, to be as close to the character of Maurice and his family, who also play an important role in the story. And to show also how it was perceived in the village of Valensole, with the authorities, with the gendarmerie, we see all that in the film.
Did you encounter difficulties in making a film on the UFO-extraterrestrial subject because, of course, it's intimate, but how did you bring it? And did your previous work on the Canal+ documentaries help you, your notoriety for the quality of these films?
No, no, it didn't help me much to have made documentaries before, since this is a cinema film, and these are two worlds that unfortunately don't meet. At least, those who finance documentaries are not the same who finance cinema, and generally they don't talk to each other. I had financing from a channel, but I don't have a distributor yet, it's mainly private funding, mostly that's it, so we did a crowdfunding, and movie producers joined the adventure, like Virginie Lacombe (Maurice Masse's niece and film producer) and Steve René, who found a bit more funding. It was a film that was complicated to put together.
When you went to Valensole for your research, were people able to talk easily about UFOs, or is it still taboo in 2023 and a cause for mockery? Because we still see how the subject is treated on television, it's complicated...?
Sure, then no, in Valensole I never had a problem talking about it, people talked about it quite easily, at least about Maurice's story, because it didn't directly concern them. Now for the Masse family, it's still something, we feel, that is difficult to discuss. Because for Maurice all his life it was complicated, he was somewhat harassed by journalists, ufologists, curious people, etc., who, each time, heard the story of Valensole. For the family, it's still a bit difficult this story, but for people who knew him, his friends, etc., it's not a problem to talk about it. Where there is a bit more of a taboo, it's apparently there have been other UFO cases in the region, and when people saw what happened to Maurice, as he had been harassed like that, especially with repeated interrogations at the gendarmerie, well there have been testimonies of other things, but people didn't want to talk about it publicly, they preferred to stay quiet.
But by being there, were you able to get additional information to enrich your film?
Yes, I managed to get additional information, but it was more about things of the time, how it was in the village, what relationship he had with the café owner, I pushed things that far, humanly, to know who Maurice Masse was, beyond the UFO story.
I also wanted to ask you, as everything is expensive, including special effects (well, we all hope to see a saucer and its inhabitants anyway!) Did you still manage to do the special effects you wanted?
All I can tell you is that indeed there are special effects, and I invite you to go see the film! I don't want to say more for now. (Laughs)
Do you have other projects on the ufological theme, another French case? Or even going across the Atlantic? Have you considered working in the United States?
Yes, of course, I have a project for a future documentary that would be the sequel to "UFO, a State Affair," so I'm going to have to talk about what's happening in the United States, and then for cinema, I also have a film project whose story takes place in the United States, always in connection with ufology. We'll see what happens after that, since documentaries remain projects a little easier to mount. So we'll see.
And otherwise, the most important, do you know the release date of your film Valensole?
It will be sometime in 2024, I don't have a date to give you yet.
Thank you Dominique Filhol for the time you have given me.