Christopher P. Garetano, the man behind 2005's festival hit Horror Business, recently completed a documentary exploring these Montauk Project legends. Being that i'm highly fascinated by conspiracy theories and that this one hits pretty close to home - Montauk is about an hour away from my place of residence - I just had to contact Chris and find out more about the project, his experiences making it, and whether or not he believes the stunning allegations to be true. What transpired was an utterly fascinating discourse about an utterly fascinating topic, which I am now happy to present to you.
FREDDY IN SPACE : Tell us a little bit about the film, the tales it is based upon, and how you got involved with it all.
CHRISTOPHER GARETANO : In 2006, I was touring my first documentary (Horror Business) in film festivals and the idea of making a movie about Montauk was suggested by a friend who knew I was from Long Island. I wasn't too hip on the idea at first, and in the 90's I read the most popular book on the subject (The Montauk Project : by Peter Moon & Preston Nichols) and I didn't feel there was much to it. The book just wasn't very convincing for me. In my opinion it was a collage of the most run of the mill science fiction and it wasn't calling me to make a picture about it. It basically focused on a group of men who claim that (in the 1970's) they were all part of secret experiments conducted deep beneath the (now defunct) Camp Hero Air Force Base in Montauk, New York. Everything from mind control and time travel to extraterrestrial contact was said to have occurred at Camp Hero. I did continue to think about the possibility of making a film that would examine the men who claim that the stories are actually true. That's what fascinated me the most about all of this, and if I could get inside their homes and see how they live (while they tell the stories) than maybe we can capture something compelling enough to make a movie about.
FIS : Judging by the trailer, the film appears to be equal parts documentary and recreation. Is this accurate?
GARETANO : Montauk Chronicles is a great mixture of weird sci fi aesthetics, cinema, and documentary. I can't really call them recreations because there is absolutely no hard proof that this stuff actually happened. Documentary movie making is such a broad playing field and I aimed to try something a little different. My goal was to make a movie that examines our fascination with the unknown and our need and desire for mystery. Just think if the whole library of unsolved mysteries were all at once solved ... what a boring world it would be? In my opinion I think people would be happy if these things were never solved. In the film I use the Alfred Hitchcock term "Macguffin" as a representation of this and (in the case of the Montauk Legends) the "Macguffin" is the truth. It seems clear to me that even though everyone claims to be searching for the truth, they don't really want it. They don't want it because it's that mystery that keeps them all coming. I explore this theory in the film's three acts. Act one is an introduction and history of Montauk, act two is the stories (and reenactments) as they are told by the subjects, and act three is an analysis of the possibilities of truth.
FIS : Now that you've spoken to the people who have made the astonishing Montauk Project allegations, do you believe they are telling the truth?
GARETANO : This is not an easy question to answer in terms of a simple black and white explanation. At first glance, and listen, I didn't believe a damn thing any of them were saying. It was so outrageous and so insane you would have to be a total maniac or a gullible idiot to believe. Preston Nichols was basically hallucinating on camera as was Alfred Bielek. When I visited Preston he was an anchorite who lived on a hill by himself. He offered to take us into his lab and before us was this large device that looked like a cosmic bed from some seventies science fiction movie of the week. He told us that this was the healing machine and that it can actually change your DNA. You will see all of this (in Montauk Chronicles) as I did. It was just one crazy thing after another. But when we arrived at Stewart Swerdlow's home in Michigan, things were different. It was an upwardly mobile neighborhood and a beautiful home. We were met with kindness and generosity and they cooked several wonderful meals for us. Everyone in the Swerdlow home (including children, adult, and elderly) was sincere about these crazy claims, and after a while, being submerged in this way of thinking for a couple of days, it started to become easy to believe. These weird concepts and silly stories began to make some sense. My visit to the Swerdlow home could have very well been the power of suggestion because we all know how many people have been effected by that power since the dawn of man. All of the above is illustrated and discussed in my film as is my opinion on what I think is true and what's not.
FIS : If any of this stuff is indeed true, we're talking big time government cover ups here. Did you have any hesitation or fear in getting involved with this whole thing? Afterall, this is stuff the government probably doesn't want being discussed, much less being the subject of films.
GARETANO : At first, I had no problems. I had no fear of the government, men in black, alien creatures, or anything else. It wasn't until about a year or so into making the film that I began to get a little paranoid. This stuff really has an effect on you. If I had made the whole thing a joke, it would have been no problem. I didn't and when you allow these small seeds of thought to be planted (in your mind) they eventually grow. In other words as I began to dig deeper into the possibilities of truth in all of this madness, I also began to believe that I was being watched. Mind you, I had never thought this way before but during the making of the film i was introduced to so many new terms, such as "Psychic Attack," and this all became very real to me. At one point I was getting excruciating head aches and eventually severe anxiety and panic attacks. I actually began to believe that something was trying to stop me from making this film. As I said before the power of suggestion is very strong, it can blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
FIS : Well thankfully, you did get to make the film. When and in what capacity will we be able to see it? Will it come to select theatres? Straight to DVD?
GARETANO : I'm still in the process of working out details for the release of Montauk Chronicles. You will certainly get to see it on a major US cable station and on DVD around the world. I'm currently speaking with the interested (cable) party and we should strike the deal soon. There are festivals from the US to Serbia ready to play the film. Even though I will sign with cable, VOD and other DVD territories, I'm seriously thinking about handling the US DVD release myself, under my White Phosphorus Pictures label. This would be a high quality DVD with a ton of great special features. Working with distributors in some aspects are good, but not when they take most of your profits. I believe now is the time for serious independent movie makers to show their worth and handle their own films for some territories. My first picture (Horror Business) was distributed in the US and Canada by Image Entertainment. Image is a pretty big company and they typically took seventy percent of my profits. That's much more than what they needed to cover the overhead. Image only took out two print ads to advertise the movie and that was it. The rest was up to me. It's too much hard work and a lot of years to just sign over all of my art and profits to a middle man.
With that said I have an exciting advertising and marketing plan in place for the US DVD release of Montauk Chronicles. As for theatrical ... that's a funny thing too ; that "limited distribution." I've heard other movie makers boast about their "theatrical distribution deals" and in the end they only played in one or two theaters for less than a week!!? Horror Business played in festivals (all around the world) for three years. It also played in theaters like The Alamo Draft House and The Pioneer Theater in New York, so my point is that if you have something that people want to see, don't sign your soul and your balls over to a distribution company. We live in a world now where you can completely produce, market, and sell your films yourself ... and make a profit. If the film is good you will receive critical acclaim and make a profit at the same time. It's going to take a few of us (with quality films) to do it ourselves and change the game. There's been this stigma that if you distribute yourself then you're not as good as the big boys. They say that you must sign with a distribution company or no one will respect your DVD. That's just plain horse shit. It's one of the many illusionary allures that was created to further monopolize the film industry. If we can prove our success by methods of self distribution, that old taboo stigma will be lifted and the game will change for good. So, just keep checking in on the Montauk Chronicles website as well as the Facebook for updates on the release.
FIS : While we wait for Montauk Chronicles, do you have any favorite movies of the same sort that you recommend we check out?
GARETANO : Here are a few that sent chills up my spine. These all share many of the same topics as my film and have certaintly influenced me.
1. John Carpenter's THE THING
2. Phillip Kaufman's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
4. Fire In the Sky
5. They Live
5. Shutter Island
6. 12 Monkeys
7. Dark City
FIS : One last question about a totally different but equally fascinating Montauk legend. Montauk Monster - real or fake?
**The Montauk Monster is a mysterious beast that washed up on a Montauk beach back in the summer of 2008. To this day, it has never been identified.**
GARETANO : I always thought the "Montauk Monster" was a dead raccoon or a dog in an advanced stage of decomposition. It's certainly real, but i'm not sure if it's a monster. The whole thing further proves the power of suggestion. The fact that people would question (for several years) whether it's a monster or not is indicative to this power.
Keep your eyes locked on the Montauk Chronicles website and Facebook page for details regarding when and where you will be able to see the film. Of course, once release details emerge, I will be sure to post about them right here on Freddy In Space.