According to the Web site of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFAN) — a nonprofit organization devoted to studying sightings of unidentified flying objects – over 70,000 unidentified flying object sightings are reported to organizations around the world every year.
This weekend, Ventura County will host some close encounters of its own, as the second annual Ventura County UFO Festival draws extraterrestrial experts from across the country to the ZanZilla Yoga Studio. The festival, which starts at noon on Oct. 13, will feature guest speakers Derrel Sims, Ann Druffel, Preston Dennet and Robert Salas, as well as music by festival organizer and part-time DJ Zan Ferris.
Ferris, who is funding the festival entirely out of her own pocket, says she decided to organize the festival after her own experience with extraterrestrial visitation.
“I feel irrevocably compelled to do it because of an experience I had of my own,” she says. “I’ve been inexplicably drawn towards this subject for probably about 15 years now. About 15 years ago, I had a very unique experience when I lived by the pier. The shorthand of it is that someone visited me, and it felt like a very significant and very real presence that was there.”
The festival’s format, which will consist of multimedia lectures and group activities, was inspired by a UFO film festival Ferris attended in San Louis Obispo four years ago. She says she picked the speakers based on input from the staff at MUFON’s Ventura branch. She says the lecturers are well-known enough to draw a fairly large crowd, albeit a crowd made up mostly of people who already believe UFOs exist.
“A nice little medium-sized turnout would be good for me, but there’s going to be people there for sure,” Ferris says. “I would like for it to be a cross-section of people, but inevitably, it’s going to be people with stories of their own to tell. It’s kind of an acquired taste, and people who are interested in the subject matter are interested for their own reasons, and other people’s consciousnesses aren’t open to this sort of thing.”
MUFON Los Angeles Assistant Director Jolene Rae Harrington says the event’s speakers have the capacity to capture the attention of nonbelievers as well, particularly because many of them come from respected fields such as the sciences and the military: Sims is a licensed private investigator; Ann Druffel is a longtime sociological researcher who helped found the field in the 1950s; Preston Dennet is a published author and official MUFON field investigator; and Robert Salas was stationed at an Air Force base when he says he witnessed UFOs shutting down American military facilities. All four speakers rely heavily on traditional scientific methods for their research, Harrington says.
“We’re not making any conclusions, so we want to bring the full weight of academic and scientific research to the topic,” Harrington says. “In Derrel’s work, he takes forensic techniques and applies them to the field, and actually researches scenes of alleged human and alien contact as if they were crime scenes.”
Harrington, who handles media relations for Sims as well, says all four speakers also believe aliens have a clear plan for Earth’s inhabitants, although none of them have conclusive evidence as to the aliens’ ultimate aim. But she says they do agree that alien visitation is not always a positive experience for the people who encounter extraterrestrials.
“They do things to forward their agenda, whatever that agenda is. We personally don’t think that taking people from their beds and traumatizing them and doing medical experiments on them is a good thing,” Harrington says. “We tend to think they’re going about their agenda in the most businesslike fashion they can.”
Sims says he hopes the festival serves as a safe place for people who have had alien encounters to get support and information about the field of UFO research.
“The Ventura UFO Festival offers a forum where people who are interested in this controversial topic, or who have had experiences they cannot explain, can come together without fear of ridicule,” Sims says. “We hope to foster an open exchange of ideas and shared understanding of the unexplained.”
But Ferris says she wants the festival to be about fun, too, and she says the event’s combination of education and entertainment could be the key to opening the minds of Ventura’s more resistant residents.
“It’s going to feel like a school carnival meets UFO festival,” Ferris says. “It’s important for people to open their possibilities, just open the doors a little bit … I think that the universe has some surprises for us, and surprises are great, but you don’t want to be thrown off balance.”