Among conspiracy theories, none have captured my imagination more powerfully than the alleged Montauk Project. Like a great X-Files episode, nearly every tantalizing element of paranormal and government conspiracy lore weaves its way into the story. The saga was first popularized in the 1992 book, The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time, by Preston Nichols and Peter Moon. The legends continued to build in the underground through websites and on late-night radio appearances throughout the 90's and the 2000's. My first point of contact with Montauk came from hearing a particularly compelling rendition of the story told by filmmaker, Christopher Garetano on a Coast to Coast AM appearance. In talking about the film he made called Montauk Chronicles, he laid out an incredible tale that had my ears glued to the speakers. I ordered the DVD as soon as it came out and proceeded to scour the Net for more info on the topic.
When I watched the film, I was really immediately blown away with how artfully crafted and imaginative it was. I thought then as I do now, that regardless of whether the clandestine project actually existed or not, the provocative nature of the story and the way Garetano presents it, makes his work well-worth the time of any fan of the paranormal or extraterrestrial.
|Christopher preparing to shoot - At Camp Hero|
Garetano’s enthusiasm for sci-fi, horror and conspiracies shine through, making his handling of the subject feel very real and genuine. I find it refreshing in his statements that he allows the audience to draw their own conclusions and leaves the narrative open-ended to interpretation. Many people who are in this field of study usually provide very definitive explanations that demand belief or disbelief. Although the subjects that appear in his film want you to believe every word they say, the perspective I took away from the film felt cryptic, like an unsolved mystery.
As an artist, Garetano is the purest of the pure. Totally self-made and largely self-financed, his commitment to creating the best pieces of work possible is undeniable. His dedication to doing things his way without external studio pressures and meddling is hugely admirable. I think it's fair to say his approach to filmmaking is very much a guerrilla, DIY punk-rock ethic. Albeit, with a more intense focus on perfection than a free-flowing garage band.
In between his continued promotion for Montauk and his furious work on a new film, I had the pleasure of talking with him about some curiosities I had about the conspiracy itself as well as his personal influences and life experiences.
Looking back in hindsight, it’s truly astonishing to me how long this story has been in my life. It only fully occurred to me in recent years. The first time that I encountered Camp Hero was in the early eighties, when I was kid.
The alleged experiments were still in the tail-end of their flux. My family and I spent our summer vacations in Montauk, New York. It’s actually a very popular vacation-spot, in the summer season, for New Yorkers. The town, from June to September, thrives with tourists, but in the winter it’s the polar-opposite- and it’s virtually empty.
One day, I was walking on the rocky-beach of Montauk Point, with several members of my family and two military guards stopped us. They told us that we couldn’t go any further. I wasn’t sure exactly why at the time, but looking back now I realize we were about to walk into some kind of restricted-zone, bordering the Air Force Base.
Furthermore, If I knew of any stories of aliens, time-travel or the horrors of the mind-control experiments, my dog days of summer would have been much more interesting. It wasn’t until much later, in the mid 90’s, when I came across that very first book, by Preston Nichols. I wasn’t really impressed, as that book is very thinly laid-out, it’s a short-read and has almost nothing regarding the (Montauk-Boy) atrocities that allegedly occurred there. I also believe certain things were invented to sell the story. The explanations, regarding the technology were esoteric at best. So it wasn’t until later, in 2006, that my interest was sparked to make Montauk Chronicles.
It was really the idea of speaking with the subjects that appealed to me the most. The idea of actually speaking face to face with the men who swore by the tale, was a whole different prospect. My approach opened-up doors for a larger variety of investigative ideas.
My interest was making an epic movie, with a completely new analysis rather than an adaptation of any of the books that came before my movie.
This film is truly a labor of love for you. You have been immersed in horror, filmmaking and alternative media for a long time. What does it mean to you to have seen this project through?
It means the world to me. How else can I say it? I made two movies called Montauk Chronicles; One that’s out in the world right now and another that very few people saw when it was screened publicly. The screenings started in late 2011 and throughout 2012.
It played at the International UFO Congress, and a few other places around the world. I was never happy with it. Parts of it worked and others certainly didn’t. I made a hard decision in late 2012 to do something major to it. I threw the first version away and I was very prepared to start all over again. I was technically and mentally prepared for the redux and I was very inspired. The production was difficult but rewarding, throughout. We had very little money, and help, but I knew what I was doing. My skills were sharp, so I was ready. I love the post-process of moviemaking but this one was an intense situation that seemed to have a series of endless obstacles. I began to disassociate with the “real world” around me and all that really mattered was the fucking movie. I was really tired by the second year of making the second movie. It was a full time job and it had already been going on for years with the other version.
I was homeless in the last year and a half, while making Montauk Chronicles. I lived in five different locations during that time. The bulk of the movie was edited, during a hot and humid summer, in a room with poor-ventilation and no air conditioning. Strange things happened too. One day, out of the blue I was covered in carpenter ants while editing. They were everywhere, all over the computer, all over me, inside the computer!!!
Other times it seemed weeks would pass and I was working full time every day and only advancing forward very slowly. It was my choice to stick with it but certainly not an easy one. I could have thrown in the proverbial towel at any time, but I didn’t. All of my money and time went into the movie. I hadn’t had a vacation in almost 10 years and my weekdays, as well as the weekends, were always full time work-days. It was very uncomfortable but I was afflicted with the constant need to work on the movie, full- time, because there was no other way to do it. I also had my regular job and private life to deal with as well. I slept only a few hours a night.
I was quite sick at the very end of it all. I lost forty-five pounds and sincerely felt like I was going insane. When you’re serious about making a feature-length movie it isn’t a hobby. It doesn’t work that way.
It was the second time I made this movie and I had to complete it in less than two years. That was my personal deadline. Movie making means the world to me. I dedicated my whole life to this thing and I made that decision a long time ago. It’s who I am. It’s a way of life. I’ve also experienced a lot of life. I have a rich reservoir to draw from, as a storyteller, and I think that’s just as important as understanding your craft technically.
Horror movies, literature and suspenseful storytelling are ancient and are very integral to cultures around the world and throughout history. Even ancient literature like Homer and certainly Dante (The Inferno) should be considered horror. Religious texts and certainly religious-history is partially horror. Greek mythology owns structural ligaments comprised of many horror stories. Great artists, throughout history, have used horror as a way of expression so I’m not apologetic, in any way, for making a dark piece of artwork/storytelling.
If the Montauk experiments did indeed happen and if you were to be immersed in that reality it would be an infinite galaxy of brutal, unimaginable terror.
A lot of people read about these things but for some reason their imagination refuses to translate it into the purely macabre story that it inherently is. So, I felt it there was no other way to make this but to bring those elements of horror into the picture. I’m glad I did. There’s really no other way that this story should be told.
This is one of my favorite “urban legends” ever, due to the scope of material involved and the sheer range of phenomena attached to it. You have The Philadelphia Experiment, Nazis, aliens, time-travel, remote viewing, mind control, a government cover-up, bizarre creatures, abduction, torture, an underground air force base, ESP and more. Are you surprised when certain people go along with certain aspects of the story and not others?
I’m a firm believer in asking many questions and paying an almost macroscopic attention to the physical reaction of the subject. There’s so much that can be learned from a person’s body language, facial expression and voice inflection. When someone is putting a story out into the world, as elaborate and seemingly far-fetched as this Montauk tale, they shouldn’t deliver hazy recollections when questioned. They should be prepared for it and also should remember an incredible amount of detail.
In 1998 I found a good friend of mine, ten hours after he died. It was a tragic and a profoundly miserable experience to say the least. It happened years ago but I can remember every detail to this moment.
If someone was in an elaborate government program and saw, aliens, experienced time-travel, witnessed brutal murders, rapes, and was in it for thirteen years, they better not tell me that it’s hard to remember.
The recollection should be vivid and offer myriad details. A liar, who is fabricating a story, will NEVER be able to create such an infinitely textured picture as a true experience warrants.
So, I’m naturally cautious when it comes to somebody offering outrageous claims. It frustrates me sometimes that many people so easily believe the jokers out there claiming to be time-travelers or psychic-gurus who NEVER offer a shred of credible detail or evidence. I believe in the possibilities of most of the above, but rarely do I immediately trust or believe some guy on the internet claiming to have had dinner with George Washington just because HE says so. Also you can’t be selective with these things. The same men who claim that the “Montauk Boys” were murdered are also the same men who suggest there were monsters, aliens, Nazi-scientists and just about everything else down at Camp Hero.
Do the viewers need to accept that the entire story being told by Alfred Bielek, Preston Nichols, and Stewart Swerdlow as 100% factual or is it possible that some parts are true and others are something else?
No, because it’s very possible that portions are fabricated. For whatever reason, parts of it might have been put out there as disinformation or for pure profit and sensationalism. I believed very-little when I was first going in. It wasn’t until later that I started to believe; when I was researching almost identical government programs that were actually proven.
As for Montauk, I found the entire situation to be intriguing, you know? The situation as a whole was interesting to me. What we have here are several grown and even elderly men who are making some very wild claims that they cannot prove to this day.You went all in when it came to digging and doing the research, talking to the key players involved. What was the most frustrating aspect of the evidence gathering process due to an inability to verify claims beyond the witness testimony?
We live in strange times where the boundaries between fantasy and reality are completely breached. It wasn’t until I began to research other documented cases like MK ULTRA and the Tuskegee experiments, that I really considered the Montauk Project as fact. The trouble that I had with it in the beginning is that the claims from my three subjects were tantamount, in theme, to a bad science fiction movie and this is really why I made a second movie because I feel that I didn’t get enough from them the first time around.
Unless you’re completely gullible it isn’t until you begin to truly research the possibilities that the elements of the Montauk Project become believable.
For a long time The Montauk Project story wasn’t as popular as it is now. The most frustrating aspect was that it was only four men who claimed they were part of it. So it was only Alfred Bielek, Preston Nichols, Stewart Swerdlow, and Duncan Cameron. I personally spoke to all of them and interviewed three of them for my movies. I re-interviewed Stewart Swerdlow and Preston Nichols for the new version (of Montauk Chronicles) in 2013 and 2014. It wasn’t until I had already made the first movie and began screening it in 2012 that more people started to claim that they were part of it. And several people contacted me between 2013 and 2014 while I was making the second movie.There’s this whole notion in the darker crevices of conspiracy legend about Project Monarch, that allegedly grew out of MKULTRA, which we know is documented on the public record. The main premise is abduction of young children and putting them threw a mind fracturing process and then rebuilding their minds with personality alters, often that can preform tasks for the government. Assassinations, sex slavery, spying, etc. There seems to be a connection in that story with the claims that come out of Montauk. Have you made any of your own connections with that or has anyone contacted you along those lines?
The people you see in the film, of course made those connections. In addition to that, I’ve had MANY people contact me now that claim they’re connected to alike projects. It seems like that population is growing now but I can clearly remember when it was only Alfred, Stewart, Preston and Duncan.
This thing will continue to grow. I receive emails from people with new info a few times a month.
The fact that a programs like MKULTRA and Project Stargate have been proven, opens the door for all sorts of other claims of black projects related to mind control or human experimentation. What’s the standard of proof that is acceptable when these sorts of theories are presented?
We need more witnesses. Credible witnesses are preferable. People with backgrounds that we can cross-reference and prove. Air Force, scientists, official personnel that make the same claims as our current subjects. Usually credible people who have a job or reputation at risk are much more believable people than some mystery man with a half-assed story and a book.
From your estimation, is there a single piece of the story that acts as a “smoking gun”? If not, what is that one aspect of the story that makes the job of debunking difficult?
At this time the story doesn’t have a black and white punch-line. I think the answer might be found in a small or seemingly insignificant clerical mistake. Something that was overlooked. A paper trail. I think I found one and I’ve been looking into it but I can’t say much more. I can say It might lead to information as to how this whole thing, if true, was funded.
Has anything new surfaced related to the story since the release of the film?
Yes, and I’m currently keeping it close to the vest.
Do you think mind control is still on the agenda these days? Do you have any thoughts on what kinds of clandestine scientific experiments the government would be interested in today?
I would pay attention to the plague of random shootings in the states and abroad. It’s far too strange and numerous to just be a bunch of copycats. There’s really something wrong here. It doesn’t feel right. It’s not normal and I think there should be more independent investigations to try to connect some dots with these things. I speak to my elders about our current time and they agree that something is unusual even in comparison to the usual chaos of the world.
What are the things that keep you up at night trying to wrap your mind around?
I have been severely effected by this whole experience.
I’ve had bouts with horrible anxiety as well as bizarre dreams related to the subject matter. I’ve had reoccurring dreams of programming and even dreams of strange beings attacking me at night.
I had this insane dream of this small humanoid creature running at me and it began to poke me in my rips with a small, sharp metallic object. Outside of that, I have a love for fiction, cinema, art and music and I have some exciting and original ideas that I’m determined to turn into motion pictures. I think we live in a shamelessly unoriginal time. We need to change. I’m going to do my best to help. Movie making is an “expensive paint-box” as Orson Welles said but it’s so much better than it ever was, for the independent movie maker. So infinitely better. More of us just need to take advantage of what’s available to us.
Aside from the fantastic tale being told, what stood out were the beautiful cinematic sequences you created to help visualize the narrative. Your creativity and craftsmanship in that area is truly impressive considering the resources you had available. There’s some truly haunting images and vivid cinematography. What was your creative process for generating the stylistic look and effects for those particular sections?
I have my influences in film, art, music and literature. I have Influences in nature and in life. I study and practice my craft as much as possible. I love film history and it’s so important, for a filmmaker, to know about it. I’ve been completely sober for 16 years but a few psychedelic-drug experiences, from my past, have also opened doors and allowed ideas in. These are ideas that I don’t think would be as authentic if I didn’t have those strange-experiences to refer to.
I don’t recommend anyone do anything that will compromise their minds or lives so please don’t take my previous statement as an encouragement to indulge in dangerous or illegal drug-use. To find and develop a personal style, as a movie maker, you must try to reject the urge to copy or consciously pay-tribute to other movie makers in your own work. The style must flow naturally. I never think of other movies and never try to imitate their shots. I’m always thinking about what’s in front of me and how it should be expressed to the audience. How will it effect the audience and how much coverage I would need for post-production.
I loved the music score in the film. There’s a nice bonus on the DVD about it. Can you comment on the importance of capturing the right tone and mood with the music? Will the tracks ever be made available on their own?
Krystal Cordero is the composer and she did an amazing job. To help prepare her I played a few records (various John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Susan Justin) and told her of my own influences in art and literature. We had musical interests, in common, but we also discussed a pure-mood for various scenes as well.
I love the score, it’s really unique and I can’t wait to release it. I know people are going to truly enjoy experiencing it as its own piece of artwork, as I usually do with movie scores.
The digital version of the Montauk Chronicles score will be available very soon. I’m preparing for its release as I write this. The vinyl release will soon follow. I always wanted the ultimate release of the score to be an experience to accompany the movie. So it’s Krystal’s musical cues mixed with soundbites from the movie, including narration, clips from interviews, sound effects and sound clips from recreations.
The music can change everything in a picture. I can think of a so many movies that fell-short because of the wrong score. I think they would be infinitely better if the score was changed. For example. take a movie like Joel Schumacher’s 8mm. It’s not a bad movie but I think the score was a major factor in its demise.
Imagine if you will a score like Tangerine Dream did for William Friedkin’s Sorcerer or what Vangelis conjured for Blade Runner and that movie would have been completely different. It kind of turns into predictable action movie at the end but most of it is a slow burn dark, brooding, macabre-noir story of the seedy pornography underworld. The current 8mm score doesn’t work so it takes away from some otherwise brilliant movie making. It behooves any filmmaker to know music and film history.Do you think the film accomplished what you hoped it would?
It was all my choice. I was the director, producer, writer, cinematographer, editor, colorist, visual effects artist and sound designer. I feel I accomplished what I set out to accomplish with it. Under the circumstances, with the truly limited budget and very few hands on deck, I think we overachieved. I’m very happy with it.
I wasn’t happy with the first version and it was painful to throw away and start over again. But it was a freedom that I needed and I learned so much making the second version.
I know you are in the midst of a new film on the Bigfoot story. Can you tell me what drew you to that over all other possibilities amongst paranormal subjects? How will your approach make this well-documented topic unique and add something new to the legend?
The first element that drew me to BIGFOOT is that I derive energy from nature, especially the forest. I needed a grounding situation after almost a decade of Montauk Chronicles.
Another is that BIGFOOT is such a saturated subject matter but it’s never truly been covered correctly, outside of literature.
So, I’m not interested in making yet another movie/documentary about people walking around the woods, finding absolutely nothing.
I’m also not interested in making a junky z-movie that disregards the incredible history surrounding the creature, science, evidence and the legends. My movie is something completely different. There is a rich, serious and detailed history of stories that haven’t been adapted or only adapted in a careless, shaky-cam fashion.
I’m offering a true-experience of the BIGFOOT history in such a way that you’ll be immersed in the folklore. I want to take you back in time and take you into the woods. I want to remove you from the artifice and allow you to experience the forest. The stories will be thrilling, emotional, dark, and sympathetic. They will be connected with uniquely expressive examples of nature and narrative philosophy that’s unusual for a picture regarding this subject. In other words, I hope to blow you the FU@& away. ;)
|Christopher, shooting scenes for BIGFOOT|
To connect with Christopher's work, follow him on Twitter, or go to the Montauk Chronicles website.