AUSTIN, Texas—Perhaps no film has ever set its tone so clearly within its first line as the new documentary Love & Saucers:
“When I was 17, I lost my virginity to a female extraterrestrial,” begins 72-year-old David Huggins. “That’s all I can say about it.”
Huggins’ voice carries no sarcasm. It doesn’t hesitate for an instant. And filmmakers Matt Ralston (producer) and Brad Abrahams (director) provide no filters. Love & Saucers ostensibly sets out to allow this man with more than 100 encounters in his lifetime to lay out his experiences detail by detail.
At times, the results can be wild. Huggins had his first encounter at eight years old when a little hairy guy with yellow eyes kept calling out “David, behind you” in the backyard. By age 18, his encounter total eclipsed 20, including meeting Crescent, the alien woman he’d have a prolonged relationship with (regarding that opening statement, Huggins later says: “I figured, if anything, I’d be losing it in the backseat of a Ford, but it didn’t work out that way at all”).
Huggins eventually got prodded inside a vacuum cleaner-like spacecraft, where he fathered a lot of possible interspecies children. Perhaps most peculiar of all, the aliens did not allow Huggins to discuss his encounters or express his feelings about them until he was nearly 50. At that point, they finally allowed Huggins to share his stories so he would have a way of dealing with his complex emotions. Their idea for how he should handle those feelings? Paintings. Huggins ran with this suggestion and turned out a series of erotic, impressionistic oil works.
“I was traumatized; I’m not saying I wasn’t,” Huggins says as he introduces his art. “But after I started doing the painting, I started calming down. I realized these things happened to me, and I was able to face it.”
So Love & Saucers sounds like an extended report from the likes of Coast to Coast AM, right? (Naturally, Huggins once appeared as a guest on the long-time, late-night radio show that believes the truth is out there.) Not quite. This film does not set out to change viewers’ minds on the existence of extraterrestrial beings, and neither does it want to parade Huggins in front of the audience as a sideshow generating lulz. Instead, Love & Saucers stumbled into a story more about us down here on Earth—how do we react to others perceived as odd, and does it hurt to believe in something everyone else quickly turns a side-eye towards?
A loving lens
Abrahams makes a number of smart decisions throughout the film that allow Huggins’ humanity—his sincerity, his matter-of-fact acceptance of this strange life—to shine through. For instance, the entire first half of the film consists solely of Huggins talking. He walks the audience through his childhood, his hobbies (notably, his love of genre film that manifests itself through a VHS collection in the thousands), and the start of his family while pointing out the notable encounters along the way. Not only does this reveal the somewhat claustrophobic nature of Huggins’ current life (unfolding in a small Hoboken apartment where his job sits down the street); it allows his story to speak for itself without the filter of a narrator or the possibly influential reactions of others.
But as Huggins introduces more outlandish-sounding encounters, the urge to have someone else react becomes undeniable. After all, Huggins may live a small life, but he doesn’t live in isolation. Ralston and Abrahams know this sensation, too—it’s why they ultimately tracked down a handful of Huggins’ neighbors, his boss, some fellow experiencers, and even Huggins’ son to appear in Love & Saucers’ second half.
“We realized we needed a larger perspective, and so we at least tried to incorporate the world around him,” Abrahams tells Ars. “We fully expected his boss or his neighbor or the professor to be skeptical or to express disbelief, but they all just completely support him because they know him. And once you know him, you can’t say he’s being untrue.”
“He’s definitely not lying,” Ralston adds.
Ralston and Abrahams would know—the latter has been talking with Huggins on-and-off for more than five years now. And his first extended interactions with Huggins came when the film’s star invited the director to stay with him at his home, for three days, using his live-in ex-wife’s room. (Although she doesn’t appear on camera, Janice is mentioned often. She and Huggins split not long after he revealed his unusual upbringing. “I know that she knows something is different about me,” Huggins says. “But I didn’t know how to bring it up.”)
Talking with Ars, the production team doesn’t want to say whether or not they ultimately believe Huggins or whether he changed their minds at all. But they certainly feel confident that the man consistently speaks his truth.
Huggins’ unorthodox art ultimately brings his truth to life—to the filmmakers (who first made contact with him through a book collection of the paintings), to the audience (all the film’s promotional material, including prints for sale, revolves around them), and to others appearing in the film. In the most endearing scene within a documentary full of ‘em, Abrahams accompanies Huggins to a Manhattan gallery opening for his work. The thought of Huggins not only showcasing his intimate and offbeat paintings, but explaining them to total strangers in one of the most coolhunting areas in the world, instantly generates anxiety. Then just as Huggins has done for viewers up to this point in the film, his genuine nature seems to deflate any potential conflict.
Ralston: Manhattan ended up being the perfect place. It’s just a melting pot of weirdness.
Abrahams: A lot of those people were artists and really appreciated the work. The paintings are nice, but some have a shocking amount of skill. They’re so cinematic with the lighting and staging, and the detail on the faces… you’re really struck.
Ralston: And David’s really purposeful—he doesn’t sketch.
Abrahams: It’s from memory—with oil paint.
Ralston: We showed some of his paintings at a screening / show in Miami and asked some of the other painters what they thought. They all said, “You know he’s not great, but his strokes are purposeful—he knows what he wants to paint and it’s vivid in his head.”
The Love & Saucers team ultimately has an interest in exploring what makes people believe in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary—what kind of person can proceed in that situation and how does society then accept or deny them? Abrahams and Ralston first worked together on a short film exploring researchers devoted to finding Florida’s mythical Skunk Ape, and they have intentions of turning that into a full-blown feature on cryptozoologist researchers once promotion for Love & Saucers has wrapped up.
Huggins shows that even a kind, accepting grandfather-like figure may fall into one of these fringe communities. And Love & Saucers shows a true believer doesn’t have to explicitly appear unhinged or have to become a communal pariah. (Just this week in Florida, a city council member now running for Congress talked to press about her own childhood abduction and the reaction came swiftly.) Instead, Huggins continues on with 90 percent of a rather plain life, and his belief allows him some joy and relief from past stress. If that doesn’t negatively impact others—and it may, in fact, benefit them through some interesting genre art—where’s the harm?
Love & Saucers continues on the festival circuit with a stop in San Francisco this weekend. The most up-to-date schedule can be found on the film's Facebook page, though the filmmakers intend to release it on VOD and VHS (so Huggins can watch at home, of course). Below, you can watch the Skunk Ape short soon being turned into a feature-length documentary.
Listing image by Matt Ralston, Brad Abrahams