President Eisenhower and extraterrestrials? Film explores urban legend
Written and directed by Christopher Munch, The 11th Green begins on slow simmer and eventually arrives at an emotional boil as it floats back and forth through time to explore a curious proposition: that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not only interested in, but also had contact with extraterrestrials.
The film, which was partially shot in Palm Desert and other Coachella Valley locations, screened in the Locals Spotlight program at the 31st annual Palm Springs International Film Festival.
“There was an urban legend out there for some time, and I believe reports first appeared in the 1950s that Dwight Eisenhower had one or more face-to-face interactions with visitors from other worlds,” Munch says. “What interested me about the story was not so much the specifics of it or whether it was true or not, but more so the emotional ‘what if?’ involving Eisenhower. How this man would have potentially reflected back on those experiences late in his life. Would he have regrets or done things differently?”
How did Munch craft a story with a potentially contentious subject matter that today’s audiences could embrace? With an inventive storyline.
The plot: After his 85-year-old father dies from a sudden heart attack, slick Washington D.C. journalist Jeremy Rudd (played by Campbell Scott) returns to his golf resort home. Fighting memories of his beleaguered father-and-son relationship, Jeremy suddenly becomes much more acquainted with his father’s mysterious legacy.
Toss in a romantic interest via his father’s former assistant, Laurie (played by Agnes Bruckner), and a visit from his father’s protégé, Jacobsen (played by Currie Graham), who hands Jeremy reels of film that suggest America had interaction with off-world visitors 50 years ago, and our protagonist suddenly finds himself in a personal and professional conundrum.
Is his newfound potential love interest clouding his interest? Should he believe in the film footage presented to him?
Running parallel to the present-day storyline, the story reveals Jeremy’s father served on the National Security Council staff of the former president (played by George Gerdes) and that the country’s collective fear pretty much left the “extraterrestrial question” in the wrong hands. Then, in 1967, two years before his death, the president finds himself revisiting the ghosts of his past in the same house that Jeremy would later inherit from his father, who, in this creative iteration, happened to own it after Ike.
“Originally the storyline was to focus just on Eisenhower in his home in Palm Desert,” Munch says. “But ultimately it would take place in several different time periods. I adopted the framing device of a contemporary journalist whose father was a young man in Eisenhower’s council and very trusted and I took the liberty of having him purchase the house Eisenhower once lived in, which, of course, didn’t happen in real life, but it seemed like a way that the protagonist could get immersed into what happened.”
Munch, a Los Angeles resident who frequents the valley, filmed the project on a low budget and with minimal crew. He says he found the Greater Palm Springs Film Alliance & Film Office to be very helpful, noting, “it’s exactly the opposite of when you’re filming a major production in places like Los Angeles where there’s a lot of red tape.”
Local landmarks such as Shields Date Garden in Indio, which Munch had visited many times, are also featured in the film.
“I wrote a scene that would take place there in the Shields’ theater, where our intelligence operative shows our protagonist the alleged footage from Eisenhower’s meeting with the extraterrestrial,” he says. “It was nice way to photograph these historic local places.”
As for the subject matter of the film, there could be a bit of kismet involved.
A 2017 Washington Post article noted that the Pentagon officially confirmed there was a $22 million government program “to collect and analyze ‘anomalous aerospace threats’ — government-speak for UFOs.” In 2019, the New York Times featured interviews with several Navy pilots who said they witnessed, and in several instances recorded, unexplained flying objects off of the East Coast.
“In the course of the last year, the film has become timelier,” Munch says. “Major publications have documented, in a very dry and matter-of-fact way, incidents involving the U.S. Military engaging with UFOs over the past 15 years or so. This has all been presented in a way which cannot be easily dismissed, as it was from the 1950s onward, where UFOs and ETs were only considered in the context of the ‘giggle factor.’ The subject is timelier even though these current articles have no direct relation to those Eisenhower years.”
And what of Eisenhower’s alleged encounters with a higher intelligence?
“I find that it would have been very routine for him; I don’t think anything really phased Eisenhower,” Munch muses. “As far as my protagonist in the film, I certainly arrived at the scenes with his incredulity. He’s a journalist who’s reported on mainstream and fringe science. He certainly has a predisposition, but it’s balanced out by his concern for the validity of what he’s reporting. I think that’s the quandary for any journalist who is having to report on the subject of UFOs or extraterrestrials.”
May 19, 2020