Most film documentaries about famous movies start at the beginning. We see interviews with the directors, writers and producers and they tell us what they were trying to accomplish and how they feel about their films all these years later. Then the film makers get down to the nitty gritty and they interview all of the actors and technicians who worked on the film as well as film historians. These individuals reveal how certain scenes were done and where the film fits in the pantheon of great cinema. But rarely do these movies ever tell us about the contributions of ordinary, average people.
Well, first time director Jonathan E. Robinson and producer Drew Hall have corrected this oversight with their new documentary “Who Are You People?” A wonderfully warm and touching film, the movie tells the story of the 1977 classic sci-fi movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” But in the film’s entire 89 minute running time, writer/director Steven Spielberg is not interviewed. Neither is producer Julia Phillips or stars Richard Dreyfuss or Melinda Dillon. Rather, the filmmakers tell the story of how this classic sci-fi film was made with the help of hundreds of Americans in Mobile, Alabama.
In the spring of 1976, Mobile was going through tough times. The town previously relied on a nearby air force base for nearly a third of its economy. The base closed down some years before (supposedly because President Lyndon Johnson was pissed that Alabama voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964!) and many of the local people were struggling. But the air base still had two enormous airplane hangars that were perfect for building indoor movie sets. So in 1976 Columbia Pictures contacted the city father’s in Mobile and asked about coming down to film their sci-fi epic. The town was thrilled and warmly embraced the California movie crew when they arrived. The production team wound up employing hundreds of Mobile natives and helped to turn Mobile into a movie making town.
Robinson interviews dozens of locals who tell charming stories of their close encounters with Spielberg and his cast and crew. From former military men who played astronaut extras to children who wore restrictive alien costumes, these people tell amazing stories about an unseen area of movie making. Emotionally moving and very funny, “Who Are You People” is a delightfully engaging look at the everyday Americans whose efforts helped create a sci-fi classic. Robinson and Hall have created a fantastic documentary that has depth, heart and soul. Bravo guys!