The supernatural. Whether you believe in otherworldly phenomenons or not, one thing is for sure – a lot of people are interested in the subject matter. That’s why authors and filmmakers continue to explore these roads, which have been chartered time and time again. Readers and filmgoers can’t get enough of this stuff.
That’s one of the reasons that Aaron Daniel Annas, film professor and the director of Television and Film Arts at SUNY Buffalo State, has traveled the Northeast in search of answers. Annas, who holds an MFA in Independent Film and Digital Imaging from Governors State University, set out to interview psychics, scientists, and skeptics, to find out what he could about… ghosts.
When he was young, his father was a skeptic, while his mother never denied the existence of specters. Of course that meant that Annas didn’t know what to believe, which is why he finally decided to ask questions and put the answers to film.
During the project, Annas wanted to make sure that he didn’t lean in one direction or another when it came to people’s beliefs – he wanted to produce an unbiased film, which is scheduled to be released digitally by major media company, 1091, on July 21st.
The film is aptly called There’s No Such Thing as Ghosts?
“My idea is not to be a ghost hunter, but to find out why society believes what they believe,” said Annas. “How could we have two different people from the same cultural background, the same religious background or the same societal background, who have completely different opinions on the supernatural?”
Following is a Q&A with Annas:
Can you tell me what your personal beliefs are when it comes to the paranormal?
I have had experiences I can’t explain, so I am open to the paranormal. Also, my personal religious beliefs impact my views on the paranormal. I have Christian beliefs which include a belief in the Holy Ghost. Just that name itself claims the word ghost. Therefore, I am open. I tried to bring a crew with different religious beliefs than my own in order to remain as unbiased as possible.
Have you ever visited Iron Island here in Buffalo?
I have not visited Iron Island. I’ve got this question a lot since I started this film back in 2016. I would love to go. However, as I was journeying through this film, contacts did not lead in that direction.
This film – what were its original intentions when you set out on the journey, and how did that journey unfold/change over the course of time?
So my original idea was to try to understand societies’ rationalizations of the paranormal. My parents have very similar religious and cultural backgrounds, however, growing up, they treated the idea of the paranormal in different ways. I wondered how two people with such similar backgrounds could develop differing beliefs.
For this film, I developed a list of questions I asked everyone including: religious beliefs, beliefs in an afterlife, and their thoughts of others who claim belief in the paranormal. I also took a crew with differing beliefs in both religion and the paranormal. In addition to my interview, I always left time for those on my crew to each ask a question. Having questions from these different perspectives opened up new conversations I may have missed.
I found that skeptics on my crew had a strong urge to debunk what we learned, filmed, or experienced.
I found that skeptics on my crew had a strong urge to debunk what we learned, filmed, or experienced. Those who came into the project believing in the paranormal, seemed to desire to enhance their beliefs and also tended to experience more unexplained events during our filming. The film morphed from finding an answer to “why” people have their beliefs to listening and understanding the variety of beliefs and disbeliefs out there. I interviewed both believers and disbelievers. Rather than trying to prove anyone right or wrong, I ultimately decided to let each person speak their truth and tell each story from that person’s point of view.
From beginning to end, did your perceptions change? Amplify? Wane?
The first location filming we did was at the Hinsdale House. It started off like an actual horror movie. We got to the house before the owner, and the groundskeeper met us outside. He told us that he wouldn’t go in the house if he didn’t have to and left.
Needless to say, we were super nervous at first. However, after spending hundreds of hours on this film, I realized that my beliefs didn’t change, but my fear lessened. We had things happen that I cannot explain.
Along the way, his crew captures unexplained phenomena including an electronic box that purportedly allows the dead to speak.
There were a lot of times things didn’t happen. Therefore, when something happened, it was extraordinary. I was never hurt or accosted by anything supernatural. I guess, now, I am less fearful of the paranormal. I should also note that those on my crew who did not believe in the paranormal before we started filming did not change their beliefs.
One of those who started the project as a believer actually had an intense experience while filming where he saw an entity walk across a hallway on a floor of a location where nobody was. We caught things on camera and audio that we cannot explain. That evidence seems to amplify beliefs of those who already believe while being explained away by those who don’t.
Is Buffalo featured in the film?
Our entire crew for the film was made up of Buffalo State faculty and students. Although shooting took place in both WNY and PA, we had a Buffalo based crew for the entire film. Even scoring was done by a Buffalo State professor.
I direct the film program at Buffalo State and was excited to not only work with my colleagues but have student interns participate in production.
The film also features Joe Nickell from the Center for Inquiry, and Lou Rera (local horror author and retired professor of Communication from Buffalo State).
All studio interviews in the film were filmed in the studio at BuffState.
Although a lot of filming is in locations outside of the city (such as Hinsdale, NY), I managed to slip the Buffalo skyline in the background of one of our traveling shots behind subjects from the highway.
What was your greatest takeaway?
The paranormal community is a vibrant world of people who spend a lot of time, money, and focus on understanding and/or experiencing the paranormal. We were welcomed with open arms by a lot of these people. I had no idea that the community was so large and connected to each other. Whether ghosts exist in the physical world or only in the mind, they are a catalyst for community, healing, and friendship for many people.
“Annas allows all of the interview subjects to tell their stories and give their opinions, treating them all respectfully and coming from a nonjudgmental angle.”
-Reviewer Joseph Perry, after the film’s screening at the 2020 MidWest WeirdFest.
The film has already been well received at a number of film festivals across the country and has collected a number of awards, including best documentary (Cinemafest, 2019; Prison City Film Festival 2020) and best documentary director (Prison City Film Festival, 2020).
Lead image: A room at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Linesville, PA