featured documentary: The Granite man of gilmour (2019)
After an extraterrestrial encounter in 1975, David Hamel embarked on a 30-year mission to build a flying saucer in his backyard, ultimately failing to do so yet leaving behind a mysterious legacy that only the residents of his small town can unravel.
The film was produced with the assistance of the DOC Institute Short Film Lab and SAW Video Media Art Centre.
Watch the film and read our interview with Matthew Hayes (Director/Editor) down below!
How did you first learn about David Hamel?
Matthew: I actually first learned about Hamel when I was a child. My mother worked for the government, and one of her colleagues had a cottage in Gilmour, near Hamel’s place, and so I would hear a story or two every once in a while, about what Hamel was getting up to. But eventually, I forgot about him altogether, and didn’t rediscover the story until I was doing my PhD, writing a history of Canada’s UFO investigation. Then I vaguely remembered mention of Hamel, and after tracking down a really obscure book about him, got back into the story.
Did you learn anything new from the making of this documentary?
Matthew: About Hamel? Pretty much everything was new to me. I had only heard vague rumours about him before actually researching his story, and once I got further into it, the more mysterious it became. For instance, it took me ages to figure out Hamel’s death date, as nobody seemed to know it exactly. His gravestone has his birth date but not his death date, and I can only assume this is because nobody ended up paying to have it engraved. I had to call the cemetery’s volunteer board to figure out the exact date.
You have an education in some pretty fascinating material. Can you explain a bit about your field of study?
Matthew: In 2019, I completed my PhD in the Canadian Studies program at Trent University. I wrote a history of Canada’s UFO investigation, which spanned the years 1950-1995. I’m currently revising this into a book, which will be published hopefully sometime next year or so. It’s a fairly straightforward history of what the Canadian government did to investigate flying saucers, and also a history of Canadian citizens who demanded answers from the government about the mystery. There are tons of sighting reports from over the years, about 4500 unique ones, which span the entire country. I’ve published a couple of scholarly journal articles on the topic, which are available to read from my website (see below). And this is also where part of the inspiration for Granite Man came from.
Has all that research made you more or less of a believer in UFOs and/or the paranormal?
Matthew: I am firmly agnostic about it all, I think. My belief has swung back and forth, like a pendulum. But now that I’ve finished a major research project on UFOs, and a couple of films, I’m really not sure what to believe. I certainly do want to believe, to use that phrase. Do I believe that flying saucers have landed on Earth? Probably not. Do I believe life exists out there? Absolutely. But beyond that, I find it hard to say. There is certainly something interesting going on - we can’t just discount the thousands of sighting reports over the years. But the nature of it all is so unclear. And the more I read, the more I’m convinced that the UFO phenomenon is best explained through a religious studies lens, that UFO culture is perhaps a new religious movement of some kind, and that focusing on the technology aspect likely won’t get us very far.
I know you’ve worked on some other genre projects. Is horror a main interest of yours?
Matthew: It’s not exactly a main interest of mine, but horror does influence some of what I do. I’m definitely into science fiction and weird stories, and I do get a thrill from some horror (but honestly most if it scares the hell out of me, so I can’t watch a lot of it). I think it creeps into my work more in small moments, where there’s a sense of dread or suspense, simmering below the surface; more existential than anything. And I think Granite Man has a bit of that, as much of it is still a mystery and it’s unclear what happened. Another film where I tried to convey this simmering, existential horror is my short film “Argus,” which is ostensibly about a grain elevator in Halifax, and how it freaks out nearby inhabitants.
What were some of your filmmaking inspirations?
Matthew: I think one of the main reasons I wanted to make this film, in this way, is because I hadn’t seen very many projects that treated otherwise wacky subjects with compassion and understanding. I really don’t know if David Hamel was, for instance, mentally ill or not, but I wanted to engage with him and his story without judgement. And so, in that respect, some of my favourite filmmakers that have influenced me and the making of Granite Man, however marginally, are people like Werner Herzog and Penny Lane, filmmakers who are just fascinated by people and their trials.
Is there a place where people can find out more about you and your work?
Matthew: Yes! I can b found on Twitter and Instagram @freefoodfilms. And my website is www.theonlymatthewhayes.com, where I have my other films posted.
Director and Editor: Matthew Hayes
Producer: Shelby Lisk
Cinematographer: Rob Viscardis
Aerial Footage: Pawel Dwulit