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Plans for UFO Festival begin to take shape

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Visitors to the International UFO Museum and Research Center can take their photo with alien figures against a backdrop of a UFO crash site. Plans for the city’s 2021 UFO Festival are underway and a new website that will also include information on the museum’s UFOlogist Invasion and MainStreet Roswell’s AlienFest debuts Thursday. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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City, organizer plan to build annual festival as destination event

An intergalactic film experience and a golf tournament are among the new events in the works for the 2021 Roswell UFO Festival, but organizers expect this year to be a build-up for next year, the 75th anniversary of the alleged UFO crash.

Robert Chapman, co-founder of Texas-based In Depth Events, is in town this week to meet with city officials and other stakeholders in the UFO Festival and associated events. The city contracted with In Depth in October to manage the 2021 festival with a goal of making it a more citywide event.

Thursday morning, Chapman will give a presentation to the City Council’s Finance Committee on how the company is meeting the goals set in the contract and show the official UFO Festival website, www.ufofestival.com, which launches Thursday.

The festival, July 2 to 4, will capitalize on the apparent reopening of the region after a year of a “pent-up economy” during the coronavirus pandemic, Chapman said in an interview with the Roswell Daily Record.

“There’s people that have gone and purchased RVs and new camping equipment and we want to take advantage of that. We want Roswell to be the first destination festival back” from the pandemic’s cancellations, he said.

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Predicting what the crowds will look like is difficult with the pandemic continuing and not knowing what the health orders will be at the time, but Chapman said In Depth’s goal is to double the 2019 attendance.

Based on 9,000 unique visitors to the International UFO Museum and Research Center that year, Chapman said marketing estimations are the festival brought 15,000 to 20,000 people to town.

“We’re hoping we could get 40,000 people in Roswell safely, and then build on, take that and pop it up another 20,000 folks for the 75th” anniversary, he said.

Jim Hill, director of the UFO Museum, said if March’s spring break crowds through the museum are any indication, festival attendance could be good.

“I expect unless something severe happens, we’re going to have some good attendance here in Roswell for our events and for others. We’ve had a really good March, which is almost back up to 2019 levels,” he said.

The museum will have its UFOlogist Invasion this year after canceling last year due to the pandemic. Events will start July 2 and wrap up July 4 with several authors, an abductee panel and individual presentations.

All events will be ticketed due to expected capacity restrictions under the health orders, Hill said, but the events will also be available virtually.

“Our objective really, and what the festival has always tried to do, is get people here and staying here through the whole festival. We’ll just have to see how this all works out,” he said.

Making the UFO Festival a destination festival on the level of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, the South By Southwest media festival in Austin or Utah’s Sundance Film Festival is a goal, but one that will take time, Chapman said.

“We want to be that level of event that people know internationally but you’ve got to scale it up,” he said.

“We want to be able to go in this year, do a proof-of-concept, and then in 2022, the 75th anniversary of the crash, is the real push. This is a build-up for next year,” he said.

There will be a virtual component to the festival again this year. Chapman said In Depth is planning for a daily hour-and-a-half livestream.

“The whole theme of the virtual event will be, ‘We’re having a great time, why aren’t you here? Come here next year,’” Chapman said.

Plans are going forward for in-person events and will meet whatever mandates are in place for health orders, Chapman said. Social distancing is built into some events, such as an alien-themed golf tournament at the Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River, he said.

An outdoor “intergalactic cinema experience” is planned for three nights at Cielo Grande Recreation Area.

“We’re doing open-air movie nights and we’re calling it an experience because we’re bringing in extra lighting, extra special effects and extra audio,” Chapman said.

One of the films that will be shown is 1997’s “Men in Black” starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

“So when they hit the neutralizer,” Chapman said, referring to the “flashy thing” the Men in Black use to erase a person’s memory, “the whole field is illuminated. We’ll have water cannons out there when the waves are crashing up against the rocks, we’ll have smoke whenever the door opens to the alien craft.”

The movies will be ticketed events, but Chapman said In Depth and the city are working to provide free events as well. The opening ceremony — which will include the parade — and the closing ceremony will be free at DeBremond Stadium. There will also be an alien-themed arts and crafts festival at the Spring River Zoo.

The Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center will also house some events, and there will be “pop-up” events and other surprises during the festival as well, Chapman said.

Downtown will still be a venue for official UFO Festival events and MainStreet Roswell will be organizing events under the banner of “AlienFest,” much in the way the UFO Museum organizes its UFOlogist Invasion in conjunction with the festival, Kathy Lay, executive director of MainStreet Roswell, said.

“We’re going to be doing activities downtown to bring people to while they’re here for the city’s festival and to get them into the businesses that weekend,” she said.

The AlienFest activities will include MainStreet’s passport program, in which participants will pick up a passport booklet at MainStreet’s booth on the Chaves County Courthouse lawn and look for certain objects in downtown stores. Passports with correct answers will be entered into a drawing for prizes.

Music on the courthouse lawn, a kids’ craft booth and costume contests for people and pets are all planned for downtown, Lay said.

Both Lay and Hill said In Depth has been supportive and good to work with on coordinating the various events for the festival.

“They have a desire to see this be successful for our downtown businesses also, so they’re not abandoning the downtown and pulling everything someplace farther away. They want to spread it out and have even more reasons for people to come and give them a bigger draw, which is only good for our businesses,” she said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.