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Aliens land in North Buffalo

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“Fire in the Sky,” the 1993 film based on a book (about a real-life experience), was the first feature film Buffalo native Rob Lieberman directed.

“My parents took me to see the movie when I was 6 and I’m still seeing a shrink because of it!”

That’s one reaction to “Fire in the Sky,” directed by Buffalo native Rob Lieberman. The 1993 film follows an Arizona logger named Travis Walton, who disappears for five days into a flying saucer. Following the abduction, he and his friends struggle to cope with their experience. The film is adapted from “The Walton Experience,” written by the real-life Walton.

A screening and Q&A of the film will come to North Park Theatre on Sept. 10 at 9:30 p.m., with all proceeds of the screening benefiting Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Arts Center. Hosted by his alma mater, University at Buffalo, Lieberman is looking forward to heading back to where it all started.

“North Park Theatre is five blocks from where I grew up,” he says. “I saw my first movie there. That’s what put the bug in me. All these years later, I’ve directed for over 50 years because of that.”

Lieberman initially wanted to act, then switched gears and asked his University at Buffalo professors if he could do an independent study program on film instead. He became the first person at the university to graduate with a film degree, before its official program was established.

His first film gig was shooting coaching videos for the Buffalo Bills. Eventually, Lieberman moved to the West Coast and momentum built. He has directed over 1,000 television commercials, wrote 16 pilots that went to television, directed seven feature films—and is currently working on two new screenplays.

“Fire in the Sky” was his first feature film. Lieberman read the script and instantly knew he had to do it.

“My films are always about people,” he says. “People move us and grab us. I read the script and saw a story about six guys in Arizona and how this event affected their lives and relationships.”

The pivotal abduction scene came to Lieberman in a dream, which he told over the phone during the night to his girlfriend at the time. The final cut is just as he dreamed, right down to the color of the iridescent goop found in the abductee’s mouth. He also had a specific vision for the aliens.

“A monster is what a monster’s eyes are,” Lieberman says. “I gave them human eyes to give the audience a glimpse into what they are thinking, rather than the black almond-shaped eyes we all know.”

The film was expected to be a big hit when it opened in March 1993, and while it reached No. 1 at the box office, a massive snowstorm shut down theaters across the East Coast that weekend. Lieberman suspects his career would have gone in a different direction without the storm, but to him, things happen for a reason. He considers the film his best work and audiences seem to agree.

“When you make a movie and it’s that special to you, you look out at the landscape of movies and wonder where it is going to fall,” says Lieberman. “I think it has survived because it is timeless.”

Lieberman will divulge more at the post-screening Q&A, but there was one thing I was dying to ask: Does he believe in aliens?

“I think it’s arrogant for us to think we are the only living beings and we are the only planet with life,” Lieberman says. “Everyone involved in the abduction took a lie detector test at the time of the alleged encounter and passed. We gave them lie detector tests again at the film’s release and they all passed once again.”

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