Ovnis en Zacapa (2015)

(Literal Title: UFOs in Zacapa)

Before we get started, there’s something here we need to point out:

O.V.N.I. is an acronym for what we would call a UFO.

It’s used in several languages, including French, Italian, Portuguese and even Spanish, which are close enough to each other that the acronym is the same in all of them.  In Spanish, it stands for “Objeto Volador No Identificado”

Which basically means “Unidentified Flying Object.”

And, I’ll add that Zacapa is one of the twelve “departments” (internal political divisions, like a county) in Guatemala, the name of a brand of rum and the capital of that same department.

At any rate, Robert Daneri is frustrated.

He has been mocked and ridiculed because he wrote a book about UFOs.

And Robert doesn’t even believe they are real.

He just wished people would shut up about his book and let him get on with his unfulfilling job of teaching a basic university course which even he thinks is a waste of time.

But then the attractive young host of a ghost hunting show turns up at his door and offers him a lot of money to take part in an investigation into the sudden rash of UFO sightings near a small town in Zacapa.

There’s even a UFO cult grown up around a young boy who supposedly speaks for the aliens, and a lot of people keep pleading with him to have the aliens abduct them.

Robert can’t find any more enthusiasm for this than anything else in his life, at first, but then he starts getting interested because strange things start happening which suggest that there might be more going on than he suspects…

There aren’t a lot of films being made in Guatemala these days: most of them are documentaries.  I’m not sure that Ovnis en Zacapa is the first science fiction film made in Guatemala, but even if it isn’t, it is still extraordinarily rare.

They made it on a fairly tight budget, with the help of a number of different Latin American countries.  However, it still looks quite good, thanks at least in part to the wise choice not to throw in a lot of expensive effects.  The few they do have get used in effective ways and never look cheap.  The director, Marcos Machado, studied at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV in Cuba, and the technical aspects of the film, from its cinematography to its sound, editing and performances, all have a high degree of professional polish, backed by lots of technical skill.  While he’d filmed a full-length documentary first, Ovnis en Zacapa was his first (and to date, only) feature film.

Some critics have claimed that there is a strong anti-American bias to the film, thanks to this connection to Cuba.  I can’t say that I noticed it, although I watched it with Youtube’s auto-translated Spanish auto-subs: bias is a fairly subtle sort of thing and it usually is harder to spot when you are forced to use a poorer quality translation.  However, as far as I could see, Americans do not play a major part in the story.

But this leads to one of my major grumbles about the film: its production company, which hopes to spread Latin American films to a wider audience has released Ovnis en Zacapa here in the U.S. for free on Youtube and on Tubi.

And yet they did not provide English subtitles, which will greatly reduce its potential audience.


Daneri Gudiel, who stars as Robert, also came up with the basic story.  I have to confess that I find it refreshing that he is short, a little pudgy and thoroughly battered looking.  We all know that the Hollywood remake would probably star someone decidedly younger and hunkier.  As I’m sure I’ve grumbled before, I really miss the Seventies when big screen Hollywood movies could star an average (or less than average) looking guy like Walter Matthau or Gene Hackman.  He creates a memorable character here, one who is weary and battered, but with enough professional curiosity and skill left beneath it all that he feels driven to pursue the truth.

There is one major warning I need to give you, however: while this film is generally described as a comedy, it isn’t a laugh-a-minute riot.  It inspires more chuckles than laughs, even if there are some quite funny bits.

Instead, it is more of a drama or perhaps more of a detective story or mystery, in which the initially apathetic Robert finds himself compelled to keep digging to find the truth — even if the show’s girl producer couldn’t care less as long as she gets the footage she needs to make her show.

All in all, Ovnis en Zacapa impressed me, not so much as a great science fiction classic, but as a solid and watchable regional film with enough thrills and laughs to keep the audience entertained.  Yeah, it resorts to one of the hoariest old science fiction cliches (it was old when it showed up in one of Robert Urich’s films!), but when we finally learn who is responsible it is a new twist on that old cliche.

It seems a shame that Mercado seems to have dropped out of the film industry: after all, he made an impressive little film with a great main character, several interesting minor characters, and lots of eccentric little moments once we reach Zacapa.

But, with a little luck, other science fiction films made in Latin America may follow one of these days.

If they do, I just hope they are all this good…



Check out our new Feature (Updated February 16, 2022):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!




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