Take a ride with filmmaker Suzanne Taylor as she engages a fascinating subculture of artists, educators, geometers, philosophers, and farmers, enthralled by the mystery of crop circles. For twenty years, Taylor has been part of a lively international community that gathers in England every summer to study and document circle developments. WHAT ON EARTH? tracks her interactions with these “croppies,” as they go circle chasing, pore over circle analysis, and share why they keep coming back for more.
Dubbed “crop circles” when the earliest shapes were in circular form, these mostly geometric patterns—some as big as two football fields—are flattened into crop fields, usually during the night. Plants being bent and not broken, biological changes to plants and chemical changes to soil, failure of electromagnetic equipment, and even physical healings inside the circles are presented as defying explanation.
Captivating for its gorgeous photography of the glyphs, WHAT ON EARTH? was shot in Southern England, a landscape dotted with ruins like Stonehenge and Avebury, where the ancients performed sacred rituals. This is the hotbed of circle activity: thousands have appeared during the last thirty years, with evidence of the first occurrence dating from the 17th century. Lest we tie this phenomenon solely to England, which has the highest concentration of circles, the film shows they have cropped up in some forty other countries, including the United States.
In her breezy, inviting style, Taylor draws out croppies who have the best stories to tell. Their conversations take place in picturesque settings: charming farmhouses, ancient stone circles, medieval churches and graveyards, and, of course, inside the awesome crop circles themselves.
In 1991, in a press release that was picked up around the world, two farmers, still remembered simply as Doug and Dave, claimed to be the lone creators of the English crop formations. The film exposes their subterfuge and calls into question the veracity of copy-cat hoaxers who followed in their footsteps. Taylor’s approach, however, is not to look for the source of the circles, but to engage and document a culture that is riveted by a conviction that this land art is coming from non-human intelligent life.
In her film, the crop circle community contends that the acknowledgment of visitation from elsewhere could give rise to a new era when our penchant for war and our insatiable materialism will be replaced by compassionate concern for one another. “Perhaps if we knew we weren’t the only intelligent beings in the universe,” says Taylor, “it would humble us and unite us.” As one of the subjects in her film says, “That could be what saves this civilization.”