HELENA — Dr. Jesse A. Marcel was just 11 years old when an unidentified flying object crashed near Roswell, N.M., in July 1947.
His father, Jesse Sr., is said to be the first military officer to arrive at the site of what became the internationally famous Roswell incident. Jesse Sr. brought several items home from the crash site to show his wife and son, laying the otherworldly objects down on the kitchen table.
The official explanation for the items is a downed weather balloon, but those objects and the event surrounding them ended up following the Marcel family for decades. Jesse Jr. spoke publicly about that day with media and audiences across the world, and even wrote a book, “The Roswell Legacy.”
Jesse Jr., who served as an ear, nose and throat specialist in Helena and was appointed as the surgeon general of Montana, died in August 2013. Now a documentary is aiming to look at his life to tell the story from an angle it hasn’t been viewed from before.
The documentary, “Growing Up With Roswell,” will be written and directed by Jesse Jr.’s cousin, Leonard J. Marcel.
“This movie is really about how an incident can affect an entire family,” Leonard said.
Production for the film began about two weeks ago, and the first filming took place on Sunday at the Jesse A. Marcel Library outside Helena.
The team will stay in Helena for a few days to interview Jesse Jr.’s friends, coworkers and family before moving on to film in New Orleans, Seattle, Toronto, Roswell and other locations to put the documentary together.
Leonard said his last name has prompted questions from curious Roswell enthusiasts his whole life, but he didn’t meet Jesse Jr. until 2007. The following year Leonard came up with the idea of filming a documentary about his cousin, and captured eight hours of footage with Jesse Jr. and his mother speaking about Roswell.
The film kept getting postponed, until something snapped inside Leonard, and he knew he had to make it.
Leonard is joined by filmmakers S. Kramer Herzog from San Francisco and Dusty Wright from New York City in the effort to make the documentary.
UFO critics have downplayed the father and son’s accounts as coming from an outsider and a boy who wouldn’t remember properly. Leonard refuted that, saying anyone who has had 11-year-old children would know they’re pretty smart and that Jesse Sr. wasn’t an outcast, but a highly informed member of the military intelligence community.
And according to Wright, everyone they’ve talked to so far has spoken highly of Jesse Jr.
“You can’t question a man’s character when everyone around him is telling you he’s a standup guy,” Wright said.
But people question him anyway, discounting the events off hand, Wright said. Wright met Leonard through the film industry in New York, and always thought the family legacy could make a great story. Stories like this one, he said, often become muddled by those who tell them, blurring the lines of fantasy and fact.
“Growing Up With Roswell,” Wright said, will investigate the real story from a personal angle, hopefully uncovering pieces of information never told before so that viewers can make up their own mind about Roswell.
“I think any time you get anyone to question anything, get anyone to open up, it’s a win as a filmmaker,” Wright said.
Leonard grew up away from Jesse Jr. and the Roswell media attention. But now that he’s tackling the film and discussing it with more family members, Leonard is becoming part of the story.
“I’m getting more into it as we go,” Leonard said.
The project will probably take about 18 months, but the team hopes to have a rough cut of “Growing Up With Roswell” made for the annual UFO Festival in Roswell next July.