Though the island in the Caribbean shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic was spared a direct hit from Hurricane Dean this week, it may be that other, stranger entities made landfall there.
Evidence "UFO Haiti" and "UFO Dominican Republic" - two authentic-looking home videos recently posted on YouTube. The films both appear to record close-up sightings of Area 51-type craft hovering above the island's beaches. As the ships pass eerily over, wind whips through the palm trees, dogs bark and a woman gasps in disbelief. All very real-seeming. The jerky, amateur camerawork easily could be that of a panicked Caribbean tourist.
The videos hummed to the top of YouTube's "Most Viewed" list and from there invaded discussion forums and news aggregator sites across the Web. Skeptics pronounced the videos a computer-generated fraud, probably part of some viral marketing ploy.
Still, with all the cries of fraud and corporate opportunism, doubters couldn't find anything in the footage that was obviously bogus. More than a few observers in either camp called them "the best UFO videos ever."
With so many people scrutinizing every frame in the videos, it was not long before the first imperfections were spotted in the story's hull. No one could find any reports of flying objects in the Haitian or Dominican media - or anywhere else. Surely an extraterrestrial visitation would have merited at least a brief. Or a blog entry?
And after a few viewings, "UFO Haiti" began to feel a little too real. In spite of the camerawoman's shaky hand and trouble keeping focus, she manages a perfect tracking-shot of the ship flying directly over her head.
The key would be to find the source of the videos. But there was a complication: The videos had been posted and reposted across the Web.
The best idea, then, was to contact the posters of several of the earliest "UFO Haiti" videos, including barzolff814.
I eventually got in contact with Barzolff, who wished to remain anonymous. He took credit for the videos and was prepared to share their story. I agreed not to reveal his real name.
Barzolff, 35, is a professional animator who has a decade of experience with computer graphics and commercial animation.
The videos, he said, were intended as research for a feature-film project he's been working on with Partizan, the company responsible for, among others, Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
When contacted to verify the story, Eternal Sunshine producer Georges Bermann said it was all true, and that Barzolff was "an absolute genius" who could "make anything look entirely real."
The movie Barzolff is working on for the big screen is about two guys who create a UFO hoax so realistic that it spirals out of their control.
Barzolff stressed the videos were not intended as a viral marketing ploy. His movie is still in the idea phase, and he created the hoax strictly as a "sociological experiment" - in other words, just to see what would happen.
Barzolff called the results of his experiment "entertaining, thrilling, completely addictive and a little scary." The scary part, he said, was that in spite of the evidence, "many people refuse to believe it's a hoax."
David Sarno writes for the Los Angeles Times.