“The Life After Death Project”: This 2013 documentary pays homage to the legendary Forry Ackerman, who coined the term “sci-fi”

By on December 13, 2016

Filmmaker Paul Davids’s 2013 documentary The Life After Death Project — now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — is a captivating look at the director’s personal quest to determine if there is life after death by investigating what he calls a true case of “After Death Communication,” or ADC.

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The film also pays homage, in a unique way, to his longtime friend, the late Forrest J Ackerman, a founder of science-fiction fandom and the longtime editor of the pulpy Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, which he helped found in 1958 and edited for twenty-five years.

Ackerman also famously coined the term “sci-fi.”

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Forrest J Ackerman

Davids believed that Ackerman had tried to communicate with him after his death (he died of heart failure at the age of 92 on December 4, 2008) in 2009, and believes that the physical evidence of the contact by Ackerman could not be explained by contemporary forensic science.

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A title card that comes up at the beginning of the film sums up the film’s approach succinctly:

“The events in this film are true. The mysteries and anomalies have not been contrived or invented in any way. There were many unexplained occurrences as the cameras were actually filming.”

Here’s an 8-minute introduction to two documentaries — including The Life After Death Project — by filmmaker Paul Davids

Davids speaks to four New York Times best-selling authors, three top science professors and three well-respected mediums who all help him make “a leap into the unknown.”

The filmmakers speaks to skeptics in the supernatural as well as spiritualists who have devoted their life’s work to the idea that we can communicate with our loved ones, family and friends after they’ve passed on.

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In addition to archival interview footage of Ackerman (also known as Forry or FJA or ACK to his legion of fans), others who make an appearance here are: Richard Matheson, Whitley Strieber, Dannion Brinkley, Michael Shermer, Mark Macy, Joe Moe, Sean Fernald, and Gary Schwartz, formerly on the faculties of Harvard and Yale and currently a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry and surgery, as well as the Director of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health in Tucson, AZ at The University of Arizona.

In 2013 , Schwartz told the Huffington Post:

“First of all, anyone who will discount physical evidence that has been independently evaluated by forensic experts, or who will dismiss research mediums, conducted under conditions that rule out fraud and cold reading — anyone who discounts evidence using state of the art technology under controlled conditions is essentially anti-science. That is just biased dismissal of real data.”

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Ackerman — who was a steadfast and vocal atheist during his life — had promised Davids that he would make an attempt to communicate with the filmmaker from the great beyond if it turned out that he was wrong and it proved to be possible to contact his friend (saying he’d “drop a line” from the “other side”).

Davids insists during the film his friend Ackerman has done several times; in fact, Davids claims that Ackerman has been at the center of over a hundred subsequent instances of ADC since his death.

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Paul Davids and Forrest J Ackerman

Davids: “Forry professed total skepticism and atheism. He had zero belief in the paranormal, didn’t believe there was an afterlife, certainly didn’t believe in God and didn’t subscribe to any religion.”

In Davids’ own words his film includes “spellbinding accounts of personal encounters with life after death from archaeologists, physicists, a retired colonel, a librarian, clinical psychologist, sales executive, publisher and doctors and nurses who have worked with hundreds of dying patients. They have seen souls leaving the body at death, angelic beings, spirit entities, golden orbs, physical manifestations and more.”

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In The Life After Death Project, we learn that Davids’ keen appreciation for theories about what happens in the afterlife began after he saw that a piece of paper with a list of business meetings he’d printed out in a hotel room was blotted with an ink smudge that he believed was his friend Forry Ackerman reaching out to him after his death.

“I had no idea why these particular words were blacked out,” Davids told The Huffington Post. “It made no sense to me until later, when I was researching Forry’s editorial style and I found lots of examples of where he blacked out words so completely. I have found fifteen examples of where Forry found a name within a name or a word within a word as being a hidden word to make a pun or a point out of it.”

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The film really devotes much of its 106-minute running time to discussing Forrest J Ackerman (he never used the dot after his middle initial), who was a magazine editor, writer and literary agent — he represented Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and numerous other popular sci-fi writers — in addition to being a founder of science fiction fandom, and a leading expert on science fiction and fantasy films.

He was also the co-creator of the popular comic book superheroine Vampirella.

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Ackerman was also a longtime friend, since the 1930s, of Ray Bradbury — author of the literary classics Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, whom he discovered after placing a flyer in an L.A. bookstore for a science-fiction club he was founding.

Bradbury — who was just a teenager at the time — showed up and the two became lifelong friends.

Ackerman had even loaned Bradbury the money to start a science fiction fanzine, Futuria Fantasia, and paid the author’s way to New York for an authors meeting that Bradbury later said helped launch his career.

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Ray Bradbury and Forrest J Ackerman

In 2005, Bradbury told AP:

“I hadn’t published yet, and I met a lot of these people who encouraged me and helped me get my career started, and that was all because of Forry Ackerman.”

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Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, John Landis, Joe Dante, and author Stephen King, among others, have all claimed to have been at least partly influenced by Ackerman’s Famous Monsters Of Filmland, each of them citing the magazine as a gateway inspiration for their going into horror and fantasy-based filmmaking and writing.

Ackerman made cameo appearances in over two hundred movies made by his Hollywood buddies, including Queen of Blood, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Amazon Women on the Moon, Vampirella, Transylvania Twist,The Howling and the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video.

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Ackerman, before his death, was acknowledged as the world’s most avid collector of genre books and movie memorabilia.

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The “Ackermansion”

Ackerman — he was born in Los Angeles on November 24, 1916, and lived in the city his entire life — welcomed visitors from all over the world to his 18-room “Ackermansion” in Los Feliz, atop winding Glendower Avenue, not far from the Griffith Park Observatory.

He held open houses on Saturdays and showed off his collection; at one time he estimated that he had somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 books as well as magazines, paperbacks, posters, stills and other film memorabilia.

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When his health began to fail in 2002, Ackerman moved into a small bungalow (dubbed “the Acker Mini-Mansion”).

In a December, 2008 article for the newspaper’s blog, L.A. Times writer Carolyn Kellog wrote:

“I was one of the many science fiction fans who made the pilgrimage to Forrest J Ackerman’s house in Los Feliz to look at his mad wonderful overabundant collection of all things sci-fi. Ackerman told many people that he coined the term ‘sci-fi,’ and I was inclined to believe him, standing in his basement, among the crowded bookshelves, the comic books and paperbacks, the magazines and masks and posters and models and lobby cards and plastic brains.”

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Davids — a Princeton Psychology graduate, and an original Fellow of the AFI Center for Advanced Film Studies — seems to been keenly interested in exploring the concept of whether the living can communicate with the dead.

He is a writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker whose films include The Sci-Fi Boys (Saturn Award Winner Best DVD 2006, featuring an interview with Forrest J Ackerman), Jesus in India (a 2008 documentary on “American adventurer” Edward T. Martin’s search for Russian Nicolas Notovitch) and Timothy Leary’s Dead, which we’re also featuring on Night Flight Plus (you can read our blog post about it here).

Davids executive produced and co-write the cable network Showtime’s original TV movie, Roswell, a documentary about the Roswell UFO incident, which earned a Golden Globe nomination as Best Motion Picture for Television.

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Davids — who often works on his projects with his wife, Hollace Davids — has co-authored six books in the Lucasfilm Star Wars saga, informally known as the “Jedi Prince series,” beginning with The Glove of Darth Vader and ending with Prophets of the Dark Side. He has also written episodes for the TV series “Tranformers.”

The Life After Death Project originally aired on the cable network SYFY in May 2013.

Watch The Life After Death Project on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.