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November 03, 2012

Starz Denver Film Festival 2012 - Journey to Planet X

journey to planet x.jpg

Myles Kane & Josh Koury - 2012
Brooklyn Underground Films

A filmmaker acquaintance, Lucas McNelly recommended this documentary on a pair of amateurs, comparing Journey to Planet X to American Movie. That documentary, from 1999, followed Mark Borchardt in his ill-fated process of making a horror movie. Borchardt virtually would set himself up to be mocked, from the mispronunciation of the title, Coven, to the various mishaps while shooting his movie. The two filmmakers in Journey to Planet X, Eric Swain and Troy Bernier, are enthusiastic amateurs who are more pragmatic about their work. Even when their latest short film turns out to be an unintended comedy, they are both smart enough to embrace what their audience sees in their film.

In its own way, Journey to Planet X shows that making a no-budget film takes a lot of effort. And perhaps the idea of making science fiction films in a green walled warehouse, with a consumer camera, a computer for special effects, and a few homemade props, is overly ambitious. And yes, the acting is stilted, the special effects look like they are from old video games, and the lack of formal film education is most obvious in the haphazard framing. But whether it's Swain's early solo work, or Swain and Bernier's Planeta Desconocido, what is seen on screen is undeniably entertaining, which is more than can be said for some allegedly professional movies.

The two friends are both scientists based near Miami, who limit their filmmaking activities to weekends. While Swain is happy using older equipment, and shooting against a blue screen, Bernier is the catalyst for getting new equipment, and shooting against Chroma Key Green. While Bernier has no illusions about breaking into professional filmmaking, he wants the films to be seen by more than a few friends. The documentary concludes with Planeta Desconocido being accepted for the Geek Film Festival in nearby Davie, Florida.

It's easy to get snarky about amateur or incompetent filmmakers. And a lot of that attitude would seem to come from people who've not spent any time making a film. I think that anyone who really loves cinema, really embraces cinema in all its forms, will allow for those whose enthusiasm is the motivating factor for getting behind the camera. The results are going to be mixed, with work that somehow develops a cult like The Room, or The Creeping Unknown with a voiceover replacing a botched soundtrack. Once in a while, someone like Sam Raimi, catapults to the big leagues. Some films, good, bad, indifferent, only get seen by a few people.

And about that title, Swain and Bernier comment about "Planet X" in the title as suggestive of pornography. Time for some quick Cinema 101, gentlemen. Think of that title as recalling a cult science fiction film made a little over sixty years ago, The Man from Planet X. Keep in mind that the director of that cult item made a lifetime career of making something out of virtually nothing. If you want to see delightfully demented and wonderful movies made with pocket change, the master is Edgar G. Ulmer.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 3, 2012 08:23 AM