Journey to Planet X will inspire you to reach for the stars

Troy Bernier’s full of ideas about cinema: every few minutes he drops gems like “the big screen doesn’t tell any lies” “people are going to ask how did you shoot that in Florida?” and “what good is making art if no one sees it?” Of course the joke’s obviously on him and his filmmaking pal Eric Swain; the pair make the shittiest of B movies imaginable complete with Star Wars -inspired toy models in place of CGI spaceships and decapitations aplenty. There’s a reason they both have full-time jobs outside of filmmaking (in the fields of geology and civil engineering respectively).

Planet X (also referred to as Planeta Desconocido ) is the duo’s latest project. The half-hour film tells the tale of a terrorist attack on a water refinery on a moon of Pluto; 150 people die in the assault and chaos evidently ensues. The film’s entirely self-funded the props were bought from hardware stores and actors were paid$20 a day. The “green screen” is painted on last-minute. Space scenes are shot on a sandy hill on the side of a Florida interstate with a golf cart serving as a moon buggy. As one of the young actors kindly put it “It’s not the most organized set I’ve ever been on.”

Journey to Planet X documents the making of the film. Viewers witness the whole shebang — storyboarding auditioning shooting editing and presentation — but it’s not nearly that linear. The movie opens with Swain filming Bernier ascending a sand dune in a rough-hewn spacesuit (within seconds Bernier exclaims “Shit the suit just ripped in the crotch it’s hard to move in it”). Later we’re shown a wonderfully awkward after-hours shoot in a meat freezer. But Journey to Planet X isn’t an effort to patronize or take jabs at the two. Rather it’s to celebrate their unflinching sincerity.

Bernier and Swain are two of the most lovable dedicated fellas around. They absolutely love sci-fi. Swain’s less-than-tidy house which he shares with his elderly father is littered with little model spaceships. Bernier’s wife — who gently critiques past works with statements like “it’d be nice to see the films look a little sharper” — describes her husband’s interest as an obsession. But it’s in a good way she adds.

And that’s the thing — in the end the joke’s actually not on Bernier and Swain at all. They’re having the time of their lives. Sure the end-product might not be top-notch but the joy that they evidently experience while doing it is pretty damn inspiring. As a film Journey to Planet X is an exceptional one with perfect shots scoring and production work. But it’s not done to one-up the low-budget effort from the two Florida hobbyists. Sure Planet X probably wouldn’t have been seen by many people if it wasn’t for this doc. But that’s not the point.

Journey to Planet X directed by Myles Kane and Josh Koury starring Troy Bernier and Eric Swain screens on Wednesday September 11 at Festival Hall as part of Beakerhead.