An interview with analogue director Ben Barton, who makes handmade films on super-8 cine film, about his latest project which was funded by the late David Bowie.

His film, ‘Stella Erratica‘, is screening at the Cannes Short Film Corner – Wednesday May 24th, 3pm at the Palais Screen G.

Ben Barton

What is your film about?

Called ‘Stella Erratica’, it’s a trippy, mind-bending sci-fi, about an astronaut who lands on a strange planet. During his mission, he finds something pretty unexpected. And perhaps something about himself too…

There’s no dialogue in this film. It has an original soundtrack and sound FX, but the story is all told through actions and symbolism.

What are the main topics raised by the story?

Underneath the main plot, the themes are about finding yourself in a place where you don’t belong. And also, that maybe you should be careful what you go looking for in life, in case you don’t like what you find.

Without getting too heavy, I also wanted to explore religion, and if it really matters anymore when you’re no longer on Earth. All the world religions are geared up with stories of entities looking down over this little blue planet of ours… but how does that fit when you’re millions of light years away? Does religion matter anymore? It’s a question we may have to face someday soon!

What is your credo as a filmmaker?

Well I’ve been making films since I was a teenager. It’s always been my passion. But even before that, my Dad used to make super-8 cine films with me as a young kid. So I think I got it from him, and probably why I still shoot on super-8 today.

I studied Film at Uni, and then went on to my career as a writer. But film has always been there, tempting me. In the past decade I’ve made a dozen or so short films, and managed to show them at quite a lot of international festivals and film nights. But ‘Stella Erratica’ is without doubt my biggest production to date.

Who is the target audience of your film?

It’s an experimental film. So you have to dig that. Separately, I showed it to a couple of my filmmaker friends and they both said the exact same thing: “It’s Kenneth Anger in space!”

You have no idea just how happy that makes me. Kenneth Anger is my hero. I don’t think I did it on purpose. But I guess it is an Anger-style film… but a sci-fi. A genre he hasn’t done… yet! So it’s for sci-fi fans, and those who love avant garde, underground film.

Can you share a funny or interesting story about the making of the film?

Well I can’t really talk about the film without mentioning David Bowie.

Back when we started in 2015, I had my script written, astronaut suit hired, actors in place, everything, and was all set to shoot one weekend. Until… I had a phone call from the props company, the owners of the spacesuit. They told me that a ‘big star’ needed a spacesuit at the same time for their next music video, and would I let them have it first? This would mean a total reschedule of my project, a pretty big inconvenience to be honest. But there was a sweetener – in return, this ‘big star’ had offered to fund my film! I was amazed, and said yes straight away. Even though I didn’t know who the celeb was just then.

It wasn’t until a week later, when the spacesuit finally made its way to me, that we found out my benefactor was David Bowie. And the spacesuit had just been used on the video for ‘Blackstar’, directed by Johan Renck.

So if you watch Bowie’s video for ‘Blackstar’, that’s the same astronaut as in my little film. And thanks to Bowie, we had some money to do a little bit more with the production – longer shooting time, better FX. That sort of thing. I owe it to him really.

Why did you decide to submit your short film to the Short Film Corner?

One word – Cannes. For someone like me, ‘Cannes’ is just synonymous with films and filmmaking. It’s the most famous film festival in the world, and so who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? I want to use it as a platform to show off my new film.

Budget-wise and time-wise, this is the biggest, longest film I’ve ever done, so I wanted to give it my all. And from what’s happened so far, it’s totally paid off. Cannes is a bit mad, but what an experience! I’m never going to forget it.

What should people do if they want to find out more?

I have clips and lots of stuff about my films on my new website: www.benbarton.co.uk. So it would be great if people looked there.

Best of all, I’d love to see people at a screening! After the Cannes screening on May 24th, I’m going to be taking this film on the road, up and down the UK, and in Europe. Anywhere that’ll have me really! It would be great to see you there, for the experience of live cinema. I love that.