Jason Barker on A Deal with the Universe: 'I was documenting with a film in mind'

Jason Barker on A Deal with the Universe: 'I was documenting with a film in mind.'

A Deal with the Universe

On the eve of the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, we talk to director Jason Barker about trans parenthood and filmmaking

The Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) is back with a bang. Kicking off in December, Scotland's only LGBTQ+ film festival aims to get as many people to see queer cinema as possible, through unique initiatives such as a sliding-scale ticket price (the festival encourages people to pay what they can instead of having a fixed ticket price) and travel funds.

This will be SQIFF's fourth year and, if the events announced so far are anything to go by, it'll be one of the festival's most exciting programmes yet. Dykes, Camera, Action! + BOOM BUST: Feminist Filmmakers Blowing Up the Canon in which different feminist filmmakers, such as Desiree Akhavan and Barbara Hammer, share their stories, White Rabbit, the closing night film, and the Scottish premiere of A Deal with the Universe are some of the highlights announced so far.

A Deal with the Universe is an autobiographical film about director Jason Barker's journey to becoming pregnant. Composed of home footage shot by the filmmaker, it's an intimate exploration of parenthood and being pregnant and transgender. Barker explains that the film came from a desire to document his unique experience. 'One thing about queer history and about LGBT lives is it can move very fast. Things change quickly, legally and culturally, and in a way, we're not good archivists. People don't keep a record. I suppose that was the thing about having a video camera, I was documenting with a film in mind.'

It's been 15 years since Barker and his partner, Tracey, embarked on their journey to become pregnant so why a film now? 'I was thinking about it around seven years ago when the baby was born, when I was looking at the footage,' says Barker. 'I was at the Berlin Film Festival and while I was there, one of the tabloid newspapers in the UK had issued a bounty offering cash for information about the first pregnant man. I don't know if it was referring to me but there was that fear and there were quite a lot of newspaper reports saying disparaging things. When you've just had a baby, you feel very vulnerable. You're exhausted and you don't know if you're doing a good job so the idea of having any attention from anyone at that point, I didn't want it in my life. It took a while.'

It wasn't until Barker's child was six that the thought of a film came back. Barker hooked up with a producer and editor, and began the daunting process of turning home videos into a feature-length film. Barker worked with Raising Film, an organisation that supports filmmakers who are parents, founded by Scottish-based filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach. 'We got the first stamp from Raising Film that this film was made in school hours," says Barker proudly. 'Within the film industry, there's a macho culture of working through the night. We're both parents and had to work normal hours because we have families. We can't ignore our children to make a film about how they came into the world!'

A Deal with the Universe is the perfect film to have its Scottish premiere at SQIFF because it embodies the festival's values. It's heartfelt, home-grown and deeply personal, yet it also has an emphasis on universality. 'The film is all about coming to terms with your body,' says Barker. 'I'm really interested in that and how we can find peace with ourselves. I think with trans people that can be particularly poignant but I think it's also universal. It's what we're all dealing with in life.'

SQIFF, various venues, Glasgow, Wed 5–Sun 9 Dec.

SQIFF A Deal with The Universe

Documentary A Deal with the Universe is filmmaker Jason Barker's debut feature. Autobiographical and made entirely from personal archive and home video diaries, the film follows Jason's incredible story of how he came to give birth to his child, charting over 15 years of his and his partner's life. This film is…