FESTIVALS: Mix 2000, Artsy, Trashy, Queer, and Here to Stay
by Ed Halter
(indieWIRE/12.4.00) --Halfway through its second decade, MIX, the New York Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film Festival, is the longest continuously-running lesbian & gay film festival in New York, as well as one of the world's largest festivals of experimental film and video. Now years distant from the early-90s boom of activist art and New Queer Cinema auteurism, MIX's 14th edition, which concluded on November 19, presented a dizzying congeries of multiple contradictions. It's an aggressively experimental festival with substantial film industry attendance and corporate sponsorship, a decidedly artsy, trashy anti-assimilationist queer event taking place at a time when gay content is becoming increasingly mainstream in American media, and a desperate last-gasp of forced fabulousness in de-glamorized downtown Manhattan.
At times schizophrenically eclectic, MIX 2000 screened over 100 film, video and multimedia works pickled within a relentless schedule of eleven Finlandia-soaked parties, all crammed into a mere five days. Despite an always-substantial turnout of indie film professionals, the MIX party scene can be a strikingly different experience than the typical Gotham booze-and-schmoozer. One official after-party on Saturday night began after 3am at a go-go boy dive bar. Another soiree allegedly concluded with several of the MIX organizational staff stripped almost naked, drunkenly groping filmmakers in attendance.
At MIX's main venue, Anthology Film Archive's masonry hallways were redecorated with dim red lighting and futuristic pipe-cleaner filigree, giving the theater lobby the feel of a seedy - if chilly - East Village backroom. Indeed, the very experience of sorting through MIX's sprawling meat-market of experimental fare can feel deeply reminiscent of barroom cruising itself. While searching for the few prize catches on view, attendees need to weed through a slightly larger group of mildly enjoyable, superficial quickies, all buried haphazardly within an even larger, daunting mass of tiresome cliches, clueless (if earnest) youngsters, hopeless wannabes and pathetic, sketchy trash.
Still, the ardent MIX-goer in 2000 was rewarded with a number of standout programs. Appropriately enough for the festival's "Future of Cinema and Sexuality" theme this year, the hands-down festival success story in terms of sheer attendance was a digital program called HUGE, produced by Broome Street Media, the same outfit responsible for online streaming site Shortfest (www.shortfest.com). For HUGE, curators Justin Tan and Byrd McDonald tapped 20 directors to make one three minute DV short each, using the theme of "huge" as a starting point. Each director was provided with equipment and facilities for one day of shooting and two days of editing. Participants included Ira Sachs ("The Delta"), Stephen Kijak ("Never Met Picasso"), Stephen Winter ("Chocolate Babies") and John Bruce, whose lyrically lensed cine-poem "Headstand" was one of the most beautiful, accomplished and subtle works on view. A second screening was added after HUGE quickly sold out, and the project continues on the web at HUGE's streaming site, www.anythingthatmoves.net.
While shorts still dominate MIX's programming, this year brought two sidebars that showcased the largest MIX feature-film lineup to date. The Innovations Feature Series, some of which screened at the nearby Two Boots Pioneer, screened new DV features by MIX alumni, including Todd Verow's multi-fest favorite "Once and Future Queen," Liza Johnson's shot-in-Germany production "Fernweh/The Opposite of Homesick" and fashion maven Ned Ambler's somewhat Verow-esque "Hair Burners."
Another sidebar, the Sexy Horror Picture Show, sponsored by porn mag Honcho, ran midnight screenings of new and classic edgy features, including a restored print of Curt McDowell's "Thundercrack," a brilliant George-Kuchar-scripted 1975 hardcore thriller that's equal parts John Waters and James Whale, and Chicagoan Shawn Durr's vitriolic Andrew Cunanan sex spoof "Fucked in the Face."
Although the activist urgency of MIX's first decade was scarcely present, cultural diversity was still a hot ticket in 2000. Programs from MIX NYC's sister events, MIX Mexico and MIX Brazil, screened to packed crowds, as did a selection of newly restored and digitally edited Super-8 portraits by Mexican filmmaker Ricardo Nicolayevsky. Shot in the 80s in the East Village, but never shown in New York until their MIX premiere, these nostalgic hybrids of emerging and dead media provided a wistful look back at a lost downtown world through campy, erotic and gritty portraits of Nicolayevsky's lovers and friends, including a baby-faced Michael Musto.
Of the shorts programs, "The Third Sexers," curated by videomaker Cecilia Dougherty, was perhaps the strongest. The show included two darkly erotic, meditative works by Robby Abate: "Chisolm," a dingy 16mm fractured motel sex film diary, and "Come Softly" a re-edited, re-videoed collage of Internet web-cam feeds from live sex net-meeting to computer renderings of the TWA Flight 800 disaster, set to the soft sounds of 60s vocalists. Tracy MacCullion's "Ritual" fragments the conventions of teen horror into time-fucked, enigmatic narrative nuggets. Two archival revivals rounded out the program, with Tom Chomont's psychedelic 3-D film "Oblivion" from 1969, and Leslie Singer's incredible PXL lesbian remake of "Valley of the Dolls," "Taking Back the Dolls," from 1994.
Post-riot-grrl ethos informed a number of the best works scattered throughout other programs, including "The Fancy," Elisabeth Subrin's razor-sharp investigation photographer Francesca Woodman's suicide, "The Apparent Trap," Julie Zando's 80's-style deconstruction of Hayley Mills starrer "The Parent Trap," Miranda July's neo-neurotic "Nest of Tens," Maïa Cybele Carpenter's hand-processed vision of lesbians and machines "The Shape of the Gaze," and Michael Lucid's high-school outcast documentary "Dirty Girls."
MIX doesn't give out awards, but the spirit of competition is kept alive at their annual Video Gong Show, hosted by the always on-target Linda Simpson. This year's judges included Michael Musto, drag king Murray Hill, and assorted downtown personalities, all scrambling to gong amateur videos supplied by the audience. The winner was artist Patti Chang's "Untitled," a clever and hilarious looping tape of Chang playing watersports with a liquid-filled balloon, in a full-facial imitation of Japanese Obukkaku porn.
[Ed Halter is the director of the New York Underground Film Festival.]