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Mix, New York Lesbian/Gay Film/Video Festival

Mix, New York Lesbian/Gay Film/Video Festival

by Ed Halter




Following the success of the New Queer Cinema in the early 90s, gay and
lesbian film festivals have achieved more community awareness, bigger
sponsors and greater industry attention. As a result, they have also become
increasingly mainstream, abandoning much of the more experimental material
these same events were built on in their early days.


Mix, New York's Experimental Film & Video Festival, was founded over a
decade ago as an alternative to mainstream gay fests. Now entering its
second decade, Mixcontinues to promote queer works that confront
conventional cinema and break new ground. Don't show up if you're looking
for the next distributor-friendly gay love story featuring a shirtless
bohunk on the posters and a soundtrack by ABBA. First-year festival
director Rajendra Roy states emphatically that Mix exists to showcase "film
for art's sake." Though less overtly political than previous editions, the
11th outing was no less challenging, presenting 10-day showcase of
guerrilla documents, scratches on celluloid and video feedback, and tapping
into the outsider heritage of filmmakers like Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger and
Barbara Hammer.


The opening night program featured a selection of shorts ranging from
Sundance alumni to camcorder epics. The gem of the program was Greg Sax's
newest film, 28, a meticulously paced and gorgeously hued meditation on
time and desire. Jason Romily's unsettling "Alone" marries neorealist acting
with a candy-colored visual style to relate three interlocking stories of
loneliness and despair. Hypnotically rhythmic and surprisingly formalist,
Stephen Grandell's video "Slap Drag Ons" presents a poker-faced drag queen
throwing attitude into her own hand-held camera -- sort of like a "To Wong Foo..."
as directed by Michael Snow. Meena Naji's "It Is A Crime" serves up a
dizzying montage of Subcontinental images taken from Western films with
pulsating textual commentary.


Two of the most untraditional programs were also the most popular. A
youthful blue-hair-and-chain-choker contingent turned out in droves for
"Queer(s)punk", curated by Steven Kent Jusick, which explored the
contemporary collusion of punk and queer aesthetics. G.B. Jones' glorious
catfight "The Yo Yo Gang" screened in its long-awaited final form. Shot in
saturated super-8 with overdubbed audio, the first half is a masterpiece of
trash, chronicling the battles between two rival punk girl gangs. "Taste The Sweat", from twin skinhead brothers Dominik and Ben Redding, envisions a
carefully rendered daydream of tattoo parlors and punk-on-punk love. It's a
beautifully accomplished film that should garner further gay festival
attention, despite its fringey subject matter. David Wilson's "Kansas Anymore" tells a surprisingly sensitive coming-out story with an
anti-WalMart stance, set in the world of midwestern slackers. Although
marred by poor audio, Wilson's first film shows the beginnings of a
do-it-yourself John Hughes for the eyebrow ring generation.


Curator Anie Stanely's "Scared Stiff" presented queer works with horror
themes, many of which also indulged in a punky aesthetic. Highlights
included "Interview With A Zombie" (featuring a spasmodically undead Bruce La
Bruce), Doug Buck's notorious family gorefest "Cutting Moments", and "The Abbotess & The Flying Nun", a strangely alluring, Cocteau-inspired
nightmare. "Scared Stiff" also featured a horror-themed art exhibit with edgy
works from Michelle Handelman & Monte Cazazza, Richard Kern, Teri Rice,
Kelly Webb and other underground notables.


Although a decidedly youthful, renegade spirit informed this year's MIX as
a whole (including a zine-y program design and closing night performances
by queer punk bands Tribe 8 and Pansy Division), the festival showcased new
work from established experimentalists as well. New films and videos were
presented from international festival mainstays Matthias Muller ("Pensao Globo"), Louis Khlar ("Pony Glass"), M.M. Serra ("Just For You Girls") and
Cecilia Dougherty ("The Dream And The Waking"). The indefatigable and
always-evolving Barbara Hammer, a pioneer lesbian experimental media
artist, scanned artwork brought to the fest for her Lesbian Community
Cyberspace project. Mix also premiered Warren Sonbert's final film,
"Whiplash", a lyrical home-movie shot in the early 90s but with an early 60s
New Cinema flair.


Two archival programs presented rarely-screened films from queer New York
underground filmmakers of past decades. Early Warhol drag superstar Mario
Montez starred in Jose Rodriguez-Soltero's LUPE (1966), an improvised
retelling of the rise and fall of tragic Hollywood starlet Lupe Velez --
complete with a thankfully restrained suicide scene. Swathed in tacky
glamour, crayola-rich color and dreamy superimpositions, LUPE recalls the
early films of George Kuchar and well deserves a place in future
retrospectives of the early New York scene. A newly restored 1975 work by
"Flaming Creatures" maker Jack Smith also screened, with the fabulous title "I Was A Male Yvonne Decarlo For The Lucky Landlord Underground". A curiously
ritualistic Hollywood fantasy, the film was used by Smith as part of a
performance piece of the same name. For the performance, Smith reportedly
screened the film while engaging in a maniacally improvised argument with
the projectionist.


But by far one of the most accomplished and impressive films was Laurence
Brose's "De Profundis". 65 minutes of over-processed, abstracted images of
men washed in opalescent fashion colors, set to a rhythmic, looping score
of overlapping voices and text from Oscar Wilde, "De Profundis" is a
rigorously structured investigation of queer identity at the end of the
millenium. Brose took over four years to complete the work, hand-processing
the footage in a variety of materials including his own urine.


Although Mix screened to sell-out crowds at Cinema Village for shows like
"Queer(s)punk" and "Scared Stiff", many of the best programs like "De Profundis"
were less well attended. Mix does have a somewhat unfair reputation for
showing films of "mixed" quality, and perhaps it could improve by being
less inclusive at times. Overall, however, few festivals can match Mix for
pure do-it-yourself attitude and an unwavering devotion to its mission to
promote and screen unconventional, decidedly uncommercial lesbian and gay
work.


[Ed Halter is director of the New York Underground Film Festival
www.nyuff.com]

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