MIX -- the New York Queer Experimental Film Festival -- turns 26 years old tonight in Gowanus, Brooklyn. And even as the festival ages past its first quarter century, it remains one of -- if not the -- most innovative and unique LGBT-oriented film festivals in the United States. And it's not simply because it focuses on experimental film, but
also because it supplements that exhibition by presenting small and large-scale installations -- this year around
18 pieces, occupying about 12,000 square feet -- all in a
completely designed, immersive environment where people come to hang out as much as they do come to watch films or art.
It's the kind of festival you have to really experience to understand, but Indiewire asked four of its organizers to try and explain in words what they're about to unleash on New York City over the next six days and (late) nights.
So how did you all get involved in MIX?
Stephen Kent Jusick (Executive Director): While I was in school I read Vito Russo’s review of the second
festival in the Advocate, where he listed an address to write to. I
wanted to see those films but figured the only way was to organize a
public screening. So I wrote a letter to Jim Hubbard, asking how to have
a screening at my college. He called me back, gave me a list of things
to do and figured he’d never hear from me again. I worked it out and Jim
came and did a screening. When I graduated I interned for Jim at
Anthology Film Archives, and then Shari hired me to be the festival
coordinator in 1994. Over the years, I did various things at MIX,
technical director, guest curator, projectionist, and sometimes nothing.
In 2005, I wrote Jim a letter critiquing the festival but also defending
it, arguing for its importance and continuation. He asked if I’d like
to run the organization, and to submit a proposal, which I did.
Charlie Corbett (Programming and Development Associate): A friend came up to me one day and said, “You have got to meet some of these people.” I went to opening night of the 2010 festival and was totally blown away by the warmth of the space. So much love - I was a little repelled by it at first, because I didn’t think that kind of happiness with so many people around could be real. You know that feeling when you leave a really good movie or play or concert, and everyone is feeling great and there’s this palpable sense of goodwill and joy flowing through the crowd - - it was like that, but for hours. It scared the hell out of me.
A few weeks later I met the director and the designer and the installation coordinator and the production lead and I said, ‘’I want to to do what you do,” and they said, “then we’ve got work for you.”
Andre Azevedo (Installations Coordinator): In 1994 I went to my first MIX. I used to date a filmmaker who had a piece in MIX. I had just arrived in Brazil. I attended the festival for many years. In the 90s, if you wanted to get really indie, non-assimilationist media, MIX was where you would go. Not many other festivals and/or queer things were showing BDSM and sex positive stuff, or any experimental stuff. Then I left New York for a while, came back, and got more involved as a volunteer, and eventually got asked to be the curator of installations and performances. I accepted because I enjoy the work and the creative direction of this ever evolving festival. Also, I wanted to create a space for multimedia performers and artists to show their work outside of the commercial art world and foster a space for queers to experiment.
How would you describe the festival's mission?
CC: MIX NYC sees itself as a grassroots organization, and our mandate comes from our audience, artists and community.
It’s the kind of schlock you expect to hear from any place on the festival circuit, or the hospitality industry - and maybe all MIX really aspires to be is a good host, a good site of nurturing for its guests. The difference, then, comes from who we cater to, and we open our doors wide to folks who get kicked and spit on elsewhere. To call the crowd “diverse” or “inclusive” doesn’t do it justice, because those words are so quick to be sucked up by professional mission statement writers. We bring in (and yes, recruit!) folks without much money and too much education, old-timers who lived through the 80s and the first decade of AIDS, young people with different and difficult ideas of what it means to be a person, what it means to work and to love. It’s a radical, articulate, dont-fuck-with-me crowd that can be difficult to wrangle and impossible to spoon feed. When they don’t like what you’re doing, they’ll tell you, and they’ll hit you with this mix of rage and hyper-intelligent sensitivity that can mess you up. They have to hit hard because these images and the language we use to describe them are a matter of life and death - together they dictate the kind of personhood that’s possible.
But there’s also plenty of art geeks and walking IMDBs who show up. They give the festival its filminess and its sense of history and connection to the broader arts scene in NYC. The cinephiles are also the ones who buy tickets to screenings while the radical dreamers are chilling in our lounge. But when the screenings are out, and the film geeks join forces and mingle and become apart of the radical dreamer crowd - it’s like Nietzsche's Apollo and Dionysus coming together - they fuse and bring about the Birth of Tragedy. In 2010 I saw it for the first time and I still haven’t left.
For whatever reason, these are the kinds of people who show up to MIX, and keep coming back. Year after year. I’d like to think they’re coming for the programming - we’ve got 17 film programs this year, 8 of which were put together by guest curators from across the county. (this year showing over 225 films - shorts - features - 24/7 installation loops), we’re an art installation showcase, we’re a stage for performance art and live music and DJs. But I think MIX stands out in how much power we give festivalgoers over their visit, and how it’s up to them to bring together their own total experience of the festival - music, food, film, conversation...but something else. Maybe part of why they come is the innovative work we’re doing in venue design and installations.
What distinguishes MIX from other queer film festivals (like, say, New York's NewFest)?
CC: Everything. In content - in aim - in audience - in feel. There is no film festival out there that does what we do. I know this because, as I’ve been trying to show, the festival is what it is because it attracts and then hands the reins over to the kind of Queer Freak Royalty - royalty not like in a sense of fame, because we’re all obscure nobody losers - I mean royalty in the sense of the nobility - dignity - strength that comes from surviving and flourishing as an obscure nobody loser.
What is clear is that you need to give people something that they
can’t get from their computer at home. The MIX Festival has had to
change dramatically to meet that challenge. The biggest changes we’ve
made have been in our investment in venue design and our moving-image
installation showcases. These draw people because, like any piece of
architecture, you have to physically be there to get the full experience
- the “art” of the space is only activated when a visitor walks through
On top of that, art has never been cheaper and easier to consume, there has never been so much to choose from, and, consequentially, it’s really fucking hard to get people to pay for it. It’s hard to convince people to shut their laptops and get out of bed and go anywhere that isn’t work or food. We’ve got an entire generation of young New Yorkers lying around like beached whales because A) they have no fucking money and B) there is a universe of television and porn at their fingertips for free. The cultural practice of a group of people congregates in a dark hall and watches a screen together - that may be on its way out. It’s impossible to know for sure.
Supporting these films is the MIX family, which is a ragtag team of artists and activists and weirdos - people I guess, just queer people - who volunteer and get word out and make the festival happen. The whole MIX family is tied together in friendships and projects that stretch far beyond MIX. Because of this you get an atmosphere of artistic collaboration that feels authentic - that feels real - and guests sense that immediately.
We also draw a lot of voyeurs. Even if the scene isn’t for you, it’s top-grade people watching. The whole space is dedicated to the pleasures of looking, now that I think about it. Our installations, our venue design and decorations, our performers, our films - - there’s so much to look at and feel good about.
This article continues on the next page, including 5 picks for MIX 2013 from the festival's organizers.