Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Que(e)ries: Talking To The Organizers Of MIX NYC, The Queer Film Festival That Does It Like Nobody Else

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 12, 2013 at 9:21AM

MIX NYC is unique not only in that it focuses on experimental film, but also by presenting small and large-scale installations (this year around 18 pieces, occupying about 12,000 square feet!) and all of it in a completely designed, immersive environment where people come to hang out as well as go see films.
0
"The Gem Sisters"
"The Gem Sisters"

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.”

Diego Montoya (Venue Designer): I came to the festival as a an audience member (my roommate invited me) in 2006, and I was so moved by the community and work. And that was really awesome. And I learned later that there were these amazing people. Where had they been. I finally found a group of friends. I felt super at home. I got more involved every year. I designed a tshirt in 2008, and staff uniforms in 2009, before being asked to design the space in 2010, which was my biggest project at the time. I had been doing windows, and making costumes, but not at this scale. MIX brought me into a new arena creatively and MADE ME understand new possibilities, I learned a lot and became more capable as an artist through collaboration and practice. And now I’m stuck here forever!

"Holy Trannity"
"Holy Trannity"


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.

"Earthship"
"Earthship"

What do you think has allowed MIX to sustain itself over all these years?

SKJ:

When Jim Hubbard & Sarah Schulman founded the festival in 1987, they sort of did it on a whim, but then worked hard to realize their idea.  They also embraced changes, and were happy to hand over the festival to others who had different ideas of how it could be. So for example, Shari Frilot & Karim Ainouz came up with the name MIX in 1993 and it stuck, at the same time focusing on work by people of color, and showcasing then-emerging digital work, and some installations. And now what MIX has become lately is related to but different from what it was, because installations and the immersive environment we create are so much a part of the experience.  MIX couldn’t happen this way in a traditional movie theater. So that ability to change what we do gives us some flexibility to move with what’s happening in the world, the culture, etc.  We’ve talked about doing things on a boat, in air balloons, in rented trucks doing mobile guerilla projections, or being more specific like soliciting old fashioned pre-cinema toys like flip books, thaumatropes, or just handing out dvds or flash drives with films on them.  And while we haven’t actually done those things, we can consider them because MIX doesn’t have to be whatever it’s been before.

CC:

  I mean in the beginning, we were founded by filmmaker Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman in the crucible of the AIDS crisis.  New York's LGBT community suffered under both the epidemic itself and government negligence, its artists worked to comfort and care for one another, and literally save each other's lives, by devising new media and avant-garde artistic forms that called attention to the AIDS crisis and its social injustices. We’ve never really moved away from that origin – political activism is in our DNA – particularly AIDS activism with a countercultural fight-the-power bent.

Flash forward 26 years, and we’re in a society that’s still hostile to queers, that still wants to see us silenced, dead or locked-up somewhere. And mainstream gay activism and culture machines neglect this reality. I don’t blame them, personally - the educated, middle-aged, white and affluent gay and lesbian circles, clustered in urban enclaves - they aren’t getting bashed. They can be out of the closet and find dignifying work. And if they want representation of lives like their own, they can watch "The Kids Are All Right" or "Weekend" or pick up a book by Michael Cunningham. But queerness, gender deviance, sexual identity - it goes way beyond the middle to upper-middle class settings where these stories are being told. And there is a demand for different kinds of LGBT stories that MIX seeks out and gives a platform for.


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.

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 it.


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.


The MIX Factory in progress.
The MIX Factory in progress.

Why don't you tell us about the very unique MIX Factory, where all the screenings and installations (and more) are housed. What should we expect?

SKJ: As soon as you walk in the door, you’ll see a 20 ft tall inflatable breathing lung suspended from the ceiling. The design theme is The Body - and our design head Diego Montoya and our installation coordinator Andre Azevedo have busted their humps to make the festival feel like you’re walking inside a breathing and blood-pumping organism.

DM:
We aim to offer a complete experience -- there’s food, there’s everything -- to create cozy, hyper-visual wonderfully wacky space for people to view art, make art, have conversations, process the work. We aim to put people in a different mindset so they can be fully in THIS experience.  It changes people’s perception of the work if they’re in a hypervisual, fully imagined environment. To encourage playfulness.

The venue surrounds you and puts the audience in a better place to receive the work around them and make their own work, and experiment in the space with what they want to to do. People who have not come before being given a huge hug by their surroundings. It doesn’t end. Everything is treated and considered. Make you feel comfortable, stimulated. Each year is a different concept that informs the entirety of the space. We’ve made a space nest out of multicolored string, fantasy planets with hot pink fleshy space caves, and this year we’re imagining the organization as a giant master organism. Designing the space’s interiors to look like giant organs, skin, blood and breathing. This years space will be alive!

SKJ: Partially through design and partially because of happenstance, we’’ve had a different venue each year. That means that we get to create a new site-specific environment from scratch in a new space every year.  That’s hard but it’s also exciting and keeps things interesting -- the audience never knows what to expect.  So we’ve used abandoned department stores, but also warehouses, disused theaters, and new retail construction.  Each have their own possibilities, and help shape the festival - we have to respond to the architecture. This year we’re in a gigantic warehouse, which allows for large-scale sculptural work, and a more generous setting. At the same time, the walls and floors are a little grody, and that’s going to inform the feel of the festival.

On an aside, I'm also very excited about extending MIX's commitment to artistic freedom into the realm of fashion.  This year we have 3 different festival t-shirts, designed by Karen Finley, Scott Treleaven and Stephen Lack.

We also have skin-tight solid colored staff outfits (I wouldn't call them uniforms!) designed by Mike & Claire, a young design duo whose film,"The Gem Sisters," we're also showing. Their write-up in our catalog gives a good feel of what they're all about.

They've brought a lot to the festival's feel and fun. Having these other extra-filmic elements adds to the exuberant energy we aim to provide.

"Things Are Different Now"
"Things Are Different Now"

There's certainly a growing state of difficulty for artists supporting themselves as they make experimental, non-commercial work in New York City. What's your take on that, and how do you think that has affected the work being presented at MIX?

SKJ: I do think that there’s less of a single experimental film community, where people are lending each other equipment and working on each other’s films. Yes that happens, but New York is also more fragmented.  In the first festivals, the artists were more local and simply dropped off their 16mm prints at Sarah Schulman’s apartment! I also think people have less time to make work because it take so much effort to live here, so people spend more time working to pay the rent.  We also see less and less analog film, although we try to encourage more of that.  Our trailer has been made on 16mm for the past several years. I also think there are so many options for how people can present work, and for many putting something on Vimeo is just fine with them.  So there’s not always the drive to have a festival screening. But I argue that even when MIX might show the same work as another venue, the experience here is still different, from the atmosphere.

CC: One of the saddest things we’ve seen is that most of our submissions come from outside New York. It’s just too hard to be a working artist here. The cost of living is too high and there’s still a massive recession going on. We see a lot of Canadian submissions, German submissions, because both of those countries have a much a more robust grant system to support artists. We also have to draw on more established makers more often than we would like to, because those are the folks who have already figured out how to support themselves and can keep making work.

I’ve joined only recently but I’ve noticed a huge number of animated submissions this year. The basic, cut and past kind of flash animation that most people can learn how to do. We’ve also seen a lot of high quality digital video submissions, which is changing our aesthetic somewhat. A little more slick and a little less grungy. Cameras that shoot high quality video are getting cheaper and more accessible.

What are five things we definitely should not miss at MIX?

Their collective answers, in no particular order:

We’ll Be Your Mirror (Tuesday November 12 at 8 PM)
This year we open with a premiere of a Super Special Secret Surprise from Tarnation filmmaker Jonathan Caouette. We are not at liberty to discuss the Super Special Secret Surprise any further. After that, we show 12 of the best short queer experimental films received by the MIX Programming Committee in 2013. From over 550 submissions we put together a slew of sexy-funky-psychotic visions better left unmentioned in print. Highlights include Jimmy Carter in the buff, a stunning 3D experiment in chromovision, and a rotoscope reenactment of Chelsea Manning on the eve of her arrest. Welcome, lover-army of fringe-dwelling geniuses! Queers building community! Welcome destroyers of mainstream mediocrity! Whatever you are, let’s come together to reflect and enjoy immersive bodily experiences.

"Valencia: The Movie/s," which is closing MIX NYC this year.
"Valencia: The Movie/s," which is closing MIX NYC this year.

Valencia: The Movie/s (Sunday November 17 at 7:30 PM)
“Valencia is the most masterful dyke-centric artsy-weirdo film I’ve ever seen.”—Autostraddle
 Twenty queer filmmakers (including Cheryl Dunye, Silas Howard, and recent Sundance award-winner Jill Soloway) combine forces to create Valencia: The Movie/s, an ambitious project/experiment from author Michelle Tea and producer Hilary Goldberg. With the book Valencia as their muse, filmmakers worked separately on their own given chapter, and their resulting short films were pulled together to form an epic feature-length adaptation of the novel. Valencia: The Movie/s is an ode to 1990’s San Francisco sex radical dyke culture that speaks beautifully about love, queer politics, and alienation, accompanied by a soundtrack of vintage queercore and alt-rock tracks by bands like Team Dresch, Bratmobile, Tribe 8, Bikini Kill and Pansy Division.

Afro-Asian Visions: 
Exploding Lineage II  (Wednesday November 13 at 7:30 PM)
Afrofuturism. The Asian avant-garde. Genderqueer love. Anarchy. Ancestral trauma. This program channels the explosive creative energies found in QPOC communities today. Prepared to be inspired and challenged by some of our most daring makers. Programmed by guest curators KB Boyce and Celeste Chan of Queer Rebel Productions, which showcases queer artists of color, connects generations and honors our histories with art for the future.

Not Me, Murphy  (Saturday November 16 at 8 PM)
The "simple” story of a man with dissociative identity disorder. It's part spiritual journey and part case study, narrated by Murphy’s caretaking girlfriend Lynn (Jason Yamas & Rebecca Robertson). A thrilling study of the very unwell mind at turns playful and at others harrowing as it renders Murphy’s reveries and terrors. Production has delivered stunning, mind-bending hallucinations, and the cast performs abley under Yamas’s one-take rule. Shot on popular amatuer medium Super VHS, Not Me, Murphy's it feels as if are watching some other family’s home movies, edited together with an avant-garde sensibility. The cuts are jumpy and disorienting while we overhear improvised conversation often vulgar, repetitive, or incomprehensible. Because Yamas’s techniques give so much over to chance, the characters feel as immediate and as inscrutable as the people we encounter in real life. It makes their violent outbursts of compassion and sex all the more surprising, and pleasurable.

From the Stom Sogo Collection: Film on Film (Thursday November 14 at 9 PM)
A dynamo whose thunderous potential was cut short by his premature death, Japanese moving-image artist Stom Sogo (1975-2012) remains a romantic rebel if ever there was one. For over two decades he created a hair-raising body of aggressively beautiful films and videos. This 70-minute program features the acclaimed film SLOW DEATH and the rest is, well, a surprise. As we type, tons of new and enticing discoveries are being made in the boxes of over 1200 films, videos and tapes that Sogo left behind. Did we just find a 400-foot reel mysteriously titled 20 CENTURY PORNO? How many abstract adaptations of Dennis Cooper novels did Stom make? We are carefully opening hundreds of envelopes of unknown film reels and you just won’t believe what we have found. This all Super-8 program will feature films projected on film, the way that Stom used to show them during his bacchanalian all-night screenings. Guest curated by Gina Carducci & Andrew Lampert.

"[A] movie's reality should be as nasty and fucked up as possible, so we want to get fuck out of the theater and hope for something better in life.... I try not to have a message or even word in my movie. But I usually have some sick stories behind each of the movies. Those are just mental eye candy that it taste sweet first, seizure second." —Stom Sogo

MIX NYC runs Tuesday, November 12th through Sunday, November 17th in Brooklyn. All the additional info you might need is here.

This article is related to: Que(e)ries, New York City, Experimental Film, Queer Cinema, Film Festival, Brooklyn