Off the 4th Avenue / 25th Street stop on the R Train, you can visit the Green-Wood Cemetery. Or, from tonight through November 15, you can stroll on over to the MIX Factory. Don’t be fooled, it’s not a new operation drumming up artisan cocktail mixes; rather it’s the name of the venue for MIX NYC, the annual New York Queer Experimental Film Festival now in its impressive 28th year.
This year, you can watch film melt and burn inside of a projector to a live synth score in Malic Amalya and Nathan Hill’s Towards the Death of Cinema. Or you can hunker down and watch shorts such as All About Amy, an eight-minute profile of a widowed trans taxi driver in the Catskills; a “16mm meditation of Los Angeles signage”; and a love story between a “hand monster and an uncut dick.” That’s just a sprinkling of the staggering amount of films screening at MIX, exploring topics ranging from drone warfare, racism, porn, “EcoSexuality,” and more from artists across the world.
Like many events of its kind, the longest-running queer film fest in NYC had humble beginnings. Founded by filmmaker Jim Hubbard and author Sarah Schulman in order to call attention to the AIDS epidemic through experimental film and avant-garde art, MIX has gone on to expand over decades to encompass the ACT UP Oral History Project, film preservation projects, and MIX festivals in places like Brazil and Milan.
Traditionally there is not a lot of money in events like these, as its content and creators typically exist on the fringes, away from big business and corporate sponsorship. Despite its staff being made up solely of volunteers, MIX still manages to amass a small army of helping hands each year to create the MIX Factory and organize a very large-scale art event: a true testament to MIX’s importance and appeal to New York’s queer community.
“There’s something about being in a fairly unfettered space in a non-commercial context that is liberating. Not everything has to be transactional or so stringently rule-bound, and MIX NYC allows for that,” explains the festival’s executive director, Stephen Kent Jusick. “It’s been an evolving place where people can be themselves.”
In the past, MIX commonly took place in more traditional venues throughout lower Manhattan, such as theaters, cinemas and storefronts. In recent years those have gotten pricier and MIX has relocated to more industrial areas of Brooklyn. Jusick has been pleased with that, since it has expanded what they can do and given them more open spaces.
These wider warehouse or factory spaces have been used to incorporate larger-scale art installations into the interior design of the festival, such as MIX 2013’s giant inflatable lung. This year, it will be housed in a large warehouse space in Sunset Park, where the MIX team has created a “purple, yarn-wrapped immersive environment” and several installations that engage the body and senses.
While branded as a film festival, MIX also features a large array of art installations and live performances. A quick perusal of the spread reveals several strange and wonderful-sounding experiences. Raphaële Frigon and Zuzu Knew’s Catt Butt Milkk Barr is one of the most intriguing: created by two artists who are allergic to cats and lactose intolerant, the installation welcomes you to enter through a “pink cat hole” into a “cat-shaped structure” where you can explore breasts and nipples and be bottle-fed non-dairy milk. Sure sounds more interesting than going to a cat cafe.
The XFR Collective will also be there, offering any documentarian with material confined to VHS or MiniDV tapes the chance to get “preservation-quality” digital copies made for free. Jusick says that they’ve welcomed more non-film art lately in order to broaden the festival’s scope. “Having all of that in the space [with] the more traditional film screenings creates a dynamic atmosphere where people are encouraged to linger, and engage with the different kinds of art with a more leisurely pace, or to revisit a durational work again and again at different intervals,” he says.
Let’s get back to the big picture: film. The fest opens with Hanging By A Thread, a 91-minute collection of shorts vaguely themed to experimental narratives and queer women. Jusick tells us there will also be interactive installations ready, including a painting performance by Gabrielle Wales and a performance called Molt which “combines movement and a procession within a projected environment.” MIX closes on November 15 with Hanky Code-The Movie!, 29 shorts dissecting the vocabulary gay men used in the 1970s to denote sexual preference and fetishes by using different colored handkerchiefs.
The whole program is proof that the work of queer artists transcends easy classification. “We are careful not to allow the desire to commune to slide into a desire for sameness,” Jusick says. “In practice, that means we actively seek and solicit work that enables connection and understanding across differences, which not coincidentally makes for a much better artistic and aesthetic experience too.”
In the past, MIX has shown work by Miranda July, Gus Van Sant, and Todd Haynes, so you may very well feast your eyes on the Next Big Queer Thing.
MIX NYC officially opens Tuesday, November 10th and runs until November 15 at the MIX Factory, 155 26th Street, Sunset Park. Tickets to screenings range from $13-25 and can be purchased here. Full list of installations, performances, and events can be found at www.mixnyc.org.