John Killacky: the trans incarnation cinema of Angelo Madsen Minax
This comment is from incumbent state Rep. John R. Killacky, a Democrat who represents South Burlington in the Vermont House. This was originally published in The Arts Fuse.
Angelo Madsen Minax, associate professor of temporal media at UVM, is having a good year. This spring, he was awarded a prestigious 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship and is currently on sabbatical to do pre-production work for his next project. On October 22, he organizes an evening of experimental short films for the Vermont International Film Festival.
Minax creates daring experimental films of trans embodiment by discordantly juxtaposing current imagery with Super 8 home movies, animations, staged rituals and ethereal voiceovers. Chaos and anarchy are embedded in his hybrid cinema of survival, acceptance and transcendence.
His work has been screened in the United States, Europe, Canada and Mexico, winning awards at many prestigious festivals. His “North by Current” was screened nationally on PBS’s POV series in November 2021. In this feature film, shot over five years in an auto-ethnographic style, he returns to his family of origin and is grappling with the death of a niece, addiction, incarceration, misguided religious fervor, and rejection of her gender transition.
His experimental shorts are equally compelling. Magnificent landscapes, queer rituals and cinema-verité ruminations offer kaleidoscopic glimpses of his artistic and personal explorations. Some are rooted in particularity of location – using archival news clips from a television station in Dallas or exploring the geographical and sexual underground of Memphis. Her surreal ‘Two Sons & a River of Blood’ (2021) is a poignant meditation on pregnancy and desire with a self-made family of ‘two dykes and a trans man’.
His latest, “Bigger on the Inside”, premiered last month at the Toronto Film Festival and is described as “a psychedelic and deeply moving reflection on desire, human connection and – in his own words – a contact crisis.
I spoke to him over the phone about his aesthetic approach to filmmaking. He said to me, “I don’t separate the process between production and post-production. I start editing right away; otherwise, I can’t get an idea of what the story will be like. When I shoot again, the process dictates how and what I will shoot in the future. In my films, you will find information tracks that I find interesting rather than attempts to entertain the audience.
Minax describes his projects as spanning “documentary filmmaking, narrative cinema, essay film, media installation, sound and music, performance, text and collective practices”. For him, “the content interests me more than the narration. The narrative is what gets anyone there, which I think is important, but the content does the heavy lifting of getting people to ask questions about the world around them, which makes the difference between art and entertainment.
Reflecting on his personal journey, he recalls: “I grew up in punk, feminist and BDSM cultures. It was a different world – throwing parties and working multiple jobs to pay for our operations. We had to go to therapists to tell us we weren’t crazy for having hormones. As I get older, “I need reconciliation more than differentiation”.
With his Guggenheim Fellowship, he is developing a documentary on Fakir Musafar, an icon of body modification and what was called “The Modern Primitive Movement”. Minax shared the backstory: “For the last 10 years of his life, I have been part of his community. … It is about this desire to push the limits of the body in its physical and spiritual dimensions and find meaning in community. When he died, his wife and I started talking about the archives. I was blown away by what was there.
In a press release announcing the Guggenheim Prize, UVM President Suresh Garimella called Minax “one of the shining lights of our institution’s remarkably talented arts faculty, and we are thrilled with this well-deserved recognition.” deserved for him”. Additional support from a UVM College of Arts and Sciences grant will help sustain the project on Musafar, who died in 2018 at the age of 87.
When asked if his raw, intimate works are political, Minax replied, “I’m not in the camp that believes visibility equals politics. You must be more than alive in the body. The personal will always be political. Resistance to various forms of oppression is important. My politics works best if I can generate empathy, compassion, or insight – that’s where I do my best work. “
On Friday, October 22 at 9:30 p.m., Minax is hosting a program called “Experiments in Queer Cinema” for VTIFF at the Main Street Landing Film House in Burlington. Included are an eclectic cast of filmmakers from Canada, Germany and England, as well as the regional premiere of his new 19-minute short, “Bigger on the Inside.”
Orly Yadin, the director of VTIFF, presented Minax’s feature film “North by Current” at the 2021 festival. In an email, she enthused: “The film itself is complex, moving, vulnerable and beautiful. . The post-projection with him was enlightening. It was a wonderful event. For the upcoming festival, Yadin said she was “delighted” that Minax had organized a program of short films; however, “unfortunately he will be out of state during the festival but will be recording an introduction to the program.”