Stephen Winter carries on queer challenge to complacency
Espousing the theme “Resistance is Fertile,” the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film/ Video Festival is MIXing things up again November 19 through 23 at the Anthology Archives in the East Village.
This year, Larry Shea and Stephen Winter occupy the executive director and artistic director posts, respectively. In addition to a slate of some 150 film and video works, there’s numerous performance events and multimedia installations.
Winter, whose film “Chocolate Babies” was launched at the 1997 edition of the festival, has been part of the “MIX family” since, including stints as a judge at the beloved annual “Gong Show.”
“The show is free and first prize is always a double-headed dildo or what not from Toys in Babeland, so everybody wins,” he said about an annual tradition that will be judged this year by Mike Albo, Miss Understood, Coco Frio, Julie Goldman, and José Munoz.
Winter, who is also a producer of “Tarnation,” one of the festival’s centerpiece films that screens Friday, November 21 at 8 p.m., happily took the hot seat to give Gay City News readers the scoop on this year’s MIX, its theme, and its sometimes sordid past.
Lawrence Ferber: How did MIX come to be?
Stephen Winter: MIX was founded in 1987 by writer Sarah Schulman and filmmaker Jim Hubbard in response to the overwhelming straight-ness of avant-garde film that prevailed in New York at the time. Their hunch—and it was a good one—was that if a place existed for queer filmmakers to show their work, it would build an audience and create more filmmakers.
MIX is now the longest running lesbian and gay film festival in New York City as well as one of the foremost venues for experimental cinema in the world. MIX has shown the finest avant-garde queer film and video from all over the world, giving audiences their first glimpses at early work by Todd Haynes, Isaac Julien, Gus Van Sant, Rose Troche, Shu Lea Cheang, Sandi DuBowski, Cheryl Dunye, Ira Sachs, and Tom Kalin, just to name a few and there’s hundreds more—all legends.
LF: Has its mission changed since inception?
SW: MIX changes constantly with the times, growing and evolving each year. It has a great street fair feel to it, like a pornographic punk rock neo-soul Sundance.
LF: How has MIX evolved under yours and Larry’s guidance?
SW: Larry Shea, who, like me, is a seasoned MIX filmmaker, media artist, and scalawag, came up with this year’s theme of “Resistance Is Fertile!” His vision for MIX is a fruitful breeding ground for bold, maverick artists who, by the very fact that their film work exists, punch a new one into our chilling national climate of conservative anxiety. I mean, we live in a time where a TV docudrama that tells the truth about Reagan’s reprehensible inaction over the AIDS crisis can be forced off a network! So the very existence of MIX is a real fist up the ass of the conservative status quo.
LF: What are some of this year’s film and special event highlights?
SW: Going back to our festival theme, everybody at MIX is very excited about our Resistance Focus programs “Tales Of The Night Faeries,” “Sex Workers Unite,” “Resisting Paradise” and “Retroactivism.” [“Retroactivism”] includes new work by Matt Wolf, Kent Lambert, Sharon Hayes, Lala Endara, Paper Tiger Television, and a world premiere excerpt from the “ACT UP Oral History Project,” the colossal undertaking of our founders Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman to entirely document how the extraordinary ACT UP grassroots movement happened by the first person perspectives of the people who were there.
We have a wonderful show curated by Stephanie Gray called “Queerly Classed,” which takes an unconventional look at storytelling and class structure between the rarified “avant-garde” world and the gritty real life situations experienced by working class people and artists. Those into Douglas Sirk-esque melodrama should come see “All My Children.” “Gurl Candy’s” a hot and sexy musical assemblage of glam rockers, punk boys, horny mommies, and babydykes.
Legendary sex party promoter Michael Wakefield world premieres his feature film “Head Case,” a John Waters-esque farce about a sexually dysfunctional couple who think they’re being stalked by a serial killer, featuring all the celebrated East Village children like Flloyd, Mona Foot, Les Simpson, Murray Hill—it’s friggin’ hilarious! And you can’t miss “Dildos, Drugs & Droids,” which explores how technology interfaces with sexuality from the streets to the bedroom and beyond. Bring your thinking cap and a raincoat.
LF: What are your most memorable experiences at past MIX fests?
SW: During my first year this crazy boy from Canada—MIX always attracts lots of hornballs from our northern neighbor—took my drunk ass for an early morning walk down lower Broadway, unzipped me under a scaffolding around Spring Street, and went to work. Very hot. Suddenly, this big scary van with Jersey plates and tinted windows stopped right in front of us. At first I was terrified! I mean, they could see us, but we couldn’t see them. What if a band of hooligans swarmed out and beat us bloody? But Canada-boy was completely nonplussed and finished my grace off with a rakish Rockin’ The Casbah grin. The van then sped away without incident. Obviously we were protected by the MIX Goddess!
I was also completely blown away—in an artistic sense—by a film last year called “The Salivation Army” by a real prince of a man named Scott Treleaven, who also happens to be Canadian.
LF: What’s the most outrageous thing you saw at a MIX event? Any hopes and opportunities for debauchery this year?
SW: Once, supposedly at a MIX party at The Cock, Alexis Arquette sucked himself off and then tongued down [former] festival director Rajendra Roy, but I must not have been there because I don’t remember. Or maybe I was there but too busy with my own debauchery to notice.
This year the major MIX spot for eroticism—auto or otherwise—will be Saturday, November 22 when MIX takes over the Ann Street Bookstore down by Wall Street for the ten year anniversary of “The Thousand Dreams Of Desire” show that MIX presented in 1993 by folks including James Lyons, Todd Haynes, Stephen Kent Jusick, and Christine Vachon. All three floors of Ann Street will be transformed into a multi-gender, multi-media lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans porno show with all kinds of experimental and mainstream queer sexualities thrown up on the walls and programmed in the buddy booths. We’ll have DJs, a chillout room, its gonna be incredible. One night only, so don’t miss it.
LF: You’re a very busy boy overall, Stephen—films like “White Boy Blues” in pre-production, and a scrapped VH-1 show. What has working on MIX brought to your life?
SW: God, this year I worked on so many TV pilots that will never see the sun that it’s a real personal pleasure to help present all these wonderfully unique and original visions at MIX. This festival always inspires me to work harder on my own film work and be braver in my life. We need MIX in New York now more than ever. Like Larry Shea says, “MIX drives a stake into the clogged heart of American complacency.”