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Ackland Art Museum and queer cinema class host movie screening

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Film still from Fox Maxy's "Gush" courtesy of Academy Museum Foundation/ Photo by Owen Kolasinski

An audience of students and community members filed into the Varsity Theatre on Thursday evening to watch the Ackland Film Forum’s latest screening: “Gush.”

The feature is filmmaker Fox Maxy’s first venture into experimental feature films, though she has had short films screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Museum of Modern Art and the International Film Festival Rotterdam. 

Prior to its showing at the Varsity Theatre, “Gush” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Allison Portnow Lathrop, head of public programs at the Ackland Art Museum, organized the event with Martin Johnson, an assistant professor of English and comparative literature and the director of undergraduate studies in the global cinema program.

Portnow Lathrop said they were looking for a film from a contemporary Native American filmmaker to complement the Ackland Art Museum’s current exhibition, “Past Forward: Native American Art from Gilcrease Museum.”

Maxy, Payómkawichum and a member of the Mesa Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians, uses “Gush” to explore themes surrounding the traditional expression of femininity and masculinity, as well as her past and present.

The film comprises 71 minutes of camcorder and cell phone footage of Maxy’s life taken over the course of a decade. 

In a post-screening Q&A, Maxy said she spent two years selecting video from her archive and editing her film, which she screened intermittently throughout different stages of its production. 

“I definitely want to explore experimental filmmaking in a more polished way in the future,” she said in the Q&A. “So this is kind of a way to practice that.”

Videos of her friends dancing in a club follow videos of performance art and reality television shows. The setting jumps from the hills of San Diego, Maxy’s home, to the streets of New York City. Collages of music spanning Shania Twain to Beyoncé and distorted sound effects and voices give a dizzying background to clips that flash by, most lasting no longer than one minute. Several scenes feature animated CGI details like skeletons.

Portnow Lathrop said the exhibit “Past Forward” explores sovereignty, identity, ceremony and visual abstraction.

“I wondered how abstract construction of the film — a lot of found footage, a ton of amazing music collages that make up the soundtrack, and really interesting cuts between tiny segments of film — I wondered how that could interact with that theme of visual abstraction,” she said.

Students in Martin Johnson’s class, English 244: Queer Cinema, were also among the attendees. He said they used the film to discuss representations of gender and sexuality, as well as experimental film as a modern medium.

Although the film elicited mixed reactions from audience members, he said it brought about welcome conversations.

“Avant-garde experimental film, because it's kind of challenging norms, tends to be — some people really love it and think it's something that really transformed how they look at the world,” he said. “Others were a little bit less excited about it, but still interested to see the conversation we have with Fox and the way that she was able to use the film to explore a lot of things in her life.”

Maxy said during the Q&A that she didn’t mind the diverse interpretations of her work. She said that everyone will have their own experience with any artistic content and understanding this has allowed her to shed what she described as rigid rules of creating.

“It's freeing to be able to just detach from the audience and make work for myself,” she said.

@ktrchurch

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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