By Cyrée Jarelle Johnson
Queer Rebels Productions’ triumphant return to the MIX New York Queer Experimental Film Festival after a successful showing in 2012 asked two questions that are fundamental to theorizing radical identities: What histories do we inherit? And what do we need to create? The answers that it provided include: racial/political monsters, genderqueer love stories, critical analysis of family histories, black bodies in ecstatic motion, and tons of music videos.
The entire atmosphere of MIX pointed to remembrance of the past. The smoking section featured a box truck photo installation by Ben Cuevas titled “Ghosts of the Trucks of the West Side Highway” — a tribute to the men who used to gather in similar spaces for hook-ups. The MIX warehouse radiated a womb-like glow complete with flesh and organ-toned seating on the floor and tubes filled with pinkish liquid coursing like blood in plastic veins. The construction of the MIX space was at once terrestrial and experimental, featuring textile trees and tents made of snow alongside the body-themed furnishings and copious amounts of free food and discounted alcohol.
The short films in Afro-Asian Visions: Exploding Lineage II fit perfectly into this temporally liminal landscape. Many films explored the past and future at once. Some standouts on this theme were The Heart’s Mouth by Erica Cho, Speculum Orum by M. Lamar and Stephen Winter, queer daikaiju by Miki Foster, Birthmarks by Naima Lowe, and Free Jazz II by Brontez Purnell, Gary Fembot Gregerson, and Jerry Lee Abram.
The Heart’s Mouth is visually rich and expansive, while withholding something in its narrative. The mysterious short is an excerpt from Cho’s forthcoming film Golden Golden, which should be complete by March of 2014. Two genderqueer characters lock eyes after a game of croquet on a lush, perfectly manicured lawn. Cho described the film as “Edwardian” in style, and this comes through both in content and to impeccable costuming of Leeroy Kang. The short is a fantastic vision of queers in nature, as well as people of color in spaces and time periods coded as indelibly white.
Speculum Orum displays how whiteness is an object that has been force fed to Black people through torture, and legitimizes the desire to do the same to whites in return. A Speculum Orum, as described by M. Lamar, “refers to a device used on slave ships to hold open the mouths of enslaved Africans force feeding those who refused food.” The film is striking and unsettling, wordlessly communicating a disturbing desire to an audience who may or may not agree.
The queer Japanese monster is the focus of Miki Foster’s queer daikaiju, a rotoscoped collage of archival footage, scanned newspaper clippings, and Toho Company monster films. The piece links anarchist sentiments in an early 20th century Japanese-American community in California to film depictions of monsters who destroy civil society. Foster insists that “queers will stand with the monster” and portrays such beasts as the constantly defeated anti-heroes of leftist movements.
Naima Lowe’s excerpt from the film Birthmarks wove an intricate picture of her father, Bill Lowe’s, trauma at the hands of the Newark Police during the 1967 riots. Her attempts to tease “fact” from memory exposed how difficult that exercise can become, as well as the way that memory is an essential part of unquestioned history. Birthmarks is a work of “experimental non-fiction” and the blending of storytelling, speculation, and memory made the piece dynamic and tremendously self aware.
Styles of the past, present and future collided in the second installment of the film Free Jazz by Brontez Purnell, Gary Fembot Gregerson, and Jerry Lee Abram. The short made use of “Electric-60’s experimental choreography” and featured queer Black bodies in dance. The Brontez Purnell Dance Company presented the first part of the film at last year’s Exploding Lineage and it was exciting to see this story told with movement progress.
KB Boyce and Celeste Chan curated an evening that was visually and theoretically experimental. The evening read as a polyphonic narrative of a diverse group of people of color. Together, the showcase was a work of cohesive collage with each individual part utilizing disparate techniques to tell a small part of the overall story.
Afro-Asian Visions was a body of work with visions of the queer future on its mind. Although it didn’t feature direct conversation about how Blacks and Asians can work out our complex legacies with one another, it created a model of collaboration and shared space. The juxtaposition of stories told by Blacks and Asians made comparisons and collaborations more visible. Exploring verbal and textual dialogue is essential to working through the ways that Asians and Blacks do not always work together in beloved community. Afro-Asian Visions: Exploding Lineage II recreated a familiar racial interaction in a way where different yet linked histories could be examined side by side. An intriguing and brave choice indeed.
Information about all of the films screened during Afro-Asian Visions: Exploding Lineage II can be found here. Be sure to check out these short films online or at a festival near you.
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is a Black Femme writer, scholar, zinester, and poet.