“To Love like this in America
Is to lose from start to finish
A generic dysfunction that brings us together
Only to shatter us again.” — Rob Halpern
America’s refusal to consider class in conversation with place has never been more clear than it is now. Late-stage capitalism, hetero-patriarchal infrastructure, and contemporary political tactics have only made the wide ravine between rural and urban people deeper in both the U.S. and globally, creating the stage for the current rise in extremism/fascism. This panel collects a group of filmmakers who consider image-making from beyond the coastal lexicon of film and art discourse in the United States, working to explore where they come from: middle America—the center of collapse. No-coast land. Central to these bodies of work are issues of land/landscape, ruralness, class, kinships, gender, sexuality, race, whiteness, queerness, and P/politics. Aesthetically, these artists resist the composed, the cinematic, (i.e., production values associated with class privilege) and “Story” dominance, in lieu of the dirty, the emotive, the raw.
The panel will include the film work of three practitioner-scholars. Mitch McCabe will present excerpts of the film Civil War Surveillance Poems (2021), discussing their positioning of experimental film against documentary as a way to work through future-presets of political collapse. Angelo Madsen Minax will present excerpts of his films North By Current and The Eddies to consider the politics of queer refusal in rural landscape. Sheilah and Dani ReStack will present work documenting their lives together as a queer family in Columbus, Ohio, using fantasy and non-linear documentary strategies to speak to possibilities of new inhabitations, forging relationship to larger environmental and historical issues.
Civil War Surveillance Poems is a five-part project of speculative nonfiction and experimental film contemplating a new American civil war via call-in radio, twenty years of verité footage from the filmmaker’s archive, and robots. Conceptually, the project is made from a specific vantage point of protracted civil war. Partly nostalgic political travelogue, partly a quest to mine the archive for what went wrong, and part prewar surveillance records, the film deconstructs our past/future/present political moment and builds to a clashing ideology, a violent poem to a lost country.
The structure pushes back at mainstream news, three-act structure and narrative tropes of traditional documentary. Perhaps it’s a reaction to our times, when any single narrative seems dangerous, 1968 all over again, with an upside-down political landscape causing artists to question narrative and embrace avant-garde forms. Begun in 2018 as an experimental, sci-fi political warning, Civil War Surveillance Poems has evolved as 2020 has unfolded. With multiple pandemics and turbulent elections, the film’s themes have grown more relevant as our racial, economic inequities and geo-political divides explode into view with armed protests. “Part Five” breaks with “science fiction”: set in Michigan, following rallies, protests and militias for five months leading up to the U.S. election and its aftermath.
Mitch McCabe is a queer artist and filmmaker who works across narrative, nonfiction and experimental film, mining themes of class, politics and identity grounded in their native Midwest America. Their films have screened at Sundance, True/False, New Directors/ New Films, IDFA, Ann Arbor, Camden, Visions du Real, Clermont-Ferrand, Winterthur, Edinburgh and New York Film Festival. A fellow of MacDowell and Flaherty Seminar, McCabe’s work has been supported by MASS MoCA, Yaddo, Princess Grace, LEF, Jerome, Djerassi, and McEvoy Foundations. They are currently working on the five-part speculative feature film project of Civil War Surveillance Poems and its multi-part installation.
Madsen will present excerpts from his new film North By Current, an essay film about his family that explores truth/myth and the role of motherhood. With specific attention paid to landscape, the film uses the family’s sawmill as a symbol of collective memory and growth interrupted. Further, the film parallels the death of a child with gender transition – not as a way to expand tropes of linear, cis-dominant transition narratives, but to interrogate the nature of place-based time.
Angelo Madsen Minax is an American artist, performer, and filmmaker. His projects have screened and/or exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Anthology Film Archives, Echo Park Film Center, BFI, European Media Art Festival, Ann Arbor, Edinburgh, Berwick, Alchemy and others. His short film The Eddies (2018) about a trans man who investigates the erotic culture of gun ownership in the Southern United States, earned awards from the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Berganale, Kurzfilm Hamburg, and FLEX Experimental Film Festival. Madsen’s new film North by Current premiered at Berlinale, and was supported by Field of Vision, PBS-POV, Sundance and Tribeca Film Institutes.
Dani and Sheilah ReStack are presenting a trilogy of works which examine the potential for documentary and fiction to exist together as hybrid form of alternative document via fantasy and daily life. The three video works take their conflicts around family, place, desire and collaboration as a way to generate movement into fantasy, narratives of form, place and feeling that begin in the personal and expand into conversations and implications for survival, climate crisis and community. The personal becomes a place in which to consider possibilities to defy heteronormative, linear time through strategies of using what is available in the lived environment of the home – making new proposals out of what is at hand.
Dani and Sheilah ReStack have embarked on an artistic relationship that is formally and emotionally adjacent to their domestic lives, a quotidian zone they share with their young daughter Rose. “Both artists have established careers on their own. Neither’s work … could exactly prepare us for the force of the women’s collaborative efforts.” –(Cinema Scope, 2017). Their collaborations have shown at the Whitney Biennial, Toronto International Film Festival, Images Film Festival, Leslie Lohman Project Space, Columbus Museum of Art. Their work has been supported Carizzozo, Headlands and MacDowell. Their upcoming video, Future from Inside, received a Canada Council Project Grant.