The Berlin International Film Festival recently selected “North By Current,” a genre busting experiential documentary by UVM’s Madsen Minax for inclusion in the film festival’s prestigious summer line up.
Minax, who teaches time-based media in the departments of art and art history at UVM, is a filmmaker who explores, combines, challenges and rejects many of the conventions of filmmaking and documentary story-telling in his art.
“In experimental avenues, the film is considered very conventional, and in documentary avenues, the film is considered very experimental,” Minax said. “This film is a weaving, tangential type of story moving from content to content, drawing allusions and parallels between different situations.”
In “North By Current,” Minax explores the relationality of family dynamics, brought to life on Super 8 film featuring family interviews to show the difficulties of being in a family, and what it means to grow up.
“It's a feature film about my relationship with my family that traces our relationships over the course of six years as I return home more regularly to take care of my family in the wake of my niece's death,” Minax said. The death, under questionable circumstances, is used as a “jumping off point” to examine family and family dynamics.
“The intention of the film is to collapse different aspects of time and place, and think about generational passage in a more holistic way,” Minax said. “The film is pretty universal in that sense — that it's really about finding common ground with each other in the face of so many external differences.”
Unlike other long-term projects the filmmaker has completed in the past, which tend to be mapped out, “North by Current” changed direction many times during the course of its production.
“The film narratively changed many times over the last six years,” he said. “It wasn’t until the last year of editing that it really started to be a cohesive narrative.”
An important part of Minax’ filming process was how to portray the members of his family in a way that served the narrative and also gave them agency in their portrayal in the film. In order to complete the difficult task of portraying the lives of his family in an authentic way, Madsen said that he “spent a year just trying to warm my family up to the idea of having a camera around before I even started shooting.” The film “really dives into some family history and it's intense and it takes up a lot of emotional space for everyone in it.”
Minax took extra measures to ensure that his family members were able to accept the filmmaking and see the footage as it was being developed, “which is an important agency piece that gets left out of more mainstream documentaries,” Minax said.
“North By Current” is set to premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, or Berlinale, this summer.
Ruben Trauba is a senior economics major.