A family death spurs a first-person study on the nature of grief, time, and origins.
NORTH BY CURRENT is a visual rumination on the understated relationships between mothers and children, truths and myths, losses and gains. After the inconclusive death of his young niece, filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax returns to his rural Michigan hometown, preparing to make a film about a broken criminal justice system. Instead, he pivots to excavate the depths of generational addiction, Christian fervor, and trans embodiment. Lyrically assembled images, decades of home movies, and ethereal narration form an idiosyncratic and poetic undertow that guide a viewer through lifetimes and relationships. Like the relentless Michigan seasons, the meaning of family shifts, as Madsen, his sister, and his parents strive tirelessly to accept each other. Poised to incite more internal searching than provide clear statements or easy answers, NORTH BY CURRENT dives head first into the challenges of creating identity, the agony of growing up, and the ever-fickle nuances of family.
Director / Producer: Angelo Madsen Minax
Producer: Felix Endara
Executive Producer: Charlotte Cook, Justine Nagan, Chris White
Original Music by Julien Baker
Estimate Completion: Winter 2021
TRT: 85 minutes, 4k, 2k, HD, VHS, Super 8
North By Current is a co-production of Field of Vision and POV
North By Current is an essay film that puts Madsen's subjective voice in conversation with the voice of a ghostly, unseen child narrator. The film integrates multiple visual approaches to storytelling as it traverses time, space, experiences, and relationships. Using the family's VHS and super 8 home movies, cinema verite, staged actions, and landscape portraits of snowy forests, frozen lakes, endless highways, and drifting water, the film weaves an altogether lyrical and unpredictable reflection. Imagery of the family business, a struggling sawmill, acts as a thematic symbol of collective memory and growth interrupted. Julien Baker's ethereal and haunting scoring shapes the tone of the film, while Madsen's approach to editing pushes the boundaries of genre and formal conventions, integrating bold stylization within a narrative formula.
North By Current is an examination of growing up, the agony and joy of literal and metaphoric separation, and what it means to be a body moving through time. For me, a personal, first-person approach to storytelling was the only I could make this film. The merger of the personal and the political became an opportunity for my family members and myself to talk, collaborate, and grow together – our own version of transformative justice. Through our conversations, my parents developed an introspection that forced them to question their intrinsic understanding of the 'American Dream,' and their ability to negotiate their religious beliefs with their acceptance of me poses profound examples for the capacity of human love. In light of so many unresolved conflicts and on-going situations, my sister’s commitment to making the film with me demonstrates the care, generosity, and complexity that went into its process.
To explore the nature of time and transformation, whether through death or gender transition, it was formally imperative for me to use many different sources of archival footage as well as voice - both serve as metaphoric time travel. Vérité scenes are put in conversation with home movies, which are put in conversation with the stylized lyricism of an unseen ghost-child who drops in periodically to impart wisdom upon the viewer. The child’s voice is an omniscient, all-knowing, all-wise entity; a stand-in for both the figure of my niece, and the figure of my own childhood. Over the course of the film, the voice of the ghost-child weaves with my own voiceover, creating a dialog between us. Human relationality becomes the nexus for understanding and confronting trauma.
One of my goals was to demonstrate the ways in which real life is dirty, unrelenting, and never wraps up nicely, contrary to what movies would have you believe. When I set out to make North By Current I vowed to resist simplifying or over-explaining information for the sake of consumer consumption. I do not want an audience to passively consume this film, but rather engage with it, deeply. This goal led me to make a film with specific and embodied resistance to answering topical questions or stating facts; for example, I refuse to provide details about my transition. I supply scarce information about Mormonism, and I sidestep objective, unilateral, and/or singular storytelling as definitive truth. These refusals are intentional, political gestures.
I address narrative with a similar approach of refusal: I chose to leave some questions unanswered and threads unwoven (How did Kalla die? When did you transition? What happened to David?). Simply put: a viewer is not entitled to every piece of information. The refusal to wrap up our story allows for the symbolic and real-life continuation of our struggles as relationships in flux, lives in-progress. In place of conventional narrative certainty, you are given raw emotion – in effect shifting the frame of reference for what a trans narrative can look like, feel like, do, be.
-Angelo Madsen Minax, February 2021
1] Heather Love - “Queer Critique, Queer Refusal,” Radical Philosophy Review, Volume 16, Issue 2, 2013, Critical Refusals, Part 2
Jury Award, Best Documentary, Milwaukee Film Festival, Milwaukee, WI
Jury Award, Best Feature Film, Olhar De Cinema, Curitiba, Brazil
Jury Award, Harrell Award for Best Feature Film, Camden International Film Festival, Camden, ME
Jury Award, Life & Liberty Award, Sidewalk Film Festival, Birmingham, AL
Jury Award, Best Feature Film, FREEP: Detroit Free Press Film Festival, Detroit, MI
Jury Award, Best Feature Film, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Hot Springs, AK
Jury Award, Honorable Mention, Best Documentary, Krakow Film Festival, Krakow, Poland
Jury Award, Honorable Mention, Best Documentary, Outfest International LGBT Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA
Jury Award, Honorable Mention, Best Documentary, Austin International LGBT Film Festival, Austin, TX
Jury Award, Best Feature Film, GenderBorder Film Festival, Milan, Italy
Audience Award, Departures, IndieMemphis Film Festival, Memphis, TN
Documentary Centerpiece, Reeling International LGBT Film Festival, Chicago, IL
Nomination, Teddy Award, Berlinale, Berlin, Germany
Nomination, Best Feature Documentary, Berlinale, Berlin, Germany
Nomination, Best Feature Documentary, International Documentary Association, Los Angeles, CA
Winner, Best Writing, International Documentary Association, Los Angeles, CA
Winner, Spotlight Award, Cinema Eye Honors, New York, NY
Nomination, Truer Than Fiction Award, Independent Spirit Award, Los Angeles, CA
Angelo Madsen Minax, Director
Angelo Madsen Minax is an artist, performer, and filmmaker. From 2012 to 2018 Madsen was in residence at the Core Program (2012-14), the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2014), the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (2015), and was a QueerArt Fellow in Film/Video (2017-2018). Madsen's projects have screened and/or exhibited at spaces including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, European Media Art Festival, Anthology Film Archives, REDCAT, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Echo Park Film Center, the British Film Institute, and dozens of LGBT film festivals around the world. His recent 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 (Spain), Kurzfilm Hamburg, and FLEX Experimental Film Festival. Madsen is a recipient of the Samuel Edes Prize for Emerging Artists (2017), the Tribeca Film Institute's All-Access Fellowship (2019), the Sundance Film Institute's Documentary Production Fund (2019), and the Bay Are Video Coalition’s Media-maker Fellowship (2020).
Felix Endara, Producer
Born in Ecuador, Felix Endara is a New York-based independent producer, programmer, and arts administrator whose projects have screened at festivals including Berlinale, DOC NYC, SXSW, Frameline, Outfest, NewFest, Mill Valley and others. From 2008 to 2012, he programmed Arts Engine’s documentary screening series DocuClub, was an IFP Producing Fellow in 2010, and from 2010-2012 produced Wildness (Dir: Wu Tsang), which follows the trajectory of a gay bar in Los Angeles as its transforms into a refuge for immigrant Latina transgender women. The film premiered at MoMa's Documentary Fortnight 2012, and went on to have dozens of festival screenings, and was included in the Whitney Biennial and the New Museum’s Triennial. Endara has reviewed for P.O.V., Tribeca All Access, NewFest, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and the New York Asian American International Film Festival and is committed to producing innovative, thought-provoking projects that function as catalysts for social change.
For screening inquiries in North America please contact Grasshopper Film.
For screening inquiries everywhere else please contact Journeyman Pictures.
For in-person presentation and speaking inquiries please contact HARD FLOW.