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Far Out Meets: Ryan Maxey, the director of the short film 'How To Make A Rainbow'

At Far Out Magazine we believe in cinema’s ability to heal.

At a time when millions of people continue to adapt their daily lives amid strict social distancing measures and cinemas around the world continue to keep their doors closed, we want to shine a light on filmmakers on a personal level. Turning our attention to the work created by independent artists, we have launched our new weekly series ‘The Far Out Film Club’. The project will focus on one filmmaker during each episode and will premiere on both Far Out Magazine’s Facebook page and YouTube channel every Wednesday.

As we enter series two, the Far Out Film club welcomes Ryan Maxey and his film How to Make a Rainbow. Observed over the course of two years, the project is the story of a young girl and her mother as they move together through transitions of home, identity and name. “Jade has been a good friend of mine for over a decade,” Maxey tells Far Out when speaking about the origins of his film. “We lived together for years in an arts co-op in Los Angeles; throughout our friendship, she’s played a vital role in my creative growth. Eventually, we started collaborating on a number of video and music projects.”

He added: “Alaizah was four-years-old when Jade was going through her transition. During this time, she displayed an incredible amount of empathy and understanding. It was incredible to witness her curiosity and unwavering support — she seemed ageless to me. Eventually, Jade and I decided that their relationship would be a good focus for an observational doc, and they invited me to be a fly on the wall in their life.”

The film, which focuses around Alaizah and her efforts of attempting to figure out what to call her father who is in the beginning years of a gender transition, bobs and weaves through deeply personal themes of family life and societal issues. Maxey, whose work is often wonderfully cinematic, tackles hugely challenging issues with a severe emotional attachment with real grace.

“We were shooting the film over the course of a couple of years. I don’t know when it was, but at some point early on, I realised that it was important, as much as possible, to tell the story through the perspective of Alaizah, Jade’s daughter,” Maxey added.

“Her curiosity and understanding was so real and carried tremendous wisdom. I think any adult that is looking to love and support someone close in their life can take some serious cues from Alaizah.”

Here, as part of the Far Out Film Club, we are premiering a screening of Ryan Maxey’s short film which is available through our Facebook and YouTube channels.

You can read a full interview with Ryan Maxey below and, at 20:00 GMT, watch the premiere of his film.

This week #FarOutFilmClub welcomes, Ryan Maxey – his film, observed over the course of two years, 'How to Make a Rainbow…

Posted by Far Out Magazine on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Ryan Maxey Interview:

Far Out: Given the current circumstances, and the struggles that the film industry is facing, how difficult is it to be an independent director right now?

Maxey: “Struggles, of course, will vary from person to person. I, personally, have not been shooting in the past year, so the quarantine has been an opportunity to hole up in my studio and edit a multi-year project of mine. So that aspect of life has actually helped me focus. I think the biggest challenge that I have faced this year is the social and creative isolation. 

“It’s been a time of self-reflection, and when you’re living in an echo chamber with so many terrible things happening, and a long history of social injustice issues are bubbling to the surface, it can be very confronting. It’s healthy to face those things as a storyteller, but it can be dangerous to grow in isolation.”

Similarly, on a personal level as both a film viewer and creator, how important is cinema as a form of release at the moment?

“Film can take you places, and to people. That’s what I love about making films. I’ve always preferred making films to watching films, but during a pandemic, I’ve leaned more into going places, discovering, and challenging myself through watching films. I remember watching Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets and feeling a tremendous sense of relief, as though I was in a room full of people, feeling energy from random strangers. I miss being close with strangers. I hope that doesn’t sound creepy.”

We’re focusing on your project ‘How to Make a Rainbow’. Could you explain where this idea came from?

“Jade has been a good friend of mine for over a decade. We lived together for years in an arts co-op in Los Angeles; throughout our friendship, she’s played a vital role in my creative growth. Eventually, we started collaborating on a number of video and music projects. 

“Alaizah was four-years-old when Jade was going through her transition. During this time, she displayed an incredible amount of empathy and understanding. It was incredible to witness her curiosity and unwavering support — she seemed ageless to me. Eventually, Jade and I decided that their relationship would be a good focus for an observational doc, and they invited me to be a fly on the wall in their life.”

Did your creative vision change when you began to understand more about your process?

“We were shooting the film over the course of a couple of years. I don’t know when it was, but at some point early on, I realised that it was important, as much as possible, to tell the story through the perspective of Alaizah, Jade’s daughter. 

“Her curiosity and understanding was so real and carried tremendous wisdom. I think any adult that is looking to love and support someone close in their life can take some serious cues from Alaizah.”

(Credit: How To Make A Rainbow)

Did you encounter any unexpected difficulties in its creation?

“It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but the most difficult part of the process was grappling with the appropriateness of my role and my gaze in the film. I am a cis, white, male, helping to tell the story of a trans woman of colour and her family.  

“I was constantly grappling, and in conversation with Jade and other trans folx in my life, about whether or not I was the right person to capture this story. We talked a lot about trans narratives and representation in media and how we were striving to make something empowering rather than victimising. I still reflect a lot on my involvement in this project and what content is appropriate for me to explore moving forward. One thing is certain — there needs to be more trans and BIPOC representation in the documentary space.”

Given your views on your own involvement in specific topics, what, in your opinion, is the most important quality of a film director?

“It depends on what type of film you are making. I like to make documentary films that are cinematic in nature. So my presence and communication might be very different from that of a director working with actors or a filmmaker who is digging into a lot of interviews. My ultimate goal is to be as invisible as possible while shooting. Of course, the presence of a camera will always change the dynamic of an environment, and there is no longer total objectivity. But I do think there is a place you can arrive at where the subjects are trusting you as a different kind of participant in the space. To get there, I think the best way to put it is, one needs to have a non-invasive presence and take a lot of time to build trust and friendship.  

“I’m an introvert, and I think that quality can translate to being a good listener and having a non-intimidating energy. Strangers tend to trust me — which is a huge burden — with that comes responsibility and a lot of thought about how to best portray someone’s truth.”

We’ve reached a point in cinema, much like that of the music industry, when the phrase “we’ve seen it all before” becomes a topical debate.

How do you stay original? How do you find ways to produce something unique in a market that has so many creatives? Or is being unique even that important?

“This is a really good question, and a tricky one. I think about it a lot and then try to not think about it, but of course, I end up thinking about it times ten. It’s good to reflect on that sort of thing, but in the end, it all comes down to cliches…like ‘just be yourself and do your thing.’ We all contain multitudes, which informs our perspective and style.  

“I’d say if it feels good and you are able to, just keep making stuff and keep absorbing influences and inspirations and mould that into your vision, then just step back and let yourself make your thing without overthinking it. And if it comes from an honest place, then it’ll be unlike anything else. Not everything will be successful, but at least it’ll be real — and you can find satisfaction in that.”

Given that you often look at the world of originality, what or who are some of your major cinematic influences?

“Early on in my life, I was obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock’s work. I watched almost all of his films in high school, which is a lot. I think his balancing of humour and darkness is a quality that has carried on into my work today. I never thrived making narrative films, and naturally gravitated towards making documentaries with cinematic elements, both visually and thematically. In that realm, I find inspiration in the works of the Italian directors Gianfranco Rosi and Roberto Minervini. Other filmmakers that come to mind are Ross McElwee, Frederick Wiseman and the Ross Brothers.”

Do you think those influences are prevalent in your work?

“For sure, influences can help teach you a language — and from there, it’s up to you to write your own stuff.”

1Given your inspiration, could you run us through your process? What distinctive themes are you looking to create, if any?

“I like working with ambiguous subjects. I’m attracted to heroes that are anti-heroes or have qualities that are complicated or unsettling. I’m less into polemic storytelling, and more into finding the truth of the messy experience of being a human. I’m attracted to people who completely inspire me one moment and then confuse me, or make me very sad, or even piss me off in the next. 

“I’m not looking for moral clarity because I don’t think that reflects us very well. I’m just looking for qualities and people I can relate to in a confronting way — I guess to help make sense of my own complicated sense of self. I should mention that this more applies to my other work, as opposed to How to Make a Rainbow… where I’d say both Jade and Alaizah are both boss-babe, unambiguous, total fucking heroes.”

(Credit: How To Make A Rainbow)

How have you developed your own distinct aesthetic within your work? Is it a conscious decision?

“I love documentary scenes that play out in ultra-wide shots, with intimate sound. I think that says something about me — not sure what, exactly.”

Generally speaking, what attracts you to a certain subject or field?

“My work tends to be something of a journal. It often reflects something I am grappling with, personally. I’m not very good at writing — or even talking — so I make films to help make sense of things.”

Finally, do you have any ideas in terms of which sphere of cinema you may be exploring next?

“I’ve generally worked within the rhythm of making totally independent shorts that make zero money and balancing that world with paid work making or editing films for organisations or other filmmakers. It’s been a nice, comfy spot, but a few years ago, I thought I’d challenge myself and see what happens if I tried to make a feature doc.  

“I’m almost finished with the movie, and with some good fortune, it will come out this year. It’s been kind of scary to sever my ties to the only real sources of income I’ve had, move into a bus in the desert, and live amongst elderly, gun-horny nationalists — but that’s the splendour of self-discovery, I guess. 

Good luck with it Ryan, we can’t wait to see it! 

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