Photos courtesy of April Maxey
San Antonio born/Brooklyn resident April Maxey is an up and coming multitalented painter, freelance videographer, and filmmaker. In 2012, she received her BFA in Film/Video at Pratt Institute in New York. While attending college, she was bitten by the filmmaking bug where she discovered her new plans to make movies.
To date Maxey has made two short films, Girl Scouting and Polaroid Girl, the latter premiered at OutTakes: Queer Film Festival in New Zealand. Polaroid Girl screened to sell out crowds at the Directors Guild of America, where it was well received to thunderous applause. It has become a favorite at over 35 film festivals around the world, winning the Best Lesbian Short at the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the Best Short at Long Beach’s Q Film Festival.
Polaroid Girl tells the story of a timid young photographer who discovers her inner strength after connecting with a woman who runs an eclectic camera shop. Maxey chatted with PrideIndex about her inspiration, and why this film is a favorite for audiences everywhere.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): I thank you very much for agreeing to speak with me about your film Polaroid Girl which will play at Reeling 31 here in Chicago on Saturday, November 9.
APRIL MAXEY (AM): Thank you.
PI: Let’s talk about you and your background.
AM: I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. I moved to Brooklyn when I was eighteen to go to school at the Pratt Institute, an art school. I moved to New York because it is a much more liberal place than Texas. I really enjoyed going to art school because I have a background in fine arts and painting. I didn’t know that I would later pursue film. I kind of switched majors.
PI: As I glance over your resume, I’m taken away by the depth and breadth of your work. Your art is outstanding. Damn girl! You’re really doing some things.
AM: (Laughs) Thanks.
PI: When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
AM: I have been taking art classes since I was very young. I was around ten or twelve when I took oil painting classes. My parents were very supportive; they put me in all of these classes when I was I younger, so I knew by the time I was in high school that I would go to art school. I had an art professor who was very nurturing and encouraging. I just wanted a way to get into art school, but I knew that if I went to college I could not be a painting major because my parents would be like “what are you going to do with painting.” I do love painting and I am trying to make more time for it. I paint my girlfriend a lot. She‘s my muse.
PI: That’s a good muse.
AM: Yeah. (Laughs)
PI: I see that you are very open about your sexuality and gender expression.
AM: Yes. My girlfriend models for me a lot and I am working on a series of paintings with her highlighting the butch lesbian, feminine, and androgyny. You don’t see people like that a whole lot in the fine arts, so I am fascinated by that. Hopefully, I can get it into some little neighborhood galleries or a small coffee shop.
PI: Polaroid Girl was done as your thesis work for grad school. When I talk with many student filmmakers, there is a level of anxiety with completing the grad level thesis. Did you experience any anxiety to get it done correctly since there was a grade associated with it?
AM: This is actually part of my undergrad thesis. I was 21 when I started it, and I was not worried about getting a good grade. I was more concerned about making the best narrative film I could make. My undergrad film program was kind of like you could do experimental or a documentary film or anything you felt like. It was more about brainstorming or having strong conceptualized ideas and not a technical program. The whole film’s budget was very small. I think I had $2,000, and I had a five person crew consisting of people that were in my class and of others who had graduated a couple of years before. My girlfriend was a producer. I wrote and shot it the first semester. I spent the second semester editing. I thought it was pretty good because a lot of students waited until the second semester to begin shooting. Sometimes you do not have enough time editing. I got to take my time with the editing process which I’ve learned is really important. I know student filmmakers who think, “I’ve shot my film,” but [they] do not realize the real hard part is editing. I actually finished either first or second in the class, so I started to submit it to festivals while I was still in school.
PI: How long did it take to make the film?
AM: It took nine months. I think what is so helpful about being in school you have deadlines. You have to have the final copy of the script by this date and your shoot should be done by that date. It is so much easier when you have those hard deadlines when you have to have stuff finished by. I wrote Polaroid Girl in August and shot it in November after the preproduction and casting was done. I’d actually shot it in five days and then had the entire second semester to edit it. I think I finished it in April of the next year.
Regarding the filmmaking process, I read somewhere that “half of directing is casting,” which I find to be so true! I was so lucky to find my actresses, Crystal Arnette (who plays Sofie) and Mina Joo (who plays June). I had so much more confidence in the film after I found them because their chemistry felt so natural and authentic. I was lucky to find such talented actresses to work with.”
PI: I’m looking at the sheer number of festivals your film has appeared and girl, I can tell you…you submitted it everywhere.
AM: Yeah (Laughs) My first film, Girl Scouting was made in my junior year and it was not as a big as Polaroid Girl, but I was still getting solicitation emails from film festivals for it. I got a call from OutTakes Queer Film Festival in New Zealand asking for it. I told them I had just finished a new film. I sent them a rough cut for Polaroid Girl. The programmer gave me these high compliments. That was the first time I’d put it out there for somebody outside of my school, so that was very inspiring. It showed that it could play in festivals. When you do a film, you really do not know how the rest of the world is going to see it. Outfest: The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival was its first U.S. premiere, where it played at the Directors Guild of America in L.A. It was in the leading shorts program where they played it simultaneously in two theaters right next to each other. It sold out in these huge theaters. It was great to be in the audience and to hear the audience laughing at what was supposed to be the funny parts and clapping at the climax. Then after Outfest, I got all these invitations from other festivals to play the film. I still get them over a year later, which is crazy, awesome, and inspiring.
PI: That’s wonderful. I am looking at some of the international places this film has played in: France, Germany and India. Just looking at the busy November schedule, it’s playing in Switzerland at the same time its screens here in Chicago then it’s off to Indianapolis and Spokane, Washington. It’s just about putting the film out there and being proud of the accomplishment.
PI: Where did you get the inspiration for the film?
AM: Characters are always weathered consciousness and sub- consciousness of you. I always based characters off my friends that somehow evolve into me as well. I got the idea and the plot from one of my close friends who are a photographer. She is a very introverted person; I consider myself to be an introvert also. I remember going through her photos and there are three super bold strong statements, where she is doing these self portraits. There are words going everywhere; she is like this super bold and emotional [person] that I thought was a contradiction to the person who you’d think she was if you were to meet her in person. I based the lead character off her. The film is about her finding her voice and gaining confidence, finding her way in the world, finding a love interest, and taking control. The film is meant to be uplifting, inspiring, and to make you feel happy.
PI: Since Polaroid Girl has been well received by audiences all over the world, have you considered making this into a feature length film?
AM: Maybe when I first was writing it, that idea was in my head. But I feel like I‘ve watched this story so many times that if I were to make a feature I would just invent a new story. I would have similar themes: a strong female, lesbian character, but I do not know that it would always be a love story.
I definitely want to make a feature length movie in the future. I do want to make another short before I do that, but I would try out a totally different story.
PI: Have you considered making another movie that would feature the characters Sophie and June picking up from where “Polaroid Girl” left off?
AM: No, if I make another short it will be a different story completely, but I love these characters. I feel like my characters are a similar type of characters, so I would make a short with a similar type of character, but with a different story line. I want my next short to have a gritty vibe like Mysterious Skin or The Wrestler. I have been into these gritty dark movies, but I do want to have a positive ending.
PI: How would you describe your filmmaking style?
AM: When I get these ideas in my head, they’re always dramas, but as I am writing them, they end up coming off as being comedies. That’s ironic because I do not intend to write them that way. That has been consistent in all the two films I have made.
PI: Name three that have most influenced your artistic style.
AM: I can name three filmmakers whose films I really like. For Polaroid Girl ,I love Paul Thomas Anderson as a director. I really like that movie Punch Drink Love that he did, so I would say that that was a big inspiration for this film although it is so different. It has a main character that lacks confidence. It is more a love story, but it is more about him gaining confidence. I really like Miranda July, she has that quirky style. I love her short stories too. I recently saw the movie Concussion which I really liked. Films like that are awesome. It is a story that happens to be gay but it could be a straight story. My next film will be like that. I think there should be more films that are not just about being gay, but a story that shows a gay character going through something that anybody else could relate to.
PI: Are you going to be here in Chicago for the screening of Polaroid Girl at Reeling 31?
AM: No. I cannot make it. I wish I could.
PI: Does your absence have anything do with the fact that Polaroid Girl will be shown in Switzerland at the same time? Skip Chicago I’m headed for the slopes, shopping and chocolate.
AM: Switzerland? (Laughs) I cannot afford to pick up and go to Switzerland. (Laughs)
PI: What are you working on next?
AM: I do not really know. I do not have a concrete plan, but I am up writing every morning. I am not in pre-production for anything. I am still trying to find a good story.
PI: What is your ultimate goal as an artist?
AM: While it is true about what I said about wanting to make a feature, I think the ultimate goal for me is to make a feature that helps in whatever small way to make change. I want my next film to reach straight audiences too because I think that is important for straight people to see gay characters and relate to them because we are all just people and we all have problems. Gay people don’t only have gay problems and gay films shouldn’t only be for gay people. I watch “straight” movies all the time and I am moved by them. The amount of positive and authentic gay representation in film and the media available today does not proportionally reflect the amount of gay people in this country, so I hope to help balance that a little more. The fact that as gay people we do not share the same rights as straight people in our country means we still have a lot of room to grow. I totally admire artists like Pussy Riot, who are in a much more intense climate, but they are still putting themselves out there through performance and art in order to be heard and create change. So for me, art is ultimately about creating change.