Contrasting light exposures scatter across the opening frames in Fox Maxy’s Sundance premiere, Gush (2023). Some of the flickers feature a flashlight hitting a tree, spotlights shining on nightclub ravers, a camera’s flash illuminating a bloody nose, and the differing degrees of sunlight contributing shade or heat to nature’s evocative beauty. Artificial and natural light sources abound in Maxy’s personal, exuberant, and horror-esque style. However, her sporadic editing trains the audience’s sight on her interior, nuanced nine-plus-year archive (the footage was shot over nine-plus years) rather than a continuous arc that examines a concrete situation unfolding within her relationships. The lucid, swift pacing informs audiences that they will comprehend clips of Maxy’s life in a non-linear timeline. Instead, the film begins as a critique of external forces influencing a person’s livelihood before transforming into a letter of self-determination about the joy of enduring humanity.
Gush is the debut feature-length continuation of the San Diego-based (Kumeyaay and Payómkawichum) artist’s diaristic self-introspection and mission to showcase accessible filmmaking via iPhone and low-quality camcorders. Forefront traces of frenetic scene transitions, unexpected yet non-flustered vocal changes, multilayers of projection, and an eclectic soundtrack (consisting of string orchestrations and hip-hop and blues remixes) are present in Gush and her shorts F1ghting Looks Different 2 Me Now (2022), San Diego (2020), and the widely-seen Maat (2020).
The 71-minute, free-associative collage analyzes the effects of mental health, social media, and sharing oneself with the world. Its mind-boggling structure makes Gush’s time-traveling spectacle mundane and, instead, opens up conversations about how we function and perceive information, leaving little room for blanket statements. The indecipherability of Maxy’s internal exploration accretes to an understanding of love, unity, and companionship. Gush initially follows the haunting relationship between humans and land before it signals the importance of having friendships as love conquers angst.
Frequent pop-ups of mobile corpses, spiders, and splattering blood manufacture strong bonds and interests between Maxy and her friends. Excerpts of auto-tuned Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell discussing sexual abuse are paired with abstract imagery (which reflects Maxy’s multitude of emotions) and Maxy’s own witty remarks, such as “you’re either hot or crusty in this world.” These instances complement her refusal to be labeled by others about her work and herself. This noncompliance with conventional storytelling allows Maxy to shower the sources of her beliefs in adoration without concerning herself with the audience’s expectations at all.
In Maat, Maxy redefines home, activism, and her Nativeness. The film establishes her admiration of lizards and her dog, and begins with Maxy’s POV shots from the driver’s seat of a car. In another scene, she then twirls on foot in the desert with a friend to contact the motherland. Then, we shift to interviews during which we listen to poignant remarks from key Hawaiian solidarity movement figure Haunani-Kay Trask, tribal scholar L. Frank, and incarcerated firefighter Marty Vinson. Maxy places the interviewees in smaller aspect ratios under the backdrops of a living room and palm trees with multiverse jumping shots of Maxy gazing at the world or a human’s internal cells. It eases viewers not to be too serious about the subject matter. Simultaneously, however, she stimulates a future of liberation with people thriving and reclaiming spaces.
The figures in Maat crucially critique how white people contribute to ongoing systemic oppression, capitalism, slave mentality, and colonialism in Turtle Island. In most familiar films, actuality raconteurs assert a specific agenda for audiences to create transformational change. However, Maxy is conscious of her positionality and doesn’t compromise her creative expression to be a cultural explainer for non-Indigenous—predominantly white—audiences. While acknowledging the history of how America became America and her ancestors’ accomplishments, Maxy does not explicitly tell people to be on her side. For example, she cuts from an essential point in Trask’s speech to a jumping cat, emphasizing the many instances in her life where she does not have to constantly justify her existence. She finds a therapeutic purpose in her work through recurring switches between her wonders of the land and the politics of control. This passion absorbs a pragmatic comprehension of the daily minutiae.
When one watches Maat with captions, they will see alternate spellings of commonly used words such as “u,” “kno,” and “rly.” This execution reflects Maxy’s relationship with her phone. Her life revolves around this precious resource and she exerts its unique capabilities toward the film’s advancement. In doing so, she sets a precedent for how language—via captions and visuals, for example—functions in the digital age by contending with its ubiquity. She abandons King’s English in favor of internet scrolls symbolizing a user’s Instagram highlights. She soothes societal hot takes with a lively, melancholic playlist where she embraces her culture and illustrates the power of living. She ruminates grief into a session of acceptance through a multi-format interview in Gush.
In the interview, she confronts her trauma as she resumes her meditative rituals from her past work. She intersperses scenes of women in a car debating a sexually violent man’s value to her community with snippets of her MoMA Modern Monday performance (with her troupe that includes acclaimed musician and Gush composer Laura Ortman) in relation to her interview. These short fables—shown in multiple segments—touch upon the impact social media has on us. Social media encapsulates the strength of connecting to the world, yet its daunting presence looms over the simple apps phone users take for granted. They both show how people use social media to navigate the confinements of relationships and how perception is developed based on notable accounts of history and a person’s activity on the web.
Maxy gives the big picture while revealing enough of oneself in a non-didactic manner. The unnamed women heal in their collective get-together. When Maxy adds montages in between their exchange, we witness a complicated horror taking place as they speak, revealing the ways in which there’s fear in going to ordinary settings where a traumatic event occurred. While the surface is peaceful, internal evil hangs over ordinary settings, as victims of trauma may not have pleasant memories of certain places that their counterparts do. Peculiarly, in this scene, they are the only characters to be censored when they curse—perhaps implying that they collaborated with Maxy on how they ought to be represented on-screen. The MoMA performance contains observations of one’s relationship with flesh and others. It comments on the emotional ethos of feeling pain but soon becomes a therapeutic exercise for the performers to free themselves from their inner demons.
Once one releases something to the world, one can never undo that action. That is the dilemma Maxy contemplates throughout Gush. While acknowledging her platform’s amplification, she sometimes autotunes parts of her sentiments to let audiences know that making art is fun yet susceptible to one’s endeavor to express themselves.
Maxy demonstrates her capabilities as a time lord in Gush and Maat. Her non-linear storytelling epitomizes how events have long-term effects and how moving on from moments that scarred or excited us is impossible. Her sound bridges of mixing diegetic sound and remixed tracks subsume healing antidotes that make people stronger yet vulnerable to daily life. She enthralls the grainy yet vibrant, ubiquitous surroundings that shape a person’s ideology. She redefines how conflict can become tense out of the blue. Gush is a coping mechanism to clinch love, fear, and power to ourselves. Maxy allows viewers to reflect, grapple, and enjoy the bold remembrances that we carry. She blends sorrow and bleakness into delight and endearment.