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POV: North By Current

Courtesy of Angelo Madsen Minax
Filmmaker and artist Angelo Madsen Minax returns to his rural Michigan hometown after the death of his young niece. Decades of home movies and ethereal narration reflect on struggles with grief and addiction as Madsen examines family, faith, and transgender identity.

Premieres Monday, Nov. 1, 2021 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / On Demand

“North By Current” is a feature documentary from acclaimed visual artist Angelo Madsen Minax. The film arrives on POV after a decorated festival run with screenings at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and AFI Docs in addition to receiving the Grand Jury Award at the Camden International Film Festival and an Honorable Mention for the Jury Award at Outfest.

The documentary begins as Minax returns to his Michigan hometown after the inconclusive death of his niece and the wrongful persecution of his sister and brother-in-law, dwelling upon the experiences of grief and the enigmatic emotions of homecomings. An autobiographical film, “North By Current” traces the contours of the filmmaker’s life as a trans man against the backdrop of his childhood and his parents’ childhoods in Michigan. Struggling with his parents’ religiously-motivated reluctance to wholeheartedly accept his queer identity, Minax weaves a restlessly creative testament to kinship and the physical and spiritual questions that arise in the wake of unimaginable loss.

Trailer | North By Current

In his own words, a “cruel sibling” as a younger child, Minax reflects upon his behavior and the distance that has grown between himself and his family as he contemplates a series of journeys through motherhood and loss. Blending the line between fiction and nonfiction, the film movingly recreates scenes and images from his family’s past while he seeks to process and move on from his parents’ statement that they “lost” someone when Minax transitioned. Such ambiguities refuse moralizing or the reduction of any of the complexities of Madsen and his family; his vision is deeply human and bracingly honest when dealing with the difficulties borne out of addiction and loss.

As Madsen mines his own personal history, juxtaposing present-day footage with VHS home movies from his childhood, the film begins to resemble a conversation between Madsen's own voice and a more lyrical voice who stands in for his niece and his childhood self. The interplay between the two voices continues throughout the film, from its beginning in the middle of the Michigan winter to its summertime end. The dialogue between voices mirrors the collaborative nature of the film and the participation of Minax’s family as they work towards mending the at-times fractured relationships among themselves while making their love for each other tangible.

With profound feeling and artistry, "North By Current" exemplifies in the story of one family such universal themes as love, grief, addiction and belonging. Without offering any trite or easy answers, Minax delves deep into his own pain and that of his family’s, offering an emotional analogy to the Michigan seasonal wilderness that marks its own presence throughout the cyclical journey from winter to summer, from brokenness to some kind of repair.

Courtesy of Angelo Madsen Minax
Filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax's parents watch a home video.

Filmmaker Quotes:

"One of my goals with this film is to demonstrate through form, the ways in which life is utterly unrelenting. I want people to be able to sit in that difficulty, where things are raw and maybe hard to watch, but also so universal – everyone comes from somewhere, and has their own sets of struggles," said director Angelo Madsen Minax. "I’m honored that POV is committed to showing this work for what it is – more challenging than comfortable. Audiences deserve to have their ideas about the world challenged and that offering is a privilege."

“As a trans filmmaker, I’m invested in producing complex, multilayered stories. My films cross genres, yet at their core they are stories of transformation and resilience” said producer Felix Endara. “'North By Current' is emblematic of uncompromising, risk-taking storytelling. After watching the film, I hope audiences come away with a sense that 'North by Current' - as the title suggests - is not a destination but rather a pathway, and a tool for connection. I commend POV for supporting a trans-themed project made by trans filmmakers, and I invite more industry stakeholders to follow its example.”

Watch On Your Schedule:

The film will be available on demand concurrently with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO.

Join The Conversation:

POV is on Facebook, and you can follow @povdocs on Twitter. #NorthByCurrentPBS