Skip to content
A person wearing a light brown jacket is holding a video camera no their shoulder, obscuring their face, standing against a light brown rocky background.

Issue 003 Fall 2021 Profiles

A Hunger to Be Heard

A Profile of Fox Maxy

by Cassie Da Costa

San Diego (2020) dir. Fox Maxy. Film still courtesy of Fox Maxy.

These days, there’s a lot of talk about short-form video—again. Since the rise of the post-Vine video app TikTok, fashion, media, and tech platforms are “pivoting” back to the medium, hoping to draw in the ever-elusive marketing category of Gen Z. Yet the cynicism of that undeniable framing can cloud the minds of writers and critics who are supposed to care about moving image, at least those of us who are trying to hold on to precarious blogging gigs. If video’s in again, there looms another round of layoffs, already-recycled jobs thrown back to the dumping grounds. 

But really, who cares? Digital has always been a mess. You don’t sign on to online cultural production with the promise of stability; you do it with a hunger to be heard. And today’s most exciting video artists and short-form filmmakers are no different: whether their work is on TikTok, Instagram, or a major magazine’s website, what matters is that today, in this moment, eyes get on it. The future will have to sort itself out. 

No emerging filmmaker embodies this immediacy better than twenty-nine-year-old Fox Maxy (Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians and Payómkawichum), who is so open and unpretentious that discussing his thoughtful and ambitious work feels like talking with an old friend. Coming out of the fashion production world in New York, Maxy captured attention by posting super-short videos on Instagram—years of archival footage shot on his iPhone in and around his community in San Diego. All edited to a soundtrack of carefully selected songs and rhythms (one includes a Dolly Parton Easter tune interlude), some sequences feel like nature documentary, the only doc form Maxy is explicitly interested in. Others are deeply experimental or come off like (auto)biography. Maxy’s more recent videos, such as Maat (2020) and San Diego (2020) are longer, running around thirty to forty minutes, and more elliptical. 

The longer duration allows for several shifts in tone and pacing. At the beginning of Maat, a kid in sweats and sneakers lethargically roams the land, the camera quickly cutting between perspectives, including another person’s sunlight-bathed profile and glimmering earring. A dreamy, tinkling soundtrack plays before it’s interrupted with a traditional American pop song a la Bing Crosby, with the line “where do you go when you feel your brain is on fire?” In San Diego, dynamic, irreverent scenes of Maxy roaming city streets with friends give way to stiller, high-tension moments of protest and then to calmingly detailed views of the desert.

A screen floats above a smokey cloud, on the screen are two people sitting outside and chatting in front of a large open field. The person on the right wears all white and holds a microphone up to the other, as if interviewing them, but they look disengaged - checking on their nails rather than making eye contact.
Watertight (in production) dir. Fox Maxy. Film still courtesy of Fox Maxy.

Maxy’s films explore many diverging and converging themes—from being Native to living on and respecting the land. But they also emphasize affect and expression, visual rhyme and currents of emotion, popular culture and carefree subversion. There are computer-rendered scenes, resembling the popular computer game the Sims, video overlaying trippy images, and moments of extreme attention to specific objects or people that cut through sequences of agitated movement.

Maxy always edits with an eye towards attention span and enjoyment; he’s not interested in putting viewers through a durational test. Nonetheless, his videos have challenged expectations. He felt the need to go long: “I was really concerned that people told me before that my work isn’t very watchable,” he says. “And so, I was like, This is something I’m just going to make for me—and if nobody watches it, fine. But that’s where I was kind of playing around with my editing. I was just making it for me.” 

That personal mandate doesn’t come from a place of selfishness but from a focus on preservation—of the self and the work. At the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico, where Maxy studied film, he was in some ways finally able to fit in: “I teared up because, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by all Native kids 24/7, and our teachers were Native for the most part.” But there was a disconnect when it came to critiques of Maxy’s still-in-development feature Watertight, which is described on Maxy’s website as “a collection of interviews interrupted by fantasy worlds of fake commercials, reality TV parodies, animations, and archival footage.” “They hated my work so much,” Maxy says. “I started Watertight as a school project, and everyone was kind of like, What the hell is this? This is not what a movie looks like. Maybe this is a documentary. But no, that’s wrong.” 

Receiving such strong reactions early on has made Maxy—who is effortlessly casual in speech yet engaged and genuine in personality—skeptical of criticism and who it comes from. “I haven’t heard one thing that has been helpful,” he says. “I hear a lot of: ‘This part is weird.’ ‘This part is creepy.’ ‘This part is hard to watch.’ And I’m like, Well, buckle up, because I’m not going to change it.” But in other ways, the filmmaker is becoming more collaborative, slowly beginning to work with a small crew and devising relationships built on honest feedback and shared priorities. “My big thing is getting approval and feeling like when I put something out, I’ve checked in with the people that I’ve worked with,” Maxy explains. “And it’s hard, because there are film festivals and timelines and deadlines. But I really, really want to make sure that people are at the core of what I’m putting out, that people feel like they are part of something that they’re proud of.”

A close up of an electronic sign billboard that says "Get it Shawty" in red lights against a black background, and below blue lights
Maat Means Land (2020) dir. Fox Maxy. Film still courtesy of Fox Maxy.

He’s also found mentors in a group of critically acclaimed Native filmmakers—including Sky Hopinka, Adam Khalil, Alexandra Lazarowich, and Adam Piron—who created COUSIN, a collective that, according to its website, is “building an Indigenous-led film movement.” It’s in this group of filmmakers that Maxy has finally found a sense of shared artistic vision.

“They got in touch with me and were saying things that I had never heard before,” Maxy says. “That they believed in me and they could see me doing something bigger and could really help me figure out how to navigate where I want to go with [my work]. And they didn’t want to change anything about me.” COUSIN has been helping Maxy take his work to film festivals, which he admitted, in a relatable aside, that he doesn’t understand, what with all their rules and categories. “If you want to see this film, I mean, just watch it,” he quips.

Still, Maxy is feeling surprisingly optimistic about working in Hollywood if the call comes. He tells me he’s been trying his hand at acting too and has spent time on big sets, including Netflix productions. “It’s very funny to me, because [the film world] seems a lot nicer than fashion. I’m shocked on the daily by how much more willing people are to help each other out and answer questions,” Maxy says. “Good attitudes, I guess.” 

Hollywood is big, though, and I ask Maxy where he’d hope to land. “I love the Safdie brothers and could see myself sitting in the world that they’re in,” he says. “I don’t know what world that is, but if that’s Hollywood . . .” It’s an apt identification, not only because the Safdies spent a lot of time making short films before their early features, but also because their own complex, dynamic, and provocative work elicits that classic “what the fuck” reaction from those who simply can’t get on their level. 

Maxy is still working to fund Watertight, but despite the seemingly never-ending search for film financing, he’s finally feeling confident in his work and in himself. “Now I know that people will watch my stuff and not cringe. Or maybe they do, but they’re still watching it,” Maxy tells me. “It’s just a cool, powerful feeling, knowing that I can make films and people will watch them.