Krissy Mahan: Telling Queer Working Class Stories

My Aunt Mame is a funny/sad dramatization of a woman’s childhood visits to her working-class butch great aunt, and what happened when she came out to her mom, told through Fisher-Price people in homemade sets. Director Krissy Mahan talks about her working class background and how this has affected how she tells working class stories.

I am thrilled beyond thrilled that my movie “My Aunt Mame” was chosen to be shown at SQIFF.  I very much appreciate SQIFF’s commitment to accessibility is all its forms, and also the demonstrated centering of marginalized voices.  I’ve been asked to write about how my working class background has affected my politics and approach to making films.  I’m thinking this through as I write, so it might not be too polished. And of course I can only speak about my own white, US eastern seaboard working class experience, clearly everybody’s is different.

But I was really noticing how my working class family handled things this weekend.  My brother brought his 2 year-old son to visit Mom and me. So, there we all were, sitting around, my sisters were talking about their crochet projects, I was talking about my soccer league, and Mom was doing her best to use her walker, not wheelchair.  My nephew was running around and got himself tangled in the straps of his stroller.  He tried and tried to free himself, but his efforts only made him more caught.  Even when he got really upset by this, all of us just sat there, continuing our conversations. We knew that he would figure it out eventually.  Or maybe not. We had a laugh sometimes at how entangled he’d gotten himself. Then we’d go back to our conversations. He and his predicament were not the center of our attention.

Watching our family yesterday gave me some insight on how my movies are shaped by my family. Because my parents were shift workers, there wasn’t much supervision of us kids, so we kind of got to fill our day with whatever we wanted, which often included building forts or pretend ships, or weapons or anything we dreamed up. Our bodies, nature and our imaginations were what we had to make our fun with.  Whatever project we were working on had to be made from available materials, since going and buying stuff wasn’t an option. There was no pressure to complete the project to some high standard, everybody was having fun in the process of creating. Some of my older cousins wanted the play to involve sexually inappropriate elements, but we’d just say “gross!” and move along. Our parents’ most common review of our work usually ended with “If you kids kill yourself doing that, don’t come crying to me.”

So when I think about how I make my movies, I can totally see those years in my creative process still.  I get to dream up whatever fun thing I want, and find some stuff and some friends to make it with. I just start off trying, then modify as I go, since there wasn’t a firm plan to start with anyway.  I never know how my work will turn out. All of our childhood play involved my siblings, cousins and neighborhood kids, so I am most comfortable in collaborative environments –not only because its more fun, but because they might have some stuff to share that we need. Before Christmas we’d dream of getting already-made stuff to consume, but summers it was all about making our own. Whoever thought up the idea of something to do was the coolest, especially if it involved being “the good-guy.” We always wanted to see ourselves as powerful, even though we weren’t.  (This might explain why my brothers and cousins all grew up to be cops and firemen. They always wanted to be the hero.)

The making of “My Aunt Mame” certainly followed this pattern.  My friends said “it would be so cool if you made a movie about her!” and so I launched into it with some rough ideas of how to make it funny but respectful to her.  My mother has been in poor health for years, and I took care of her at her apartment until recently. So my movies lately had to be made to the scale of her kitchen table.  My friends generously give their old equipment to me, so I don’t work with the newest model of things.  My mom sentimentally kept some of our favorite childhood toys, with the intention of having her grandkids play with them when they visited, so Fisher-Price toys were what was available. At all stages of making it, I would send friends drafts of scripts, photos of sets, and then draft videos.  I wanted their ideas, and gladly incorporated the changes they suggested in my own way. Basically I wanted to make something fun with my friends that we would all enjoy. It’s not that deep.

I am delighted when other people like my movies!  I think they are simple stories, but complicated in the way that working class people’s lives are. So many things in our lives are dependent on circumstances that are always changing. We have to be flexible, have a sense of humor and patience, and some sex, because its free.  We derive our joy from making it through each day, because the future will most certainly be worse than today.  I think that might be why my movies resonate with working class people of all backgrounds, we want to have the best time we can while just getting by.  If non-working class people look at the lives of the people in my town, they might feel disgusted or sad or judgmental. But I think people from my kind of family are surprised and happy to see a family like theirs on the screen.  I am glad whenever anyone smiles and says “that’s how WE do things!”  I am not trying to produce a grand exposé on working class families, I’m just telling funny stories in the way we live them and the way we tell them.

Krissy Mahan’s film My Aunt Mame will screen at the Scottish Queer International Film Festival at the CCA on 30th September 2017 as part of the SQIFF Shorts: Defiant Dykes, alongside other shorts portraying dykes defying society, each other, themselves, and the demands and expectations of both hetero and queer culture. We will be joined after the screening by several filmmakers, including Mahan, for a Q&A.

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