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A Guggenheim Fellow Explores Life Through Film

Angelo Madsen Minax’s film project ‘North by Current’ explores family, truth, memory and trans identity.

CU Madsen Minax
Angelo Madsen MinaxImage: Leah James

By Diana Babineau
Fall 2022

A self-taught filmmaker, Angelo Madsen Minax ’12 MFA says he “sort of tripped into filmmaking through activism.” Six years after earning his bachelor’s in fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Minax was keeping busy — editing videos full-time for Beyondmedia Education, a social justice organization that provides media tools to underserved youth; working odd jobs at coffee shops; and playing in a couple of bands. 

While on tour with a bluegrass band, “we made a feature documentary about 21 transgender musicians in the U.S. and Canada,” he recalls. The documentary earned dozens of film festival awards. 

“Making art,” he realized, “is a constant conversation with structures of power.” Seeking a way to work on his own art full-time, Minax applied to Northwestern’s master of fine arts program in art theory and practice. “It was one of the best decisions I could have made,” he says. Now an associate professor of time-based media at the University of Vermont, Minax has created dozens of film projects. His latest, North by Current, is a feature documentary exploring his family’s relationships with one another as well as with truth, memory and trans identity.  

North by Current is one of the craziest endeavors I’ve ever taken on,” he says. “Working with your family around a lot of trauma over the course of six years ... sounds like the worst idea in the world.” But it’s also his proudest accomplishment. The film has won numerous awards and nominations internationally. 

As a 2022 Guggenheim fellow, Minax is at work on a new archival project about Fakir Musafar, one of the pioneers of piercing, tattooing and other body modification.  

“I knew Fakir for the last 12 years of his life as a sweet, older, queer person,” he says. “He created an entire philosophy about the integration between body and spirit and how that can be realized through intentional body modification. That got really interesting for me.  

“In addition to film, I’m thinking through exhibition opportunities,” says Minax, who has been granted access to Musafar’s archives. “There are so many artifacts.” 

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