One of the new features at this year’s PATCHWORK Festival is the world-wide debut of a new film by Alex Mixter that is titled ‘Saginaw’ and will be showing on May 7th at Pit & Balcony Theatre at 5 PM.
The creative objectives that Mixter sought to achieve with this new documentary also aligns with the genesis of the project, which began back when he lived in Chicago for a few years and then moved to Denver, working in Audeio Visual as a freelancer and also at an Art House movie theatre.
“I basically used my early 20s to throw everything to the wind and see what happened, and I ended up finding myself wondering what was going on back home,” he explains.
“The further I got away from Saginaw, the more I'd find myself talking about Saginaw to people who grew up 1,000 miles away. The original goal of the film was to answer the question, "What is going on in Saginaw?" Every time I would come back home to visit family and friends, it would be a little different.”
“The Bancroft and Eddy buildings were rehabbed while I was gone and I kept seeing people opening businesses in Old Town,” he continues, “yet people still saw it as this horrible place, known nationally for things like "Most Violent City in America” and I remember when Forbes named it the "Worst City In America For Women."
“My goal was to seek out the good stuff that was happening and amplify the voices of those who were in the trenches,” he states. “If you watch the news, you get a 6 second sound-bite and a vague idea about something that's happening. I wanted to give the community the opportunity to meet these people the way that I met them. I wanted to share these interviews in a way where you can get to know the people who are putting in the work. The community here is incredible, and there are so many stories to tell. This documentary honestly feels like the tip of the iceberg.”
In terms of his own background, Mixter says the fist video he shot was in the third grade. “My dad always make skits with us when we were little kids, and the videocamera was always around or in use. Naturally, I started making little movies with my friends, and the interest grew from there. I would get out of projects in school by doing a video instead, and I was always pulling friends together to make skits. I did a bunch of TV Production classes in high school and eventually went to Delta College for a full year, before moving into a full time role as a videographer with Covenant HealthCare. From there I just dove right into a career making videos.”
When asked about the most challenging component involved with bringing his cinematic take on Saginaw to fruition, Alex quickly states that it was “absolutely knowing when to stop.”
“Every interview I went to, I would be packing up my equipment and talking with the person I had just interviewed, and I would always ask, "Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?" And everyone had at least 3 people that were doing something really cool that was worth including. So I ended up doing over 50 interviews for this film over a span of 3 years.”
“At a certain point, I just got overwhelmed and sat there looking at everything in folders on a hard drive, wondering how the hell I was going to connect the dots. Funny enough, though, once I started working and chipping away at it, these small connections would click together. The more people I talked to, the more I realized how connected everything was.”
“The community struggles with working together on things, but it was interesting to see how one person could be two degrees of separation away from someone who was doing something completely different on the other side of the city. So the hardest part was knowing that I had to walk away from the trail if this was ever going to be a movie. I don't think the story is done with this film though; I'm currently exploring ways to continue on the trail beyond this film.”
Given that much of the PATCHWORK Festival is centered upon the notion of creative empowerment and how people can make music & art happen within their community simply through the power of individual initiative, when looking at the arc of his own career from his early origins to the point of success he has achieved today, what does Mixter feel are the three most important lessons learned, or philosophies he’s adopted, that have contributed to fostering his success?
“I definitely have a few philosophies I've adopted over the last few years,” he reflects. “I'd say the first one that really sticks out is the idea that you get the work that you do. I really drifted all over the place when I was living in Chicago. I worked at Jamba Juice, Jimmy Johns, the Art Institute of Chicago, two dozen hotels throughout the region doing AV. I was just chasing down a way to pay my rent and grabbing at whatever helped me towards that goal.”
“I didn't really realize how much I had drifted away from making videos until about my third year in Chicago,” he continues. “I had built up this resume that qualified me for jobs I didn't want. After a year of editing crafting videos for a company in Denver, the company cut 1/3 of it's workforce and I ended up having to go back to the drawing board really fast. One of my friends told me that I could make a whole page on my freelance website dedicated to the crafting video experience I had, and even though I was back in the right industry, I found myself feeling the same way I felt in Chicago.”
“When you take a job, you drift towards whatever that job is about. If you make crafting videos, you'll end up being qualified for jobs where you're making crafting videos. If you make music videos, you become known for making music videos. You become a wedding videographer by making wedding videos. When I was doing AV, I was drifting more and more into the AV industry as a whole and AV companies would reach out to me on LinkedIn.”
“So I was coming back from Square 1 and realized that I needed to make a very deliberate shift in what I was doing. I moved back in with my parents and started making things for people, sometimes for free, often times for cheap. I wanted to make content that resonated with me, with the intent of moving closer to the things I loved to do.”
“It's been working, and I'm seeing people in the community making a name for themselves by simply doing the thing they want to do. John and Katrina from Major Chords For Minors told me in an interview that they don't pretend to know what they're doing at all times, but they're guiding Major Chords by their passions and creating an incredible culture that is deliberately welcoming, loving, and special.”
“They were both in real estate before they started a nonprofit that provides free music lessons for children. They just went towards it with a good heart, the community supported them, and they're getting national coverage on NPR for it.”
"You get the work that you do" would be the philosophy I resonate with the most, but there's all sorts of other stuff, too. I've really grown to appreciate the power of the individual. I have so much respect for the people who have an idea and run with it. I'm seeing people of very modest or limited means making a real impact.”
“Sometimes all a person needs is access to resources and they are able to move mountains. I feel like PATCHWORK is an incredible example of that, which is why I'm so happy to be a part of it. I officially joined the production team this year and seeing the type of work that gets done by such a small group of people is amazing. It doesn't take many people to get something done, and I try to surround myself with people who are pushing for results.”
“In regards to lessons learned, I would say the biggest one is learning patience and empathy. Listening more than you speak. Doing interviews with 50+ people is tricky because that's 50+ opinions. When you start cross-examining perspectives, it challenges your own perspective on the issues you're talking about. When you start to consider nuance, you start to understand why things are the way they are.”
“People look for easy answers to things, but there are no easy answers,” states Alex. “When talking about something like poverty, you have to adopt a willingness to listen. Everyone has a different story and everyone feels the way they feel through a lifetime of experiences. When it comes time to tell the story, you bear the responsibility of presenting your interviews accurately and true to the subject, but you're really curating what comes out of their mouths. What you leave out is just as important as what you put in. The film isn't so much my own voice, but a platform for the community to share their perspectives. There is a common interest in everyone, and in this case, it's Saginaw.”
Check out the Trailer here! https://vimeo.com/209139364