An Interview with Filmmaker Astro Rys

Issue 278

Get rid of Hollywood, says the director whose films combine bravura left-wing politics with constant, raw art.

Peter Carellini Mar 21, 2023

Chances are, if you are a filmmaker and live in Brooklyn, you have had the pleasure to meet filmmaker, activist and actor Astro Rys. I met them in 2016 when we were both film students. Since then I have been inspired both by their fearless anger and independent filmmaking, most notably in Bad Summer, a 2020 feature about a young college graduate who reconnects with an old friend and finds his life and plans turned strangely upside down. It has been praised for its formalistic daring, deconstruction of Americana and infectiously fun DIY-style atmosphere.

Rys’ films combine bravura left wing politics with constant, raw art. They are currently in production for two short films and another feature.

The Indypendent: How do you tie your politics into your film? Visual placement and aesthetics, or more direct script and themes?

Astro Rys: I tend to focus more on structural and theoretical incorporations of my politics and ideas rather than scripts and themes.  I find a lot of films spend a lot of time saying a lot (or very little), but mere statements and critiques do not mean much. I would rather tell stories where politics aren’t inherent to the script or content, but my methods and ways of creating are more reflective of my ideas. I think changing the way we interact with the world and our crafts is far more active and productive than using our art as mere soapboxes for ideas.

So what does your ideal film culture and community, domestic or international, look like?

An ideal film culture is one that encourages creation purely for the sake of creation.  I look for communities that are not based in competition of attention or resources and are rather focused on the catharsis of creation rather than producing products and social clout. Hierarchies and esotericism are fine on individual levels, but on a community level, there should be no levels of power dynamics or gatekeeping.

In that search, have you found a place or community that informs your filmmaking and artistic identity?

Bad Summer; Astro Rys, 2020

Growing up in a Rust Belt city that did not have any large support of media arts shaped my entire attitude of DIY and mutual aid. There were very few resources and comrades I had within these communities, and it gave me a desire to help create artistic spaces and works that do not need to exist alongside financial factors in order to flourish. The Cine Móvil collective in NYC was very influential to me, as well, in providing a call to action to other local filmmakers with similar visions as my own to collective our efforts and mobilize our ideas as well as being fearless in our politics and beliefs.

Do you believe progressive filmmaking is tied to form as much as it is to ideas?

I think form is actually much more important than ideas.  Form is concrete. Form is reflexive of our own inner relationships to our exterior world. Form is an extension of the intellectual, spiritual and experiential modes of art.  Ideas are purely based in the intellectual and have failed us or been capitalized and reincorporated into the status quo time and time again. Form cannot be capitalized on, because it is active — or at least should be.

You spoke about community. On a bigger picture, is there a defining social event, economic shift or cultural time and place that had a lasting effect on your artistry?

I always believed what I currently do about art; I just used to not have a name for it or fully understand my own political convictions. Everything began to come together after my political radicalization that happened in response to the 2016 and 2020 elections. 

I think for many of us, 2016 was the point of no return. And 2020, a questioning of the status quo no matter who became president.

Those events spurred a mission to really try to find my own political and social identity in order to effectively combat what I saw as a rise of both reactionary fascism and neoliberalism in the new political age.

And who have been your biggest influences as a socially-conscious filmmaker?

Sergei Eisenstein, father of modern editing; experimental filmmakers like Lizzie Borden, John Cage, William Greaves;  Jean-Luc Godard, of course; the surrealist Luis Bunuel; Charlie Chaplin; John Waters! And I can’t forget Jonathan Caouette, Billy Childish, Todd Haynes, Adam Curtis, Nick Zedd. 

That’s a fantastic list. What is your dream project?

Filming Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian

Lastly,  how would you change the current Hollywood structure into something more equitable?

Get rid of it. Hollywood is the antithesis of equality in the arts.

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