This filmmaker quit school to chase her dream. At 19, she’s made four movies
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Alice Maio Mackay dropped out of Adelaide’s Brighton Secondary School at 16, so it felt strange to return during the summer break to shoot her debut feature, So Vam, a film about a hungry gang of queer teen vampires who feed on the blood of bigots.
At 19, Alice Maio Mackay has made four films and is hard at work on her fifth.Credit: Rhett Wyman
Maio Mackay had been focused on music at school but switched her sights to cinema, leaving to pursue that ambition.
“They were really supportive,” she says of the school. So much so that she shot her sophomore film, “sapphic witchy” slasher Bad Girl Boogey, there too. “They actually asked me to come and talk to the students last year.”
Bad Girl Boogey, co-written with regular collaborator Benjamin Pahl Robinson, was shot in January 2022. Third feature T Blockers – depicting a town plagued by body-snatching transphobic parasites – followed in July and deliriously demonic Satranic Panic in December. The latter two sit side by side in this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) program.
T Blockers casts trans actor Lauren Last as a filmmaker, Sophie, who fights back against the parasitic invasion, but the similarities to Maio Mackay are skin deep.
“Like any of my films, there are bits of me in there and there’s certainly things I’ve experienced, but these are fictional characters.”
The film was shot on a micro-budget of $10,000, much of it crowdsourced. “No one was going to fund a film called T Blockers or Satranic Panic in this current climate, so I just had to make it myself,” Maio Mackay says.
There’s a village supporting her. RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under star Etcetera Etcetera cameos in a Tales from the Crypt-like narrator role in T Blockers. The scene was filmed at the Imperial, a renowned queer venue in Sydney, where Maio Mackay is now based. The filmmaker planned to take a breather after it was in the can. “Honestly, I was like, ‘Two films in one year is pretty crazy. That’s kind of enough.’” But housemate Cassie Hamilton, also a writer, had other ideas.
T Blockers tells the story of a town plagued by body-snatching transphobic parasites.Credit: Alice Maio Mackay
“She gave me a few pages [of what would become Satranic Panic] for my birthday in August of last year and then we wrote that script pretty quickly,” Maio Mackay says. “She has a full-time job working at Griffin Theatre Company, but she had time off in December, so I was like, ‘Why don’t we just do it then?’ It was a hectic year.”
A busy but fruitful year. So Vam was acquired by specialist horror streaming service Shudder. Maio Mackay was invited to this year’s LA Outfest alongside Down Low star Zachary Quinto and fellow trans woman and filmmaker Vera Drew, whose queering of the superhero genre, The People’s Joker, also screens at this year’s MQFF. “That was crazy,” she says. “I was really shocked that I got that acceptance email.”
At the festival, Maio Mackay was awarded the emerging talent award. She hadn’t even planned on attending the ceremony until it was strongly suggested she should. “I thought maybe they just want me there because Vera was going to win,” she says of her good friend Drew, who was nominated for an Emmy for her work on Sacha Baron Cohen’s sketch series Who Is America? Drew is currently editing Maio Mackay’s fast-approaching fifth feature, Carnage at Christmas.
A still from Satranic Panic.Credit: Alice Maio Mackay
It’s a dream come true for Maio Mackay, who grew up loving TV shows The Munsters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On the big screen, it’s New Queer Cinema hero Gregg Araki’s career she considers “the pinnacle of cinema”, sporting a tattoo inspired by his 1995 classic, The Doom Generation. “I grew up with his films, too young probably, but they inspire me more than any horror film, with his combination of colourful queer filmmaking with weird alien shit and apocalypse stuff.”
It’s important to Maio Mackay, still only 19, that she works with a predominantly queer and gender-diverse cast and crew on all her movies. “Film is my life. It’s my full-time job, so to get these opportunities to be surrounded by queer, trans people and allies making art that resonates with us, when that isn’t the norm in this industry, is a really beautiful thing.”
T-Blockers will screen at Cinema Nova on November 11, followed by a Q&A with Alice Maio Mackay. MQFF runs from November 9-19.
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