Melissa Auf der Maur's Film Festival Is Better Than Your Film Festival

by Durga Chew-Bose
Since 2008, former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist, Melissa Auf der Maur, has been living in Hudson, New York with her husband, filmmaker Tony Stone. In 2010, the couple bought Basilica Hudson, a 19th century railroad foundry, which was later converted into a glue factory. Auf der Maur calls the cavernous space her "stack of steel and bricks"--her church and "beast of burden," both. But with the help of friends and collaborators, Auf der Maur and Stone established an annual music and film festival called Basilica Soundscape and Basilica Scope. While the music portion wrapped this past weekend, BasilicaScope's two-day retrospective of radical Bristish director and cult-classic enfant terrible, Alex Cox, begins on September 19th and features screenings of Straight to Hell Returns, Walker, and Repo Man. "We're committed to bringing independent, alternative, and experimental films to Hudson," Auf der Maur explained over the phone, adding that in October, Basilica will welcome iconoclast filmmaker John Waters, for a benefit performance of his one-man show, "This Filthy World, Volume 2."

Hi! How are you?


I'm good, thank you! What nationality is the name the Durga?

Indian but I was actually born in Montreal so I got excited when I read that you'd described Basilica like "Montreal in 1991." Although I was a kid at the time, I understand the connotation. It's so singular.


Totally, totally. I give it all the time because I was quoting my friend from Montreal. It's pretty much one the best cities in the world. I actually did move back right before I ended up finding Hudson. I tried out Montreal for the first time since I had left in '90s, but then I fell in love with a New Yorker and found Hudson and moved here.

Do you hope that it remains as it is now? Is there a felt worry that Hudson too, as it's happened say in New York, might soon be unaffordable to live in?


Yeah. Well I think there are a couple things when gentrification or development comes to an area. I have no problem with development and progress but it's the intent or the nature of it that makes it or breaks it. For example, like New York City, it was one of the most violent places in the country, in the '90s it had all the violence but it also had all the character. It's one thing if a mayor cleans up the violence in New York City, but they also basically sold the waterfront to Trump. Of course money can always screw things up, but what I've seen from living in Hudson for the past six years, most of the people that come and start a new chapter here, are pretty conscientious. Its certainly a magnet to freakish sort of tendencies. Hudson has enough of an edge -- it would take a lot to take the character out of it because everyone is conscious of the local reality.

Basilica wasn't simply a If you build it they will come, scenario. So much continued effort and instinctive vision goes into a project as big as this, and while I don't how you feel about the word pioneer, do you ever get the sense that that's been your path ever since you started playing music or doing photography? That you've always been ahead of the curve, reinventing what it means to be an artist?

First of all I take that as a massive compliment, so thank you. I do absolutely see the continuation of what I was doing in art school through to here in Hudson, in fact, more of a return to where I come from which has a lot to do with my roots. Montreal as you know, is such an incredibly unique place and culturally the French Canadians are such a big part of that city and the fight to be heard, even though I am English Montrealer I grew up with a profound respect for them. And both of my parents, were both devoted to similar causes, they were both writers -- my parents were pioneers. Even outside of her professionalism, my mother was like the first wave of radical feminism and chose to have me as a single mother. She wanted to be a single mother in 1972. So that in itself is the first wave of women saying, "I will not be a wife. I want a child and a career, and I want to travel the world, and I'm going to do it." I come literally from the womb of a feminist pioneer, so that's what one element that would be pretty hard not to follow. And my father was a politician as well as a writer and basically, he made the city of Montreal his mission, his muse -- his mission was to be a man of people and let their voices be heard, and he was one of the first English Montrealer politicians who really bridged the gap between the French and the English. He always fought for the underdog.

Do you feel like your investment in Hudson is your version of that, of fighting for the underdog?

Boy do I ever. Especially when I meet local politicians and journalists. My relationship with Hudson, is yes, a mirror of I guess what I watched my father do. My passion is to bring people together.

It's almost as if you inherited it from both your parents, and now you're parent and your daughter is experiencing something similar to what you experienced as a child.

I'd obviously like to believe that River, my daughter, will find what resonates with her regardless of what I love and do, and she will be her own person. But the Basilica has already played such a big part in her life. She's got her own tricycle to move around the Basilica. She's been to almost every Soundscape, and sometimes when we're working we'll put a movie on on a huge screen in the theater and she'll watch Bringing Up Baby.

There's something fantastical about a little girl growing up in an empty factory that her mother owns -- like a children's story.

I know, that's true. I love children's stories.

In terms of the film aspect of Basilica, I was wondering since you've worked in so many different mediums, have you ever thought about directing?

When I fell in love with Tony and before the Basilica, before our daughter, the first collaboration we did was [album] Out of Our Minds and we pretty much started our relationship on collaborating on a project together. I occasionally have a flash of a scene or a story I would like to tell in that medium. 

The original trailer for Cox's Straight to Hell.

You've programmed an Alex Cox retrospective and in October, John Waters is coming to Hudson -- both are rule-breaking norm-dissenters so to speak.

It's a recurring theme, absolutely and the concept of what we're trying to bring here. As far as John Waters is concerned, he was on short list of our dream directors but we felt he was out of our league, and then a complete heavenly accident happened. October 18th is our daughter's 3rd birthday and I had held that weekend as our goal that on October 18th we're going to have our first major fundraiser and then about a month ago, I still didn't have content for this fundraiser. And out of nowhere we got contacted by one of John Waters' friends saying, "You know John would love to come to Hudson and this is the one date that's available, and we'd love for it to be a fundraiser for you." And I was like, "WHAT?! Really?" This was what I was wishing and hoping for, and I hoped that my daughter's birthday would be a special day. It's really magical.

What great timing! The way everything aligned in this instance, have you noticed in your life, both artistic and personal, that that kind of kismet happens often? That you can almost count on it at this point?

It's all I've ever known. I'm the product of a one night stand, so that's a pretty timing-related thing too so maybe I just came into the world like that. [Laughs] It's definitely been a huge, huge part of every major step in my life, yes.

As a result, are more stressful times alleviated simply from having the lived experience of recurring kismet.

Absolutely. Put it this way, even in my most burnt-out times of exhaustion and doubtful moments, I'm blessed with not getting depressed. I get tired, sure. I get stressed, but there is not one day when I don't wake up and know why I'm here. In my years of mingling with all walks of life and having at one point in the '90s when heroin was very very popular -- which I hear it is again, which is fucking terrible -- but there was this very wise heroin addict who once told me that the difference between me and him is that I wake up in the morning and I'm connected to the universe and I believe it, and I believe in my role in it, and he wakes up and he doesn't have that connection and works to make that connection whether it's through drugs or through a drug rehabilitation program. Because I believe in a world that's much bigger than the tiny little human life that we have, I think that's what gets the stars aligned.

For young women who are creating art, be it in film, or as writers, or musicians, what would you say is important to keep in mind when struggling to keep the momentum going beyond those initial moments of inspiration?

What's kept me going is that I've really felt no other choice but to do it. In my case, there's a profound, burning furnace inside me; I guess it's called my heart. That's why I always say, "Follow your fucking heart." Primarily I always say to trust one's instincts and one's relationships. I really go the personal, intuitive, and spiritual route of things. Meanwhile you need to be a really hard worker. No offense to men but I do know this: women tend to work a little harder. In fact, even in Hudson right now, some of the most incredible talents I see are women.

Can you elaborate on the relationship aspect of creating work?

Building relationships is so key. For example, all my girlfriends who I came up with in my 20s, we're all young mothers now and it's really hard to see each other but, did we ever invest some major time in our friendships when we were in our 20s. And now those friendships, even if I only see them once or twice a year, they saw me coming of age and they knew my down moments and my up moments. Women friendships in their 20s is really, really important. Finding your community of women is key.

Which you've continued doing in Hudson...

You just have to...I mean it's not even risk-taking. Risk-taking makes it sound much harder than it is. You just have to ask. Ask for things. Ask.

Asking is tricky.

Yeah, especially because we're raised to be independent women. But it really does work. And I'm lucky coming from a music-obsessed background where I think music fans are some of the most accepting. I'm a fan before I'm a musician. Everything I've gotten in life starting from my front-row tickets to Cyndi Lauper when I was 12, because I was in a Cyndi Lauper lookalike contest in a mall! I worship this music and I'm going to put myself out there to be a part of it. And that's how I got into Hole. After writing a letter to The Smashing Pumpkins, because I wanted to open for them, and when I opened for them I was recommended to Courtney. It's not even really asking, it's just telling people, "I love this." If you declare what you love, often it comes back to you.

For tickets, go to Basilicahudson.com.

photo by Melissa Auf der Maur by George Folk
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