Professor creates film on the ‘genius’ of queer artists

Catherine Pancake’s upcoming film follows the lives of five queer artists.

Assistant film professor Catherine Pancake describes herself as “chronically afraid” of asking for help. So, when she needed funding for her upcoming film “Queer Genius,” she turned to the crowdfunding techniques she teaches in her own film classes at Temple and created a Kickstarter.

More than $16,000 later, not only did the Kickstarter surpass its goal, the crowdfunding helped circulate her film and caught the attention of officials from Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts, who invited Pancake to a residency to complete the post-production of her film.

“I thought that it would be successful,” Pancake said of the fundraiser. “But the amount of energy and good-spiritedness was overwhelming.”

The documentary film follows the lives of five avant-garde artists who, despite their unique artistic styles, share the common experience of being queer artists and is tentatively scheduled to be released late in 2017.

Each artist profiled uses a different artistic style, ranging from Shannon Funchess’ song “Dark Allies,” which became a pop hit for underground queer audiences, to the visuals of Barbara Hammer, a 76-year-old artist and filmmaker who incorporates performance and digital photography to create her work.

Because she grew up as a queer artist, Pancake wanted to document a unique group of people whose stories, in her eyes, are often not told.

“The [artists] have definitely chosen to live their life uncompromisingly as themselves,” Pancake said, referring to both the artists’ confidence in their sexuality and commitment to art.

Pancake met many of the artists she profiled while she was a member of Vox Populi Gallery, an art collective on 11th Street near Callowhill that promotes the work of experimental and underrepresented artists through monthly showings, performances and lectures.

By telling the story of each artist, Pancake said she wants viewers to understand “what it’s like to not accept what’s given to you, but to create your own reality around your vision.”

Rasheedah Phillips, a 2008 Beasley School of Law alumna, was featured in the film for her role in Black Quantum Futurism. BQF is an artistic and literary collaboration between Phillips and Camae Ayewa, a Philly-based artist who performs under the name Moor Mother. The two create multidisciplinary art projects that explore the “intersections of futurism, creative media, DIY-aesthetics and activism in marginalized communities,” according to the group’s website.

Along with a diverse cast, the film’s crew is mostly made up of female, queer and transgender cinematographers, writers and musicians. Pancake said she knew many of the cast members because of Temple’s film and media arts department. Women’s presence in the program, Pancake said, made the process of putting together an inclusive film much easier.

Carly Milito, a junior drawing and painting major, said the number of female-identifying professors and administration at Tyler creates an environment that “makes you feel like you’re gonna be successful too.” Specifically, she said Interim Dean Hester Stinnett and Assistant Dean Kate Wingert-Playdon are inspiring, and  she feels “comforted” by the all female admissions and peer advising staff.

“When you see women like you out there doing things and making a splash in the art world, it pushes you back up again and makes you want to keep working,” Milito said.

“I feel like the road is already paved for [men’s] work to be seen, and they’re already trusted to have to work,” Milito added. “Whereas women, especially queer women, are so heavily scrutinized and analyzed.”

Robert Stroker, dean and vice provost for the arts, awarded Pancake with a grant to help fund research for the film. She also received a grant from the Claire Rosen & Samuel Edes Foundation of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which awards one undergraduate or graduate student or recent alumna with funds to help advance their career.

Pancake was also awarded a grant for sound design from the Leeway Foundation, which donates to female and transgender artists promoting social change through their work.

Despite the inclusiveness of Temple’s film and media arts program, Pancake said she wants people to be more aware of queer artists’ experiences. She added that she hopes viewers watch “Queer Genius” and gain reassurance about living outside of the mainstream, whether through identity or art.

“It doesn’t really matter what your identity is,” Pancake said. “It’s really about saying, ‘Hey, find yourself and embrace your own vision, even if it’s not popular.’”

Emily Thomas can be reached at

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