LGBTQ&A: Kelly Burkhardt
Kelly Burkhardt is a photographer/filmmaker who has been spotlighting LGBTQ life in Philly for years. We got to chat with her about her professional aspirations, being a woman in the industry, and her upcoming documentary on the late LGBTQ leader Gloria Casarez.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am proud to say that I have been living and actively participating in Philadelphia’s LGBT community for almost 20 years. I was the VP of operations for TLA Releasing, which primarily focuses on releasing groundbreaking, provocative LGBT films around the world, including gay classics like Latter Days and Mysterious Skin. I was the documentary, feature and shorts programmer for Philadelphia Qfest for ten years. Qfest has morphed into Philadelphia Qflix, and I am so thrilled the festival is continuing on. I have had the privilege of being credited as an award-winning film producer/director/writer, with highlights that include Beautiful Something (2015), directed by Joseph Graham, Miles (2016), directed by Nathan Adloff, which stars Molly Shannon and Paul Reiser and is currently screening at select film festivals right now across the country.
You are known photographer/filmmaker in the city’s LGBTQ community. How has covering our Gayborhood been?
Over the years the Gayborhood has shifted, changed and evolved in good and bad ways. When I first moved to Philly in the late ’90s, stores, restaurants, bars and coffee shops were known as safe havens for gays and lesbians by prominently displaying the rainbow flag in the window, like a bat signal in the sky illuminating a safe space. Now the area gives a different vibe. It’s definitely more gentrified, so with all of the construction going on so honestly it feels disjointed on the streets. In the bars and clubs, I think there is a lot of unity once you’re out, but there seems to be this oversaturation of nightlife events that are forcing customers to pick and chose where to go. There will be two or three drag or burlesque shows competing with each other and dueling lesbian dance parties. I get that we need diversity with our events, but why are we fighting for the same market? Some nights it feels so fractured to be out and about.
You’re a proud lesbian in a community that is dominated by cisgender gay men. How do you make your voice heard in these often-marginalized spaces?
Well, I’ve been known to be loud on occasion. In all seriousness, though, I have to first acknowledge that I am white, so I know that already affects how people inherently view me; however, I wholeheartedly believe we have to support one another. And the more often we can do that the better. Sure, we attend events or join a group on Facebook because we are interested in the subject matter, but it’s also important to show support by physically walking through the door or sharing content online. Eventually I realized the more activities I went to, the more people I met. Then I started to run into these same people on a regular basis and thus we formed positive relationships and developed mutual respect for one another. I don’t have a formula but when people see you out and about supporting everyone at events like William Way’s Homecoming during the day then a workshop on HIV prevention and then a Back to Basics at night dancing your butt off, people tend to take notice that you are for the community as a whole. That’s where the power and confidence come from.
You’re filming an upcoming documentary about another incredible lesbian in Philly, the late, great Gloria Casarez. What made you interested in doing a film on her so soon after her passing?
Back in August of last year I was catching up with Elicia Gonzales (executive director of GALAEI Philly from 2009 to 2016), and I asked her what was happening with Gloria’s mural. As she was updating me I commented, “Someone needs to document it.” Without skipping a beat, Elicia said, “You need to document it.” My eyes lit up and brain exploded instantaneously! Within a few weeks the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program was hosting the first community paint day, so there wasn’t a lot of time to hesitate. Regardless of the timing, Gloria Casarez’s inspirational life — and more importantly her legacy — needs to be told. She was so dynamic, loving and fierce all at the same time, and G’s death is still very raw for many, especially those closest to her. I will be honest: This film has been very therapeutic on both an emotional level and an empowering one. The documentary is called The Gloria! Project.
What advice would you give other LGBTQ storytellers in the city trying to make an impact?
Make conscious, thoughtful decisions about the stories you want to tell and how you want to tell them. Approach everything with a wide-open lens, and then recognize the points of interest to drill down into, because that is where the real meat of the story lies.