Catherine Pancake


Catherine Pancake is one of the brightest rising stars in the Baltimore film, and overall art, community. Engaging in an array of projects in various artistic forms, Pancake is an eclectic filmmaker and documentarian, an experimental musician and sound artist, as well as being a member of the Red Room Collective, a “highly organized collective presenting the strangest stuff with a straight face.”

Pancake is a native of West Virginia, and the daughter of a preacher and a teacher. She grew up in a heavily ‘B-movie’ influenced film culture, often seeing films that were far more exploitative and gratuitous than films being watched by other children her age, and quickly developed an affinity for the cinematic medium.

Upon moving to Baltimore in 1994, Pancake discovered an underground art culture that appealed to her and was immediately enveloped by it. She began to produce art and experimental films with collaborators in the community; as far as her feature work, she began with standard documentary film format and steadily became less narrative and more experimental with each passing project. Her debut film was the feature-length narrative documentary Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice in 2006; it addressed “large-scale coal surface mining techniques in Appalachian states and local community resistance to those destructive operations.” Making a film with such an exclusive subject matter earned Pancake a lot of attention, and as she put it, “if you make an ‘issue’ piece, you become the speaker of the issue.” As she toured the country’s museums and churches with the film, as she does not subscribe to the common Film Festival circuit, she came to realize that whether she liked it or not, she had become a spokeswoman for the cause she documented.

Like all of her films, the subject material and the film’s content was incredibly personal to her and when asked she had said, “I explore my passions through film.” All the films that Pancake has made have some connection to an aspect of her life, whether it be her home, culture, sexuality, or interests and theories of film, and creates pieces of filmic art that encapsulate her philosophies and opinions on those characteristics. The term auteur signifies “a filmmaker, usually a director, who exercises creative control over his or her works and has a strong personal style; whose creative influence is so great as to be considered author.” Catherine Pancake’s films could not be made by anyone else, they are all intricately tied to her as a person and as an artist, which is the most fundamental principle in the classification of an auteur.

For her second film in 2009, Jay Dreams, Pancake took a much less structured approach to documenting her film, and was able to encode the film with a much more personalized, avant-garde aesthetic. The film contained “a hybrid of cinematic techniques that reveal the irreducible nature of life in an African-American queer cultural scene in Baltimore.” She then went on to bitterbittertears in 2010; a film that was an homage to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Von Kant, and “examines the intricacies of melodrama by re-visiting Fassbinder’s exploration of lesbian power dynamics overshadowed by patriarchal forces.” bitterbittertears was then followed up with Optical Scores in 2011 (which was projected “in conjunction with freely improvised music”.)

Aside from constantly building her oeuvre, Pancake is also a founding member of many independent arts organizations, including: Transmodern Festival, High Zero Festival, Red Room, and the Charm City Kitty Club. She is also a member of the musical collective Trockenis, a group “devoted to New Frictionalism- the boundary between extreme tempi and sonic continuity (“tone”)” and comprised of fellow Baltimore sound artists.

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