PAM CUT’s Doc-O-Rama Shines a Spotlight on Queer Performers

“All of us love to get a glimpse into these other worlds we don’t necessarily know so much about.”

Mrs. Kasha Davis appeared in Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race for only a few episodes, but her story and persona were enough to inspire Angela Washko to become a film director.

“Kasha was such a casting anomaly,” says Washko, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon and artist in the fields of new media, fine arts installations and video game design. “She’s a queen who found drag much later in life, with a very specific persona, which wasn’t like a pop star or model, but a 1960s housewife. That was radical to me as a feminist artist, to see a drag performer doing this as an homage.”

Kasha’s life before and after national TV exposure became the focus of Washko’s debut documentary, Workhorse Queen, which screens Sept. 16 at the Whitsell Auditorium. It’s the first in PAM CUT’s Doc-O-Rama series, a five-documentary bundle highlighting queer performance and artistic figures “bold enough to call for change.”

Workhorse Queen makes for a fitting start to the series, exploring the vibrance of Rochester, N.Y.’s drag scene, how Ed Popil’s personal history informs his drag persona Mrs. Kasha Davis, and the complex role of RuPaul’s groundbreaking program within drag.

“Unfortunately, the structure of competitive reality TV creates this sense that people are operating in a vacuum—that they’re incredible and they end up on this show and they’re these individual forces of nature,” Washko says. “In Rochester, there’s an atmosphere of everyone working together. It’s an intergenerational community.”

To achieve a conversation between Kasha’s story and Drag Race, Washko says she needed to situate Workhorse Queen in the same medium, but documentary filmmaking was new terrain. Despite her wealth of experience in museums and galleries, Washko having to play catchup in film led her to PAM CUT’s Sustainability Labs in 2021.

During that workshop, industry leaders such as Angela Lee (director of artist development at Film Independent) and Alex Bulkley (co-founder of the animation studio ShadowMachine) were on hand to help Washko advance her filmmaking aspirations. Though Workhorse Queen was already on the festival circuit in fall 2021, Washko credits her panel’s feedback on crucial topics like how to pitch a movie as instrumental to her future. Currently, she’s poised to begin production on a new doc series with a “high-level” producing partner.

“Sustainability Labs for me was nothing short of incredible,” she says. “There were actual tangible results from that lab, which I can’t say is always true for every professional development workshop I’ve participated in.”

Associate director of creative programs Jon Richardson says PAM CUT tailors and personalizes its Labs program by focusing not on individual projects but helping “midcareer artists” realize their next steps and address careerlong challenges. The 2022 Labs fellows have been selected, but aren’t yet public.

The day after Workhorse Queen, PAM CUT will screen All Man (about International Male founder Gene Burkard’s transformative fashion catalog) and Wildness (about the iconic L.A. bar Silver Platter and its significance to the Latino LGBTQ community). Then, on Sept. 23, is Aggie, which chronicles how Agnes “Aggie” Gund committed her lifelong art collecting and philanthropy to social justice.

Finally, the series wraps with Moonage Daydream on Sept. 30, a kaleidoscopic and potentially blockbusting David Bowie documentary—the first fully authorized to employ his music. “We’re really trying to celebrate those who aren’t content to be contained [at PAM CUT], and David Bowie was a perfect example of that,” says Richardson, who’s also booked a Bowie double feature the following day, Oct. 1: The Man Who Fell to Earth and Labyrinth.

Richardson predicts Doc-O-Rama could be a recurring series for PAM CUT, given both its malleability and the endless supply of adventurous documentaries available for those willing to search.

“All of us love to get a glimpse into these other worlds we don’t necessarily know so much about,” he says. “It’s not something you can always get from narrative features. I understand the people who are just so obsessed with documentaries, because once I get into them, I can’t stop.”

SEE IT: Doc-O-Rama plays at the Portland Art Museum at the Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., 503-221-1156, pamcut.org. Sept. 16-30. Series passes $45-$55.

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