Kelly Burkhardt is wrapping a present. It’s a few days before Christmas and she’s disappointed that she couldn’t find Backgammon (her first-choice gift for a friend), but she’s settled on some mind strategy game that looks all too confusing to me. I notice her wrapping paper: a stylish, modern, funky art design in hues of brown, purple and green. I think wrapping paper says a lot about a person, and I compliment her on the eye-catching choice. She excitedly informs me what a great deal it was, and although I don’t remember the particular amount of feet for the price, I do remember whole-heartedly agreeing and lamenting my own dollar store choice, which was stylish but not very much paper for the cheap price. As Kelly tapes up the last edge of the package, it’s clear that this woman has brains and style.
It doesn’t take wrapping paper economics to figure out that Kelly has got it together. I first met her the way no other person should ever meet her: as a first-time intern, with her as my supervisor. During my intern time with her, Kelly’s voice would boom across the office and make me shiver in my makeshift cubicle. She would laugh boisterously, screaming “Oh, what the hell is this shit?” at times, or randomly proclaim “YES!” from her cube when something went her way. My lowly intern status kept me in fear at first, but eventually I found this woman very LYKEable, and very admirable. First off, Kelly is the head of production at TLA Releasing. If you’re a dyke in the city of Philadelphia who doesn’t live under a rock (or even if ya do), you’ve without a doubt heard the acronym “TLA” in some context or another. Ever rent a lesbian flick from TLA Video or rock out with your [fake] cock out at the former TLA? Well what most gals don’t know is that there is a machine churning out local and nationally produced LGBT independent cinema right here in Philly. Kelly is the head of production, which is a process of choosing independent queer cinema and distributing it for theater and home entertainment. Not just in the US either. She’s also the head programmer of the more popularly known Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the third largest LGBT festival in the United States. That’s LYKEable (and very DYKEable!).
But there’s more. She is in the middle of working on her first ever short film, Tremble and Spark (myspace.come/trembleandspark). T&S is “the story of human nature,” as the tagline reads on the poster, underneath a picture of hottie actress Jessica Graham, the film’s starlet. Also starring in the film is actress Cathy DeBuono, whose laundry list of work includes Out at the Wedding and Star Trek: Deep Space 9, as well as Heather Coutts, a local Philadelphian who is a co-founder of the Liberty City Kings drag and burlesque troupe. When I asked Kelly just exactly what she thought “the story of human nature” is, after thinking a moment, she said, “People in their natural element, people being real… People try to cover up who they are, but at the end of the day, you are who you are.” Tremble and Spark is a lesbian film noir (the Myspace page puts it simply: “lesbian + noir”) about cock-sure detective Charlotte “Charlie” Forrest (DeBuono) unmasking the real story behind the grisly murder of a dazzling dame, which “barely scratches the surface of the heinous crimes being committed of late in the City of Brotherly Love” (and Sisterly Affection, that is). Evidence points to Veronica Anderson (Graham), the seductive owner of a distinguished Philly hotel… so what will happen next? What does the murder mean and what else is lurking out there? Well gals, I can’t give away everything, but I can tell you that Tremble and Spark is much more than dazzling dyke eye-candy and murder mystery; the flick touches on the very real problem of human trafficking. Human trafficking isn’t a commonly discussed issue, and I became curious about what Kelly’s cause was really about. Wikipedia had this:
‘Trafficking victims typically are recruited using coercion, deception, fraud, the abuse of power, or outright abduction. Threats, violence, and economic leverage can often make victim consent to exploitation.Exploitation includes forcing people into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
Tremble and Spark from Left to Right: Jessica Graham (as Veronica Anderson), Cathy DeBuono (as Charlotte “Charlie” Forrest), Heather Coutts and Kelly Burkhardt, director.
Kelly told me this is still happening every day. So, wow, a lesbian film that explores that issue. I’m in. (See? Brains and style, I told you, fools!). Another
hidden bonus of Tremble and Spark is that it stays true to Kelly’s and we Lyke Dykes’ home turf. Shoots will be taking place in Port Richmond, Northern Liberties and the Divine Lorraine Hotel, a Philly national historic site at Broad and Fairmount. Although it will be a local story, Kelly hopes for T&S to possibly make its way to television and/or internet distribution. Currently the film is in pre-production. Kelly is busy securing a creative LLC license, tweaking the final draft and assembling a small crew. Don’t worry, Lyke Mag will keep you updated.
When I was done interviewing Kelly, in her new cube, (directly behind my old one), I asked her to describe herself in three words; she let out a loud, “HA!” “Really fucked up?” she offered, still laughing. Random…passionate… Randomly fucked up!” she declared. Later, still debating with herself after the interview was over, she got a hold of me to tell me that she finally settled on “random. passionate. cagey – sometimes.,” (even though that is technically four words, but I’ll let it slide). Random? Thinking back to her randomly wrapping a Christmas present during our interview, definitely. Cagey? Thinking back to her not even telling me entirely what the movie would be about for fear of spoilers leaking out, definitely. And passionate? Most definitely. This LYKEable lesbian moved her way up from managing restaurants and working in TLA’s shipping department to be one of, if not “the” most influential lesbian in Philadelphia’s queer cinema scene, not to mention the entire east coast and rest of the country. Now she is making a film that has sultry lesbian starlets, a good story line, awesome Philadelphia visuals, and tackles an intense subject all at once. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open for Tremble and Spark, because it is definitely guaranteed to make you tremble. -Raeann Drew