Ally Pankiw believes “a series of little moments” helped her realize her calling as a visual artist. After working as a choreographer and pursuing journalism at university, she gravitated toward broadcast and documentary studies. “I remember there was this moment where I was like, ‘Oh, I love shooting and editing stuff,’” says Pankiw, 35. “I wanted to create things that didn’t exist before.”
Since then, the Toronto native has built quite the résumé, directing episodes of Hulu’s Shrill and The Great and working as a story editor on Schitt’s Creek. (She’s now developing a series and co-writing a feature with show creator Dan Levy.) After getting her start with a directing collective managed by French company Partizan, with whom she directed and produced music videos for Ariana Grande and Janelle Monáe, Pankiw was drawn to more narrative storytelling, eager to explore comedic and queer storylines.
By 2019, she was directing season one of the Netflix comedy series Feel Good, which she says “opened the door to pitch weirder and more queer stuff” — including a pair of videos for indie-pop trio MUNA. As Pankiw puts it: “When you settle into your voice as a director, that’s your biggest year.”
Feel Good (Netflix)
Pankiw believes directing Feel Good — a semi-autobiographical comedy about addiction, gender and sexual fluidity — was “a testament to how the queer community gives each other opportunities.” Having known show creator and star Mae Martin as “young queer kids in Toronto,” Pankiw had been following their comedy career ever since. Turns out, Martin had been following Pankiw’s career as well: “Because we really liked each other’s tastes and knew we had the same sense of humor, they really went to bat for me.”
MUNA featuring Phoebe Bridgers, “Silk Chiffon”
Pankiw immediately knew “Silk Chiffon” was a special song for how the band explored the idea that it’s “radical to express joy as a queer person,” saying she wanted to do that justice. As she and the band discussed playing up ’90s films and tropes, member Naomi McPherson suggested one in particular: the 1999 cult-classic queer satire But I’m a Cheerleader. “Everyone was just having such a fun time,” says Pankiw, noting that all of the cast and a large portion of the crew was queer.
MUNA, “Anything But Me”
Working on “Silk Chiffon” led Pankiw to direct another recent clip from MUNA, “Anything But Me,” for which the members find themselves in a variety of hostage-like scenarios. “The whole point is to show that most of the time when we feel trapped in a pattern, we have the ability to remove ourselves, and a lot of the time, we’re the ones trapping [ourselves],” says Pankiw, who came to the band with the concept. “That’s why MUNA is so great … they’re always saying something compelling about the human experience and about the queer experience.”
This story originally appeared in the June 4, 2022, issue of Billboard.