The world’s second-oldest queer film festival, Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival, will mark its 38th anniversary next week with its first virtual edition. Reeling38’s programme will include 30 features and 54 short films from 21 countries, along with more cast and filmmaker Q&As than ever. As there will be no in-person screenings, over the course of 11 days from Thursday September 24th to Sunday October 4th new titles will be premiered each day on Reeling’s online platform. Each film program will be viewable for a total of four days, with feature films only available to audiences in Illinois, while short films will accessible throughout the US.
Opening and Closing Night Films:
Reeling38 will open with the romantic Breaking Fast from director Mike Mosallam based on his own 2015 short film, starring Haaz Sleiman as Mo, a Muslim doctor living in West Hollywood, who tries to resist the charm of Kal (Michael Cassidy), a charismatic non-Muslim he meets at a party and who surprises him by offering to break fast with him during the holy month of Ramadan.
This year’s fest will close with Ahead of the Curve, the fascinating story of Curve magazine’s dynamic publisher Franco Stevens, one of the most influential women in lesbian history whose work continues to have an impact today. Armed with her winnings from a lucky run at the horse track, Franco launched Curve magazine to make lesbians visible in all their beauty. Decades later, after a disabling injury, and as her legacy lies on the brink of extinction, she sets out to understand current visibility work led by a number of queer women of color. Directed by actress, producer and director, Jen Rainin, featuring Kim Katrin, Amber Hikes, Andrea Pino-Silva and Melissa Etheridge, among others, and scored by the phenomenal Grammy-nominee Meshell Ndegeocello, Ahead of the Curve celebrates the history of a movement while assessing the viability of its future.
American novelist Truman Capote (In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) is the subject of Ebs Burnough’s The Capote Tapes, a tantalizing documentary built around never-before-seen interviews with Capote’s friends, including his assistant, Kate Harrington, whose father was his lover, along with snippets of home movies, TV appearances and unflattering portrayals of New York’s jet-set society. The film also sheds new light on the mystery surrounding Capote’s final uncompleted novel, Answered Prayers.
Posy Dixon’s Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story follows the re-discovery of the music of Glenn-Copeland, a sci-fi and technology-obsessed musician whose folk-electronic album Keyboard Fantasies went unnoticed when it was released in 1986. Previously living as an out lesbian at a time when it was still illegal, and the only Black classical music student at McGill Music Academy in Canada in the 1960s, he eventually came to realize he was transgender. Glenn-Copeland’s work is given new life when an avid rare-record collector helps to generate interest among a new generation of fans. And the nostalgic documentary The Whistle, directed by StormMiguel Florez, recounts how whistling became the secret code for lesbians to identify one another in 1970s and 80s Albuquerque.
Iranian Filmmaker Arash Es’haghi’s documentary GRACEFULLY tells the story of an 80-year-old father and cow farmer whose love of traditional Iranian dancing, which he performs in handwoven women’s costumes, has had to be expressed secretly since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. While Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Diako Yazdani, now living as a political refugee in Paris, returns to where he grew up in Iraqi Kurdistan to help 23-year-old Kojin come out to his religious and conservative family living in a society that insists homosexuality doesn’t even exist in THE MANY LIVES OF KOJIN (Toutes les vies de Kojin).
Narrative Feature Films
Reeling’s feature lineup includes films from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, France, Germany, Iran, the Netherlands, Sweden, Taiwan, Vietnam and the U.K., as well as the USA. A lesbian-themed US feature highlight is Olivia Peace’s debut feature, Tahara, starring newcomers Madeline Grey DeFreece and Rachel Sennott in a queer coming-of-age story about a group of Jewish teenage girls navigating the confusing worlds of social status and sexuality as they come together for the funeral of their former Hebrew school classmate. Writer and director Suzanne Gaucci’s T11 Incomplete explores themes of trust, betrayal and forgiveness as a complicated relationship forms between a visiting home healthcare aide, who is a recovering alcoholic, and a young paraplegic patient who was injured in a car accident.
The experience of transgender people in America is illuminated in this year’s festival through the comedy web series These Thems and the gritty documentary Pier Kids. Created by and starring Gretchen Wylder, who has been called a queer Lucille Ball, These Thems centers on the experiences of trans and nonbinary people of color navigating the worlds of dating and working in New York City. As an ensemble comedy, the series was named as one of GLAAD’s “Top Trans Stories to Watch” and director Jett Garrison and actors Shaan Dasani and Vico Ortiz were mentioned in GLAAD’s “Top Trans Creatives to Watch in 2019.” In Pier Kids, Black gay director Elegance Bratton returns to the Christopher Street Pier, which he first encountered as a homeless youth in New York City, to shine a light on a community often forgotten; the many queer and trans youth of color who are homeless. Featuring Krystal, a Black Trans sex worker, Casper, a young Black man struggling with his sexuality, Desean, who is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and countless other unidentified subjects, Pier Kids also provides hard-hitting commentary on the complicated white-washed legacy of the Stonewall Riots.
Reeling will present Chicago-based producer and writer Thomas Awrey’s dramatic feature Drawn Back Home, a love story between two long lost friends, Eric (Mickey O’ Sullivan from The Chi) and Drew (Paul Michael Thomson), who reunite when Drew returns to the Midwestern hometown where they both grew up and where Eric still lives. Other US-made features include Dramarama, director Jonathan Wysocki’s love letter to late-bloomers and drama fanatics as he tells the story of a group of high school theatre students who throw a murder mystery slumber party on the last day of summer before they all leave for college. In Brandon Krajewski’s Stone | Fruit, a gay couple (played by Matt Palazzolo and Rob Warner) decide to come to terms with their impending divorce by taking a final trip together wine-tasting through California’s vineyards. In Cicada, lead actors Matthew Fifer and Sheldon D. Brown (also director and writer, respectively) drew inspiration from their own lived experiences to tell the story of a bisexual man who, after a string of awkward encounters with women, decides to return to the world of dating men and quickly enters an intense relationship. Paul Riccio’s debut feature Give or Take stars Jamie Effros (also the co-writer) as Martin, a disillusioned New Yorker who returns home to Cape Cod after his father’s death and butts heads with his father’s much younger partner, Kenneth, played by Nobert Leo Butz. In Jon Garcia’s heart-wrenching drama Luz, cellmates Ruben (Ernesto Rayes) and Carlos (Jesse Tayeh) become lovers in prison only to be separated when one of them is released, testing whether their love for each other can survive on the outside.
Ema, the latest film by acclaimed Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Neruda), stars Mariana di Girolamo as a woman whose wild and untamable grief from an unexpected family crisis is unleashed when she goes on a journey of personal liberation, accompanied by neon lights, reggaetón street dancers and sex parties. Gael García Bernal also stars. Also from Chile, Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo’s first feature film, The Strong Ones (Los Fuertes), follows gay architecture student, Lucas (Samuel Gozález), who travels to a remote town in southern Chile to visit his sister. There, by the seaside, he meets Antonio (Antonio Altamirano), a boatswain who owns a local fishing boat. The two embark on a passionate love affair that faces increasing hostility from the inhabitants of the town forcing them to grow into their strength, independence and adulthood.
Winner of the Dutch Golden Film award and starring well-known Dutch actors Lies Visschedijk and Waldemar Torenstra, veteran director Frank Krom’s Single Street (Singel 39) is a touching and witty drama about mixed signals and altered expectations. Career-driven Monique, a cardiac surgeon at the top of her field with little time for personal relationships, finally lets loose when she rents studio space to handsome sexy artist Max, who turns out to be gay. Though sex may not be in the cards, something else is, in this story that promotes accepting love and joy wherever you can find it. Also from the Netherlands, Galore follows the transformation of Sander den Bass, aka Lady Galore, a popular drag queen in Europe whose “big girl” status has helped her stand out from the other performers, but poses health problems that she must face or suffer the consequences.
Family drama features prominently in two films from Argentina. Mateo Bendesky’s quirky Family Members (Los Miembros de la Familia) follows two argumentative siblings Lucas (Tomas Wicz) and Gilda (Laila Maltz), who travel back to their childhood home on the Argentinian coast to dispose of their mother’s remains, only to find themselves stuck there together when a bus strike prevents their departure. While Lucas starts a relationship with a local, Guido (Alejando Russek), Gilda, fresh out of rehab, struggles with her own issues. Another homecoming takes place in director Nicolás Tete’s charmingly boisterous family drama A Skeleton in the Closet (Todos tenemos un muerto en el placard o un hijo en el closet). When newly-out to his family Manuel (Facundo Gambandé) returns to Argentina, ostensibly to celebrate his parent’s wedding anniversary, his real motive is to ask for money to move to Denmark with his boyfriend. But when he gets dumped long-distance, Manuel’s plans are scrapped, and the trip becomes an unplanned opportunity to reconnect with the family he thought he’d finally be able to leave behind.
Vietnamese director Trinh Dinh Le Minh’s debut feature film Goodbye Mother (Thưa mẹ con đi) continues the family homecoming theme with equal parts coming out story and family dramedy. Nâu Vân (Lãnh Thanh) invites his Vietnamese-American partner Ian (Võ Diên Gia Huy) to his hometown in the Vietnamese countryside during the anniversary of his father’s death to introduce his lover and come out to his family. What follows is a funny and tender exploration of queerness in relation to cultural tradition and patriarchy.
In the deeply moving Bolivian film I Miss You (Tu me manques), directed by Rodrigo Bellott, the suicide of Gabriel, a closeted gay Bolivian man living in New York, leads his father Jorge to travel to New York City to find out why. There, he meets his son’s boyfriend Sebastian, who introduces him to Gabriel’s friends and leads him on the difficult journey to discover who his son really was and why he might be gone.
The German film No Hard Feelings (Futur Drei), directed by Faraz Shariat, winner of the Teddy Award for the best LGBTQ feature film at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival, follows Parvis (Benjamin Radjaipour), a young gay Iranian man living in Germany, who is sentenced to community service at a refugee detention center after a minor infraction. There he meets siblings Banafshe (Banafshe Hourmazdi) and Amon (Eidin Jalali), and the fragile attraction between Parvis and Amon grows into an intense forbidden first love in the height of a youthful summer. Youthful summer love is also explored in German director Leonie Krippendorff’s Cocoon (Kokon), which follows the blissful romance between two adolescent girls that plunges into out-of-depth feelings in the sweltering heat of the Berlin summertime.
From Taiwan, Sophia Yan’s Taiwan Equals Love celebrates the one-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, the first Asian country to legalize it, through an intimate look at the lives of three partners of different generations, and makes the argument that the fight for equal rights is not over, even with this landmark achievement.
Romantic relationship drama, David Färdmar’s Swedish film Are We Lost Forever follows Hampus and Adrian’s on-again off-again relationship as it gets the final nail in the coffin one morning when Hampus finally works up the nerve to reveal his love for Adrian has fizzled out for good – but has it?
Shorts by Chicago artists include: Tyle Aaron (HOME), Aleksei Borovikov (GLANCES and ONE MORE PLEASE), Madigan Burke (LAST SUPPER ZOOM), Joe Garstki (THEY), Erik Gernand (SUNDOWN), Richard Knight, Jr. (BLAME IN ON TOBY), Frédéric Moffett (HORSEY), Oriana Oppice (GO GO, BOY!), Dan Pedersen (LIMERENCE), Lydia Smyth (FOREVER) and Alexander Zorn (BIRD OF PARADISE).
END OF THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT takes us on an emotional journey through life’s most uncertain and unexpected times, from diagnoses to disasters to the apocalypse, and includes five films from Brazil, Spain, Puerto Rico, Greece and the U.S. There’s “something off” about the creepy characters in the dark tales of temptation, obsession and madness screening in SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, which includes three U.S. shorts. COME AS YOU ARE provides comedic relief with nine U.S. comedy and dramedy shorts. RECUÉRDAME (REMEMBER ME) offers an intimate glimpse into the hearts and homes of Latinxs reconnecting with friends, rekindling old flames, and trying to mend fractured families, with five films from the U.S., Mexico and Puerto Rico. In IN YOUR OWN TIME love transcends age and time in these heartwarming and sometimes poignant stories of unlikely bonds, surprising friendships and missed opportunities, which includes six films from the U.S. and U.K. In WHO DO YOU TRUST?, which includes six films from Switzerland, Iceland, Germany and the U.S., young women grapple with questions of who you can trust with your heart, your secrets and your flesh! ENDURING LOVE is pursued by the men in this shorts program of six films from India, Canada, Italy, the U.K., and the U.S. In LONELY BEAUTIFUL BOYS young gay men are looking to make a connection in nine shorts from Canada, France, India, Sweden and the U.S.
Shorts being shown with shorter features include: HORSEY (Frédéric Moffet) and THE CRUISING MONOLOGUES (Jose Batista-Ayala), showing with LULU EN EL JARDÍN; NAOMI REPLANSKY AT 100 (Megan Rossman), screening with KEYBOARD FANTASIES; 10/01 QUEER NIGHTS (Michalina Mrozek), screening with GRACEFULLY; and CARO COMES OUT (Brit Fryer and Caro Hernandez), showing with THE WHISTLE.
For more details and to purchase tickets and passes head to the Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival website. Follow ReelingFilmFest on Twitter @reeling.filmfest & @reelingfilmfest on Instagram