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The Intriguing Line-Up For This Year's LGBTQ Reeling Film Festival

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 31, 2015 7:35PM

A still from "Olya's Love," a documentary by Kiril Sakharnov, screening as part of Reeling 2015 (photo courtesy sixpack film)

Having previewed the lineup for The 33rd annual Reeling Film Festival, we find ourselves genuinely excited about what's in store.

It's easy to take the Reeling for granted. When you're a festival that's been around since 1981, people tend to shrug you off. A fixture of Chicago's culture, to be sure; but actually exciting? We've had our qualms with the LGBTQ festival in the past, even wondering if its existence was still really necessary.

So this year, we credit programmer Richard Knight, Jr. for assembling a diverse and intriguing slate of films, running from September 17 to 24. But it could also be that, much in the same way that society's view of same-sex marriage has rapidly turned a corner as of late, LGBTQ filmmaking itself is finally maturing. As Knight, Jr. put it during his remarks at the media reveal of the festival's schedule, "We don't just make 'coming out' movies anymore."

However, there are still "coming out" movies, and the Opening Night feature is one of them. Fourth Man Out revolves around a sweet-natured car mechanic who comes out to his fellow bros, one of whom proceeds to send mixed signals about his own orientation. In Guidance, however, there are certainly no mixed signals. Pat Mills writes, directs, and stars as a screwed up former child actor who wrangles a job as a high school guidance counselor. Before you can say "Jack Black," he's helping his students come alive and break out of their shells. But can he break out of his own? Two 4 One is a gender bending romcom about a one-night stand that results in a double (!) pregnancy.

If those all sound rather mainstream, well, what of it? That should be viewed as progress towards equality, right? Well, mostly. Death in Buenos Aires (featured on Closing Night) takes the police thriller and adds a gay twist, while Julianne Moore follows up on her Oscar last year with Freeheld, a drama directed by Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist). These two films are undoubtedly as different from each other as can be, but it's hard to imagine that either would have been made even 15 years ago.

One of Reeling's centerpiece screenings is Stonewall, the new film by Roland Emmerich about the Stonewall Riots. Putting aside the questionable decision to fictionalize an important historical event (something which, admittedly, movies have been doing for more than 100 years), the movie has already come under significant fire for allegedly whitewashing what happened. Some of us will withhold judgement until we see the film—but the tendency towards myth making in the LGBTQ world is one aspect of mainstreaming that filmmakers need to be rallying against.

Luckily, documentaries have always been a highlight of Reeling, and this edition will feature several that tackle LGBTQ issues head on. Olya's Love chronicles the dangerous reality of what it means to be a twentysomething lesbian in Putin's Russia. A Sinner in Mecca is about gay Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma's risky decision to undertake his Hajj pilgrimage, an act punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. And Tchindas journeys to Cape Verde off the coast of Africa to profile Tchinda Andrade, a transgendered performer, and her coterie of admirers as they prepare for their community’s Carnival celebrations.

Also included in the lineup are encore presentations of two recent masterpieces. It's hard to believe that Brokeback Mountain was released ten years ago. To refresh your memory, check out the comment section of our original post on the movie. And then there's I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton, which we raved about (and put on our "best of" list) in 2010. Both movies are absolutely worth seeing again on the big screen.

All told, the festival will present nearly 40 features and more than 60 short films from around the world. The schedule is online and worth perusing in full.

REELING33 takes place September 17-24 at a variety of venues; tickets and festival passes may be purchased online and in person at Chicago Filmmakers