A brief preview of Chicago’s premier LGBTQ+ film festival.
The second oldest queer film festival in the world, the Reeling LGBTQ+ International Film Festival has been serving first lewks at man LGBTQ+ films for Chicago audiences for more than 35 years. This year on September 19th, the 37th Reeling Film Fest kicks off with dozens of incredible films from every corner of the queer spectrum, most of which are Chicago premieres. As a queer kid in Chicago — especially as a film critic who feels a deep connection to queer film as a means to explore his own queerness, as I’ve only been publicly out a few years — I’ve felt a particular pull to this fest, and I’m always grateful I live in a city that is able to bring us these stories so frequently and so openly.
We at The Spool will be giving Reeling more in-depth coverage over its run (September 19th-29th), including reviews and interviews with talent attending the fest. While you can get the full schedule and reserve your tickets at reelingfilmfestival.org, I wanted to highlight some of the films and shorts I’m most excited to see at the fest. Come along, won’t you?
Opening Night Film: The Shiny Shrimps
Reeling kicks off this year at the Music Box Theatre with a riotous French comedy courtesy of Cédric Govare and Maxime Le Gallo, about an Olympic water polo champion (Nicolas Gob) who gets in hot water with the press after he makes some anti-gay statements on TV. Does he get canceled? Non; to make up for the faux pas, he’s tasked with coaching an amateur gay water polo team called the Shiny Shrimps, whipping them into shape as they work to qualify for the Gay Games in Croatia.
With a premise sitting somewhere between The Mighty Ducks and The Birdcage, The Shiny Shrimps looks to be a hilarious window into the intersection of sports, queerness and the (hopeful) banishment of homophobia. Plus, you know, there are sure to be plenty of swimmer’s builds plastered on the screen, so enjoy that.
Narrative Centerpiece: The Garden Left Behind
Reeling’s Narrative Centerpiece is a much-ballyhooed American/Brazilian drama intersecting the struggles of the trans experience and the current nightmare of America’s views on immigration. Flavio Alves‘ intimate, heartfelt drama follows Tina (newcomer Carlie Guevara), a young trans woman in New York City learning to weather the struggles of her transition along with her grandmother Eliana (Miriam Cruz). On top of those obstacles, both are undocumented, Tina’s transition threatening to compromise their safety and anonymity.
With its finger on the pulse of not one, but two major issues facing marginalized communities in America today, The Garden Left Behind has a great deal of thematic weight underpinning its immediate, powerful filmmaking. Fellow Chicago colleague (and trans film critic) Danielle Solzman describes The Garden Left Behind as “transgender authenticity at its finest,” which is high praise indeed.
Closing Night Film: Scream, Queen!: My Nightmare on Elm Street
While it certainly didn’t invent the queer horror film, Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has developed quite the cult reputation as simultaneously one of the most overt and inadvertent queer horror films of the ’80s. Centering on Freddy’s Revenge star Mark Patton, Scream, Queen! follows Patton’s recollections of filming the production, his character’s journey paralleling his own coming out story, and the Hollywood homophobia that killed his career with one swipe of Freddy’s bladed glove.
Along the way, Patton reckons with his own legacy, his identity, and the importance of his role in queering one of the most indelible horror franchises of all time. Shades of Best Worst Movie seemingly abound, as Scream, Queen! will do more than just offer a fun portrait of the gayest horror movie no one on set knew they were making — it’ll probe the complex effects of cult stardom on its unsuspecting lead. This is one of my most anticipated of the fest, for sure.
The Sympathy Card
Reeling wouldn’t be a queer film fest without its fair share of quirky relationship dramedies, and The Sympathy Card looks like a particularly charming example of the form. Written, produced, and directed by Brendan Boogie, The Sympathy Card charts a decidedly unusual love triangle, as Josie (Nika Ezell Pappas) is tasked by her ailing wife Emma (Lauren Neal) to find a new girlfriend while she’s still around so she knows she won’t be alone. Along comes florist Siobhan (Petey J. Gibson); they hit it off, but does Josie take the plunge with Siobhan while she’s still with Emma in the present? Pappas and Gibson look to have killer chemistry, and the film’s notion of leap-frogging from one relationship to the next might lead to some cool conversations about the permanence of love and the awkwardness of dating after you’re settled.
Sid & Judy
It’s the 50th anniversary of the death of Judy Garland, and cinema isn’t about to let us forget it. Not only do we have Renée Zellweger’s glitzy, Oscar-grabbing lead turn in the upcoming Judy, But Reeling also brings us Sid & Judy, a documentary on the queer icon’s life courtesy of filmmaker Stephen Kijak. This time, though, we see the legend through the eyes of third husband (not to mention manager/producer/confidante) Sid Luft, using photos, voice recordings and rare concert footage to highlight the ups and downs of Judy’s myriad struggles. Garland’s story is one of the great Hollywood tragedies – of an icon failed by an industry and torn down by tragic cycles of self-destruction and addiction – and Sid & Judy might just shed some new light on how Judy fought those battles tooth and nail, becoming an inspiration for LGBTQ+ fans worldwide.
Shorts Program: Dreams of Another Body
Shorts programs are often the most-ignored parts of a film festival, so I thought it important to highlight Reeling’s Dreams of Another Body program, going up on September 20th and featuring several shorts focusing on transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people. There’s the Georgia-based trans doc “Prisoner of Society”; the Iranian trans drama “Bodies”; the supernatural gender fantasy “Switch”; “A Normal Girl”, a doc about Chicago intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis, and more. If trans-focused media comprises a big gap in your queer cinema experience (and let’s face it, its scarcity means that applies to just about everybody), this group of shorts will serve as a lovely primer.