Reeling: The Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival has come a long way, baby. The second-oldest queer film festival in the country (after San Francisco’s) turns 25 this year, and it is recognizing its roots with a smattering of experimental programming like the kind it showed “back in the day.”
But more on that later. After opening night, the most exciting event is the screening of Colma: The Musical at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema (2828 North Clark Street) tonight at 9:30 p.m. My choice for the best film in this year’s festival is the story of three friends—two hetero, one homo—trying to make sense of their lives after high school graduation. Billy (Jake Moreno) deals with a bitter break-up by auditioning for community theater; Rodel (songwriter H.P. Mendoza) hides his homosexuality from his traditional Filipino father; and Maribel (L.A. Renigen) tries to screw her way to better times. Director Richard Wong’s debut feature sags a bit toward the end, as it could have used another upbeat number like the three that open the movie. (For a sampler, visit www.myspace.com/colmathemusical.) But even with a production budget of approximately $2.37, it’s still the best movie musical since Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Most of this year’s documentaries screen at Chicago Filmmakers (5243 North Clark Street), an intimate space in Andersonville. On that list is Be Real: Stories from Queer America, set for tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. This documentary intends to be a snapshot of contemporary queer America, with subjects ranging from New York activists to West Hollywood artists. But it’s not nearly as groundbreaking as the filmmakers think it is. The first segment—about a rich “daddy’s boy” car dealer in Miami—flirts dangerously close to irrelevance. But Be Real is still worth seeing for the interviews with U of C folk: Intelligent, articulate grad student Tara “Red” Tremmel and beloved history professor George Chauncey, who now teaches at Yale.
If there were a festival award for sheer diversity, it would have to go to Pick Up the Mic, showing at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema (1104 South Wabash Avenue) on Tuesday, November 7 at 8:30 p.m. Mic features lesbians, gay men, bisexuals of both sexes, transmen, transwomen, and other assorted queers, most of them rapping about their place in a heterocentric world. Issues of race, which are too often sidestepped in the queer community, are tackled in a refreshing and candid manner. As for the music, I expected it to be gimmicky and pandering but found it surprisingly accomplished. The same can be said for the movie itself.
It wouldn’t be Reeling without a film from Daniel MacIvor. The creative force behind last year’s fan favorite Wilby Wonderful returns with Whole New Thing at the Landmark on Friday, November 10 at 7 p.m. Aaron Webber plays the precocious Emerson, a teenager discovering his sexuality by crushing on his English teacher, Don Grant (MacIvor, as good of an actor as he is a writer). While it falls slightly short of Wilby’s scope and story, it’s an excellent addition to MacIvor’s growing stable of small-town, feel-good films—especially considering that it was filmed in an unbelievable 15 days. And it’s certainly the most wholesome movie ever featuring public restroom sex and frank father-and-son discussions about masturbation.
Finally, Reeling celebrates its quarter-centennial year with some special programs after closing night. Avant Garde Masters: Andy Warhol and Jack Smith and Homoeroticism and the Avant-Garde show at Chicago Filmmakers on Sunday, November 12 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. The first program includes Smith’s pornographic, bizarrely beautiful Flaming Creatures. The second features Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising, a celebratory mash-up of ’50s pop tunes and the S&M leather subculture that must have caused a small rift in the universe when it appeared in 1963. These queer classics are indispensable viewing for any film buff, or for anyone, really.
The above is just a small selection of this year’s offerings—everything I could get my hands on before the festival, in other words. (Full disclosure: I used to work for the fest.) Another film I started to watch but was unable to finish (due to time constraints), was Vacationland, which plays at the Landmark on Sunday, November 5 at 9:45 p.m. A hot high school student blackmails his hot teacher while messing around with his school’s hot football star. Though bad-boy director Todd Verow’s latest was ravaged by the New York Times, I thought the first third was kinda sexy, at the very least. Whether or not that’s enough of a recommendation is for you to decide.
That’s the beauty of Reeling—there’s really no excuse not to go, as all but the most virulent homophobes will find something to enjoy. If none of the above sounded intriguing, pick up a schedule in the Reynolds Club and program your own mini-festival. Twenty-five festivals later, Reeling is still as vibrant as ever. Here’s hoping for 25 more.