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November 6, 2003

Amanda Geppert talks film festivals, parties on Kimbark, and Guinness

Judging from our first phone conversation, I knew Amanda Geppert (A.B. '95) was going to be cool. The reason? When we were discussing Goldfish Memory, my current favorite from the 22nd annual Reeling Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival, she explained why she didn't like the blurb describing the movie in the program: "This stylish and witty import from Ireland is as refreshing as a pint of Guinness." Amanda exclaimed, "But Guinness isn't refreshing! Guinness is like a meal!"

She couldn't get them to change that, which is surprising, because Amanda is a powerful force behind this grassroots festival. She created the website with her brother, assists with fundraising and events management, and helps choose which submissions to screen—meaning that she often watched up to eight hours of film per night this summer (and I thought I had it bad when we had to watch two movies back to back for Intro to Film).

Contrary to how this all sounds, Amanda is not a movie junkie. At the very least, she seems more interested in film's impact on society than she does in its technical aspects. We disagree on certain things, most notably in the area of lesbian cinema. I think the Wachowski Brothers's Bound is monumental because it was the first movie I ever saw where the lesbian characters were actually cool. She's less enamored with it and thinks it relies too heavily on butch-femme stereotypes. She's thrilled for the opening night of Tipping the Velvet, which she's sure will sell out. I haven't seen the movie but I did read the book, and didn't find the main character's transition from naïveté to prostitution very realistic. Nonetheless, even disagreeing with Amanda is fun, and when she speaks about film, or about anything else, she's passionate and articulate.

At least some of that love for cinema was fostered by the U of C. She was an English major, but didn't feel she really discovered her passion until her last quarter. She took Introduction to Film here, with current professor James Lastra, and worked on the Major Activites Board. Originally a resident of BJ, she moved into a four-bedroom on Kimbark her third year, where the parties she threw with her roommates were legendary. Really—she was recognized in classes later as one of the girls who threw "that party," and people told her they had flyers for her parties decorating their bedroom walls.

Amanda describes herself as someone who was both a "party girl" and a "nerd" in high school. I guess now she could be considered a "film geek," but I would use the term affectionately with Amanda. There's a healthy difference between someone like Roger Ebert and someone like Mike Furlong from Roy, Utah who wrote to Roger Ebert two weeks ago about his goal to watch 19,000 movies by the time he's 35. Despite all that movie watching during the summer, Amanda knows she's still on the healthy side of the line.

Amanda is the kind of person who can make me snort with laughter when she describes incidents from her past. (If you ever meet her, ask her about her seven gay ex-boyfriends.) But a moment later, she can be serious, dispelling rumors about the festival with an emphasis that shows she cares. No, they are not a huge money-makers. Yes, they are gay-owned and operated—who do you think watched the majority of the submissions anyway?

Reeling is the second-oldest gay and lesbian film festival in the world, and as such, they are a major player in the competition for film reels among several festivals. Reeling has gone as far as the Philippines for certain reels since many only have one existing copy and must be shipped all over the world. Amanda stresses that Reeling supports local filmmakers and businesses; this year, parties for the festival are being held at the Chicago salon Curl Up and Dye and at nightclubs like Spin and Hydrate (former home of the Manhole).

I think maybe Amanda was a pitchwo- man in a past life, because when she commends certain films, her delivery rivals that of a high-powered Hollywood executive. D.E.B.S., one of the features in the Dyke Delicious Shorts, is, according to Amanda, "Charlie's Angels meets The Craft" (straight guys and lesbians alike will be happy to know that a feature-length spin-off of that short is being planned). Eden's Curve is "Abercrombie and Fitch meets old school good boy Virginia"—which should provide an interesting dynamic, to say the very least.

Her recommendations for the festival don't really cohere with mine, but at the time of the interview, she hadn't seen Goldfish Memory, and I still haven't seen the movies she likes the most. She appreciated Bulgarian Lovers and is really excited to see On the Down Low, a last minute submission set in Chicago's Little Village. Her choices don't surprise me, because Amanda's view is that the festival ought to show as many facets of gay life as possible. When faced with the dearth of positive gay characters in the media, I can't say I blame her. When she talks about Evan Rachel Wood's character on the now-cancelled Once and Again, I can tell how much the representation meant to her and I am reminded of art's ability to affect people. And let's not even discuss the sore substitute that is Will & Grace (how many guest stars can one show have? And whatever happened to Jack's son?).

Many different cultures are represented in this year's festival—out of the five films I saw, one was set in France and another in Ireland (remember the Guinness?). There's always room for improvement, but it wouldn't surprise me if this festival has the most inclusive program yet.

If you go to the festival this year, you'll see lots of things you haven't seen before. Blue Citrus Hearts, the closing night selection, was created by two average-looking high-school boys from Memphis. There are no sculpted bodies in this story, just acne and bad glasses. When was the last time you saw something like that on the big screen? Other attraction include James Franco, a.k.a. Spiderman's best friend, writing in a journal while sitting on the toilet (Blind Spot). A French Keanu Reeves look-alike smolders seductively (You'll Get Over It). Ani DiFranco gives an interview while intoxicated, or is that just the grainy footage (Radical Harmonies)? A drag queen initiates the "rider less horse" ceremony at the National Gay Rodeo (The Gift). People in Ireland dance to an odd mixture of rap and techno, which will become popular in the States next if we're lucky (Goldfish Memory). Those are just the movies I've seen so far. If none of those images piqued your interest, well, there's always the soulless offerings of the local megaplex.

So if you run into a woman at the festival hanging on to every word of Goldfish Memory, delivering a dissertation on the finer points of Guinness, be sure to tell her I said hi. Whatever comes out of her mouth is sure to be a trip.

Reeling runs November 6 through 13. The festival opens at the Music Box Theatre. Screenings will continue at the Music Box as well as Landmark's Century Centre Cinema and Chicago Filmmakers. Check www.chicagofilmmakers.org/reeling2003 for listings.