November 4, 2008

In its 27th year, Reeling paints Chicago pink, white, and blue

Throughout its history, the Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival—a.k.a. Reeling—has been known to push boundaries with controversial and innovative movies depicting gay culture. This year’s week long event will be no exception. The 27th annual festival comes at a time when the 2008 election dominates the media. Unsurprisingly, the theme of this year’s festival, “All American Queer,” joins in with the rest of the country’s fascination with politics.

In contrast to a politician’s take on what it means to be an American, Reeling will present a variety of movies depicting atypical American lives that have never had a voice before. Each of these films takes viewers into the lives of lesbians and gays, demonstrating the diversity and freedom that exists in the United States, even when these individuals face great adversity.

Trinidad, for example, a documentary about the infamous Colorado town where Dr. Marci Bowers has performed numerous sex change operations, delves into the problems her patients face. The film explores the relationship between the old-fashioned frontier-town setting and the patients’ unconventional lives. While some of the interviews conducted with the citizens of Trinidad may become a little monotonous, the film does an excellent job of demonstrating how even the most conservative place can grow to embrace diversity.

This year’s film festival also includes many dramatic interpretations of the “All American Queer” theme. Ciao, for instance, is a sensual and heart-breaking story of loss and redemption from critically acclaimed director Yen Tan (Happy Birthday). The film follows two friends brought together by the death of a third mutual friend, and the chemistry that emerges between them. This aesthetically mesmerizing film captures the sorrow of loss and the joy of discovery when these two strangers find that death doesn’t always mean the end.

Steam is another film that explores the topic of discovery—it tells the story of three generations of women who find sexual liberation in their local gym’s steam room. With a stellar cast that includes Katie Siegel, Oscar nominee Ruby Dee, and Hollywood icon Ally Sheedy, the film follows the three women as they find themselves entangled in controversial love affairs, which allow them to free themselves in ways they did not think possible. Unlike typical gay films, Steam and Ciao focus less on obstacles from society and more on the universal problems with relationships—perhaps as a way to focus on the queer American.

On the lighter side, this year’s festival will feature a collection of comedies sure to ease the pain after some of the more dramatic films. Ebony Chunky Love: Bitch Can’t Get a Date is a documentary that follows hilarious comedian Keith Price as he tries to answer the burning question: Why can’t this bitch get a date? Price’s intelligent perspective on male homosexuality and frank discussion of the problems with dating makes this film not only entertaining, but also informative.

3Way, a series of webisodes that will be featured at Reeling, shows the hilarity that ensues when three very different lesbians and one straight woman live together under one roof. Featuring guest stars such as Elizabeth Keener (The L Word), 3Way takes a comic look at lesbian stereotypes and the relationships these women have while living in Los Angeles.

Despite the “All American Queer” theme, there is no shortage of great foreign films that will premiere at the festival. One particularly noteworthy film is Seeds of Summer, an Israeli documentary that follows women during their training for the Israeli Army. The film takes an in-depth look at the relationships these soldiers form as they wait to enter battle. Director Hen Lasker returns to her combat unit and explores her own relationship with a female commander, as well the close bonds that exist between other female soldiers. The soldiers in the film are truly inspiring, and they demonstrate that love can help overcome the greatest adversities.

Another dazzling foreign film that will premiere at the festival is Japan Japan, a musical drama that focuses on Imri, an Israeli boy, who dreams of moving to Japan. Japan Japan features the intricate and beautiful cinematography of the French New Wave style; jump cuts, long stills, and split screens give the film a raw quality that will captivate audiences from beginning to end.

Of course, no film festival would be complete without unrated movies about sex—and this year, Reeling takes erotica to a whole new level. Films like Antarctica and Whirlwind explore the lives of men with insatiable desires for sex. In Antarctica, the interconnected relationships of men in Tel Aviv come crashing together as they all meet up for a dinner party; in Whirlwind, the friendship of a group of men in New York City is threatened when a sexy new guy enters the mix. Although both of these films border on pornography, they do redeem themselves when the characters begin to interact on a more emotional level.

Even for those feeling sick of politics, Reeling’s take on “All American Queer” will be refreshing. Many of the films being screened for the next two weeks portray Americans who do not fit the stereotypical mold and the complex relationships these Americans have with each other. As the election comes to a close tonight and a new political era arises, this year’s film festival could be a starting point for looking at Americans and the United States in a whole new way.