LAKEVIEW — The 41st Reeling International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, one of the longest-running queer film festivals in the country, kicks off Thursday at the Music Box Theater, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
The fest runs through Oct. 8, with general admission tickets to in-person screenings running $12. You can order tickets and see other options for streaming, as well as festival passes, on the Reeling website.
Hosted by Chicago Filmmakers since its inception in 1981, Reeling remains a bastion of queer independent cinema — a place where new creators and artists can tell authentic stories and make themselves seen on screen, a luxury still rarely seen in mainstream cinema.
For Narrative Features Programmer Morgan Jon Fox, Reeling is a cornerstone of queer cinema in the city, not to mention his career as a filmmaker. After all, his feature debut, the gay coming-of-age tale “Blue Citrus Hearts,” screened at the festival exactly twenty years ago.
“I’ll never forget getting that acceptance letter and how, in many ways, it changed my life,” Fox told Block Club.
To that end, Fox is exceedingly proud of the slate of films he’s programmed for this year’s Reeling, comprising a wide swath of subjects, genres and colors of the LGBTQ+ umbrella. “The most encouraging thing for me is to see people telling their own personal stories,” he said.
The 41 features he’s programmed, as well as the 12 short film programs the fest will screen, display numerous queer filmmakers, young and old, in total control of their narratives.
While programming, Fox said he came across three basic themes the features tended to fall into: redefining the coming-of-age genre, elements of horror representing oppressive or repressive forces, and parenthood. If you’re excited about the festival, but are unsure where to start, here are three titles hand-picked by Fox that speak to each of these seminal themes.
Redefining the coming-of-age film: “Egghead & Twinkie”
Most queer coming-of-age films follow the typical tropes of the coming-out narrative: queer teenagers wrestling with their sexuality, struggling to come to terms or express it to those around them. But as with this year’s lineup, Fox found it refreshing to see more films in this space celebrating queer love and crushes, “truly allowing the queer voice to own these narratives as opposed to the forces working against them.”
One powerful example of this is director Sarah Kambe Holland’s “Egghead & Twinkie,” a quirky charmer starring Sabrina Jieafa as an Asian-American teen who, shortly after coming out to her parents, drags her nerdy, straight best friend (Louis Tomeo’s Egghead) on a cross-country road trip to a lesbian dance party where she might just meet her crush. “This debut feature confidently embraces the joy and freedom that so many queer coming-of-age movies don’t allow their characters to express,” said Fox.
“Egghead & Twinkie” plays 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Park’s Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St. Get tickets here.
The horrors of queer repression: “Ganymede”
Horror has long been the realm of queerness, whether overt or covert — using the monstrous and devilish to explore everything from socially taboo desires to hidden identities. While Reeling has a robust slate of queer-themed horror (scrappy Australian trans horror film “T Blockers” is a particular standout), it also sports the world premiere of Southern Gothic shocker “Ganymede,” courtesy of Chicago-based filmmakers Colby Holt and Sam Probst.
Following a young gay teen (Jordan Doww), the son of a local politician, who’s developed a crush on a fellow classmate, “Ganymede” turns the screws on a gay person’s first brushes with queer desire. As the boy’s feelings grow, he soon finds himself stalked by a faceless monster that invades his mind and puts him in physical danger as well. Fox described this one as “What would happen if ‘Love, Simon’ and ‘The Babadook’ had a film child?”
“Ganymede” plays 9 p.m. Saturday at Landmark Century Centre Cinema. Get tickets here.
Queer parenthood: “The Mattachine Family”
Reeling’s opening night film, “The Mattachine Family,” explores a little-discussed aspect of queer life in cinema: what it means to be a settled, queer adult with a family and children. Directed by Andy Vallentine and written by his husband Danny (and based on their own experiences), the film follows a loving gay couple (played by WIlmette native Nico Tortorella and Juan Pablo Di Pace) whose family comes to an important crossroads when their foster son reunites with his birth mother.
From there, the two navigate how to live without their child, as well as the rifts that emerge when Di Pace’s character finds work as an actor out of the house. Left to his own devices, Tortorella’s Thomas goes on a journey of self-discovery to figure out what queer family and identity even look like in the modern age. “[It’s] a story about family, both made and found,” said Fox of the film.
The film premieres at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Music Box Theater, preceded by an opening night reception for the festival. Get tickets here.
You can find more information about the Reeling Film Festival, including screening schedules and descriptions of the films being shown, on the fest website.
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