CHICAGO — Reeling: The Chicago LGBT+ International Film Festival returns next month with a mix of in-person and virtual screenings.
The 39th annual festival opens Sept. 23 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., with a screening of “Firebird,” a forbidden queer love story about two military men in the Soviet Air Force during the Cold War.
Screenings of other films will be held Sept. 24-30 at the Landmark Century Centre Cinemas, 2828 N. Clark St., with virtual programs running Sept. 27-Oct.7.
Tickets and the full lineup of screenings are available on Reeling’s website. Tickets to individual movies are $12, but festival passes are available to see more screenings at a discount.
This year’s lineup features an “incredibly special” mix of narrative features, documentaries and short films from more than 15 countries, said Reeling programmer Richard Knight.
“There’s nothing like it. This festival has become a truly beloved Chicago cultural institution,” Knight said. “And for the in-person screenings, it will be fantastic to actually watch a queer movie with queer people again.”
The “Firebird” screening is the first of dozens of in-person events that will be held during this year’s festival. The film is by UK director Peeter Rebane and is based on a true story, Knight said.
“I grew up with ‘Top Gun’ and wanted those guys to be gay so badly. Well, in ‘Firebird,’ they are gay,” Knight said. “And they have this hot, illicit romance that’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to see it on the Music Box screen.”
The festival will close with the first Midwest screening of “The Sixth Reel,” which features drag legend Charles Busch as a Hollywood-obsessed New Yorker who collects movie memorabilia.
Busch’s character discovers a long-lost reel from Lon Chaney and the story unfolds as men compete to cash in on the sale or screen the movie, Knight said.
Margaret Cho, Julie Halston, Tim Daly and Andre DeShields also star in the movie.
“Charles Busch is renowned for these kinds of campy films,” Knight said. “And I’m the biggest film geek in the world, so I can’t wait to see it.”
That same passion for film is present in “Boulevard: A Hollywood Story,” a documentary about Gloria Swanson’s attempt to turn Sunset Boulevard into a musical, Knight said.
“It’s a really eye-opening documentary about old Hollywood, but it’s primarily about this gay couple that Gloria Swanson hired to write the score and the book, but she didn’t quite seem to understand they were gay,” Knight said.
The documentary is directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, who is behind other documentaries like “I Am Divine” and “Tab Hunter Confidential.”
Another documentary highlight is “North by Current,” which is about transgender filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax returning home to rural Michigan after the death of his niece.
“It focuses on his transition and his complicated relationship with his younger sister and his family as he travels north to Michigan from Chicago,” Knight said. “It ends up being this love letter to his sister and one of those films that’s going to haunt you.”
The festival will also feature “Jump, Darling,” a fictional film starring Cloris Leachman as the grandmother of a drag queen who falls down on their luck and moves in with her.
“Cloris Leachman gives a divine performance in this lovely little dramady,” Knight said.
Other documentary highlights include “No Straight LInes: The Rise of Queer Comics,” which features Chicago cartoonist Rupert Kinnard, creator of the first Black queer comic book characters; “Queens of the Revolution,” which follows aging drag queens at the forefront of the gay rights movement in Cuba; and “Gemmel & Tim,” about two victims of influential businessman Ed Buck whose deaths led to his conviction.
“One of the things I love so much about ‘Gemmel & Tim’ is that it’s a really wonderful portrait of these two victims of this unfortunate circumstance,” Knight said.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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