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Reeling LGBTQ Film Festival Returns In September For 40th Year: ‘We’re Still Here, Queer And Watching Movies’

The 40th annual Reeling film festival will feature 51 programs, including an opening night premiere of "The Shiny Shrimps Strike Back" Sept. 22 at the Music Box Theatre.

Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A local film festival featuring a range of films, shorts and documentaries telling LGBTQ-themed stories is back in September for its 40th anniversary.

Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival opens Sept. 22 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. Opening night will feature a screening of “The Shiny Shrimps Strike Back,” a follow-up to French directors Cédric Le Gallo and Maxime Govare’s comedy that opened Reeling in 2019.

The festival will move Sept. 23-29 to Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., before closing Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the Chicago Filmmakers headquarters, 1326 W. Hollywood Ave.

“Little did I imagine in 1981 that 40 years later, our festival would still be going strong,” said Brenda Webb, founder of Reeling and executive director of Chicago Filmmakers, the presenting organization.

This year’s festival was organized with Richard Knight, Jr., who has overseen the last 10 editions of Reeling. Before becoming the features programmer, Knight covered the festival as a film critic; before that, Knight attended as a fan.

“It’s super exciting that we’re still here, queer and watching movies,” Knight said. “To reach this 40th anniversary milestone underscores the fact that we’ve come a long way, but we still have so far to go.”

Tickets and the full film lineup and schedule can be found on Reeling’s website.

Tickets for most in-person screenings at the Landmark Theater and Chicago Filmmakers are $12. Opening night tickets are $15 for the film and $40 for the film and its afterparty in the Music Box lounge and garden.

Other special admission programs include the $15 screening of “Bros” at the Landmark and the closing night Dyke Delicious program, which is $15 for just the films and $30 to attend the afterparty.

Films will be screened virtually Sept. 30-Oct. 6 for $10 each or $125 for an all-access pass.

This year’s festival will feature 51 programs, including 37 feature-length films, a web series and 13 short film programs, Knight said. The films come from 26 countries.

The festival’s opening night presentation of “Shiny Shrimps” will be attended by one of the film’s directors, Knight said. He’s one of many directors, actors and other filmmakers who will visit Reeling for screenings, Q&As or panels, organizers said.

The film follows a rag-tag rainbow water polo team from France that gets trapped in a gay conversion camp in Russia while heading to the Tokyo Gay Games. The feature could not be filmed in Russia due to its homophobic laws, so it was shot in Ukraine just before the war.

“Opening night will have the film, a sit-down with the director to talk about its making because there’s got to be some great stories there, and then an afterparty gala at the Music Box,” Knight said.

This year will also mark the return of Dyke Delicious, a lesbian short film program curated by its founder, Sharon Zurek. Dyke Delicious ran for several years at Chicago Filmmakers before Zurek left the nonprofit, but she’s reviving the series in honor of Reeling’s 40th anniversary.

“Dyke Delicious usually starts with a social hour followed by a series of fantastic lesbian short films that Sharon programs,” Knight said. “It’s such a full-circle moment to have her back because she was instrumental in raising funds so Chicago Filmmakers could buy the firehouse it resides in today.”

There will be four iterations of Dyke Delicious throughout Reeling, including a final screening Oct. 2 that will close the festival, Knight said.

The festival’s centerpiece narrative feature is “Two Eyes,” screening Sept. 29, which follows three main characters in different time periods: 19th century Montana, 1979 Barstow, California, and present-day Wyoming.

“‘Two Eyes’ has this really tender gay love story and a beautiful lesbian love story,” Knight said. “It’s got transgender and Native American characters and touches on queer history, which I think is important to do for our 40th anniversary — to show that we’ve always been here.”

The festival’s centerpiece documentary is “Jimmy in Saigon,” which shares filmmaker Peter McDowell’s personal journey to uncover secrets related to his brother’s death in the Vietnam War. It will be screened Sept. 28.

Other documentaries include:

Several films will make their U.S. premiers at Reeling, including:

  • “Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls,” screening Sept. 25, which tells the story of a middle-school-age lesbian who struggles with unrequited love.
  • “Apostles,” airing Sept. 25, about a self-proclaimed apostle of Socrates and his 12 male disciples.
  • “Bodyshop,” screening Sept. 28, a film about the ghost of a soldier who travels the world by inhabiting peoples’ bodies.

Reeling will have 71 short films across 13 programs, including “Looking for Change” on Oct. 2, “Love Will Keep Us Together/Love Will Tear Us Apart” on Oct. 1 and “Rediscovering the Magic of Norm Bruns” on Oct. 1, according to Chicago Filmmakers.

“We have something for everybody,” Knight said. “So we have some things that are just guilty pleasures, artsy stuff that critics will love and more. Everything is so good that you can stand behind any film choice.”

The festival will also feature a slew of stories relating to the transgender community, Knight said.

In “Homebody,” screening Sept. 23, a 9-year-old boy switches bodies with his beloved nanny in a “Freaky Friday”-like story. Other films include “Finlandia,” screening Sept. 24, about a close-knit community of Muxes — third-gender or nonbinary people — fighting for recognition in their community outside of Oaxaca, Mexico; and “The First Fallen,” screening Sept. 25, about a trans woman and her two gay friends contending with the beginning of the AIDS crisis in Brazil.

“We’re very excited about the range of queer stories being told this year,” Knight said. “There’s just nothing like being in the audience and seeing some of these images on screen while being able to look around and see so many queer people with you.”

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