Here Are Some of the Best Films to See at Reeling Film Festival

2016_09_reelingfilmfest The second longest-running film festival of its kind, Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival presents nearly 40 features and numerous shorts from around the world during its 2016 edition. Featuring primarily Chicago premieres—along with some U.S. and/or world premieres—the festival presents its opening night selection tonight at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport Ave.) with Hurricane Bianca, the feature debut from former Chicagoan (and Columbia College graduate), writer-director Matt Kugelman, and starring stand-up comedian Roy Haylock and his alter ego, the drag queen Bianca Del Rio. 2016_09_hurricanebianca Photo courtesy of Wolfe Video When demure Richard gets hounded out of his teaching job for being gay in a small Texas town, his other half, the sassy Bianca Del Rio, exacts a riotous revenge. Kugelman has crafted a John Waters/Tootsie hybrid, offering the perfect showcase for Haylock's talents. Bianca Del Rio, a fan favorite and Season 6 champion of “RuPaul's Drag Race,” is joined on screen by SNL's Rachel Dratch and a host of queer icons, including Alan Cumming, Margaret Cho, Bianca Leigh, Shangela, and RuPaul himself. Bianca Del Rio, Matt Kugelman, and producer Ash Christian are expected to attend the screening. Reeling closes on Thursday, September 29, at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema with an advance screening of King Cobra (which opens in October), writer-director Justin Kelly's (I Am Michael) true-life crime thriller, set in the gay adult film world. A greedy porn producer and his escort boyfriend (James Franco and Keegan Allen) plan to murder a competing porn producer (Christian Slater) in order to make a film with his twink superstar Brent Corrigan (former Disney Channel star Garrett Clayton, in a true breakout performance). Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald are also featured. King Cobra doesn’t pull any punches with either the sex or violence, and the real standout performance belongs to Slater as the creepy, desperate, manipulative producer Stephen. Filmmaker Kelly and star Clayton are expected to attend the screening. Photograph courtesy of Yale Productions Photograph courtesy of Yale Productions  
This year’s Reeling lineup features one of the most impressive selections of documentaries in its history, including the devastating centerpiece film Upstairs Inferno, Robert L. Camina's heart-wrenching examination of an arsonist's 1973 killing of 32 men in a gay bar in New Orleans, which was, until the recent mass shooting in Orlando, the worst documented mass murder of LGBTQ individuals in U.S. history. Some other documentary highlights include:
  • Southwest of Salem, Deborah S. Esquenazi's riveting exposé of a miscarriage of justice that forever changed the lives of four young Latina lesbians unjustly convicted of satanic ritual abuse.
  • Real Boy, Shaleece Haas’ coming-of-age depiction of the journey of Bennett, an FTM teen and talented musician.
  • The Slippers, Canadian filmmaker Morgan White’s fascinating examination of what happened to the multiple pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.
  • Memoirs of a Penitent Heart, filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo's compelling life exploration of her uncle who died from AIDS.
  • The Landscape Within, Andrea Capranico's vividly immersive portrait of Filipino body-painting artist, Eric Nuis Cabales.
The feature films are just as strong at Reeling this year. Some features to consider are:
  • Closet Monster, Canadian writer-director Stephen Dunn's emotionally charged portrait of a teen's (“American Crime’s" Connor Jessup) troubled coming out. Isabella Rossellini provides the voice for Jessup’s pet hamster.
  • Bwoy, the festival centerpiece by writer-director John G. Young’s. Bwoy follows a grieving father (Rent’s Anthony Rapp, also featured in the Reeling film Do You Take This Man) who finds himself becoming obsessed with a sexy young Jamaican man that he meets online, whom he suspects is only after his money but his infatuation is too strong for him to care.
  • Tomcat, a steamy and shocking relationship drama from Austrian director, Handl Klaus. 
  • Slash, a droll story directed by Clay Liford about a pair of teenage friends with a talent for writing erotic sci-fi fan fiction, starring Wet Hot American Summer's Michael Ian Black.
  • Heartland, Maura Anderson's moving lesbian drama about a woman who finds herself attracted to her brother's fiancée.
  • Lazy Eye, Tim Kirkman's complex relationship drama.
  • Andrew Steggel's Departure, a bittersweet, drama of a gay son's coming out and a mother's moving on after a divorce, with Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) and Truly, Madly, Deeply's Juliet Stevenson.
Also featured this year are Doug Langway's Bear City 3; Argentinean director Marco Berger's latest homoerotic slow burn Taekwondo; Sarah Rotella's lesbian college comedy Almost Adults; Kerstin Karlhuber's Fair Heaven, the study of a young man recently returned to the family farm after a conversion therapy program, featuring Tom Wopat and Gregory Harrison; Retake, the road thriller from director Nick Corporon, starring Tuc Watkins; and J. C. Falcon's People You May Know about a longtime trio of friends dealing with new realities in their relationships when one of them unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Out actors Sean Maher (Serenity, “Firefly”) and Mark Cirillo (Netflix’s “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”) co-star. The bulk of the festival takes place at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema (2828 N. Clark St.), with the fest's home base, Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.), also hosting some screenings. The complete Reeling schedule and details of all of the film selections can be found at the festival’s site.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.