With 31 features and 19 short film programs being screened—all of them Chicago premieres—the 36th edition of Reeling (the second-oldest LGBTQ film festival in the world) runs Sept. 20-30 at a handful of theaters around the city, including an opening night presentation at the Davis Theater, with an afterparty at the adjoining Carbon Arc Bar. The festival’s final weekend (Sept. 28-30) will take place at the newly restored firehouse headquarters of Chicago Filmmakers, the presenting organization of Reeling while the bulk of screenings (Sept. 21-27) happen at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
British actor/writer/director Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding) will walk the red carpet on Thursday, Sept. 27 in support of Reeling’s Special Presentation of his directorial debut, The Happy Prince, in which he stars as Oscar Wilde in the sunset of his life, focusing specifically on the writer in exile in Paris, after his conviction for “gross indecency,” and his release from prison in 1897. Estranged from his wife (Emily Watson) and sons, Wilde is haunted by ghosts of the past and supported by his remaining loyal friends, including Reggie (played by Oscar-winner Colin Firth).
In addition, Hong Kong-based director Scud (Voyage, Utopians, Amphetamine), renowned for his provocative, sexually infused films, will be on hand on Tuesday, Sept. 25, for the North American premiere of his seventh feature, Adonis, the story of a handsome young actor who descends into a world of hedonism after partaking in an infamous gay adult film. Filled with the mind-blowing visuals for which Scud is known, this may be the director’s most provocative work.
The festival’s Opening Night offering is Freelancers Anonymous, a lesbian screwball comedy filmed in Chicago, starring Lisa Cordileone and Chicago-area native Alexandra Billings (Transparent, Goliath). Cordileone is expected to attend the opening night festivities along with other cast members. On Friday, Sept. 21, Reeling will also present the Chicago premieres of the hotly anticipated biopic Mapplethorpe, starring Matt Smith (Dr. Who, The Crown) as the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, with Marianne Rendon (Imposters) portraying onetime-girlfriend Patti Smith.
“Hood by Air” fashion designer Leilah Weinraub’s incendiary documentary debut Shakedown also screens on Sept. 21, with the festival’s Narrative Centerpiece, Wild Nights with Emily, starring Molly Shannon as Emily Dickinson, showing on Sunday, Sept. 23. Studio 54, the history of the infamous 1970s-era nightclub from director Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino, Scotty Bowers and the Secret History of Hollywood) closes the fest on Sunday, Sept. 30, followed by an afterparty featuring disco music, dancing, and food catered by Goddess & Grocers.
The Miss Continental Pageant and the Baton Show Lounge—both Chicago institutions for decades—are profiled in Reeling’s Documentary Centerpiece selection, The Queens. Director Mark Saxenmeyer focuses on the 35-year-old pageant and explores the subculture of competitive female impersonation in all its glittery glory, while delving into the rich history of The Baton Show Lounge, the Windy City’s historic female illusion showplace (now in its 49th year). Saxenmeyer and cast members will be present at the screening, which is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 24.
Other films reflecting on life in the 1970s and ’80s include Canary (Kanarie), set in apartheid-era South Africa, about a small-town boy who is drafted into the military and finds solace with other misfits in the military’s traveling choir; it will screen Friday, Sept. 21. In addition, there is Riot (Saturday, Sept. 22), a drama about Australia’s version of Stonewall, the Mardi Gras riot, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The impact of the AIDS crisis is revisited in the emotionally powerful new drama 1985 (Wednesday, Sept. 26 ), which stars Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis; as well as in a film that was created in 1985, Buddies (Monday, Sept. 24), the first American feature about AIDS, directed by Arthur Bressan, Jr., who later died of an AIDS-related illness. The film is showing at Reeling in a newly restored, digital print, 33 years after it was the Opening Night film of the 5th edition of the festival.
Adding to the international scope of the festival are two films about summer encounters that cross ethnic borders. In the Dutch film Just Friends (Saturday, Sept. 22 ), sparks fly between a Middle Eastern medical student and a young man he meets in a small Dutch city he visits over the summer. In A Moment in the Reeds (Tuesday, Sept. 25), the first independent LGBT film made in Finland, the relationship between a Syrian asylum seeker and the son of his Finnish employer erotically unfolds during an idyllic Finnish summer. The fraught relationship between two young men is under threat of crumbling when they go on holiday in the Greek film He Loves Me (Sunday, September 23); while the relationship between two women—Eva (Oona Chaplin, Game of Thrones, Black Mirror) and Kat (Natlia Tena)—is tested when one of them wants to have a child and the other doesn’t in the Spanish film Anchor and Hope (Saturday, Sept. 22), which features Oona’s real life mother Geraldine Chaplin as Eva’s mother in the film. The Brazilian film Christabel (Wednesday, Sept. 26), making its North American premiere, takes us to the tropical savanna for a Gothic tale of supernatural romance inspired by the legendary Coleridge poem.
Comedies in the festival include the boisterous Italian film My Big, Gay Italian Wedding (Monday, Sept. 24), based on the long-running Off Broadway show, in which a gay couple’s road to the altar is paved with hijinks and hilarity; Still Waiting in the Wings (Saturday, Sept. 22), a frothy musical about young men pursuing their Broadway dreams, featuring cameos by a host of familiar faces (Chita Rivera, Ed Asner, Patricia Richardson, Cindy Williams, Lee Meriwether, Bruce Vilanch, Sally Struthers); and the German film Country Noise (Tuesday, Sept. 25), about a young pink-haired urbanite who returns home to her small German town and shakes things up when she reconnects with her trombone-playing childhood friend. Reeling also presents the world premiere of Analysis Paralysis (Thursday, September 27), focusing on a man searching for love while struggling with his anxiety disorder.
American indies are well-represented in Reeling, with Funny Story (Thursday, Sept. 27), about a father and daughter both involved with the daughter’s fiancée; Kill the Monsters (Wednesday, Sept. 26), a sexy road trip drama focused on a three-way relationship; the eye-popping, wildly offbeat tale of twisted love Daddy Issues (Saturday, Sept. 22), a lesbian dramedy that has been described as the lovechild of Wes Anderson and David Lynch; Alaska Is a Drag (Sunday, Sept. 23), which follows the dreams of a budding female impersonator working in a fish cannery by day (and featuring a hilarious cameo by Margaret Cho); Devil’s Path (Sunday, Sept. 23), a creepy thriller about a killer stalking men in a gay trysting spot in the forest; and the lesbian intergenerational drama Snapshots (Saturday, Sept. 22), starring Piper Laurie, Brooke Adams and Emily Baldoni.
Documentaries in the festival include: Call Her Ganda (Sunday, Sept. 23), the riveting and heartbreaking story of the murder of a trans woman in the Philippines; Conversations with Gay Elders: Kerby Lauder (Sunday, Sept. 23), a fascinating, in-depth examination of one man’s life conducted by queer history filmmaker David Weissman (We Were Here, The Cockettes); In My Room (Saturday, Sept. 22), an intimate look at six teenagers who post videos to YouTube; The Rest I Make Up (Monday, Sept. 24), a loving portrait of esteemed nine-time Obie Award winning playwright Maria Irene Fornes by her protégé, as the writer is struggling with dementia; and Leitis In Waiting (Saturday, Sept. 22), the story of an intrepid group of transgender women fighting intolerance in their South Pacific home of Tonga.
In addition to the feature lineup, Reeling will present 19 short film programs scattered throughout the programming, with the final weekend of the festival at Chicago Filmmakers focusing almost entirely on shorts, making this the most short films ever presented by the festival.
For the full schedule, in-depth descriptions of every film, and links to purchase advance tickets, go to the Reeling website.