Reeling, the second-oldest LGBTQ film festival in the world, celebrates its 35th anniversary edition from September 21 to 28 at Landmark Theatres’ Century Centre Cinema in Chicago. The 2017 Reeling will present 30 feature films and 10 programs of shorts, coming from 22 countries.
The festival kicks off Thursday, September 21 at Music Box Theatre with the Chicago premiere of Northwestern alum Tom Gustafson’s HELLO AGAIN. The sex-fueled all-star screen adaptation of the 1994 Off-Broadway musical stars Cheyenne Jackson, Audra McDonald, Martha Plimpton, Tyler Blackburn and Rumer Willis. Reeling 2017 closes Thursday, September 28 with SATURDAY CHURCH, the coming-of-age story of a young Black teen exploring gender expression and finding acceptance in the Harlem Ball scene, which stars Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated actor and Goodman Theatre playwright Regina Taylor.
From Trudie Styler’s hotly anticipated directorial debut, the outrageous dramedy FREAK SHOW, about the fictional high school “transvisionary” Billy Bloom, starring Alex Lawther ( The Imitation Game ), Bette Midler and Laverne Cox; and writer-director Vincent Gagliostro’s intergenerational gay romantic drama AFTER LOUIE, starring Alan Cumming in a career-defining performance; to the crackling energy and entertaining story of the rise of YouTube musical superstar Todrick Hall in the documentary BEHIND THE CURTAIN; to the inspiring story of the long road to acceptance for Brooke Guinan, New York’s first out transgender firefighter in WOMAN ON FIRE; to Looking actor Russell Tovey’s stunning performance in THE PASS, the story of two football players whose reactions to the homoerotic tension between them as young men shape their divergent futures; the 35th edition of Reeling Film Festival has something to satisfy every film taste!
Reeling launches its eight-day festival with the Opening Night Gala presentation of the sensual musical HELLO AGAIN, Northwestern alumni Tom Gustafson’s ( Were the World Mine, Mariachi Gringo ) red hot film adaptation of Michael John LaChiusa’s acclaimed 1994 Off-Broadway musical. The film follows ten lovestruck souls who pair off in an erotic daisy chain of sex and song, looking for meaning beyond their steamy hookups. Jack ( Tyler Blackburn, Pretty Little Liars ) sexes up Robert ( Cheyenne Jackson, American Horror Story ) who pleasures Sally ( six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald ) who revels in her tryst with Ruth ( Martha Plimpton, The Real O’Neals ). Along for the sexy hijinks are T.R. Knight ( Grey’s Anatomy ), Rumer Willis ( Empire, Dancing with the Stars ), Jenna Ushkowitz ( Glee ), Sam Underwood ( Fear the Walking Dead ), vocalist Al Calderon and Nolan Gerard Funk ( Glee and former Calvin Klein model ). The musical numbers — everything from pop to operetta to Broadway to swing to searing torch ballads — are as fluid as the sexual proclivities of the characters. Prepare to indulge your senses with this visually stylish, ultra-sensual musical extravaganza.
Reeling closes on Thursday, September 28 with an advance screening of SATURDAY CHURCH. This audacious hybrid — part drama, part comedy, part musical — is pulled off with aplomb by debuting writer-director Damon Cardasis and his young cast of newcomers. After the recent death of his father, Ulysses ( Luka Kain ) has begun experimenting with his sexuality and gender expression; his nights are full of stolen nylons and high heels. But Aunt Rose — played by acclaimed actor, playwright and Chicago resident Regina Taylor — is having none of this, so Ulysses flees the Bronx, finding himself enthralled by a new group of colorful, streetwise friends who introduce him to the Ball community. This thrilling, genre-busting film, soulful and heartfelt, has received raves on the film festival circuit and is a superlative and tender, coming-of-age story.
Reeling will present the premieres of two locally made features: Chicago based writer-director Wendell Etherly’s MARKET VALUE is a compelling child custody courtroom drama focused on a lesbian couple fighting to keep their adopted son; and On the Down Low writer-director Tadeo Garcia returns to Reeling with EN ALGUN LUGAR, a gay romantic drama set against the backdrop of the controversial U.S. immigration system.
Other festival highlights include the World Premiere of writer-director Rob Williams’ ( Role/Play, Shared Rooms, Make the Yuletide Gay ) ninth feature film, HAPPINESS ADJACENT, a bisexual love triangle set aboard a cruise ship; the critically acclaimed Sundance hit, I DREAM IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE, Mexican director Ernest Contreras’ drama about two elderly men who are the last living people able to speak a dying language but who refuse to talk to each other; SEBASTIAN, writer-director-actor James Fanizza’s romantic drama about a fling between two men living in different countries who unexpectedly fall in love; the eccentric Scottish film SEAT IN SHADOW, director Henry Coombes’ film about an aging free-spirited artist who plays therapist for the young gay grandson of a friend; APRICOT GROVES, Pouria Heidary Oureh’s beautifully realized story about an Iranian Armenian transman living in the U.S. who visits Armenia to ask his girlfriend’s father for her hand in marriage; THE RING THING, about a lesbian couple facing the pressures of getting married now that it’s legal, directed by William Sullivan, whose That’s Not Us screened at Reeling 2015; and EASTSIDERS SEASON 3: GO WEST, all new episodes from the Emmy-nominated gay web series that went viral on YouTube and was later picked up by Netflix.
Young love is explored in UK director Daniel Grasskamp’s CAT SKIN, in which a shy photography student captures the attention of a popular girl whose boyfriend refuses to leave the picture; David Berry’s SOMETHING LIKE SUMMER, a film adaptation of a popular novel series focusing on a young gay couple that includes Glee-like musical numbers; and Jakob M. Erwa’s CENTER OF MY WORLD, a gay coming of age romance from Germany.
Thrills, excitement, mayhem and various kinds of trouble can be found in two British and two Australian films. In the British crime thriller B&B, two men who successfully sued a small inn for gay discrimination return to gloat and find their triumph is short-lived, and in PALACE OF FUN, a rich young British woman’s calculating gay brother plays sinister games with her love interest. The Australian BOYS IN THE TREES is an eerie surrealist coming of age drama that takes place on Halloween night; and in BAD GIRL, a rebellious teenager is single-white-femaled by a doe-eyed beauty whom her parents are convinced is a good role model for her.
Comic relief is offered by SENSITIVITY TRAINING, in which an abrasive microbiologist finds herself attracted to the woman hired by her company to be her sensitivity coach; DATING MY MOTHER, about an aimless recent college graduate who moves back in with his widowed mom and finds that they are both trying to find Mr. Right; and PROM KING, 2010, which chronicles the failed attempts of an awkward 20-year-old college freshman in New York to find the man of his dreams.
The lives of women of color are explored in two web series: 195 LEWIS, set in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; and the locally produced, Emmy nominated BROWN GIRLS, set in Chicago. The latter series was funded in part by Chicago Filmmakers’ Chicago Digital Media Production Fund, and creators Samantha Bailey and Fatimah Asghar were recently signed to a development deal to adapt the series for HBO.
Documentaries, as always, are an important part of the Reeling lineup. Documentaries include CHAVELA, an affectionate portrait of the legendary lesbian Costa Rican Ranchera singer who counted Pedro Almodóvar among her friends and Frida Kahlo among her lovers; THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON, Oscar nominated David France’s follow-up to How to Survive a Plague which focuses on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the trans activist as well as her close friendship with Sylvia Rivera; BONES OF CONTENTION, an historical documentary focusing on the repression of gays and lesbians under the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War which weaves in the life of murdered queer poet Federico Garcia Lorca; and AGAINST THE LAW, a docudrama about the punitive life for gay men in conservative England in the 1950s.