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Our guide to Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival

More than a hundred shorts and features screen at Music Box, Landmark, and Chicago Filmmakers.

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Reeling: The Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2011, then went on hiatus for a year as festival director Brenda Webb and her staff pondered "how the festival might expand or evolve to better address the changing needs of LGBT filmmakers." When Reeling returned last year it had adopted a new, more inclusive subtitle—The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival—and Webb had handed over programming duties to Richard Knight Jr. This year brings more changes: the festival has moved up on the calendar, abandoning its long-standing early-November slot for the very beginning of the season, and the programming baton has been passed to Alexandra Ensign, a cartoonist, designer, and University of Chicago graduate in cinema and media studies. Yet otherwise the festival remains the same, presenting seven days of LGBT-themed dramas and documentaries at Music Box, Chicago Filmmakers, and Landmark's Century Centre. Reviews of eight features follow; for a full schedule see J.R. Jones

[Recommended] Boy Meets Girl Under the guise of a conventional romantic comedy, this independent feature explores gender politics and sex-positive themes with depth and passion. Ricky, a transgender girl (real-life trans actress Michelle Hendley) living in rural Kentucky amid taunts and threats from her right-wing neighbors, befriends a new girl in town (Alexandra Turshen), a Republican virgin whose ultraconservative fiance is fighting overseas. They quickly fall for each other, much to the chagrin of a local good old boy (Michael Welch) who's been Ricky's friend all her life and has his own feelings for her. The situations feel familiar and even hackneyed, yet the variety of gender identities and sexual preferences on display is cathartic. Eric Schaeffer directed. Drew Hunt 95 min. Schaeffer and Hendley attend the screening, part of the opening-night program; tickets are $15 for the film only, $35 with admission to a 5:30 PM reception. Fri 9/19, 7:30 PM, Music Box

Cupcakes Israeli director Eytan Fox (Walk on Water, Yossi) has never been much of a visual stylist, and this feeble musical comedy all but points a spotlight on his failings. Apart from dressing each major character in a different bold color, he displays no affinity for the genre; the blocking is flat-footed, the jokes are unfunny, and most of the wide-screen compositions seem starved for detail. The story begins agreeably enough, as five professional thirtysomethings (three straight women, one lesbian, and one gay man) and a middle-aged working mother, all of them romantically frustrated, are implausibly recruited to form a pop group and represent Israel in an international song contest. But even this pleasant wish-fulfillment fantasy is beyond Fox's grasp; the story soon gives way to characters kvetching about romance and the working world, their sentiments recycled from the director's other movies. In English and subtitled French and Hebrew. Ben Sachs 92 min. Tue 9/23, 7 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Entre Rios, Everything We Left Unsaid A young gay man from Buenos Aires returns to the farm town of his youth to visit his single mother and ailing grandmother. At first he's eager to make them acknowledge his sexuality, but he comes to realize that, in an underpopulated community where life is determined by age-old farming rituals, it's more or less irrelevant. Nelson Schmunk wrote, directed, produced, and edited this autobiographical debut feature, which resembles much recent South American art cinema in its understated style and sensitive characterization. The movie may look familiar, but Schmunk's talent for observational detail gives it a distinctive flavor. The imagery reflects an outsider's perspective, but also the desire to understand a way of life other than one's own. In Spanish with subtitles. Ben Sachs 90 min. Sun 9/21, 9:30 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

[Recommended] The Foxy Merkins A nerdy newcomer on the lesbian hooker beat in New York City (Lisa Haas) learns the tricks of the trade from a crafty veteran (Jackie Monahan), and together they solicit a clientele of psychotic Republican housewives, middle-aged midwestern tourists, and elderly women who pay in Talbots gift cards. This spritely low-budget sex comedy (2013) is essentially a parody of Midnight Cowboy, but the humor is cleverly absurd and self-aware, like Woody Allen shtick filtered through a lesbian consciousness. Haas and Monahan, who cowrote the script with director Madeleine Olnek, have a terrific rapport, and their affectionate portrait of female camaraderie anchors the silly story. With Alex Karpovsky (of the HBO series Girls).Drew Hunt 82 min. Fri 9/19, 9:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Gerontophilia An aimless 19-year-old in Montreal gets a job at a nursing home, starts experimenting with prescription drugs, and becomes erotically obsessed with elderly men. Ever the provocateur, director Bruce LaBruce (The Raspberry Reich, L.A. Zombie) presents all this as a tender coming-of-age story—in fact, it often looks like a made-for-TV family film—which makes the material feel even more perverse. The cast does a good job at playing it straight (though Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, the inexperienced young performer who plays the lead, doesn't seem like he's acting at all); Walter Borden is surprisingly tender as the catty octogenarian who steals the young man's heart. In English and subtitled French. Ben Sachs 82 min. Thu 9/25, 9:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

[Recommended] Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine The 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming, became one of the most notorious hate crimes of the 20th century, which makes his death much more significant than his life. That's bad news for the first third or so of this documentary, directed and narrated by his personal friend Michele Josue; Shepard's experiences growing up and coming out were typical, and none of the people Josue interviews—parents, teachers, friends—can speak of him in anything but the most tender terms. But this grows in power as it arrives at Shepard's moonlit bludgeoning by two guys he met in a bar, the nationwide uproar over the crime, and those same interviewees' struggle to make sense of the tragedy even after all these years. What lingers afterward is the haunting sense of someone who became an icon only because he was cheated of the opportunity to become himself. J.R. Jones 89 min. Mon 7/22, 7:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Out in the Night "ATTACK OF THE KILLER LESBIANS," screamed a New York Post headline after seven black women from the mean streets of Newark and East Orange, New Jersey, were charged with gang assault following an August 2006 incident in Greenwich Village. The hysterical media reaction, including the expected chest-thumping on Fox News, hopelessly politicized what was essentially a street brawl between the women and a catcalling Jamaican man, whom one of them stabbed with a steak knife. Unfortunately this documentary by Blair Dorosh-Walther only adds to the muddle, portraying the women as sympathetically as possible and framing the assault as self-defense against a hate crime. The draconian sentences meted out to four of the women—one of them got 11 years in prison—were clearly unjustified; so is Dorosh-Walther's invocation of Sakia Gunn, an innocent Newark teenager murdered three years earlier because of her sexual orientation. J.R. Jones 75 min. Sat 9/20, 5 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Queers in the Kingdom Wheaton College, in the western suburb of the same name, is one of the most prominent evangelical schools in the country and the alma mater of Billy Graham; it's also the alma mater of numerous gay Christians who've banded together to proclaim themselves, renounce the shame and isolation they felt as students, and offer their support to young people at Wheaton now wrestling with the same feelings. This documentary by Markie Hancock suffers from a scrambled narrative that attempts to trace the history of evangelical education in the U.S. even as eight Wheaton alumni (from the class of '54 to the class of '06) recount their experiences at the school and their personal journeys since then. The latter material is engaging and often moving, yet the movie keeps building to a spiritual confrontation that never really arrives: no one from the administration or faculty comments, and a 2011 action in which gay alumni returned to campus to distribute leaflets is represented only in still photographs. What might have become a penetrating social documentary settles instead at the level of a pride exercise. J.R. Jones 72 min. Hancock attends the screening. Sat 9/20, 2:45 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

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