The Reeling International Film Festival shows queer people as the complex heroes and villains of their own stories | Movie Feature | Chicago Reader

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The Reeling International Film Festival shows queer people as the complex heroes and villains of their own stories

In its 37th year, the fest continues to celebrate queer history, modern life, and plenty of subcultures.

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The Reeling International Film Festival returns this week for its 37th year to—as The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Girardi has famously said—give the gays everything they want.

Reeling doesn't curate its selections based on a theme, and this year's body of work emphasizes the growing diversity of queer stories in narrative, genre, and form.

"We're seeing more genre," features programmer Richard Knight Jr. says. "Fewer coming-out stories and more, I don't know, a gay thriller. Films where the characters just happens to be gay, but it's a thriller or a musical or a broad comedy."

Some of this year's features include Two in the Bush: A Love Story, a bisexual and polyamorous rom-com set in a sex dungeon by Laura Madalinski; Bit, a vampire flick with a lesbian trans woman protagonist directed by Brad Michael Elmore; and The Shiny Shrimps, a comedy about an amateur gay water polo team in France that was written and directed by Cédric Le Gallo and Maxime Govare.

Reeling's crop of documentaries offers an equally wide breadth of stories, with films that tell and preserve queer history, films that represent what it's like to be queer in this very moment, and films that investigate wonderful, niche queer subcultures. "This is a culture that you do not see represented," says Knight of the films.

Among the documentaries, Megan Rossman's The Archivettes chronicles the formation of the Lesbian Herstory Archives and grapples with activism in an increasingly politically charged time. Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen's Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street explores the story of actor Mark Patton and exposes the impact that queer coding and homophobic horror tropes have had on shaping popular culture. Tomer Heymann's Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life pulls back the curtain on one of the most successful gay porn stars in the world.

There's also a substantial amount of trans representation at this year's fest, with 14 films that focus on various aspects of trans identity or feature trans protagonists. The short film program "Dreams of Another Body" puts trans narratives in the spotlight and reckons with people's relationship to their own flesh.

Reeling is a festival made by and for queer people, but queer stories have never been in the spotlight more than right now, thanks to the mainstream success of shows such as FX's Pose. It's possible that this year's fest might have more of a crossover audience than ever before.

"Many of these films will have a life because there is more of a mainstream appetite for queer cinema," says Knight. "Which is, like, what? Am I still alive?" says Knight, who's still astonished by the rise in demand in recent years.

Reeling is a chance for queer audiences to see all aspects of ourselves represented at the movies—not just scraps of representation within Hollywood blockbusters. And as queer filmmakers push themselves and break out from traditional conventions, we finally get to see ourselves as the complex heroes and villains of our own stories.

"This really is the one time and place where all of this queer stuff is going to be on a big screen where you can sit with your tribe and experience it," says Knight. "There's nothing like watching a queer-themed movie with a majority-queer audience."

Knight adds, "You're not going to see Avengers 76 during Reeling, but you're going to see really great stories, great performances, and you're going to be surprised and delighted."   v

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