Don't Miss These 10 Films at Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 21, 2022

Don't Miss These 10 Films at Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival

Reeling, the second-longest-running LGBTQ+ film festival in the world, is celebrating its 40th Anniversary edition with a host of impressive selections.

The Fest opens September 22, 2022, at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport Ave.) and runs through October 2 in-person, and virtually from September 30 - October 6. This year's festival boasts 51 programs, including 37 feature films, a web series, and 13 short film programs, with films from 26 different countries. Reeling's slate is presented September 23 - 29 at Landmark Century Centre Cinemas (2828 N. Clark St.) and September 30 - October 2 at Chicago Filmmakers (1326 W. Hollywood Ave.).

"Over the past 40 years, the most gratifying and fascinating thing to me is to see queer cinema move past just the coming-out films," stated Reeling Features Programmer Richard Knight, Jr., who has programmed the last 10 editions of the festival. "The diversity we've all talked about and yearned for in the queer movement is increasingly reflected in queer cinema, which is truly exhilarating."

Reeling's opening night entry is the U.S. premiere of "The Shiny Shrimps Strike Back," by French directors Cédric Le Gallo and Maxime Govare. Centerpiece features include Travis Fine's "Two Eyes" and Peter McDowell's doc "Jimmy in Saigon." The Fest closes with "I See You," which includes five lesbian short fiction films from the U.S., Estonia, and Norway.

In-Person Screenings: Tickets may be purchased online in advance at www.reelingfilmfest.org or at the theater's box office on the day of the screening.

Virtual Screenings: For virtual screenings, Single Streaming Tickets are available at $10, and an All-Access Streaming Pass is available for $125.

EDGE has sampled many of the selections, and these are some of our recommendations.

"Chrissy Judy"

"Chrissy Judy" heralds the arrival of a queer filmmaker to be reckoned with. Todd Flaherty wrote, directed, produced, edited and stars as a NY drag artist who breaks with his close partner and friend, and must figure out who he is on his own. This dark comedy, lovingly photographed in black and white by Todd's brother Brendan Flaherty, digs deep in its exploration of a fragile soul and his missed opportunities. The results are exhilarating. Flaherty the director is assured and bold in his choices. Flaherty the writer, incisive, sassy and authentic, taking stereotypes and inverting them. Flaherty, the actor? Perfection.

"El Houb (The Love)"

Shariff Nasr's incredibly poignant and humorous film "El Houb (The Love)" examines the world of Karim (Fahd Larhzaoui), a Moroccan-Dutch man who is forced to come out to his conservative Muslim parents as well as his homophobic brother. Their collective anger and outrage force Karim to literally lock himself in the family closet as he attempts to reach them. He also ruminates on the damage his repression has had on himself and his boyfriend. "El Houb" is an exquisite, important film, and the final moments are nothing short of extraordinary. In English, Arabic, and Dutch with English subtitles.

"Celebrating Laughter: The Life and Film of Colin Higgins"

Colin Higgins was the screenwriter behind one of the most subversive satires of the 1970s, "Harold and Maude." He then went on to pen and helm two of the most hilarious, insightful comedies of all time, "Foul Play" and "9 to 5." And he directed the delightful stage adaptation of the musical, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," as well as Shirley MacLaine's groundbreaking miniseries, "Out on a Limb." Higgins, like so many talented gay artists in the '80s, died prematurely of AIDS. This doc pays tribute to his work and features interviews with friends and fellow artists, including Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, Goldie Hawn, and MacLaine. It's a must-see for movie lovers.

"Elephant"

Homophobia in rural areas of the world has become a dominant theme in many queer films of late, specifically from countries where LGBTQ+ acceptance is under fire. Polish writer-director Kamil Krawczycki has crafted a sweet gay love story between a 22-year-old horse farmer (Jan Hrynkiewicz) and an older musician (Pawel Tomaszewski) returning to his small town after the death of his father. There are outside threats from local bullies and also from the farmer's mother. The film was shot in one of Poland's notorious "LGBT-free zones" — areas that reject any form of "LGBT propaganda," much like in Russia. But Krawczycki sees a light at the end of the repressed tunnel for his lovers, a welcome tonic. In Polish with English subtitles.

"Two Eyes"

Travis Fine's evocative triptych, "Two Eyes," explores gender, sexuality, love, and hate. The film weaves together three seemingly unrelated narratives from different time periods into one deeply moving cinematic mosaic. The stories vary from a suicidal trans teen (Ryan Cassata) seeking therapy in modern-day Wyoming, to a sexually confused California youth (Uly Schlesinger) crushing on a visiting Brit (Jessica Allain) in Suburban California in 1979, to the most compelling — an artist (Benjamin Rigby) discovering his muse (Kiowa Gordon) in Montana in the late 1800s. Rigby and Gordon are especially affecting.

"8 Years"

Spanish director JD Alcázar's wonderfully bizarre tale of two sexy young men (Sergio Momo, Díaz Lago) who have reunited after breaking up to commemorate what would have been "eight years" together, grabs the viewer along for the stunning ride as they explore fascinating locales and landscapes. Along the way we learn that the couple are still on a journey to figure out what it is they want from life and if that includes one another. The film is a complex character study that meanders in the final moments, but is otherwise wonderful. In Spanish with English subtitles.

"Lonesome"

I believe Craig Boreham's "Lonesome" has now played four million LGBTQ+ festivals in the last year. OK, maybe a little less. But there is good reason why this extraordinary feature is a perpetual selection. It's a stunner — even after repeated viewings. The movie centers on cowboy Casey (Josh Lavery in a most impressive feature debut) who has fled his small farm community for seedy Sydney (Australia) where he hooks up with super-sexually active Tib (Daniel Gabriel). Their tempestuous relationship reveals the damage their respective pasts have caused. The viewer is left disquieted but enlightened.

"Three Headed Beast"

The first half of "Three Headed Beast" feels like a silent film, but filmmakers Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh always keep the viewer enthralled with an honest narrative that delves into the dynamics of a sexually fluid open relationship. Peter (Jacob Schatz) and Nina (Dani Hurtado) are a seemingly content couple. Nina has her flings, and Peter has been exploring his bisexual side with sweet young Alex (Cody Shook). But when things get a bit too intense between the men, Nina is left in limbo. The film is a singular study of love, fulfillment, fear, and insecurity, as well as the importance of communication.

"Jimmy in Saigon"

Out filmmaker Peter McDowell had an older brother, Jimmy, a Vietnam vet that died at age 24 while living as a civilian in Saigon. The circumstances surrounding his death and his life are the subject of McDowell's haunting portrait, "Jimmy in Saigon," a work that exposes the secrets, lies, and taboo love that existed a half century ago, as well as the self-hatred and homophobia inherent in both the Vietnamese and American cultures. As McDowell uncovers some (expected) truths about his sib, he must also reckon with never really knowing the full story.

"Nana's Boys"

In Ashton Pina's two-hander "Nana's Boys," a Black gay male couple must face revelations that will test just how strong their bond is. Amari (an excellent David J. Cork) awakens late on the morning of his 30th birthday still conflicted about his life. His significant other, Q (Jared Wayne Gladly), is in a much better place, at least career-wise. Both men are thrown for a loop when an outside explosion forces a lockdown. The two must now grapple with where they each stand in their relationship. The "reveals" aren't explored enough and the film fizzles in its last quarter, but it's more often quite touching, and Cork and Gladly make it a worthwhile sit.

Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute