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Reeling '05—Opening Week Highlights
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2005-10-26

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The Reeling Gay & Lesbian Film festival opens next week with a wide range of GLBT films from around the world. Pictured: Summer Storm, Transamerica, Unveiled, Mr. Leather, Guys and Balls, Hate Crime.

Reeling 2005, the 24th annual International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, is scheduled to kick off on Thursday, Nov. 3 and continues until Nov. 12. More than 130 films will be featured in 67 programs. As in other years, Landmark Century Cinema, the Music Box, and Chicago Filmmakers will screen many of the selections. But Film Row Cinema, a brand spanking new theater at Columbia College, just south of the Loop, will also screen many of the festival's selections.

Brenda Webb, the festival's director who created the first Reeling 24 years ago, expects attendance of more than 12,000 at this year's movies. Not bad for a festival that started in a 90-seat screening room and didn't have much to choose from. 'We showed a lot of the more historically important things like Mädchen in Uniform and a lot of experimental films and shorts,' Webb recalls, 'Obviously, there weren't nearly as many films to choose from. Things have certainly changed in that regard.'

The festival will feature a lot more films that follow traditional movie genres. Says Webb, 'If I had to pick one overriding theme this year it would be genre, and the richness of diversity within the themes is getting broader. It's like mainstream culture is making an appearance in gay and lesbian cinema.'

Some highlights from the opening week schedule:

Thursday, Nov. 3

Summer Storm

The festival kicks off with a 7:30 screening at the Music Box with this coming-of-age story from Germany in which the teenage Tobi, the de facto leader of his Bavarian rowing team, slowly realizes that he is in love with his teammate and best friend, Achim. When the team prepares for an upcoming regatta at a secluded lake region, the arrival of openly gay competitors ( from Berlin naturally ) called the 'Queerstrokes' causes all hell to break loose. This is fairly typical coming-of-age stuff that's made fresh by its sports-themed milieu, its beautiful location photography, several melodramatic plot twists and turns, and a strong performance by its leading actor. Subtitled. An after-screening party follows at Strega Nona just up the street from the Music Box.

Friday, Nov. 4

Hate Crime

Handsome Robbie and Trey seem to have it all—they're classic examples of a Guppie couple—but when a Christian right homophobe moves in next door things quickly turn ugly and escalate into a despicable and brutal hate crime. This exciting debut feature from writer-director-producer Tommy Stovall reminded me of In the Bedroom in which the characters' inability to deal with grief turns that grief into a need for revenge. Seth Peterson heads a strong cast featuring name stars Bruce Davison, Cindy Pickett, Susan Blakely, and especially Lin Shaye. They help make this romantic tragedy turned revenge thriller into something highly watchable.

Mr. Leather

For those with a yearning to delve into the outer edges of gay male sexuality, this eye-opening documentary is for you. It follows the nine contestants competing for the 2003 Mr. Los Angeles Leather title, gets into their personal lives and explains in a very coherent manner the appeal of the leather community. Not for the sexually meek, this sub-group are nonetheless fascinating and tantalizing to behold. And the contrast of these über Tom of Finland types parading in leather-studded thongs Miss America fashion down a runway one minute, then chomping on cigars, zooming around on their Harleys and brandishing their whips the next certainly holds your interest.

Saturday, Nov. 5

Guys and Balls

This is a sort of gay version of Dodgeball. Only the sport of choice is soccer and the location is Germany. Like its American counterpart, the film is stuffed to the gills with comedic stereotypes and situations and it's refreshing that the stereotypes are of straights! After Peter Frampton-lookalike Ecki's teammates figure out he's gay ( this on the day he's also not been able to block the opposing team's winning shot ) , Ecki heads to the big city to live with his sister, sort out his gay feelings and recruit an all-gay soccer team for a revenge match. Naturally, a cutie boyfriend is part of the mix. A decided crowd pleaser and light in tone, the film also scores several points for gay awareness along the way. Subtitled.

Fag Hags: Women Who Love Gay Men

As a gay man whose closest friend ( of 30 years ) is a straight woman, this Canadian documentary had great appeal for me. The film tracks the course of several such relationships in a warm, winning movie that also includes the cultural awareness of the 'phenomenon' with Will & Grace, naturally, at the top of the list. Of course my female friend and I are planning on attending the screening. What fag hag and their best gay pal wouldn't?

Sunday, Nov. 6

When I'm 64

This lovely look at gay men in their advancing years was produced for BBC TV and is sweetly inspiring. The circumstances that bring Ray and Jim together are extraordinary and gently remind us that love can come at any age but autumnal love might just be the most precious. In typical BBC fashion, this takes its time and rewards with stellar performances, topnotch writing and directing.

Scab

A gay vampire is loose in Las Vegas and he's attacking gay hustlers! It sounds like a delicious premise for a gay porno but alas, in the hands of first-time writer-director Thomas Jason Davis, it's yet another dreary use of vampirism as a metaphor for the AIDS plague. The Vegas location is a cheat as we never see it ( it looked like West Hollywood to me ) , and the characters hole up at a Bates Motel-like locale mumbling their lines in monotone. I loved the premise and after Hellbent was primed for another entry in the gay horror genre, but Scab's a movie without much bite. The weak plot, bad writing and gratuitous gross-out scenes made me want to bite something myself.

Gay Republicans

This documentary, produced by famed gay duo Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, has already been shown on Trio TV and is an eye opener. If ever there was a group being led down the garden path by their political party's current leadership, it's the Log Cabin Republicans. This film was done at the decisive moment in the summer of 2004 when George Bush looked over his coalition and selected the Christian Right Movement over his gay constituents ( bigger numbers doncha know ) via his introduction of the marriage amendment. The subsequent fall-out in the group over the divisive issue is beautifully captured on film. Maurice Bonamigo, the hairdresser that headed up the Miami Beach Log Cabin group, is a spiritual sister to Corky Sinclair in Waiting for Guffman. Come to think of it, this entire group cries out for a parody movie of their own.

Monday, Nov. 7

Unveiled

A lesbian woman flees from Iran to Germany to escape persecution and is forced to masquerade as a man in order to evade detection. That's the set up for this timely love story/thriller with shades of Boys Don't Cry and, yes, Yentl. It features a terrific leading performance by Jasmine Tabatabai, who works in a sauerkraut factory and tries to fend off an unwanted crush by a single mother before yielding to her nature. This is the Women's Centerpiece screening of the festival and will take place at 7 p.m. at Film Row Cinema at Columbia College with an after-party with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails to follow in the lobby.

Life in a Box

This perky but moving documentary follows the gay folk duo Y'All as they crisscross the country in pursuit of their dream of a variety show ala The Smothers Brothers. But things start to go deeply awry when they meet and fall in love with a third man who starts to travel with them. Bittersweet but lots of fun.

Tuesday, Nov. 8

Transamerica

Writer-director Duncan Tucker makes his feature film debut with this complex character piece in which Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives fame plays Bree, a male-to-female transgender person who's a week away from her surgery in Los Angeles when she discovers that she has a teenage son living in New York working as a gay hustler. Pretending to be a 'missionary lady,' Bree bails out Toby and eventually agrees to drive him cross country back to L.A. so Toby ( Kevin Zegers ) can meet his 'father.' Along the way, as Bree's secrets are slowly revealed, the two come to accept one another. Huffman's performance is absolutely mesmerizing and fascinating and her willingness to plunge deeply into this troubled man/woman is thrilling. Though the clumsy road trip framing device and the 'colorful' characters that the two run into ( including Bree's obnoxious family ) are strictly run of the mill, Huffman's star turn stands the film on its head. Huffman took Best Actress at the Tribecca Film Festival and don't be surprised if Oscar comes calling as well.

More reviews next week.

Complete film schedule, tickets, and event information by calling 773-293-1447 or online at www.reelingfilmfestival.org .


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