Ganymede, a Southern Gothic horror film that explores a teenager's experiences as he discovers his sexuality, will premieres Sept. 23 as part of the 41st Reeling Film Festival.
The film, according to Chicago filmmakers Colby Holt and Sam Probst, is a portrait of growing up queer in a rural, small town in the South that nevertheless deals with all things macabre.
Ganymede follows a small-town politician's teenage son who develops a crush on his openly gay classmate and then realizes he's being stalked by a grotesque, faceless creature.
"We're asking what it would be like if you're conditioned to think that your queerness is some kind of evil thing that's afflicting you and your family," Holt said. "When you have to keep your sexuality inside and feel you can't express it, where does that energy go? What does it turn into? Sometimes it could turn into something very dark for the individual, and for those around them."
"It's an acknowledgment that these things can be scary and complicated, but they can also be hopeful," Probst added. Like many Southern Gothic stories, Ganymede explores "social and moral decay," "intense familial pressure" and the ways "legacy can get in the way of progress," Holt said.
"The Southern Gothic is all about the push and pull between the past and the future," Holt said. "Queer rights are obviously under attack all throughout the country, but acceptance is also at an all-time high. Those two things are linked to each other."
Probst and Holt got married last year and have been making films together since they met in 2012. Together, they run the production company Neighborhood Pictures. The pair strive to create films "rooted in the human experience," Probst said.
"We're so honored and thrilled to be a part of Reeling Film Festival this year," Probst said. "I volunteered for them like 10 years ago tearing tickets, and I remember thinking how cool it would be to someday bring a film to the festival."
Holt began writing "Ganymede" in 2019 in response to the "disturbing rhetoric around queer identities that was ramping up at the time."
"When I first started writing it, I remember thinking, 'Is this too over the top?'" Holt said. "What's disturbing is that the culture has caught up with it now and it no longer seems as extreme as I worried it might be. It's a reminder of how much the rhetoric around the LGBTQ+ community has escalated in the past two years.
"My hope is that everyone can take a look at this film and be like, 'Is this really where we're at? Is this really what we're doing to people?'"
Ganymede was filmed in Holt's small hometown in Kentucky. This setting allowed Holt and Probst to show how "the stark differences in our country are playing out in even starker contrast in small towns."
"In small towns, you might have your pride flag up and your neighbor has their Trump flag flying," Holt said. "There are people who want to move forward, and others who want to go backward, but your kids go to school together so you have to acknowledge each other."
The pair hope that the film shows "the reward of being yourself outweighs the risk of what society might think of you," Holt said.
"A really interesting lesson I learned over the year we spent there, as a queer Mexican person, was that your presence is power," Probst said. "Whether you want it or not, being yourself is going to have an influence. So being the best version of yourself hopefully allows people to consider things they wouldn't have otherwise."
Ganymede premieres at 9 p.m. Sept. 23 at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N Clark St. To buy tickets for the 41st annual Reeling LGBTQ+ International Film Festival, visit reelingfilmfest.org .
To learn more about Probst and Holt's production company, see neighborhoodpictures.com .