At this year's Reeling festival, queer cinema matures.
Yes, The Big Gay Musical, the opening night film at this year’s 29th annual Chicago Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, is a shallow, if harmless romp that trots out every gay cliché, and yes, there’s dreck on the menu like Eating Out 3 (we’d had enough after the first helping). But turn away from the man candy and you’ll find deeper films that offer up stories of redemption, family and the transformative power of love.
Topping our list is Rivers Wash Over Me, a short but tense film about a sensitive gay teen transplanted from his native New York City to the deep South that addresses racial conflicts, class tension and homophobia with devastating results. Southern discomfort also permeates Drool, an endearing, sapphic Southern Gothic about a mousy housewife who finds liberation in the arms of a spunky cosmetics saleswoman. We also loved American Primitive, a dreamy, seaside portrait of a family in chaos.
Gay men are maturing (at least in Europe), and a trio of foreign films put their paternal instincts front and center. At the top of the heap is Sweden’s Patrik 1.5, a tale of two fortysomething dads who wind up adopting a homophobic juvie delinquent who rips the couple apart, but eventually brings them together again—awww. The film’s saturated colors nicely complement its depiction of cookie-cutter heteronormative suburbia. From France, the less effective Baby Love sees another male couple in turmoil when a Parisian pediatrician throws over his party-boy companion in favor of raising a kid. The film is at its best when illustrating just how many hoops homosexuals still have to jump through to make a family. And in the least compelling entry of the three, Spain’s energetic Chef’s Special, a jerk-wad culinary genius finds his self-obsessed world rocked when his ex-wife dies and dumps him with their two kids.
But most exciting this year is that Reeling vaunts two feature-length entries from local filmmakers. First, Ky Dickens zooms her camera lens at the seven biblical passages most commonly used to perpetuate religious-based bigotry in the animated documentary Fish Out of Water, a rousing examination of the intersection between homosexuality and faith. Meanwhile, Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance busts eardrums with its depiction of the foot-stomping rock & roll lives of trans musicians. Never preachy or self-absorbed, filmmakers Madsen Minax and Simon Strikeback simply let these artists share their stories. Elsewhere in the doc department, homophobia in sports gets a kick in the groin with the wonderful Training Rules, the story of former Penn State women’s basketball coach Rene Portland who, for 25 years, openly and forefully forbid homosexuality among players until one defiant athlete called a foul.
For the complete schedule and ticket information, visit reelingfilmfestival.org.