The University of Chicago's Doc Films, 'the longest-running student film society in the U.S.,' will be presenting Queer Heroes, a multi-week series featuring recent queer-related films, beginning Jan. 9 and running through March 13. Among the films being shown you will find Tongues Untied, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Benjamin Smoke, Scout's Honor, Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100, Paris Is Burning, The Times of Harvey Milk and Wilde. The Queer Heroes series will be shown at the Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St., on the University of Chicago campus.
A complete schedule can be found at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu or by calling (773) 702-8575.
John Fanning, a graduate student at University of Chicago, co-programmed the series with fellow U. of C. student Josephine Ferorelli. I spoke with Fanning about his involvement with the event.
Gregg Shapiro: Is the Queer Heroes program the first series of its kind?
John Fanning: As far as I know it's the first program of its kind at U of C. They did a program on HIV and AIDS maybe two years ago. Part of what we did with this series is not include a lot of HIV and AIDS content because that series had come out and lots of the students who were enrolled then are still around.
GS: You are a graduate student at the University of Chicago—what are you studying?
JF: I'm studying Fine Arts.
GS: Is it an MFA program?
JF: Yes, exactly. My concentration is film and video. Part of why I am going to University of Chicago is to do the studio art component. They also have a great cinema studies program.
GS: You and Josephine Ferorelli co-programmed the Queer Heroes program. How did you come to be involved in programming the series?
JF: I got involved after Josephine had already begun it. I started attended DOC Films screenings and heard about it as an in-progress project and I wanted to lend my support to make sure that it happened, that it got off the ground.
GS: Is Josephine also a film student?
JF: She's not. She's an undergrad and I think she's in General Studies. I just arrived at U of C (as a student) this fall, and she's a third year (student), so she's been involved with DOC for a couple of years. They had proposed this (Queer Heroes series) last year and it wasn't voted into the schedule. DOC Films works as a collective. My goal in joining Josephine was to make sure that it actually got on the schedule.
GS: What did you do to make sure that it got on to the schedule?
JF: I think that the programming was really solid, and Josephine had done that in advance. What I added to it was feeling like we could make a lot of connections with groups on campus and community groups to make it more than just a film series. To make it a community event and try and counter some of the geographical divide—North and South side.
GS: There is a fee for all of the screenings with the exception of Trembling Before G-d. Why is that being screened at no charge to the audience?
JF: Trembling Before G-d is coming to campus as part of a day and a half of lectures and workshops around queerness and Jewishness. We tagged onto that. As a result, they wanted that screening to be free, so the Rockefeller Chapel, which is putting that whole event together, did some extra fundraising to make sure they could cover the cost.
GS: An effort was made to guarantee that as many of the queer communities as possible were represented in the line up of films being shown for Queer Heroes. Were some communities harder to find representation for than others?
JF: I don't think any felt particularly hard. The field of gay and queer cinema has developed so much that there were lots of choices. We focused first on whether it was a great story and second on whether it was true and about somebody who is really focusing on their goals, whether their goals were queer or otherwise. Then we started to make sure that we were covering some bases here. We knew we couldn't cover everybody, in all the different communities, but we at least wanted to make a good effort. The films are either documentaries or features (about real people) with a narrative. Those were the harder ones to find. Because we were working on true life stories, most of those end up in documentary form. Part of the struggle of programming was trying not to have 10 documentaries.
GS: Do you have favorite films being shown?
JF: I definitely do. I think My Left Breast is amazing. I've seen it twice at (film) festivals. I've met the director through festivals. That was a really important for me to bring to Chicago, because it hasn't had a screening here. It was not part of (Reeling: The Chicago) Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and I felt like I really wanted it to show. That's a good example (of what I was talking about before, in that) Gerry (Rogers), the director, is a lesbian, but her struggle is not about queer rights, it's about her struggle with cancer. So she's very much a queer hero, but not for doing something queer.
GS: Do you foresee making this an annual event?
JF: No. At DOC Film, we make a real effort to never repeat a film or a theme over the course of somebody being at the school for four years.
GS: Could you see doing a series like it somewhere else?
JF: That gets more into my personal ideas about curating. Some of the things that I would like to do are based in more experimental queer film. I'd like to do a series exploring the idea of male/female relationships within queerness—sexual or otherwise. How do the bonds of queerness make for special bonds between men and women? That's one series. I'd love to do another one about queer interiors. I think so much of the Hollywood-ization of queer film has made it become about fictional features that go to mainstream cinema that are about external stories—queers in society. I would like to get back to some of the more personal film-making that we saw in the '60s and '70s and even the '80s.
Derek Jarman was a really great queer filmmaker. Even when he does large features, they are very personal. David Wojnarowicz, for not just his films, but also his art and his writing. Jim Hubbard, Jerry Tartaglia and the writing of Sarah Schulman. These are all people who, when they do queer literature or film, they are all heavily imbued with their personal experiences.
[See festival schedule below.]
"QUEER HEROES" at DOC Films
Thursday, Jan. 9
6 pm: Opening Night Dinner Reception, free with movie ticket purchase ($4)
7 pm: Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 and The Times of Harvey Milk: Yvonne Welbon's 2000 festival hit follows the life of the oldest out African American lesbian, Ruth Ellis (1899-2000). Following is Rob Epstein's Oscar-winning portrait of the first out American elected to public office, Harvey Milk, who was assassinated less than a year after taking his post as a San Francisco city supervisor.
Thursday, Jan. 16
7 pm: Aimee and Jaguar: WWII. Berlin. Two women—one Jewish, one not. This narrative feature is based on the true story of a lesbian relationship in war-torn Berlin at the height of Nazi power and persecution.
Thursday, Jan. 23
7 pm: Eyes of Tammy Faye and Scout's Honor: A tale of two allies: straight televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker and Boy Scout Steven Cozza.
Thursday, Jan. 30
7 pm: Trembling Before God – FREE screening. Film director Sandi Simcha Dubowski screens and discusses his 2000 documentary—a film that has literally spawned an international movement within Judiasm to acknowledge and reconcile the impossible plight of queer Orthodox and Hasidic Jews.
Thursday, Feb. 6
7 pm: Before Night Falls: Julian Schnabel's 2000 Oscar-nominated hit introduced us to the stunning Javier Bardem as poet Reinaldo Arenas—as well as to 'Bon Bon,' Johnny Depp's equally magnificent star turn in drag.
Thursday, Feb. 13
7 pm: Paris is Burning and Benjamin Smoke: A decade ago, Madonna's 'Vogue' catapulted the queens of Harlem's drag scene and Paris is Burning into the international spotlight. Benjamin Smoke (2000) updates the genre from rural Georgia, where his punk band 'Smoke' has garnered the attention & admiration of Patty Smith.
Thursday, Feb. 20
7 pm: Wilde: This narrative feature film chronicles the rise and fall of Oscar Wilde while also giving us an early glimpse of Jude Law as Wilde's young lover, Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas.
Thursday, Feb. 27
7 pm: Southern Comfort and My Left Breast: These critically acclaimed documentaries have enjoyed successful film fest and theatrical runs, telling the stories of a group of transgender persons living in rural Georgia and a lesbian couple living in rural Newfoundland. These are tales of queerness and cancer, optimism and perseverance, and above all the power of community and love.
Thursday, March 6
7 pm: The Man Who Drove With Mandela and Tongues Untied: Queer Political History 101: in South Africa, a white gay theater director 'hires' Nelson Mandela as his 'driver' in order to smuggle him throughout the country furthering the cause of anti-apartheid revolution. Meanwhile, Marlon Riggs makes headlines and enemies in the U.S. with his documentary Tongues Untied, delivering a brutally honest account of the black gay experience into America's living rooms via PBS, making Riggs the favored whipping post of conservative politicians Jesse Helms, Pat Robertson, and …
Thursday, March 13
6 pm: Closing Night Dinner Reception, free with ticket
7 pm: I'm the One That I Want : Margaret Cho.
All screenings: $4 each (except for Trembling Before G-d, free). At the Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St. at the U. of Chicago. Free parking on the street and in campus lots (after 4 pm).
www.docfilms.uchicago.edu or (773) 702-8575.