The pandemic did not stop officials from Chicago Filmmakers, the organization behind Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival, from planning a diverse program of feature-length and short-subject narrative and documentary films for the festival's 2020 installment.
After several months of deliberating on the possibility of hybrid in-person and online eventsdrive-ins were even suggested at one pointthe Reeling officials decided in June that an exclusively online format would make sense for this year, said Chicago Filmmakers Executive Director Brenda Webb.
"Once we made the decision that it would be all virtual, it was such a relief," she added. "It's always the uncertainty and anxiety around at what point we can book the theater or lose it. ... But there is an upsidethe access to the filmmakers, for example. They don't all have to be in one spot and you don't have to get them hotels. On that end, it's really great. There will be Q&A's for almost every show in the festival."
The festival kicks off Oct 24 and officially lasts through Oct. 4. Various films are licensed for online showings on specific days, so some films will be available to home viewers for a short while past the festival's closing. Feature films will be available for streaming across Illinois, while shorts will be available nationwide.
Despite the disruption laid down by the pandemic, and the pivot in formats, Webb said that the festival's 2020 curation was not all that different from previous years. Opening night features Breaking Fast, a romantic comedy about a Muslim American living in West Hollywood.
"It's a touching film," she added. "We like to open the festival with upbeat films as much as possible, something that makes people feel good and like they want to keep watching more films in the festival. It also speaks to diversity and breaks down stereotypes about Muslim Americans. This main character's family has no problem being gay. He's just more concerned with the cultural and religious aspects of being with somebody who just sort of understands his religion."
The closing-night film is the documentary Ahead of the Curve, about the late lesbian-centered magazine Curve. Webb noted, "It's equally entertaining and interesting, and takes you on a journey about the ups-and-downs of a media publication trying to cultivate a lesbian readership. Then it goes very intimately into what happens when the publisher sells her magazine and sees her legacy possibly disappearing. ... It's not just a puff-piece about the magazine. It really is about the trials, tribulations and challenges."
Reeling features more international films than usual this year, she added. "The range of works is always one of the things that is important about an international film festival, and that we're not just showing films already on the radar, that everybody knows will come out on streaming."
Five out of the eight festival programs contain work from local filmmakers, Webb said. One of the themes running throughout the festival is "going back home." That is of course thematic material that LGBTQ filmmakers have long mined for narrative possibilities, but Webb noted its poignance in a cultural moment when, thanks to the pandemic, many viewers are thinking about what significance home has for them.
"That's in Goodbye Mother, about a young Vietnamese man going back to his family to come out to them and A Skeleton in Closet, for example," she explained. " ... That struck me as relevant because we're all sitting at home right now."
For a complete listing of films and purchasing instructions for online passes, see ReelingFilmFestival.org .
Also see Reeling 2020 reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Reeling-2020-reviews/69200.html .