Reeling: The 41st Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival kicked off a night of festivities with its first feature The Mattachine Family at Music Box Theatre on Sept. 9. One of the longest-running film festivals in the world, Reeling is produced by Chicago Filmmakers, a 50-year-old media organization located in the Andersonville/Edgewater area.
This season Reeling rolls out 41 feature films and 12 short films through Oct. 8. Opening night included a special reception in the Music Box Lounge before the screening, with several cinematic creators stopping by the red carpet before entering the main theater on Southport Avenue.
Made in just 20 days in Los Angeles, The Mattachine Family is the story of Thomas and Oscar, a couple on a journey to expand their family. The story is loosely based on the film director Andy Vallentine and writer Danny Vallentine's lives as their daughter was born just five days after completion of the project. Andy described the situation as "a wild time and we were able to create some magic in those 20 days.
"After watching the film, I hope people understand what chosen family means to the queer community. I wove that in deeply throughout The Mattachine Family."
Speaking of family, Vallentine's parents and aunt attended the screening that evening, as well as star Nico Tortorella who plays Thomas in the film.
Vallentine went on to say that his future plans include seeking out investors for scripts his husband has written once the Writer Guild strike is over. "Queer stories with an important message are what we are interested in telling, because that is who we are."
Another dynamic duo attended the opening night presentation and talked to the press. Director Colby Holt described his project Ganymede as "a southern gothic horror film about the son of a small town politician who develops feelings for his openly gay classmate and then pretends to be stalked by a grotesque creature. It's a supernatural LGBT coming-of-age horror film. His co-director and partner Samuel Probst exclaimed, "It's just in time for spooky season!"
Holt said, "We are excited to be at Reeling and we are Chicagoans, so this a hometown win for us. It feels very special."
After a brief introduction by this reporter, state Sen. Mike Simmons spoke about the importance of having an LGBQT+ film festival in Illinois during the current political landscape. "Even if I were not an elected official I would still be here because I am a big film geek," Simmons said. "My partner and I love watching queer films all day. We are living in crazy times right now where LGBT people are being targeted all over the country and this is upsetting. When we come out to support Reeling we are taking back our community and our experiences. I am not going back in the closet, hell no! This festival does a great job of showing the diversity, heart and essence of our community. The greatest gift the universe gave me was making me gay and I wouldn't give it back!"
After thunderous applause, the narrative feature programmer Morgan Jon Fox hyped up the seated spectators, and Reeling operations manager Leila Sherbini thanked sponsors such as AARP Chicago before the movie began. Following the screening, Fox moderated a question-and-answer portion of the program with Vallentine and Tortorella.
Other notable features to explore include the world premiere of Queen Tut starring Alexandra Billings on Monday, Sept. 25 and A Big, Gay, Hairy Hit! Where the Bears Are: The Documentary on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Both films will be screened at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., with special guests slated to attend. For a complete listing of films, including virtual streaming options, visit ReelingFilmFest.org .