LGBTQ Film Festival aims to be more inclusive

By Brandon Howard

The second-longest running film festival of its kind, Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ Film Festival, begins its 32nd year Sept. 18 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. This time around, organizers were looking for films that featured greater diversity.

The festival kicks off with subversive romantic comedy “Boy Meets Girl,” writer/director Eric Schaeffer’s look into the love life of a transgender woman in Kentucky. She and her friends struggle with identity, exploring how personal identities fragment over time. 

Because the festival is a production of nonprofit Chicago Filmmakers, Programming Director Alexandra Ensign has been working with Reeling for several years. This year, she said she wants the stories told at the festival to be more diverse in terms of the content, race and ethnicity of filmmakers and actors represented on screen.

“I noticed over the past 5–6 years [that] I was starting to feel [the stories] were repetitive, and I’m sure other people were starting to feel that way, too,” Ensign said. “What I noticed this year was that filmmakers were really stretching the idea of how to represent LGBTQ themes in new ways with more interesting story lines with deeper characters.” 

Ensign said movies like “Boy Meets Girl” cover coming-of-age themes for LGBTQ youth in a positive and original way.

“LGBTQ films have a tendency to get really dark and feel overwhelmingly negative,” Ensign said. “I wanted this year’s festival to feel more affirming, positive and optimistic.” 

Having a much more optimistic take was a semi-subversive move for Schaeffer as well, Ensign said. 

“I’ve had so many people who see the film say they were holding their breath through this movie that they were loving, waiting for the obligatory hate-crime moment, and so glad that it never came because they felt it was a stereotype,” Schaeffer said, “To me to blow up all those stereotypes that I could with the film.” 

The festival has a myriad of stories aside from coming-of-age and coming-out tales, such as Xavier Dolan’s French Canadian thriller “Tom At The Farm,” and “Co Vex,” an experimental animated short film from 2012 Columbia College alumna

Samantha Smith.

“I wanted a large variety so that people really could feel like there is something for everybody,” Ensign said. “I tried getting as many international things as I could and varieties of story and race and ethnicity and making sure that I wasn’t favoring any demographic as well.”

The 2014 Reeling Film Festival is also a significantly more inclusive year for transgender films. Along with the opening selection film, there is a whole transgender program, including transgender shorts, within the festival.

“I like that I was able to put together a program specifically for the trans community within the LGBTQ community because I feel like they often get marginalized and end up not having much of anything for them within the festival,” Ensign said.

Schaeffer said transgender characters and actors have become more common in the film industry in the past year because of pioneering shows like Netflix’s original series “Orange is the New Black.”

“Transgender is the new black, right?” Schaeffer said. “From ‘Orange is the New Black’ and ‘Transparent,’ Jared Leto won an academy award last year for playing a         transgender character.” 

Junior audio arts & acoustics major Trevor Roberts, who said he had not heard about the festival prior, said the inclusion of more transgenders in the film industry has been stalled because the majority of the filmmakers are not transgender.

“It’s kind of like a boys club,” Roberts said. “It seems a lot of filmmakers are approaching it from the mentality of the [cisgender] straight male. If you look at all the crews, 90 percent of the crews are [cisgender] straight male. I think it is a really good thing that film festivals like this are coming because it needs to inspire a generation of young filmmakers that potentially would be dissuaded from film to pursue it.”