33rd Chicago Reeling LGBTQ fest opens Thursday night

Elizabeth Collins, Odd Machine’s LA-based executive producer, has a short film screening in the 33rd Reeling: LGBTQ+ International Film Festival opening Thursday night, Sept. 17 through Sept. 24.

Outside of a decade spent in the commercial space, Collins, a Chicago native and Columbia College grad, has been producing short films and music videos. 

Her third short and festival entry, “Still a Rose,” is a reimagined balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet,” that will screen Sunday, Sept. 20, 3:15 p.m. at Landmark Century Centre Cinema.

Reeling will screen some 50 LGBTQ films throughout the week, and no one thinks twice about the number, quality of films.  But such a big, professional showcase was an outré concept when Brenda Webb founded the festival in the early ‘80s.

During that period, when gays were closeted and AIDS was just emerging, Webb’s Chicago Filmmakers was a struggling fledgling.  “We were committed to showing short experimental, marginalized films, produced by a small group of filmmakers. 

“I kind of realized that many of these avant garde film pioneers were gay pioneers, who had a limited outlet for their work,” says Webb, “and I felt a larger, general audience should them and their work. So my idea was to take the work of these artists and reframe them in the larger context of a film festival.”

Soon thereafter, Webb recalls, Reeling’s reputation ramped up  when Chicago Filmmakers hosted a special program with gritty Hollywood underground filmmaker and author Kenneth Anger and fellow experimentalists Barbara Hammer and James Broughton. 

“Playwright Tennessee Williams was in town and wanted to meet Anger and I’d been told to rope off a section of seats up front for them. That wasn’t a problem because we were in a small space, watching 16mm films and sitting on wooden folding chairs,” Webb said.

“Tennessee and his entourage arrived and pulled up the chairs to talk with the filmmakers Anger and everybody had a great time.”

In the decades since, Reeling — which arrived on the scene a few years after the San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Festival — has annually presented weeklong programs of 50 or more professionally produced LGBTQ+ features and shorts.

“I’m really excited about our strong line-up,” Webb says.  We have two very big films, ‘Stonewall’ and ‘Freeheld,’ super indie films and crazy experimentals. 

“The edge is there to give Reeling audiences a global perspective.”