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Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival Announces 2021 Program

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

Second-longest Running LGBTQ Film Festival in the World Celebrates 39th Year with In-Person and Virtual Presentations

CHICAGO, Illinois -- Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival today announced the full slate of programming for 2021, opening September 23, 2021 at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport Ave.) and running September 24 - 30, 2021 at the Landmark Century Centre Cinemas (2828 N. Clark St., Chicago) and virtually from September 27 - October 7, 2021. Boasting 42 shows including 33 feature films and 9 short film programs, this year’s festival includes films from more than 15 countries including Israel, Turkey, Iran, Australia, Italy, Romania, and Chile. Now in its 39th year, Reeling is the second-oldest LGBTQ+ film festival in the world and a beloved Chicago cultural institution.

“Cinema is supposed to be communal, and after more than a year of social distancing and isolation it’s never been more important to experience independent film with one another,” said Reeling Film Festival founder and Executive Director of Chicago Filmmakers Brenda Webb. “Filmmakers interpret the world around them and bring us new perspectives and new ideas with stories of love and loss, bravery and struggle, humor and revelation -- the tapestry of the human experience. Reeling’s 39th slate of films celebrates and embrace this crucial piece of our shared existence.”

Opening night features FIREBIRD, UK director Peeter Rebane’s epic story of forbidden queer love set against the backdrop of the 1970s Cold War in Estonia when two military men in the Soviet Air Force find their clandestine, illegal affair threatens their careers and their lives.

Legendary drag performer Charles Busch (PSYCHO BEACH PARTY; DIE, MOMMY, DIE!) stars in Reeling’s closing night feature, the Midwest premiere of his tribute to movie mania, THE SIXTH REEL. The film also stars Margaret Cho, Julie Halston, Tim Daly, and Broadway legend Andre DeShields.

Other festival highlights include JUMP, DARLING, featuring the brilliant Cloris Leachman in one of her last roles, playing the sardonic grandmother of a down on his luck drag queen; SWEETHEART, starring terrific newcomer Nell Barlow as a salty teenager dragged on a family vacation to a tacky seaside holiday park seemingly stuck in a bygone era; SAINT-NARCISSE, outrageous queer filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s love letter to psychosexual thrillers of the 70’s; and POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA, Wes Hurley’s whimsical autobiographical fantasia about his journey to American with his mother, who was a mail order bride from the Soviet Union.

This year’s Reeling features four U.S. premieres, including the world premiere of BAJA COME DOWN, following two women as they travel from Los Angeles to Mexico in a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, starring Caitlin Michael Riley (Netflix’s TRINKETS) and Michelle Ortiz (MADtv). Italian dramedy MASCARPONE follows 30-year-old twink Antonio who, after being dumped by his husband, reinvents himself as a baker surrounded by delectable Italian men and mouth-watering baked treats. In DOWN IN PARIS, gay filmmaker Richard experiences a crippling crisis of confidence during his latest shoot, and walks off the set to wander Paris in search of the inspiration to continue. Documentary feature MARRY ME HOWEVER explores the lives of orthodox Jewish LGBTQ men and women who choose heterosexual spouses to raise a heteronormative family, denying their own identities to obey the rules of their society.

Narrative films centering transgender stories include the award-winning Iranian film AT THE END OF EVIN, which tells the suspenseful story of a protagonist seeking gender reassignment surgery who is entrapped in an elaborate plot of identity exchange. Rising trans actress Mya Bollaers is the titular heroine in LOLA, about a young transgender woman who must put her gender re-assignment surgery on hold when her mother dies and finds herself on an emotional road trip with her estranged father. Trans director Mari Walker's directorial debut, the two-hander SEE YOU THEN, brings together two former lovers whose paths have gone in very different directions for a night of reckoning about their past.

Documentary program highlights include BEING BEBE, the awe-inspiring story of BeBe Zahara Benet, winner of the first season of RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE; BOULEVARD! A HOLLYWOOD STORY, about Gloria Swanson’s attempt to turn SUNSET BOULEVARD into a musical; INVISIBLE: GAY WOMEN IN SOUTHERN MUSIC, which heralds the unsung lesbian songwriters behind the hits of many of country music’s biggest stars; and Reeling Documentary Centerpiece NORTH BY CURRENT, in which trans filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax’s returns to his rural Michigan family home following the death of his young niece.

Other documentary subjects include pioneering queer comic book cartoonists (NO STRAIGHT LINES: THE RISE OF QUEER COMICS); Microsoft’s Ric Weiland, who became one of America’s greatest philanthropists (YES I AM - THE RIC WEILAND STORY, narrated by Zachary Quinto); the aging drag queens who have been in the forefront of the movement for gay rights in Cuba (QUEENS OF THE REVOLUTION); celebrated Chilean playwright Ivan Ojeda whose immigration to the US led to becoming a sex worker in New York City (THE JOURNEY OF MONALISA); and the story of two people whose deaths led to the conviction of influential businessman Ed Buck (GEMMEL & TIM).

Reeling presents nine SHORTS PROGRAMS featuring 54 short films, organized in themes including Revolutions of the Heart: Sapphic Shorts; Getting Familiar: Gay Shorts; Seeking Connection; Keep Going: Stories of Queer Resilience; Global Trans Shorts; and Intimacies.


Reeling39: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival is presented by AARP and Gilead, and produced by Chicago Filmmakers. Premiere sponsors include Chicago Pride and Here TV; Grand sponsors include Nexus, EdgeMedia Network, and Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace, with WBEZ as a Major sponsor.

Ticketing Information

For in-theater screenings, tickets may be purchased online in advance at or at the theater’s box office on the day of the screening. Ticket prices are $13 for regular screenings at the Landmark Theater. Special admission programs include the Opening Night Film, FIREBIRD, $18 for the film only and $40 for the film and pre-party at the Music Box Theater. For virtual screenings, Single Streaming Tickets are available at $12 and an All-Access Streaming Pass is available for $125.

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