Last week it was announced that Reeling, Chicago’s LGBT film festival, will resume this November following a yearlong hiatus. The fest took a break in order to reconsider its mission in light of the changing nature of film exhibition. Chief among its goals, festival founder Brenda Webb wrote at the time, was to “evolve [in a way] to better address the needs of LGBT filmmakers.” Planning for this year’s fest is still underway, though Webb has officially handed over key responsibilities to Richard Knight Jr., film critic for Windy City Times and codirector of the recent local production Scrooge and Marley, and Gretchen Blickensderfer, who will act as program director and managing director respectively. Webb will remain involved as executive director of Chicago Filmmakers, which oversees the fest.
I spoke with Webb yesterday about Reeling’s evolution. She was enthusiastic about the future of the festival but remained realistic about the challenges it faces. “It’s become really tough for independent filmmakers,” she said. “A lot of the old model—launching your movie at a film festival, getting a distributor, getting a theatrical run, going to DVD—has changed. . . . In terms of LGBT films, festivals around the world have come to be seen as the main theatrical opportunity; there are fewer and fewer opportunities to get a theatrical run. That changes the nature of a festival from exposing work to supporting work.