Circa 1980—-after working for Chicago Filmmakers, an experimental film-screening, production, preservation and media education organization, for a few years, Brenda Webb wanted to go "outside the experimental film art community to reach diverse audiences." So, she founded Reeling: The Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival in part because, according to her, "Queer culture is just more interesting."
"It occurred to me that [lesbian and gay] filmmakers were known only to a small community of experimental film enthusiasts..." Webb explains. "...the initial impulse [in founding the festival] was to make sure the LGBT community knew about the work of these obscure film artists. By reframing these artists in the context of 'gay' their work reached a new and expanded audience that may not, otherwise, have ever seen the work."
And she's been making sure queer culture is continuously seen on the Chicago silver screen ever since.
Now in its 27th year, Reeling has evolved to become one of the largest and most longstanding LGBT film festivals in the nation. This year's edition features 129 films, from North America and abroad, as well as eight screening parties, events and galas over a ten-day period. The production of which, is a full-time, year-round project that requires six months of planning and preparation and several additional months of corporate sponsorship solicitation.
As the director of Reeling and the executive director of Chicago Filmmakers, Webb's involved in all aspects of the festival, from film selection, programming and scheduling to hiring and training seasonal employees. Organizational, fiduciary and staff management, grant writing, fundraising, working with the board of directors, and overseeing PR initiatives—-as well as being a mother to a teenage daughter-—Webb's work is never done. It seems as if she doesn't even have the time to enjoy the films to which she has committed her entire adult life.
Yet for Webb, the rewards of Reeling outweigh the want of a leisurely movie night.
"The gratification of the festival's first year—the fact that we had large audiences hungry to see their lives reflected in film art-—that it mattered, deeply, provide[s] the motivation to continue. I still encounter people who tell me who tell me that attending our film festival was their first act of coming out. Providing an event that has the possibility to make a difference in people's lives continues to inspire me."
Reeling runs November 6-16, 2008. www.reelingfilmfestival.org