Fun & Franchised

Wed. October 25, 2006 12:00 AM
by Feature Column

Gay Movie Milestone Opens Reeling's 25th Film Festival
By Jason P. Freeman

Imagine a small room off Hubbard Street. Ninety folding chairs fill the space with anxious disenfranchised occupants. It was 1981, and the gays and lesbians in attendance had likely amassed in search of solidarity; to see relatable images on the silver screen. They were probably unaware of the history about to be made.

Reeling: The Chicago Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival ranks as the second-oldest LGBT film festival in the nation and has grown to be the Midwest community's most regaled and anticipated cinematic event. To celebrate the landmark of their 25th anniversary, Reeling opens with another significant milestone in queer cinema: the first American sequel produced for a gay aesthetic, Eating Out Two: Sloppy Seconds.

In this installment, the script gets flipped. Where the straight played gay to get the girl in Eating Out, gay goes the way of ex-gay to get the guy in Sloppy Seconds.

Illinois native, Phillip Bartell , who edited the first film, made his directorial debut with EO2 and looks forward to the festival opening at the Music Box Theater, Thursday, November 2, 2006.

"I grew up in Camp Point, Ill., and went to school at Columbia College," he says, "Chicago feels like home. I'm ecstatic that [EO2] is the opening night film at Reeling!"

EO2's leading actor - also homegrown in Crystal Lake, Ill. - Jim Verraros echoes Bartell's sentiments, adding, "It's a little nerve-wracking as well. You want this film to be something that people enjoy and live up to the hype."

Hype indeed: aside from The Advocate's cover feature, crediting the first installment as shaping a "new wave" of queer cinema, Eating Out was also named Best Feature at the 2004 Reeling Festival and has been "one of the most popular gay films in the home video market," according to Reeling founder and Executive Director, Brenda Webb . Internet praise for EO2 started months before the film went into production and has been building ever since. With more characters, more exteriors and outrageously bolder and bawdy humor, the seconds aren't sloppy at all. Busting guts and raising brows, EO2 may very well live up to expectation.

"The fact that there is a gay sequel essentially illustrates the point that there is a successful gay film to reference. This really means gay cinema has come into its own and has made commercial inroads into the marketplace. This is a significant shift," Webb says.

Though EO2's sequel-status is cause for celebration, conversely, it may also give rise to some concern, for the same reasons. LGBT film festivals were founded to foster solidarity. With missions much like Reeling's "to recognize the important artistic contributions that lesbian and gay filmmakers have made to our culture," does a film banking on marketable "commercial inroads" have a rightful place in the festival circuit? Simply put, can a franchised film still speak to the disenfranchised?

"Not all films are going to scream 'art' with a capital A," says Bartell. "Most people who come to see a movie called Eating Out Two: Sloppy Seconds aren't expecting Godard." Bartell says his creative intentions were to offer mainstream appeal as well as indirect messages addressing popular themes in gay representation: "That's where the ex-gay came from. As broad as the scenes with the ex-gays are, I really feel they make a case for how ridiculous it is to go against what you are—a theme that's been consistent in gay cinema."

Webb says it best, and most frankly, stating, "I wish we could fill a 750 seat theatre with experimental films ... but it doesn't seem like the audience will cooperate. Meanwhile, there's nothing wrong with having a whole bunch of fun watching a film like Eating Out Two: Sloppy Seconds."

"And in some ways, EO2 has a connection to those early avant garde filmmakers that inspired Reeling's founding—because it has an unabashed celebration of sexuality. In the 'olden days,' it was only the experimental filmmakers that had that brashness and [contravening] portrayal of sexuality. Traditional narrative film tended to show homosexuality as something pathetic and tragic. Homosexuals were victims ... It was only the experimental films that celebrated gay sexuality. Eating Out Two, though it's story telling style is conventional narrative, captures a spirit that is totally relevant to why our festival was founded."

Following its festival screenings, EO2 is set for national distribution starting December 1. Yet talk of a third helping is already starting to stir. Verraros offers some lighthearted screenwriting ideas. "Eating Out Three: Serving the Troops," he says, "Kyle falls in love with some dude in the military ... Gwen's a lesbian, Tiffany will find love but not know what to do with it and Kyle and Marc will continue to have issues but stay together."

Ultimately box office draw will dictate whether or not the Eating Out franchise will continue to make new waves.

Reeling: The 25th annual Chicago Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival features 72 programs in 11 eleven days. See the full programming schedule and capture the spirit at www.reelingfilmfestival.org.

ChicagoPride.com is a proud sponsor of Reeling 25.

Buy Eating Out at shop.chicaogpride.com