Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Reeling fest presents ex-Columbia student’s Chicago love story

Actors Kyle Wigent and Tanner Rittenhouse watch the sunrise
over Lake Michigan in "In Bloom"
 Originally posted on Chicago Sun-Times website: http://www.suntimes.com/23464629-761/reeling-fest-presents-ex-columbia-students-chicago-love-story.html

The joy and pain of first love are front and center in “In Bloom,” an ambitious and heartfelt drama to be screened during Reeling, the Chicago Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transgendered International Film Festival.

Set in Chicago, the film has won critical praise for the first-time writer and director, former Columbia film student Chris Birkmeier. Critics have likened the actors’ performances to the natural Chicago style of theater performance seen regularly at Steppenwolf, Lookingglass and others.

“I am a huge fan of realistic and honest acting and realistic and honest filmmaking,” says Birkmeier, humbled by the comparison. “The genesis of this project was an analysis of the breakdown of a relationship.”

The film follows the relationship between pot-smoking drug dealer Kurt (Kyle Wigent) and goal-oriented Paul (Tanner Rittenhouse) as it plays out over the course of a typical Chicago summer. Local stage actor Adam Fane (“Avenue Q”) plays Kevin, the man who comes between the two.
Now 23, Birkmeier began writing the script when he was 20 and studying at Columbia. It is loosely based on his own first serious relationship.

“I came out at 19. I met said person. We had a four-year, on-and-off relationship, and I started writing to try and put it all in perspective,” he says.

"In Bloom" director Chris Birkmeier (right) gives
direction to Rittenhouse on set.
Perhaps complicating things further, co-star Rittenhouse is Birkmeier’s good friend and was around as most of the real relationship flamed out.

“It was sometimes painful for us both to be on the set,” Birkmeier says. “Certainly for me to see certain scenes played out again before me, but as an actor Tanner went from being an observer to participant.”

Reeling Film Festival program director Richard Knight Jr. says it wasn’t just the Chicago setting that made him want to include the movie in this year’s festival.

“It reminded me of my 20s in Chicago,” says Knight. “It’s a very interesting look at a typical relationship that happens to be between two guys. It feels very real and truthful.”

The film was shot over a period of 23 days, in and around Chicago. Tthe shoot didn’t always go smoothly.

Kyle Wigent as Kurt (left) and Tanner Rittenhouse (as Paul)
share a quintessential Chicago moment: a conversation under
the L tracks.
“In one scene, Kurt and Paul are arguing by the L tracks. If you ever have tried to have a conversation by the L tracks, inevitably a train will come by and you both stop talking mid-sentence until the train passes,” recalls Birkmeier, who thought such an interruption would be a nice Chicago touch. “We did four takes waiting for the train and it never came by. We had a rat run into the scene. Twice.”

The final cut of the film contains the scene with the vermin, but even that wasn’t the most difficult shot.

“I wanted this long tracking shot of the sun as it comes up over Lake Michigan,” he says. “The entire crew was using various iPhone apps trying to figure out when and where the sun was going to be coming up. I wanted to use a dolly shot, but before we could figure out how to set it up, the sun started coming up and we had to settle for a static shot. I yelled cut and the entire crew and I were screaming like kids because we knew we had got the perfect shot.” 

The main cast and Birkmeier, who now calls Seattle home, will be reunited at the screening of the film that Birkmeier calls his love letter to Chicago.

“It’s a tragic love letter, but a love letter nonetheless,” he says. “Every subway, alleyway, apartment and street that was the setting for those four years is, in some ways, a part of the film.”

More Reeling highlights: a Bavarian king, ‘Victor/Victoria’ and Divine

Originally posted at the Chicago Sun-Times website: http://www.suntimes.com/23464685-761/more-reeling-highlights-a-bavarian-king-victorvictoria-and-divine.html

The opening film of this year’s Reeling is equal parts “Heathers,” “Mean Girls” and “Clueless.” Michael J. Willett (“The United States of Tara”) stars as Tanner, who, after he is outed, becomes caught in a tug-of-war between three rival cliques of popular girls, all of whom want him for this season’s must-have high school accessory, the gay best friend. The comedy is both biting and heartfelt. It features a who's who of up-and-coming young actors including Andrea Bowen ("Desperate Housewives"), Paul Iacono ("The Hard Times of R. J. Berger") and Molly Tarlov ("Awkward"). 7 p.m. Thursday, Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport. $15-$40

With an estimated budget of more than $21 million, “Ludwig II” is arguably the most expensive film to ever appear at Reeling. The 2012 Austrian film (in German with subtitles) is an epic and lavish biography of one of Bavaria’s best-known kings including his struggles with his sexuality, his patronage of composer Richard Wagner and the opulent and expensive castles he built. It drags a bit in the middle, but history buffs will find the subject matter enlightening. 9:15 p.m. Thursday, Logan Theatre, $15-$40
Jeffrey Schwarz’s 2013 documentary profiles the late actor from his early days as a shy, overweight kid from Baltimore (born Harris Glenn Milstead) to his breakthrough as the 300-pound superstar Divine who brought drag into the mainstream in such cult hits as “Hairspray” and “Pink Flamingos.” Collaborator John Waters is featured (naturally), but it’s the interview with Milstead’s mom that really tugs at your heartstrings. 4:45 p.m. Sunday, Logan Theatre, $12

Queerty.com declared this “one of the biggest lesbian films of the year.” It’s also one of the best. Miranda Otto (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) delivers an elegant performance as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop, and Brazilian TV star Gloria Pires is virtually unrecognizable as the butch gal who steals Bishop’s heart. 6:45 p.m. Nov. 14, Logan Theatre, $15-$40

Both Reeling and the film “Victor\Victoria” celebrate their 31st anniversary this year. To commemorate this, comedian and gay icon Bruce Vilanch hosts a sing-along of the gender-bending comedy. Locals will be expected to know all the words to one of the greatest songs ever written about the Windy City, “Chicago, Illinois” (sung in the film by Lesley Anne Warren, who earned a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her performance). 6 p.m. Monday, Sidetrack: The Video Bar, 3349 N. Halsted, $15

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