The Chicago International Film Festival ( CIFF ), the longest-running international competitive film festival in North America, turned 54 this year. With screenings at AMC River East 21 in Chicago, the festival runs now through Oct. 21.
There are several noticeable movies with LGBTQ+ themes competing for the festival's Q Hugo Award.
Boy Erased will be screened Oct. 18, with director Joel Edgerton in attendance. It's the story of a young man named Jared who goes under gay conversion therapy and Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, all of whom give strong performances. Boy Erased's general release in Chicago is planned for Nov. 9, so this is an opportunity to view it beforehand.
Kenya's Rafiki will screen Oct. 18, and has an interesting backstory. The tale of two lesbians navigating life where their love is outlawed should move audiences to tears, and was banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board. The film's director sued the government and it was allowed to be screened for Oscar consideration, but ultimately was not selected. After seven days it was banned again, so this is a rare chance to see the film on the big screen.
Look for Brazil's Hard Paint ( Tinta Bruta ) on Oct. 19-20, Peru's Retablo on Oct. 19 and 21 and France's Sorry Angel ( Plaire, almer et courir vite ) Oct. 20 and 21, all with queer themes.
On Oct. 13, Steve McQueen's heist film Widows was screened with a star-studded red carpet beforehand. Filmed in Chicago, Widows is the story of four women bonding together to settle a debt for their dead husbands.
Viola Davis, who stars as Veronica Rawlins in Widows, described Chicago as its own character in the movie: "The film is yours and our gift to you." She added, "It's great we have more female-driven narratives. Working with Steve was a great combination of the feminine and the masculine. He's comfortable with both."
On playing pansexual Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder, she said, "I feel everybody has a right to be who they are. It was my idea to make her open to love in whomever she wants to love. I am proud to play a character that is open and free. To me, that feels revelatoryeven more than just being a Black woman on a TV show."
Michelle Rodriguez spoke of taking on the character Linda and how that persona is universal. When asked about the reaction of her coming out of the closet as bisexual, she said, "I have had tons of fans tear up, because I gave them some courage to come out to their parents. I kiss and hug them, then explain I was just being me!"
Cynthia Erivo portrays a single mother named Belle in Widows and said, "Belle pulls no punches."
Erivo is known for playing Celie in The Color Purple, for which she won the 2016 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. She said Celie gave her a chance to celebrate the LGBT community, and felt that was the point of the show. "I was very specific in that show that I wanted it to be about those two people being in love. It was not a platonic thing. They loved each other. It was beautiful, and there were girls in that audience that felt it was okay to be a lesbian after watching it," she expressed.
Co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn said there is a twist in the story in Widows for gay audiences. "So many heist films were very exclusionary when I watched them in the past, and were always such a guy's club. Women are connecting with this film because it is told from a woman's perspective. It feels more relatable, and something they would do, " she explained.
Openly gay Widows producer and Academy Award winner Iain Canning said he was on a plane with his husband during the recent National Coming Out Day, adding that, after winning his Oscar for The King's Speech that people came up to him on the street and told him how important his acceptance speech was for the gay community. The Englishman promised "an undercurrent in one particular character" that will be of interest to our queer readers.
Widows opens Nov. 16 in Chicago and a wider release.
The festival is presented by its parent organization, Cinema/Chicagok, which Michael Kutza founded in 1964. A full schedule and ticket information for CIFF can be found at ChicagoFilmFestival.com .