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Seeing stars: Patrick Stewart, Mario Lopez, Alfre Woodard
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Entertainers have made Chicago an important stop over the years, sometimes to promote a product, speak an opinion or just mingle with fans. Several stars have made statements that involve the gay community recently while visiting the Windy City.

Actress and social activist Vanessa Redgrave received the Visionary Award from the Chicago International Film Festival on Oct. 16. This was for the film Sea Sorrow, a documentary Redgrave directed about the global refugee crisis. Her son—Carlo Nero, a producer on the film—accompanied the first-time director.

Many protesters in Sea Sorrow held rainbow flags to represent the community during marches. Nero said, "We saw people from all walks of life and political persuasions. It was wonderful to see people coming together like that. People could have just sat in their homes instead of protesting human beings that were treated worse than animals. They went in thousands and it was very hopeful." Redgrave played a lesbian in the HBO movie If These Walls Could Talk 2 and described it as a "wonderful script."

Another multiple award winner, Alfre Woodard, visited the festival Oct. 21. She was honored with the Black Perspectives Career Achievement Award. Woodard reminisced about her beginnings as an HIV/AIDS activist, saying, "We were very active in the anti-apartheid movement when they were underground. We thought our work was done when it crumbled but were told they were at ground zero for the pandemic and it was an even more formidable foe than apartheid was. At that point, KwaZulu-Natal had more deaths than any other area. After working on South Africa we wanted to make sure we would have a presence in America as well. AIDS education was very important to have in cities and we started with the youth demographic."

Goodman Theatre associate Regina Taylor moderated the live conversations held later. She stopped to talk about her recent role in the LGBT film Saturday Church, telling Windy City Times, "The star of the movie is an amazing actor and a dear human being." One thing she learned from the experience was, according to her, "Families can be as bad as strangers when it comes to dealing with differences." She has three productions coming out, including a revival of her play Crowns, at the McCarter Theatre.

The same night, the host of Extra, Mario Lopez, turned the city pink with lights for a Susan G. Komen Chicago event called Ignite the Fight. The annual gala raises funds for breast cancer. "Everyone has a connection to a love one affected by this," Lopez said. "Any time I get a chance to help out I will. I love coming to Chicago. It is such a great town." He stated on the pink carpet that he loved being in musicals like A Chorus Line and just performed at the Hollywood Bowl.

What was Lopez's favorite memory from playing Olympian Greg Louganis in the biopic? "It has been so many years now since Breaking the Surface," he said. "I still remain friendly with Greg. He's such an awesome guy, and I feel very honored to have portrayed him. He's an icon really, and one of the best athletes ever. I was most thrilled that he was happy with my performance." Lopez later hosted an INDISTRY TV party at The Virgin Hotel Chicago.

Also, supermodel/actress Christie Brinkley arrived at the Two Prudential Plaza on Oct. 6 in honor of World Smile Day for a private lighting ceremony. Smile Train is the world's largest cleft charity that she became involved with years ago as the goodwill ambassador.

She said, "I read up about it originally and could not imagine not being able to smile. In some cultures babies born with clefts are disposed of. For five dollars a life can be saved and for $250 a life can be transformed." Brinkley switched gears to talk about gay rights: "I'm so pro-equality and love is love. I cannot believe in this day and age that there is anybody is still backwards and ignorant enough to make a judgement about that. It is ridiculous!"

Brinkley added that she had the time of her life being in the musical Chicago. "The role of Roxie Hart is the best one for a woman to play on Broadway," she said. "She's a real spitfire. I was onstage the entire time. No one said to me that I was too thin until I was in that show for a few months. So many dreams came true all at the same time!" Brinkley finished by saying that she never grows tired of the song "Uptown Girl" ( she's in Billy Joel's video ) and it was her theme song.

In addition, the Chicago International Film Festival closed its 53rd year on Oct. 26 at the AMC River East 21 with a couple of films with LGBT content.

Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, set in the Cold War era, has actor Richard Jenkins playing a gay character; also, Call Me by Your Name was screened with an actor from the film, Michael Stuhlbarg, in attendance. Look for an intimate interview with Stuhlbarg closer to the national release date in Windy City Times.

Some notable wins during the fest included the Chicago Award for Princess Cyd, while Mr. Gay Syria won the Silver Hugo Award. In the OutLook competition BPM took home the Gold Q-Hugo and God's Own Country garnered the Silver Q-Hugo.

Actor Patrick Stewart spoke with WCT the night before closing night on the red carpet about his gay role in the cult-classic film Jeffrey. He said, "There were so many great memories from that film, but here is one of them that didn't appear in the film: The production designer of the show wanted me to have photographs in the flat where I lived with my partner of the two of us out and about in town. One day we went out to the West Village and improvised all kinds of situations—holding hands, kissing and meeting friends. It rooted me so strongly in the character I was going to play before it was even filmed. I was so proud to have been a part of that."

For more information about the festival, visit .

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