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Reel Q

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Mitch Leib loves movies. As the Executive Director Reel Q, Pittsburgh’s International LGBT Film festival, Leib is proud to introduce you to a slew of new movies for the 29th Annual festival.

Leib has been with the Lesbian and Gay Film Society (PLGFS) steadily since 2007 (he had a brief stint with the organization from 2002-2004 but returned in 2007). He has spent the last five years as the executive director. The mission of the PLGFS has been to celebrate LGBT culture and foster appreciation and visibility through film.

Leib said, “Rich Cummings started the festival in 1985. It’s one of the oldest ongoing LGBT film festivals in the world.” Leib noted that it was the sixth oldest to be exact, older: New York, London, Copenhagen or Berlin.

He is thrilled with this year’s selection of films. He spoke highly of many of them, including the opening night film, “Blackbird.”

He said, “The 29th Annual Reel Q Pittsburgh LGBT Film Festival opens with the Pittsburgh Premiere of ‘Blackbird.’ The movie stars Mo’nique (Best Supporting Actress Oscar, “Precious”) and Isiah Washington (“Grey’s Anatomy”) as parents dealing with their son’s sexuality.

Reel Q’s Executive Director mentioned the irony behind Washington’s involvement in the film. In 2007, the actor faced controversy, when he allegedly shouted homophobic slurs to his gay colleague, actor T.R. Knight, before Knight came out of the closet. Now, Washington is involved in acting and producing a film about a young black singer coming to grips with his sexuality in the South. The film is written by Patrik-Ian Polk (“Punks,” “Noah’s Arc,” and “Jumping the Broom”).

The Pittsburgh premiere of “Blackbird” is followed by an opening reception at the Bricolage Theater, blocks from the screening at the Harris Theater downtown.

Leib spoke proudly and passionately about several other films in the festival. He said, “Nicole Sullivan is hilarious in ‘Eat with Me,’ about an Asian woman who moves in with her estranged adult son.” The ubiquitous George Takei (“Star Trek,” “Heroes,” and everything) also appears in the film.

Leib can’t wait for audiences to see “52 Tuesdays,” a film about a girl whose mother is transitioning from female-to male and only sees her mom on Tuesdays.

“I really like ‘The Way He Looked.’ It’s about a blind Brazilian boy who gets in a love triangle with his friends, a girl and the new boy in town.” He added, “It’s based on a short film we screened a few years ago, called ‘I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone.’ It won a Teddy Award in Germany. They developed it into a full-length film using the same cast.”

Come out and celebrate LGBT film and culture at Reel Q, the Pittsburgh LGBT Film Festival. The fest runs from October 12 to October 21 at the Harris Theater, 809 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

First Period

One of the films in the Reel Q Film Festival is “First Period,” by Brandon Alexander, III. In it, Alexander plays the new girl in town, Cassie. She allies herself with outcast Maggie (Dudley Beene) and the two become the most awkward girls in high school. Their goal is to win the hearts of the school’s cutest boys by winning the school talent show. But rivals Heather (Lauren Rose Lewis), Other Heather(Karli Kaiser), and their popular boyfriends Brett(Leigh Wakeford) and Dirk (Michael Turchin) stop at nothing to cast Cassie and Maggie as the school’s biggest laughing stocks. It’s going to take makeovers, courage, and maybe even a little rapping to beat their bullies. The movie is a retro 80s high school romp with boys playing girls, but not in a “Just one of the Guys,” kind of way.

The film features fan favorites Cassandra Peterson (former horror hostess Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), and Carnegie Mellon alum Jack Plotnick (known for his roles on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Girls will be Girls” and the animated show, “Drawn Together”). The outrageous accordion-playing comedian Judy Tenuta also has a role in the film.

We caught up with Beene in Los Angeles, and director Charlie Vaughn in Portland to talk about the film. Dudley Beene remembers auspicious beginning of their festival film. Beene said, “It all started with me saying to my [former] roommate Charlie, “Let’s make a movie!’ Much like, ‘let’s make a baby,’ it seemed quite simple and fun at the time.”

Vaughn said, “First Period is the type of movie I have always wanted to make, probably because it’s the type of movie I’ve always wanted to see. I love quirky, underdog stories; People who exist just outside the fringes of normal.”

Vaughn got the script from another friend, Brandon Alexander, III. Then, he cast his male friends Beene and Alexander as his leading ladies. Vaughn said, “A funny thing happens when I watch the movie. I don’t see Dudley in a wig, or Brandon in make-up; instead I really believe they are Maggie and Cassie. That’s how remarkable their performances are. Sure, saying ‘those are real girls’ may be a stretch, but my friends definitely lose themselves in their roles, and that is a delight to watch.”

Beene wasn’t as easily convinced of his prowess playing Maggie. He said, “I remember thinking, ‘Oh I’ll be so pretty: I’ll thin my eyebrows and raise my voice.’ And then I see it on screen and all I can think is, ‘THAT’S A MAN!’”

It was an arduous journey from script to screen. Beene said, “We shot the whole film in 10 days and everyone wore so many hats. You haven’t lived ‘til you’ve hauled craft services in a wool skirt in 100 degree weather, but when I saw a stunt man put on my sweat soaked bra I knew… this is gonna be a good movie!”

The actor has fond memories of playing his character. He said, “I like Maggie because she’s dangerous. When she parties, raps, or attempts homicide, you know she means it.”

He adds, “I am shocked we made a movie so filthy with so much heart. It’s the dirtiest thing you could take your grandmother to see.”

Vaughn was hoping to make a Pittsburgh appearance, but he is working on another film. He said, “I try to make it to as many screenings as possible, and Pittsburgh is a city that I have yet to visit. I am disappointed that I won’t be able to share the film with a brand new audience. The best compliment a director can receive is a positive reaction from an audience. In the case of ‘First Period,’ that reaction is laughter. So please laugh loudly, and hopefully I will hear it over at my place in Portland.”

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Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)