Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Review: Stonewall Uprising

Documentary, Gay & Lesbian, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Outside a Mafia-run dive bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in June 1969, three days of rioting spilled into the streets after police raided the Stonewall Inn, which catered to gay customers. (The “watering hole on the savanna,” one customer calls it.) Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s documentary “Stonewall Uprising” opens by noting that there are almost no photographs of the raid and riots: re-creations and other footage from the era are used. Combined with vital interviews from social observers and witnesses, it’s a powerful glimpse of an era that may be past but ought not be forgotten. Read the rest of this entry »

Family Matters: The grown-up comedy of “The Kids Are All Right”

Comedy, Gay & Lesbian, Recommended No Comments »

By Ray Pride

When Monty Python sang “Every sperm is sacred” a couple decades ago, they couldn’t have predicted Lisa Cholodenko’s alternately sparkling and acid comedy of twenty-first century middle-class manners.

Following “Laurel Canyon” after a gap of eight years, for “The Kids Are All Right,” her third, exceptionally funny and frank feature, Cholodenko wanted to make a film that was brisker, buzzier, full of clashing characters and bristling actors: less art-house than your house and my house. While the couple at the center is lesbian, the story is about intimacy and boundaries, how families breathe and grow. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) make a cozy long-term Los Angeleno couple. Nic is a doctor, blunt, controlling, fond of her wine, given to socially inappropriate confessions and insights. Jules is dreamier, just starting a new business, as a landscape architect. Life is good, with much of the cast often dressed in T-shirts that add sly asides to scenes. Both their daughter, Joni (Mia Wasikowska, “Alice in Wonderland”) is about to go to college, and their younger son, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), are adjusted to their unique family circumstances—do any of us really know any others than those we’re in?—but now that Joni (yes, named after Joni Mitchell) is turning 18, she could ask who her father is. Laser wants to know: what’s the man like who gave sperm for both their births? Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a motorcycle-riding restaurateur whose prototypical L.A. side-street oasis of a café, we glimpse once or twice, is named “WYSIWYG.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Everything Strange and New

Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Cinematographer-turned-director Frazer Bradshaw’s “Everything Strange And New” captures the airlessness of one man’s life, largely in visual terms, partly in sound. The everyday life of a fortyish carpenter named Wayne is a mosaic of messes: children underfoot, wife troubled, drinking with a new drinking buddy beckons. The plain title blurts Bradshaw’s ambition. (Does the banal, observed, ineffably reveal?) Despite Wayne’s agitated state, Bradshaw works with intent formal control, and likes the word “pastoral” to describe the film’s tableau-driven mood. (He’s also described the film as “a portrait of passivity inside a vortex of change”; the film’s haunted-California imagery is often crystalline where lingo like that isn’t.) Emotions rise. Sexual conflicts emerge. A clean resolution’s not likely. Plus: Clowns are invoked. (Literal ones.) A Sundance 2009 entry. With Jerry McDaniel, Beth Lisick, Rigo Chacon Jr., Luis Saguar. (“Everything Strange And New” was one of the five nominees for the IFP and MOMA’s “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You, 2009″; I was on the jury.) 84m. (Ray Pride)

“Everything Strange and New” opens Friday at Facets.

Review: Prodigal Sons

Documentary, Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Prodigious sibling rivalries are the fuel to the fires of “Prodigal Sons,” a wondrous documentary that’s ten times as complex emotionally as Jonathan Caouette’s “Tarnation.” It’s a feat and a treat. Kimberly Reed’s film is the kind of jam-packed experience that’s a joy to behold if you aren’t clued in to some of its larger turns: it may be enough to start with the very tall Reed’s return to her small Montana hometown, hoping to reconcile with her adoptive younger brother as he recovers from a head injury. Reed, as it goes, was the high-school class president, valedictorian and captain of the football team. Reed’s transgender now, her brother is gay and their adoptive older brother, over the course of the movie, discovers that his bloodline is exotic in the extreme. Oh, I do want to tell you. I think it would be fun to ruin a perfect story… A head-spinning drama rife with revelations, “Prodigal Sons” is too true to be good: compelling, distressing, it’s pretty great. T. Griffin’s score is among the memorable elements of an impressively crafted debut feature. 86m. DigiBeta. (Ray Pride)

“Prodigal Sons” opens Friday at Facets.

Review: A Single Man

Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Recommended No Comments »

single-man-tom-ford-colin-firthRECOMMENDED

When Hitchcock met Wong Kar-wai, shivering in the sea: one fateful day, one single day in the early 1960s—November 30, 1962—California English professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) considers suicide. Grief’s overtaken him. He tidies his life. He remembers Jim, the love of his life he’d lost (Matthew Goode). George is middle-aged-to-fading, a horn-rimmed gent abrim with melancholy. Designer-turned-director Tom Ford, in his feature debut, works with insistent detail and insistent characters in adapting Christopher Isherwood’s small, fine stream-of-consciousness novel. Colleagues and his circle of friends (especially Charlie, a brittle socialite played with relish by Julianne Moore) want to lighten his burden. George tries to check his currents of sorrow with Bayer’s and whiskey. A blond young student (Matthew Hoult) seeks his attentions. But he’s weighted, and Ford’s visual style is freighted. The intent design, however, is less about Mammon than about Memory. Working in a variable color palette, with hues of blue pulsing like Hitchcock’s shades of green in “Vertigo,” Ford’s play with subjectivity intrigues. Striking images abound, such as the teacher of words with his mouth mottled by black India ink. George stops to sniff a stranger’s terrier inside a car: a whiff, a twirl of desire. He references the “smell of buttered toast,” reminiscent of poet Philip Larkin’s infamous line about Englishness, about “listening to the church bells, eating buttered toast with cunty fingers.” This is life, and he’s leaving it. It’s a modern world he lives in, just not ours. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Broken Embraces

Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

broken-embraces-77(Los abrazos rotos) Built upon an even more story-within-story structure than most later Almodóvar movies, “Broken Embraces” seems to reflect personal issues about art and mortality in pessimistic fashion, yet the brio of the filmmaking is undiminished. Almodóvar creates a film with a writer and director who’s blind, who mourns the loss of his great love in the same accident that took his sight. The giddy gamesplaying—elegantly demonstrating bad filmmaking—is enlivened by Penélope Cruz, more at home than in other films she’s in this year, her vivid, squishy features and darkly liquid eyes are mischief itself even when she strives to capture the essence of bad acting. She’s tiny and regal and vivacious. As for Almodóvar:Love, loss, cinema: the customary dazzle. With Blanca Portillo, Lluís Homar. 109m. (Ray Pride)

“Broken Embraces” opens Friday at Landmark Century.

Review: Tru Loved

Comedy, Family, Gay & Lesbian No Comments »

Sadly, not the story of a Truman Capote stalker, or even better, the stalker of a Truman Capote impersonator, “Tru Love” is instead writer-director Stuart Wade’s family-friendly tale for teens about sexual sensitivity in the form of a pansexual rom-com set in a conservative Southern California high school. Tru (Najarra Johnson) finds her world upended when her two moms leave San Francisco for the homophobic hinterland. As cuddly didacticism goes, it’s pretty sweet, and apparently is intended as much as teaching tool as entertainment. Not bad at all. 104m. (Ray Pride)

Review: Save Me

Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Recommended No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Measuring the divide between organized religion and gays, Robert Cary’s “Save Me” is effective drama (with oddball bursts of quirk) that examines the motivations of its characters with attentiveness. Robert Desiderio’s earnest screenplay (from a story by Craig Chester and Alan Hines) proposes a conflict between a gay addict (Chad Allen) and an “ex-gay” retreat out in the New Mexico desert called “Genesis House.” Conflicts ensue, but it’s the spirited attempt to find a nuanced characterization of one particular homophobe that intrigues. With Robert Gant, Judith Light. 96m. (Ray Pride)

Fairy Tale: Will filmmaker Tom Gufstafson’s “Were the World Mine” play happily ever after?

Festivals, Gay & Lesbian No Comments »

By Ed M. Koziarski

Timothy pines for his all-boys high school’s rugby star. He faces daily abuse at the hands of his classmates, but finds liberation onstage as the mischievous fairy Puck in a musical version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The play’s all-male casting tears open masculine insecurities—which are only compounded when Timothy finds a way to win his love’s heart and make the whole homophobic town of Kingston walk a while in his shoes.

This is “Were the World Mine,” an exuberant, locally shot musical by area native Tom Gustafson that comes off a hot festival run to have its local premiere October 24 as part of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Gustafson, 32, grew up in Genoa, a town of 4,000 in DeKalb County. “The scene where the kid gets ‘fag’ written on his locker—that happened to me,” Gustafson says. “I was made fun of for being gay even though I wasn’t out and didn’t really know it. It bothered me on a personal level but it also inspired me to do bigger things. I knew it was temporary because I knew I was leaving.” He dreamed of moving to Chicago, where his mom took him to touring musicals and his older brother lived.

Gustafson’s whole family is artistically inclined and he always wanted a life in the arts. “I never had that ‘Billy Elliot’ moment,” he says. In the fourth grade he started playing trumpet and made his first foray into cinema: a claymation cautionary tale about street-crossing safety. He was a self-described “band and theater dork,” playing Jesus in a Genoa Kingston High School production of “Godspell.” Like Timothy, Gustafson’s drama group fought their own miniature culture war over space in the school’s “gymnatorium” that they shared with the basketball team.

His creativity bubbled over throughout his school years. “We had to do a book report and I decided to do a ridiculously cheesy tribute to ‘Phantom of the Opera,’” Gustafson says. “That was tragic. Hopefully no one will ever see the tape.” He caught the film bug during two summers as assistant manager at the Polka Brothers’ second-run theaters in Sycamore and Geneva, where he assembled film prints and spliced together trailers. “I fell in love with being in that world of cinema,” he says.

In 1994 Gustafson enrolled in the film program at Northwestern, where he finally came out. Northwestern was “a very accepting environment,” he says. “At that point sexuality wasn’t even an issue.”

An affinity for outsiders led Gustafson to a fascination with circus freaks. He took circus classes at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston and landed some “random clown gigs” around town. After his junior year, he did a summer session at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. “It ripped me to shreds,” Gustafson says. “We had teachers who were Chinese acrobats. We had to do handstands for two hours every day. It was so painful.”

That was the end of Gustafson’s performing career. “I realized I was more comfortable behind the camera,” he says. But the circus did inspire his Northwestern thesis film, “The Need,” about a circus freak called The Half Breed and her desire for a child. “I wanted to raise the bar on film at Northwestern,” Gustafson says. “I really tried to make it big. We built a circus midway in a closed-down auto shop.”

After graduating in 1998, Gustafson worked as a production assistant on Michael Moore’s Bravo series “The Awful Truth.” Gustafson “absolutely hated” PA work. “You go from doing the biggest thing in school, and suddenly you’re at the bottom of the ladder,” he says. Around this time, at Berlin nightclub, Gustafson met Cory James Krueckeberg, an actor and U of I grad originally from Fort Wayne. They’ve now been together ten years.

Gustafson spent three years as assistant to a headshot photographer, and then opened his own studio in the Cornelia Arts Building, doing headshots and press photos for About Face, the Theatre Building and the Bailiwick. In 2002 Gustafson landed a gig as assistant to additional casting director Judith Bouley on Sam Mendes’ Paul Newman-starring mob melodrama “Road to Perdition.” “We went out into the neighborhoods to find real people,” Gustafson says. “We did casting calls at pubs and community events to find Irish dancers. It was like a little scavenger hunt.”

Gustafson accompanied Bouley to Mexico as casting associate on the Russell Crowe pirate movie “Master and Commander,” finding extras who’d be believable as English people and Spaniards. He saved enough money from “Master and Commander” to bankroll a short film he’d been talking up in Mexico called “Fairies.”

Drawing on his own high-school experience, Gustafson wanted to tell the story of a lonely gay teenager who creates a potion to turn the straight world gay. Krueckeberg suggested the connection to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which lead fairy Puck induces love at first sight among a crew of mismatched lovers. “Fairies’” main character Timothy expresses his outsize desires in fantasy musical sequences on theatrical, charmingly homemade sets designed by Krueckeberg.

Krueckeberg adapted song lyrics from Shakespeare’s verse, theater composer Jessica Fogle set them to music and Oucho Sparks frontman Tim Sandusky recorded and produced the songs at his Studio Ballistico.

Gustafson’s breakthrough came when he found Wendy Robie, who’d played the eye-patch-wearing Nadine on “Twin Peaks” and was now working in Chicago theater. A former English teacher, Robie was drawn to the role of Timothy’s mentor, and she helped Gustafson deepen and expand the role. “She brought the mystery and magic and the force of inspiration that a teacher can give somebody,” Gustafson says.

“Fairies” filmed in 2003, played a hundred film festivals and was broadcast on the LOGO network. “It was incredible to see the response people had to the film,” Gustafson says. “It was very joyous. So many gay films are so pessimistic. Ours is so fun and optimistic. A lot of gay films are just about sex and shirtless boys. Ours has a little of that, but it doesn’t have to be that to be entertaining. It doesn’t have to have all the stereotypes of gay film.”

After “Fairies,” Gustafson and Krueckeberg moved to Harlem, where they live today. Krueckeberg worked as a theater actor, director and production designer. Gustafson traveled casting extras, in the Bahamas for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, in Chicago for “Batman Begins” and “The Weather Man,” in the Dominican Republic for “The Good Shepherd” and in New York for “Stop-Loss.” “I’ve been lucky not to do casting in cities that are jaded by the industry,” Gustafson says. “People are so excited about it. The one job I did in New York was a very different experience.”

Flying home from LA’s Outfest, Gustafson and Krueckeberg resolved to turn “Fairies” into a feature film. They knew there was more of the story to tell, but they didn’t imagine the struggle they would face to finance and cast the film. “I naively thought that it would be easy to get the money—that because I was working in the studio system a lot of people in the industry would come to my aid, which was silly,” Gustafson says. After several years of seeking industry financing, Gustafson and Krueckeberg were finally able to raise their full $300,000 production budget from private investors, only once they pulled the trigger and began preproduction on the film. “Finally the only way this was going to happen is if we just said we were doing it,” Gustafson says. “We packed up the car and started driving to Chicago.”

They shopped the script for “Were the World Mine” to agents for top teenage actors, including one of the stars of “High School Musical.” “We immediately encountered resistance to their clients playing gay,” Gustafson says. “I was shocked. I thought we had moved beyond that. It would have been different if a studio says ‘We want you to play gay for a lot of money,’ but we were an indie. In the end I’m glad we didn’t get those people, because our cast is incredible.”

They found their lead, newcomer Tanner Cohen, at an open audition in New York. “We knew right away we were interested in him, and from the moment he landed in Chicago I knew he was the right choice,” Gustafson says. “He’s extremely confident about who he is, and he’s six-foot-five, which brought a whole ‘nother layer—he could turn around and beat the crap out of the people who were picking on him.”

With Robie reprising her role as the English teacher, they cast Broadway’s “Mamma Mia!” star Judy McClane as Timothy’s mother, Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda Williams as his best friend and Chicagoans Christian Stolte as the bigoted rugby coach and David Darlow as the stiff high-school principal. (Stolte steals the show when Timothy gives the macho coach an extra spring in his step and a new affection for his boss.)

With most of the creative team from “Fairies,” Gustafson and Krueckeberg moved into a house in Roscoe Village that doubled as their production office and the set for all their house interiors. “Our production coordinator slept in Timothy’s bedroom throughout the shoot,” Gustafson says.

They’d considered shooting in New York, but Illinois’ film tax incentive, their collaborators here and “Fairies”’ local roots made Chicago the natural choice. “Chicago is such a manageable city to shoot in compared to New York,” Gustafson says. They shot for four weeks in summer 2007 with a mostly local cast and crew, recording musical performances between outbursts of the seventeen-year cicadas.

“Were the World Mine” premiered in March at the Florida Film Festival, where it won the audience award. “It was great that it was a mainstream festival,” Gustafson says. “It showed that our goal not to put it in that ‘gay film box’ was actually working. It’s frustrating to audiences when they’re told who a film is for. It’s important for us to reach that niche audience, but it’s not just gay people that can relate to this story. We’re not just preaching to the choir.” The film has gone on to an acclaimed festival run, winning the grand jury prize at Outfest and best music at the Nashville Film Festival.

They got some offers from distributors who wanted to buy all rights for the film, but they opted for the increasingly prevalent option of dividing the distribution markets among multiple distributors, allowing the filmmakers to retain control of the release strategy and a greater share of any profits. “It didn’t make sense for us to give away so much control and so much of the film to one entity that cross-collateralizes the money,” Gustafson says. “If we broke it up there would be less risk and each platform could do better. This has been such a labor of love for so many years. Cory and I controlled everything about the production. We wanted to make the decisions about how this is marketed and how it gets out into the world.”

Gustafson and Krueckeberg are self-releasing “WTWM” in theaters, mostly through the Landmark chain, beginning Halloween in Louisville, followed by New York, San Francisco and Berkeley in November, San Diego in December and Philadelphia in January. They haven’t announced a Chicago theatrical booking yet.

Wolfe Releasing is scheduled to put out the DVD in April 2009, preceded by a video-on-demand release in February, and followed by a summer iTunes release. LOGO plans to begin broadcasting the film in July, and Gustafson is also hoping to get play on LOGO’s sister Viacom networks (which include MTV). “WTWM”  will open in Germany, the U.K. and Australia next year as well.

Gustafson and Krueckeberg are working on a short film called “Revelations,” about a hate group modeled after Fred Phelps’ funeral picketers. Then next summer they hope to be back in Chicago to shoot the American leg of their next feature, “Mariachi Gringo.”

“Were the World Mine” plays October 24 at 8:20pm and October 26 at 5pm at AMC River East, 400 East Illinois.

Fairy Tale: Will filmmaker Tom Gustafson’s “Were the World Mine” play happily ever after?

Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Recommended No Comments »

By Ed M. Koziarski

Timothy pines for his all-boys high school’s rugby star. He faces daily abuse at the hands of his classmates, but finds liberation onstage as the mischievous fairy Puck in a musical version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The play’s all-male casting tears open masculine insecurities—which are only compounded when Timothy finds a way to win his love’s heart and make the whole homophobic town of Kingston walk a while in his shoes.

This is “Were the World Mine,” an exuberant, locally shot musical by area native Tom Gustafson that comes off a hot festival run to have its local premiere October 24 as part of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Gustafson, 32, grew up in Genoa, a town of 4,000 in DeKalb County. “The scene where the kid gets ‘fag’ written on his locker—that happened to me,” Gustafson says. “I was made fun of for being gay even though I wasn’t out and didn’t really know it. It bothered me on a personal level but it also inspired me to do bigger things. I knew it was temporary because I knew I was leaving.” He dreamed of moving to Chicago, where his mom took him to touring musicals and his older brother lived.

Gustafson’s whole family is artistically inclined and he always wanted a life in the arts. “I never had that ‘Billy Elliot’ moment,” he says. In the fourth grade he started playing trumpet and made his first foray into cinema: a claymation cautionary tale about street-crossing safety. He was a self-described “band and theater dork,” playing Jesus in a Genoa Kingston High School production of “Godspell.” Like Timothy, Gustafson’s drama group fought their own miniature culture war over space in the school’s “gymnatorium” that they shared with the basketball team.

His creativity bubbled over throughout his school years. “We had to do a book report and I decided to do a ridiculously cheesy tribute to ‘Phantom of the Opera,’” Gustafson says. “That was tragic. Hopefully no one will ever see the tape.” He caught the film bug during two summers as assistant manager at the Polka Brothers’ second-run theaters in Sycamore and Geneva, where he assembled film prints and spliced together trailers. “I fell in love with being in that world of cinema,” he says.

In 1994 Gustafson enrolled in the film program at Northwestern, where he finally came out. Northwestern was “a very accepting environment,” he says. “At that point sexuality wasn’t even an issue.”

An affinity for outsiders led Gustafson to a fascination with circus freaks. He took circus classes at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston and landed some “random clown gigs” around town. After his junior year, he did a summer session at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. “It ripped me to shreds,” Gustafson says. “We had teachers who were Chinese acrobats. We had to do handstands for two hours every day. It was so painful.”

That was the end of Gustafson’s performing career. “I realized I was more comfortable behind the camera,” he says. But the circus did inspire his Northwestern thesis film, “The Need,” about a circus freak called The Half Breed and her desire for a child. “I wanted to raise the bar on film at Northwestern,” Gustafson says. “I really tried to make it big. We built a circus midway in a closed-down auto shop.”

After graduating in 1998, Gustafson worked as a production assistant on Michael Moore’s Bravo series “The Awful Truth.” Gustafson “absolutely hated” PA work. “You go from doing the biggest thing in school, and suddenly you’re at the bottom of the ladder,” he says. Around this time, at Berlin nightclub, Gustafson met Cory James Krueckeberg, an actor and U of I grad originally from Fort Wayne. They’ve now been together ten years.

Gustafson spent three years as assistant to a headshot photographer, and then opened his own studio in the Cornelia Arts Building, doing headshots and press photos for About Face, the Theatre Building and the Bailiwick. In 2002 Gustafson landed a gig as assistant to additional casting director Judith Bouley on Sam Mendes’ Paul Newman-starring mob melodrama “Road to Perdition.” “We went out into the neighborhoods to find real people,” Gustafson says. “We did casting calls at pubs and community events to find Irish dancers. It was like a little scavenger hunt.”

Gustafson accompanied Bouley to Mexico as casting associate on the Russell Crowe pirate movie “Master and Commander,” finding extras who’d be believable as English people and Spaniards. He saved enough money from “Master and Commander” to bankroll a short film he’d been talking up in Mexico called “Fairies.”

Drawing on his own high-school experience, Gustafson wanted to tell the story of a lonely gay teenager who creates a potion to turn the straight world gay. Krueckeberg suggested the connection to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which lead fairy Puck induces love at first sight among a crew of mismatched lovers. “Fairies’” main character Timothy expresses his outsize desires in fantasy musical sequences on theatrical, charmingly homemade sets designed by Krueckeberg.

Krueckeberg adapted song lyrics from Shakespeare’s verse, theater composer Jessica Fogle set them to music and Oucho Sparks frontman Tim Sandusky recorded and produced the songs at his Studio Ballistico.

Gustafson’s breakthrough came when he found Wendy Robie, who’d played the eye-patch-wearing Nadine on “Twin Peaks” and was now working in Chicago theater. A former English teacher, Robie was drawn to the role of Timothy’s mentor, and she helped Gustafson deepen and expand the role. “She brought the mystery and magic and the force of inspiration that a teacher can give somebody,” Gustafson says.

“Fairies” filmed in 2003, played a hundred film festivals and was broadcast on the LOGO network. “It was incredible to see the response people had to the film,” Gustafson says. “It was very joyous. So many gay films are so pessimistic. Ours is so fun and optimistic. A lot of gay films are just about sex and shirtless boys. Ours has a little of that, but it doesn’t have to be that to be entertaining. It doesn’t have to have all the stereotypes of gay film.”

After “Fairies,” Gustafson and Krueckeberg moved to Harlem, where they live today. Krueckeberg worked as a theater actor, director and production designer. Gustafson traveled casting extras, in the Bahamas for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, in Chicago for “Batman Begins” and “The Weather Man,” in the Dominican Republic for “The Good Shepherd” and in New York for “Stop-Loss.” “I’ve been lucky not to do casting in cities that are jaded by the industry,” Gustafson says. “People are so excited about it. The one job I did in New York was a very different experience.”

Flying home from LA’s Outfest, Gustafson and Krueckeberg resolved to turn “Fairies” into a feature film. They knew there was more of the story to tell, but they didn’t imagine the struggle they would face to finance and cast the film. “I naively thought that it would be easy to get the money—that because I was working in the studio system a lot of people in the industry would come to my aid, which was silly,” Gustafson says. After several years of seeking industry financing, Gustafson and Krueckeberg were finally able to raise their full $300,000 production budget from private investors, only once they pulled the trigger and began preproduction on the film. “Finally the only way this was going to happen is if we just said we were doing it,” Gustafson says. “We packed up the car and started driving to Chicago.”

They shopped the script for “Were the World Mine” to agents for top teenage actors, including one of the stars of “High School Musical.” “We immediately encountered resistance to their clients playing gay,” Gustafson says. “I was shocked. I thought we had moved beyond that. It would have been different if a studio says ‘We want you to play gay for a lot of money,’ but we were an indie. In the end I’m glad we didn’t get those people, because our cast is incredible.”

They found their lead, newcomer Tanner Cohen, at an open audition in New York. “We knew right away we were interested in him, and from the moment he landed in Chicago I knew he was the right choice,” Gustafson says. “He’s extremely confident about who he is, and he’s six-foot-five, which brought a whole ‘nother layer—he could turn around and beat the crap out of the people who were picking on him.”

With Robie reprising her role as the English teacher, they cast Broadway’s “Mamma Mia!” star Judy McClane as Timothy’s mother, Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda Williams as his best friend and Chicagoans Christian Stolte as the bigoted rugby coach and David Darlow as the stiff high-school principal. (Stolte steals the show when Timothy gives the macho coach an extra spring in his step and a new affection for his boss.)

With most of the creative team from “Fairies,” Gustafson and Krueckeberg moved into a house in Roscoe Village that doubled as their production office and the set for all their house interiors. “Our production coordinator slept in Timothy’s bedroom throughout the shoot,” Gustafson says.

They’d considered shooting in New York, but Illinois’ film tax incentive, their collaborators here and “Fairies”’ local roots made Chicago the natural choice. “Chicago is such a manageable city to shoot in compared to New York,” Gustafson says. They shot for four weeks in summer 2007 with a mostly local cast and crew, recording musical performances between outbursts of the seventeen-year cicadas.

“Were the World Mine” premiered in March at the Florida Film Festival, where it won the audience award. “It was great that it was a mainstream festival,” Gustafson says. “It showed that our goal not to put it in that ‘gay film box’ was actually working. It’s frustrating to audiences when they’re told who a film is for. It’s important for us to reach that niche audience, but it’s not just gay people that can relate to this story. We’re not just preaching to the choir.” The film has gone on to an acclaimed festival run, winning the grand jury prize at Outfest and best music at the Nashville Film Festival.

They got some offers from distributors who wanted to buy all rights for the film, but they opted for the increasingly prevalent option of dividing the distribution markets among multiple distributors, allowing the filmmakers to retain control of the release strategy and a greater share of any profits. “It didn’t make sense for us to give away so much control and so much of the film to one entity that cross-collateralizes the money,” Gustafson says. “If we broke it up there would be less risk and each platform could do better. This has been such a labor of love for so many years. Cory and I controlled everything about the production. We wanted to make the decisions about how this is marketed and how it gets out into the world.”

Gustafson and Krueckeberg are self-releasing “WTWM” in theaters, mostly through the Landmark chain, beginning Halloween in Louisville, followed by New York, San Francisco and Berkeley in November, San Diego in December and Philadelphia in January. They haven’t announced a Chicago theatrical booking yet.

Wolfe Releasing is scheduled to put out the DVD in April 2009, preceded by a video-on-demand release in February, and followed by a summer iTunes release. LOGO plans to begin broadcasting the film in July, and Gustafson is also hoping to get play on LOGO’s sister Viacom networks (which include MTV). “WTWM” will open in Germany, the U.K. and Australia next year as well.

Gustafson and Krueckeberg are working on a short film called “Revelations,” about a hate group modeled after Fred Phelps’ funeral picketers. Then next summer they hope to be back in Chicago to shoot the American leg of their next feature, “Mariachi Gringo.”

“Were the World Mine” plays October 24 at 8:20pm and October 26 at 5pm at AMC River East, 400 East Illinois