BRENDA WEBB

FRIEND OF THE COMMUNITY | Inducted 2013

Brenda Webb, 60, executive director of Chicago Filmmakers, for her 32 years of perseverance as organizer of Reeling, the Chicago LGBT international film festival. Reeling is said to be the world’s second-oldest such festival and has become a major cultural event for Chicago’s LGBT communities and the city’s general arts and culture scene.

In 1981, Brenda Webb, program director for Chicago Filmmakers, decided to start a festival showcasing LGBTQ film and video work. It was the second such festival in the world and has become a major cultural event for Chicago’s sexual-minority communities ever since.

Under Webb’s leadership for 32 years, the festival—known as Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival—has provided a unique opportunity for the celebration of their identities to communities that too often are ignored or misrepresented in mainstream film and television. The works shown also help to enlighten the general public about the realities of their neighbors’ lives, as many of the cultural and social-justice issues of the day are revealed through film. The climate for successful crossover films such as Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain, Milk, and Behind the Candelabra has resulted partly from the work of pioneers such as Webb who have helped to create a market for films with LGBTQ content.

Every year, Webb works tirelessly to produce the festival, sourcing independent and necessary voices to showcase their films and videos, hosting VIPs and special guests, and networking with local business owners and community groups to provide venues, catering, and mutual support. She has been known to stay up all night baking food for volunteers and festivalgoers, and she has countless stories to share about encouraging relationships between media makers. She has inspired hundreds of young sexual-minority filmmakers in Chicago and beyond to tell their stories through film.

There would have been no Chicago LBGTQ film festival without Webb’s dedication, hard work, and perseverance. In 2012, she risked being terminated as she resisted her own board of directors’ proposal to put the festival on hiatus, which for a year was done. She spent the year fundraising, restructuring, and reinvigorating the festival and community involvement. She has launched a Reeling Advisory Committee, brought four LGBT representatives onto the Chicago Filmmakers board, and created networking events specifically for sexual-minority filmmakers.

As Reeling relaunches this year, Webb continues to uphold its mission and see it through as a nurturing and inspiring space for the LGBTQ artistic community. For her three decades of ceaseless commitment, the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame has selected her as a “Friend of the Community.”

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