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Reeling fest presents ex-Columbia student’s Chicago love story

Actors Kyle Wigent Tanner Rittenhouse watch sunrise over Lake Michigan shot from “In Bloom” thhad whole crew “screaming like kids”

Actors Kyle Wigent and Tanner Rittenhouse watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan in a shot from “In Bloom” that had the whole crew “screaming like kids,” director Chris Birkmeier recalls.

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When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee

Tickets : $12


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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM

The joy and pain of first love are front and center in “In Bloom,” an ambitious and heartfelt drama to be screened during Reeling, the Chicago Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transgendered International Film Festival.

Set in Chicago, the film has won critical praise for the first-time writer and director, former Columbia film student Chris Birkmeier. Critics have likened the actors’ performances to the natural Chicago style of theater performance seen regularly at Steppenwolf, Lookingglass and others.

“I am a huge fan of realistic and honest acting and realistic and honest filmmaking,” says Birkmeier, humbled by the comparison. “The genesis of this project was an analysis of the breakdown of a relationship.”

The film follows the relationship between pot-smoking drug dealer Kurt (Kyle Wigent) and goal-oriented Paul (Tanner Rittenhouse) as it plays out over the course of a typical Chicago summer. Local stage actor Adam Fane (“Avenue Q”) plays Kevin, the man who comes between the two.

Now 23, Birkmeier began writing the script when he was 20 and studying at Columbia. It is loosely based on his own first serious relationship.

“I came out at 19. I met said person. We had a four-year, on-and-off relationship, and I started writing to try and put it all in perspective,” he says.

Perhaps complicating things further, co-star Rittenhouse is Birkmeier’s good friend and was around as most of the real relationship flamed out.

“It was sometimes painful for us both to be on the set,” Birkmeier says. “Certainly for me to see certain scenes played out again before me, but as an actor Tanner went from being an observer to participant.”

Reeling Film Festival program director Richard Knight Jr. says it wasn’t just the Chicago setting that made him want to include the movie in this year’s festival.

“It reminded me of my 20s in Chicago,” says Knight. “It’s a very interesting look at a typical relationship that happens to be between two guys. It feels very real and truthful.”

The film was shot over a period of 23 days, in and around Chicago. Tthe shoot didn’t always go smoothly.

“In one scene, Kurt and Paul are arguing by the L tracks. If you ever have tried to have a conversation by the L tracks, inevitably a train will come by and you both stop talking mid-sentence until the train passes,” recalls Birkmeier, who thought such an interruption would be a nice Chicago touch. “We did four takes waiting for the train and it never came by. We had a rat run into the scene. Twice.”

The final cut of the film contains the scene with the vermin, but even that wasn’t the most difficult shot.

“I wanted this long tracking shot of the sun as it comes up over Lake Michigan,” he says. “The entire crew was using various iPhone apps trying to figure out when and where the sun was going to be coming up. I wanted to use a dolly shot, but before we could figure out how to set it up, the sun started coming up and we had to settle for a static shot. I yelled cut and the entire crew and I were screaming like kids because we knew we had got the perfect shot.”

The main cast and Birkmeier, who now calls Seattle home, will be reunited at the screening of the film that Birkmeier calls his love letter to Chicago.

“It’s a tragic love letter, but a love letter nonetheless,” he says. “Every subway, alleyway, apartment and street that was the setting for those four years is, in some ways, a part of the film.”

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