Boystown: Are you ready for your close-up?

LGBTs and their straight allies will have even more reason to celebrate during Chicago Gay Pride this year as the festivities are being filmed for a 52-minute documentary that will air on France’s M6—one of the top three TV networks in the country.

“I was really impressed with how many people attended your Pride parade last year—800,000. When I heard that number, I was really impressed,” said Aurore Belser, 32, a journalist and producer of the untitled documentary. “I’ve seen video of your past parades on YouTube, but that didn’t really give me an idea of what it was like, so I had to come here and see [for myself] and film it.”

Belser and her camera will be in Chicago for a total of three weeks this month, not only capturing the newly expanded Pride festivities—which grew from a weekend to an entire week this year—but also with a digital eye toward the Boystown neighborhood.

“I find it interesting that Boystown is the first nationally recognized LGBT neighborhood in the U.S.,” Belser said. “The same-sex marriage law in France passed recently, which was a very big issue in my country, and obviously continues to be a big issue now. I think it will be interesting [for French viewers] to see the story of Boystown—which is a mix of gay and straight people—and understand how it all works.

“This is a very nice area, almost like a village, and if I am understanding it correctly, that is in large part thanks to the LGBT community.”

Working in tandem with the Northalsted Business Alliance, Belser plans to film both the everyday lives of Boystown residents as well as offer a rare, behind-the-scenes view of the business owners, community leaders and nightlife personalities that make Boystown the gay Ground Zero of the Midwest. Specifically, she plans to shadow Ramesh Ariyanayakam, owner of Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club, and Sean Kotwa, general manager of Hydrate, in their roles as co-chairs of Pride Fest. She’s also hoping to interview Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), according to Jen Gordon, spokesperson for the Northalsted Business Alliance.

Belser said she’s particularly excited to film the neighborhood’s drag queen superstars, including performers at Kit Kat Club and Hydrate.

“In Paris, there are not so many shows,” Belser said. “There are some clubs, with DJs and drinking and so on—but not so many drag revues or special parties. It’s not as [common] as it is here!

“Based on my dinner with Aurore the other night, my take is that [she is] gathering up all the possible story lines and potential scenes—and then the story will develop from there,” said Paul Cannella, owner of Scarlet and Taverna 750, and an NHBA executive board member. “Personally, I like that approach—and what's meant to be, will be.”

Belser said she purposely came to Boystown with a small crew.

“You can’t go into Roscoe’s with a big crew and expect to get natural life,” she said. “I want people to act the same way they would without the camera. I don’t want it to feel staged or fake. It’s a documentary— not a reality show. And there will be no journalist addressing the camera.”

“The best advice I can give anyone is to just be themselves,” Kotwa said about how someone should act if they spot a camera filming nearby. “They really are trying to create a realistic look at our community.”

“They should be themselves, and represent our city and neighborhood in a manner that they will be proud to show the world today—and when they see the clip decades later,” Cannella added.

When asked if she plans to capture other realities of Boystown life, aside from the parties and parade, such as issues related to homeless youth and hate crimes, Belser seemed flummoxed.

“That is not the point [of the documentary] now. I thought Boystown is a safe area—no place is perfect. It’s hard to tell—it’s not an aspect I am aware of,” Belser said.

“Aurore and her team from M6 are certain to get a full portrait of Boystown,” Gordon said. “They will be filming both day and night and hope to capture the true essence of the neighborhood. In terms of focus on particular issues, that will be up to Aurore and her team to pursue.”

“If the focus [of the documentary] is PrideFest or PrideWeek, then I would see the angle as more entertainment, personality, [and] tourism-driven,” Cannella said. “If the focus is on the community and neighborhood at large, then it certainly should be a review of all aspects in order to be accurate. Any community has many of the real problems that you mentioned. There is no denying that, and those topics should be covered if that is the angle they choose. I have coordinated interviews with the Center on Halsted, and I'm sure they will cover some of these subjects.”

Belser selected Boystown as the focus of her documentary over the gay enclaves in New York City, L.A. or San Francisco because she said she was after something “different” and that she is drawn to Boystown because it has “ a kind of soul” that she finds compelling.

“Do you have to really ask that? Just kidding—I have to admit that I am biased to the city of Chicago,” Cannella said. “ I've traveled all around the world, and there is no place like this. At the end of the day, it comes down to people. Major cities are the attraction point for their regions, and in Chicago, we draw from greater Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and more. Essentially, we're the melting pot of wholesome Midwesterners, who tend to be pretty down-to-Earth people. I don't mean to dish on my fellow Americans, but I think being smack dab in the middle of the USA we are a pretty solid representation of Americans.”

The documentary will air on M6 (also known as Metropole Television) in September or October of this year. Stateside viewers will be able to view the documentary via the M6 website, according to Belser.

If you have a suggestion for the documentary or you have a story to tell, e-mail Aurore Belser at info@girafprod.com.

Tony Peregrin is a RedEye special contributor.

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