Inside Out 2017 Profile: Jennifer Reeder
“I am an intersectional feminist, which I bring to my filmmaking.”
On the surface, Signature Move is a coming-of-age romantic comedy. Zaynab, a young Muslim woman, is living with her recently widowed mother while attempting to keep details of her life from her, like her sexuality and newfound interest in luchadora-style wrestling. She meets Alma by chance at a bar one night and… you know how it goes.
Except when you watch Signature Move, you very quickly realize that you are watching something incredibly special. Special not because it’s a love story between a queer Muslim woman and Mexican woman and not even because of the wrestling. What makes this movie special is how relatable it is, no matter what your background or orientation might be. We’ve all struggled with finding ourselves and being comfortable with who we are; we’ve all met that person who rocks our damn world; we’ve all tried to figure out how our parents fit into our lives as we grow.
Most of all, Signature Move is a story of women and their strength—figurative and in-a-luchadora-mask literal.
Jennifer Reeder, the director of Signature Move, is an award-winning filmmaker. She constructs personal fiction films about relationships, trauma and coping. Her narratives are innovative and borrow from a range of forms including after school specials, amateur music videos and magical realism. Her films have shown at festivals around the world, including the Sundance Film Festival, The Berlin Film Festival, The Rotterdam Film Festival, London Film Festival, SXSW, The Venice Biennale and The Whitney Biennial. Her awards include several that have qualified her films for Oscar nomination. She also won a Creative Capital Grant in Moving Image in 2015, short film funding from Rooftop/Adrienne Shelly Foundation in 2016, and short film funding from the Hamburg Film Fund in 2016.
Signature Move had its World Premiere at SXSW in 2017 and was the Closing Night Gala for the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival in 2017. It has screened at numerous other film festivals and was one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “50 Most Anticipated American Films of 2017.”
You can see the Canadian Premiere of Signature Move at this year’s Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival, screening at 7:00pm on May 27th as part of the Women’s Gala. GET YOUR TICKETS TO THE FILM HERE, which also admit you to the SIGNATURE GROOVE GALA PARTY.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with filmmaking.
Jennifer Reeder: Like Maya Deren, I was a dancer. Dance classes in college led to a performance art class where we made A LOT of videotapes. Picking up a moving image camera for the first time was like recovering a phantom limb. I still feel there are many similarities between dance choreography and film directing. I move bodies through a frame with thoughtfulness and lyricism.
Tell us about Signature Move. How did you get involved with this film?
JR: First of all know that if and when Fawzia Mirza asks you to be involved with a project, you abide and immediately and with everything you have to offer. The producers of Signature Move were looking for a Chicago based female director, which I am. This is the first film that I have directed but did not write and so although at first I was not sure that I was the right person to direct it, I knew that I did not want anyone else to! This is an extremely important and timely story and I am deeply honored to have helped tell it.
This is your first feature film. (Congrats!) Do you feel that your experience making short films was an asset in shifting to a feature film?
JR: I have actually made a few other feature length moving image projects but they were much more experimental. I have a long prior history making projects for galleries and museums. It’s true that I have made A LOT of short narrative films and they have enjoyed some coveted film festival exposure like Sundance and Berlinale. I have a lot of ideas and busy hands so I keep making new films and most of them are short because in my opinion there are not very many ideas that actually need to be a feature length film.
There’s a lot going on in this film in terms of different cultures and personal paths and family dynamics and it is amazing! How did you approach representing all of them so well on screen?
JR: This is essentially Fawzia’s own story so she, as a Pakistani Muslim Lesbian, comes with essential authenticity. Plus, we cast the additional roles with equal authenticity which seems rare in so many other larger budget features. I am an intersectional feminist, which I bring to my filmmaking. I listen and listen and ask and ask and keep listening. Art can save lives, I know this and all humans need validation, which can come in the form of representation at the very least. This is a film filled with women of color — they carry this story and own it. Having said all that, this film is also deeply relatable. It’s a tender and touching love story and family drama. The most radical aspect is that it totally normalizes images of American Muslims and presents the most true image of the contemporary American Family.
We loved the luchadora storyline and seeing badass women wrestlers on screen! Did you have any familiarity with women’s wrestling before working on Signature Move?
JR: Well, I am a devout follower of all badass women to be sure, but NO, I was not any kind of expert on women’s professional wrestling prior to making Signature Move. I sent myself into the world of wrestling as part of pre-production, which included a one-on-one lunch with Billy Corgan (of the Smashing Pumpkins).
What would your signature move be?
JR: Prior to smart phones, I was the best at hanging on up assholes — like a full on phone slam hang up! I am also the best at leaving a party without saying goodbye. These two moves are related somehow and not polite. Currently, I tend to be an over-hugger. So be warned Toronto, you will be hugged!
Can you tell us about some/all of the other amazing women who worked on this film?
JR: There were A LOT of women both in front of and behind the camera for this film! The outstanding Shabana Azmi (who plays the South Asian mother Parveen) remarked early on during production in an official interview, how much she appreciated having so many women on set. This is a film written by two women, produced by women, directed by a woman, featuring all female lead acting roles and so many women behind the camera as well in the art department, camera department, production management, etc. Casting matters! Hiring matters!
Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it’s important to your filmmaking.
JR: I am a feminist because I believe in human equality. I consider my films to be a form of social justice. Every time I make a film, I intend to take a stance, make a difference, save a life.
Who are your favourite women working in the film industry?
JR: OMG, there are so many! I can start with some favorite Canadians like Caroline Monnet, Terril Calder and Sophie Goyette, plus Janicza Bravo, Dee Rees, So Yong Kim, Lauren Wolkstein, Eliza Hitman, Ana Lily Amirpour, Alicia Scherson, Kelly Reichardt, Claire Denis… and on and on and on.
What’s the best advice about filmmaking you’ve ever received?
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME THEY ARE FUCKING, I CAN SEE THAT THEY ARE FUCKING.” This advice came from Bérénice Reynaud (with a thick French accent). She was advising me to be confident about my ability to communicate with my images alone. Do not overstate the obvious and assume your audience is smart and will put in the work to “get it.” Trust your instincts! I would add: PUT IN THE WORK, PREPARE FOR ANYTHING and DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.
What male pop-culture icon or movie/TV character are you dreaming would get a gender swap?
JR: Ok, well let me say firstly that I do not believe in gender binaries or gender conformity. I would like to be Donald Trump for a day and I would resign as President of the US and fire the entire current cabinet and appoint Elizabeth Warner as the new Commander in Chief.
If you could hold any Guinness World Record, what would it be?
JR: I would like to be the woman who has made the most films which feature women and accurately portray the experiences of women!
What are you working on now/next?
JR: I am revising a script I wrote called AS WITH KNIVES AND SKIN about a death mystery among young women in a rural Midwestern town. It’s a teen noir that I will direct next summer.
Recommend one #MUFFApproved film for our blog readers!
JR: Pariah from Dee Rees and/or Certain Women from Kelly Reichardt.