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Jennifer Reeder’s ‘Signature Move’ film focuses on Chicago love story

Sari Sanchez (left) and Fawzia Mirza in "Signature Move." | CHICAGO FILM PROJECT

For director Jennifer Reeder, making films in Chicago is clearly a passion. The filmmaker, who moved to the city in 1994 to attend the School of the Art Institute, has stayed and worked here, “unlike a lot of the people I went to school with, who felt they had to leave and go to one of the coasts to work. …

“The funny thing, I don’t even know if some of them are still working in the film industry.”

Reeder’s new film, “Signature Moves,” opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre, with a special screening Thursday evening with actress Shabana Azmi in attendance, presented by the Chicago South Asian Film Festival.

Tackling the material in Lisa Donato and Fawzia Mirza’s script was a big challenge for Reeder. She explained that the producing team, which included Brian and Jan Hieggelke (from the New City weekly, who made this movie the first from their Chicago Film Project), “wanted to put as many women behind the camera as in front of the camera.” That made sense, because the story is about a Pakistani-American lesbian lawyer falling in love with a Mexican-American woman who owns a bookstore. A big part of the storyline focuses on the relationship between the lawyer (played by Mirza) and her very conservative Pakistani mother, who she has not told she’s gay.

Reeder noted that “not only was this the first film I’ve directed that I didn’t write, but it’s a story about women who do not mirror my own life experiences.”

That said, the director especially enjoyed filming the scenes involving the main character Zaynab’s lessons in female Mexican lucha libre style wrestling. “Obviously, that was a big learning curve for me, but I loved shooting all that,” said Reeder.

Being an adopted Chicagoan of long standing, Reeder also knew how to make “a micro-budget indie like this” in the city’s various neighborhoods.

“It was important to give the film a strong Chicago feel. We shot in Rogers Park along Devon Avenue, which is definitely the heart of the city’s South Asian community. We also shot in Pilsen, Humboldt Park and Little Village. These are all strong, vibrant and long-standing Chicago neighborhoods for those communities. These are not the first neighborhoods you typically see in a film about Chicago — places like Wrigleyville, the lakefront or Division Street on the Gold Coast.

“We wanted to use very authentic Chicago neighborhoods, but areas that are very radically underused for Chicago filming, for the most part.”

Equally key to Reeder was “to make the film in English, obviously, but also use a lot of Spanish and Urdu [spoken between Zaynab and her mother, played by Shabana Azmi]. Beyond all the other issues and themes in our movie, I know many people in the audience, who come from immigrant families, will understand this. It is very authentic. It’s how children of immigrants communicate with their parents. There is constant switching back and forth. Here it is between English and Urdu, and English and Spanish.”