When producers Brian and Jan Heiggelke, who together publish New City, and Eugene Park were looking for a Chicago movie project to back, they had one condition: it had to be directed by a woman. So says Jennifer Reeder, the woman who ended up helming Signature Move, which went on to premiere at SXSW earlier this year and begins its theatrical run in Chicago with a screening at Music Box Theatre on Friday, September 29.
It’s the first film Reeder’s directed that she hasn’t also written; the script is the brainchild of writing duo Fawzia Mirza and Lisa Donato, drawing from much of Mirza’s own experiences as a queer, Muslim, Pakistani American woman navigating life, love, work and family in Chicago. Mirza stars in the film as Zaynab, an immigration lawyer whose mother moved in with her after her father’s recent death. When a client can’t pay her for services, they barter for wrestling lessons that soon prove to be a great outlet for Zaynab’s stress and open her up to a whole world: the kitschy, soap-opera-like ‘luchadora’ phenomenon.
On this colorful backdrop of costumed female wrestling, Mirza, Donato and Reeder build a film about falling in love and finding oneself in a world that doesn’t often – if at all – reflect that person back to you. From the taquerias of Pilsen to the fresh markets on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park, Signature Move is infused with Chicago’s diversity, highlighting areas of the city that don’t often see themselves on the big screen. It’s the way this diversity is presented, so matter-of-fact and run-of-the-mill, that places the film squarely within the canon of recent efforts by the film industry to expand the stories being told and those who tell them, all while effortlessly normalizing their differences. (See: The Big Sick, Atlanta, Wonder Woman, Moonlight…on and on.)
“That normalizing aspect was really important,” said Reeder in a recent phone conversation. “At the end of the day, the best thing this film can do is begin conversations about the people it represents. It’s part of the narrative content, not something that happened by accident.”
While one would like to think that in late 2017, normalizing diversity is not a thing we still have to be doing, it’s instead more essential than ever. And by following Zaynab through the highs and lows of what’s essentially an everyday life – falling in love, a meddlesome if well-meaning mother – audiences who experience Signature Move are gifted one more opportunity to peek into the lives of those too often categorized as “different,” only t0 find they’re just like “us” after all. Because, duh.
What it offers in diversity, the film matches in entertainment. It’s a fun, funny romantic comedy about an unlikely pair – Zaynab is a buttoned-up lawyer, and Alma an outspoken Latina with a feminist bookstore – who, not without a few hiccups, figure out how to be together. And it’s all filmed in a Chicago any local will quickly recognize, including bar scenes at The Hideout alongside several similar neighborhood joints.
“We made a concerted effort to represent that Chicago instead of Wrigleyville,” Reeder said. “We wanted to counterbalance those films coming out of, like, Brooklyn, these dude-centric, hapless bros at craft breweries growing their beards out. We’re celebrating the beautiful diversity in Chicago’s neighborhoods; it’s a city that was built on immigrants, and we wanted to show how easy it is to fall in love in and with Chicago.”
Bringing the film to Chicago audiences by way of Music Box Theatre is no small occasion for Reeder, who’s lived in the city for over twenty years and seen independent filmmakers come and go. Like many a film fan, the Music Box was and is a go-to for Reeder, and she expects the premiere to be filled with the cast, crew, extras and more who helped make the film a reality.
“The Hideout people are coming,” she said. “That’s where Chicago becomes a small town again, when we call come together with ‘look, we made this movie!’ I love that. That energy is exciting for the premiere night.”
Signature Move opens in Chicago on Friday, September 29; tickets are still available for the premiere with filmmakers, cast and crew in attendance, and there’s even an event on Saturday, September 30 with live wrestling. For more information and to get tickets, visit Music Box Theatre here.