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Inside Out: Signature Move, Directed By Jennifer Reeder

This year’s Inside Out Festival promises a stacked schedule of films, covering everything from one-night stands with ex-girlfriends to homeless LGBTQ youth to queer Muslim wrestlers. We have scoured the lineup for the best and the brightest.

In Signature Move, Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza), a queer Muslim Pakistani woman, walks into a bar and meets Alma (Sari Sanchez), a Mexican woman. Their repartee is charming and their connection immediate, but that’s just the beginning. Zaynab is stuck. She lives with her widowed TV-obsessed mother (Shabana Azmi) but takes great pains to hide everything from her, including her love of wrestling and her sexuality. Alma, on the other hand, gives Zaynab’s routine a much-needed shakeup, and what starts as a casual affair begins to deepen.

We chatted with Signature Move director, Jennifer Reeder.

SDTC: How much input did Fawzia Mirza have in your direction?

JR: Since Fawzia co-wrote the script and the story is mildly autobiographical, she knew her character very well; however, Fawzia likes to improvise, which is not how I like to direct, so there was some negotiation about keeping to the script. She is a very enthusiastic and smart actor but also very directable.

What drew you to this script?

Fawzia herself mostly. She is a magnetic person and I selfishly wanted to be part of anything she was part of. Plus, this is a very special and timely story and I wanted to be the one to help tell it. This film is a feminist film with a lot of women and front of and behind the camera, which is deeply important to me, so when I knew the producers were committed to this type of production, I could not refuse.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in making this film?

This is the first film that I directed but did not write, so it was a challenge to connect with the material and the characters. This is a funny and tender film and very relatable and accessible. I tend to make films that are a bit darker in tone and where the humour is more obtuse. Having said that, my own mother likes Signature Move the best out of all the films I have made.

Most fun scene to shoot?

By far, the wrestling sequences were the most fun to shoot. On those days, we had two sets of actual professional wrestlers, a cadre of professional stunt women, a stunt coordinator, two full camera departments and about 150 extras. It was extremely well choreographed and controlled chaos and it was a total blast as I think it comes across in those scene in the final film.

Were you surprised when Fawzia introduced herself as a lesbian on Twitter prior to the film announcement?

Fawzia has been out for quite sometime now. She is an open, honest and entirely genuine human being. Her identity as a Muslim Pakistani lesbian puts her at risk constantly – she is a political body. But she keeps moving forward into the conflict with love and peace and her artistic practice. I say often that art can save lives and this is certainly the case with how Fawzia exists in this cruel world. Signature Move is a gift from her heart to all of us.

What do you want audiences to take away from Signature Move?

The most radical aspect of this film is that it totally normalizes the images of Muslims, Mexicans and Lesbians. So far, as we have been touring with the film, audiences have been surprised at how relatable the story and characters are. This is a love story and drama that is also quite funny and touching. I want audiences to root for these women and take home with them a deeper understanding of what the current American family looks like.

Signature Move screens May 27 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Get tickets here

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