From “White Trash” to “Signature Move”: Jennifer Reeder

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By Guru Ramanathant, Editorial Staff Writer

Jennifer Reeder’s new romantic comedy-drama “Signature Move” is hitting theaters soon, having made the festival rounds for about a year. The film is bolstered by a script co-written by star Fawzia Mirza and Lisa Donato. “Signature Move” is considerably mainstream compared to Reeder’s previous experimental short films, “A Million Miles Away” (2014) and “Blood Below the Skin” (2015). She is known for exploring the lives of adolescent girls and their use of music and fashion to express themselves. However, “Signature Move” presented an interesting challenge for Reeder who said in an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, “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.”

Reeder completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio State University and later went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In Chicago, she was inspired to make her breakthrough project “White Trash Girl.” The wild eight-minute short is about an infant child of incest who is flushed down a toilet and has to grow up in the sewers. She becomes a superhero later in her life and uses her bodily fluids to kill her enemies. Reeder received critical acclaim and an invitation from the Whitney Museum in New York. In a 2003 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Reeder reflected on the film saying, “I just felt like I was raging… [it] felt forthright, righteous, totally powerful.”

Post-“White Trash Girl” Reeder became committed to creating art that was still inciting but more accessible to mass audiences. Her feature film debut, “Tiny Plastic Rainbow,” focused on alienated urban characters suffering from a tragedy. When speaking of the evolution of Reeder’s work, Julia Friedman of the West Loop gallery said in 2003: “Jennifer’s earlier work was more political in nature and more aggressive in tone… Her later work has become more universal and ambiguous.”

For the past decade Reeder has continued to make experimental shorts revolving around adolescent female characters and dangerous parent figures. Dissatisfied with the contemporary offerings for young audiences, Reeder has been intent on crafting coming-of-age stories, believing teenage girls, especially, offer rich narrative opportunities. In an interview with National Post Reeder explained, “I can be a feminist filmmaker […] but I don’t have to make films that have likeable female protagonists… I can still portray real female states and experiences.” Her unconventional narratives have paved the way for selections to prestige film festivals including Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival. Her 2015 film, “Blood Below the Skin”, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Chicago Underground Film Festival.

Reeder also founded a social justice initiative called Tracers Book Club, which was featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Tracers’ aim is to be an inclusive program attempting to give students a broader history and viewpoint of feminism. The name “Tracer” originated from one of Reeder’s scripts but has found a new meaning in “tracing out” sexism.

The writer/director is currently developing a teenage feature length drama set in rural Kentucky titled “As With Knives and Skin.” Reeder is also an educator, serving as associate professor of Moving Image and is the current head of the School of Art and Art History at University of Illinois at Chicago.