Jennifer Reeder’s short films are certainly unpredictable, impactful and perhaps bizarre. She is definitely not afraid to be brave and express her support for a world made of equality, freedom and, above all, reality. Growing up in a matriarchal family, Jennifer Reeder endorses feminist ideals; she founded an initiative dedicated to feminism, called the Tracers Book Club, and produces films with a cast entirely made of women, both in front of and behind the camera. As she says to us: “I am certainly a feminist. I believe in all aspects of human equality. We should all be feminists!”
You are undoubtedly an experimental filmmaker. How did this happen? What pushed you to start writing and directing short films?
Like the impossible lovechild of Maya Deren and Steve McQueen, I became a filmmaker because of dance and visual art. After failing a sculpture course, my instructor suggested me to take a performance art course because of my dance background. During the course, we made a lot of videos, and when I took the camera for the first time, it was like recovering a phantom limb.
I would definitely say that your narratives are very innovative and that your films are very particular. Nonetheless, you received a lot of appreciation around the world and your films have been well received at festivals such as Curtocurcuito, Berlin Film Festival and Rotterdam Film Festival, to name a few. Were you expecting all this when you started?
Well, to me, filmmaking is storytelling and storytelling is about engaging an audience. Of course I want the public to feel connected to my material and I want them to crave for more. I deeply appreciate the success of my films, but primarily, my aim is to connect with an audience, even if that is just one person. Success means that I can keep making the films I want to make in my own way.
How has your attitude towards criticism (both good and bad) evolved during your career?
I love great reviews of course, but I am not overly affected by the not-so-great ones. Filmmaking, as any art, is subjective. Not everyone can love what I do (which is just too bad for them).
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I found it very interesting that you work with an all-female casting, both behind and in front of the camera. How is it to work with a cast entirely made of women?
My films are often about female friendship as a strategy for survival and I am committed to ending the myth of the ‘mean girl’. So I pack my films with women both in front of and behind the camera. However, I do this in a way that does not diminish men or exclude them, which is why I think my films actually appeal to a diverse audience.
Solidarity between women is the centre of your works. Do you consider yourself a feminist? What influenced your development as so?
I am certainly a feminist. I believe in all aspects of human equality. We should all be feminists! I have very strong women in my life, my mother and my paternal grandmother in particular. I grew up in a matriarchal family, so I had no other choice than support, promote and empower women.
Nowadays, it seems that the concept of feminism is losing its value and meaning. How do you define it? And what would you tell to those people who don’t believe in it because they say it’s ‘too radical’?
The desire of all human beings to be considered equal is not radical. Men need feminism just as much as women, and my brand of feminism is intersectional. I consider race, class, religion and championship the issues of the LGBTQIA community. My feminism is for everyone. It’s a human right.
“I consider race, class, religion and championship the issues of the LGBTQIA community. My feminism is for everyone. It’s a human right.”
You also founded an initiative dedicated to promoting feminism and self-determination, called the Tracers Book Club. Could you tell us something more about the organization? How did this idea come up?
I started Tracers Book Club as a mean to raise consciousness around issues of feminism and human equality. In the United States many young people hesitate to use the word feminist because it seems old and dusty. Tracers Book Club means to reinvigorate the word and the philosophy.
Your more recent films explore youth culture and the adolescents of today. What drives your interest or curiosity towards that specific generation? Why are you so focused on the emotional world of teenagers?
Adolescence is a time of transition, which is built-in character arc – plus I love the genre of teen films! There is a lot to explore cinematically in terms of art direction and music production. The world of teenagers is very textured and visually complex. And quite often, typically American films about teenagers are not authentic. I hope that my films seem textured and authentic.
Would you say that there are autobiographic elements in your narrative? Is there any connection between your adolescent memories and the stories you now tell?
So much of the music that I use in my films is autobiographical. There are certainly narrative elements that I have borrowed from my own life, but I won’t tell you which ones.
Let’s talk about Blood Below The Skin, a short film from 2015. I found it very impressive. The movie explores feelings and sexual desires, following an intriguing love story between two very young girls. Why have you portrayed an adolescent lesbian love? What inspired you and what message do you want to send?
Well, there are a lot of films for boys who’re crazy for girls, so I wanted to make a film about a girl crazy for another girl – and even one who cannot be bothered by either yet. Validation is one of the most powerful human needs. Blood Below the Skin is a film that says, “I see you”. It’s a simple gesture but deeply impactful.
Let’s talk about the recent film Signature Move. It talks about a Pakistani Muslim lesbian girl who tries to hide her love and interest in lucha – a wrestling style – from her mother. The movie was actually written by Fawzia Mirza and Lisa Donato, and directed by you. What were your first impressions after reading the story? What made you decide to direct the audio-visual adaptation?
It is a very timely story, especially considering the current United States administration. This is a loving and inclusive film that does not portray Muslims as terrorists or Mexican’s as rapists (as Trump has suggested over and over).  There is also a certain coming of age aspect to this story, which I found interesting.
And how was the experience of directing a story written by someone else?
I was not sure that I was the right person for this job but I certainly did not want anyone else to do it. So I accepted the challenge, which is always a mean to creative and intellectual growth.
What is your vision of freedom?
Are you currently working in any new film or project? What can we expect from you future plans?
I am in pre-production for a feature length narrative that I wrote and will direct called As with Knives and Skin. It’s based on topics from A Million Miles Away and Blood Below the Skin. I call it a midwestern gothic teen noir. I will make it next summer!
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