Signature Movea new film directed by Jennifer Reeder and written by Fawzia Mirza and Lisa Donatois a much-anticipated Chicago-made lesbian feature film that has been garnering praise this year as it tours the festival circuit around the world.
The film tells the story of a thirtysomething lesbian lawyer named Zaynab ( played by Mirza ) living in Chicago who starts a new relationship with a Mexican-American woman named Alma ( played by Sari Sanchez ). Zaynab's mother, Parveen ( portrayed by Shabana Azmi ), moves in to their apartment, creating drama. Pro wrestling involving Alma's professional luchadora mother is all part of the mix in this hilarious movie.
Mirza is a Pakistani-Canadian actress who is also a writer, producer and comedian. Her one-woman show Me, My Mom and Sharmila was performed at the International Theatre Festival and Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre.
She created a web series that was shown on YouTube surrounding the adventures of Kameron Kardashian, a fictional lesbian sister of the popular family. In the same vein, she created Ayesha Ali Trump, the fictional daughter of Donald Trump in The Muslim Trump Documentary.
Windy City Times: Where did you grow up?
Fawzia Mirza: I was born in Canada and raised in Nova Scotia on the East Coast.
WCT: I did a travel story there years ago. It's beautiful.
FM: It is my spot. I was the only brown Muslim kid, so growing up there is very different than visiting, but it is beautiful. It is incorporated in many of my stories and how I exist as a human being now.
WCT: Did you always want to perform?
FM: Yes. I discovered at a young age that comedy was really powerful. It was a way to feel part of the crowd and the community. In high school when I moved to the states I discovered theater. I was in the band and did speech team. It was at the end of law school that I took my first acting class. In school zero art was involved. My parents wanted me to do something serious with my life. The reason I moved to Chicago was for law school.
WCT: Then you fell into performing?
FM: Yes, in my third year of law school a mandatory class everyone has to take is called trial advocacy. It is where you learn the roles of the courtroom. It was more acting than lawyering. My teacher had me try out for the trail advocacy team and I loved it. After I passed the bar, I started taking improv classes at night while being a litigator during the day.
WCT: That sounds like a movie.
FM: I will write that one!
WCT: When did you come out of the closet?
FM: I was in Chicago after my dad died. I was not the kid that always knew. It happened later in life.
WCT: Talk about Signature Move.
FM: It is inspired by my relationship with a Mexican woman. I fell in love with her in Chicago. People never think of Pakistanis and Mexicans as having much in common, but we do, whether it is the way our families are or the way we speak switching from English to our native language. We love cilantro and mangos. There is so much cultural stuff that connects us.
Thinking about that I wrote a short script called Signature Move. I worked on the feature with my friend Lisa Donato. We took the short and made it into a feature in seven days. We workshopped it from there.
WCT: You star in it?
FM: I star in it, co-wrote it and I'm a producer.
WCT: Your co-star is coming to the screening?
FM: Yes, the Meryl Streep of IndiaShabana Azmi. She has done over 150 films and is a theater performer. She is an amazing artist and activist. She starred in the lesbian film Fire 20 years ago, where she played a woman who loves a woman, now she is the mother of a woman who loves a woman. We are doing a special one night on Sept. 28 where it will be the first time she sees the movie. I get to watch her watch the movie, which is really fun.
WCT: This is part of the Chicago South Asian Film Festival?
FM: Yes. Part of my job is connecting seemingly different communities together through art and stories. We wanted to bring the communities together throughout the Chicago theatrical run. We are going to be doing a Saturday night event that is co-presented with Reeling. We are going to do a ladies wrestling event with a screening. We are partnering with The Midwest Independent Film Festival for a Tuesday night screening. We are doing an industry night on Monday.
WCT: I love the ladies wrestling component.
FM: The wrestling in the movie features local stunt women and four actual professional wrestlers. The party we are doing Friday night will be at Fort Knox Studios in the space called the Hanger. That is where we filmed a bunch of our scenes including the wrestling scene. After the screening we will have a huge after party that features two of our wrestlers having a real ladies bout. The main event is on Saturday called Love, Life, and Ladies Wrestling after the screening. There will be a bundled ticket that covers it all.
WCT: You are always so busy.
FM: I do come up with projects constantly. That is a good and bad thing. My managers would say I need to calm down, but at the same time not stop being an idea factory. I love collaborating with different people. I hope I can spark creativity with them. Hopefully one day I will get paid lots of money and will have lots of space to have more collaborations.
WCT: Would you ever do another one-woman show?
FM: I would. I have this dream that one day I can do theater on the side where I won't have to worry about how little I am being paid. I am working with a writer named Terrie Samundra. We have adapted my one-woman show into a screenplay. We are currently working on the drafts of that.
WCT: Whatever happened to your character Kam Kardashian?
FM: She's still alive and a part of me. I am not bringing her to any projects anytime soon, although I feel her energy is in every project. I just can't help it!
Follow thefawz on Twitter and Instagram. The special preview of Signature Move takes place Thursday, Sept. 28, with Shabana Azmi at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival. The debut screening is on Friday, Sept. 29, at The Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. For more information, visit MusicBoxTheatre.com .