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In Conversation With Sav Rodgers, Director of 'Chasing Chasing Amy'

Chasing Chasing Amy
Sav Rodgers; image courtesy of BFI Flare (via Strike Media)

When Sav Rodgers was twelve years old, he encountered Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith’s 1997 independent slacker comedy about a cisgender heterosexual man who falls in love with a lesbian. Whilst the film was met with criticism by the contemporary LGBT community, Kansas kid Rodgers found within it authentic-feeling representations of queer people like him. Now, years on, with his documentary Chasing Chasing Amy, Rodgers sets out to demystify a film that has sat differently for him than it perhaps does for his peers, his community, and even its creator. We sat down with him to discuss queer cinema beyond the canon, an exciting new wave of trans filmmaking, and the many vulnerabilities involved in making a film like Chasing Chasing Amy.

Your film deeply moved me – it made me tear up on multiple occasions. I think every queer person has that one film that exists on the margins of the accepted canon that means the world to them and forms a large part of their own queer identity formation and conception. What compelled you to take that brave leap to demystify that film for yourself and make that experience into a documentary for the community at large?

I wanted to tell a story that only I could tell. I knew I had a unique take on Chasing Amy because every time I would tell someone that Chasing Amy was my favourite movie, especially if they were queer, a lot of times they would give me a sideways glance of ‘you sure about that?’. I thought that was an interesting place of discovery, that I have this really specific relationship with this film, that it has impacted me in a really significant way – I think there’s a conflict there that’s interesting to explore. As much as Chasing Amy meant something to me as a twelve-year-old closeted queer kid in Kansas, there were people who felt hurt by it or felt they could identify with it, and that nuance and that complication was an interesting place to explore.

I also figured that there was nobody else who was going to try to make this movie, so I would have a unique angle and would be the right person to try and make this film. That’s where it started, just wanting to do something really specific, and the way that the journey unfolds made me feel even more confident in that fact. I was able to give a TED Talk about what Chasing Amy meant to me, and then Kevin [Smith] saw it within an hour of it being online and responded to it. It didn’t happen in any way that I thought it would happen, but I did end up having this bespoke, unique experience that I couldn’t have written as a screenplay because it would have seemed too unrealistic.

How much do you feel your film is ultimately a personal document for yourself, and how much is it something made for the community – who are you trying to speak to more, yourself, or us as queer spectators?

In the same way that Chasing Amy has its own interesting set of characteristics that make it a film where you can take away whatever you’re looking to get out of it, I think the same can be said of Chasing Chasing Amy. If you’re looking for something to identify with as a trans person, or if you’re a parent of a queer person, or you just love cinema, or if there’s another piece of media that has saved your life, you can get something out of Chasing Chasing Amy in that same way.

For me, I just wanted to make a film that felt authentic to my voice and felt true and honest and to really go there with it, or else the last half a decade would have been a complete waste. I’m an audience-minded filmmaker. The idea is that anybody can latch onto it, whether or not they care about Chasing Amy.

Chasing Chasing Amy
Chasing Chasing Amy (2023); image courtesy of BFI Flare (via Strike Media)

I think as queer people we have a habit of talking to ourselves to talk to others. In that reflecting on our own personal experiences and introspecting can bring out stuff for other people perhaps.

100%. I mean, I spent my entire childhood having conversations with myself about Chasing Amy, because nobody my age had seen it. And certainly nobody in my life really cared that much about the movie other than me. So for my entire life, I was preparing to have these conversations in public about Chasing Amy and my own journey about it. I just never knew what it would feel like for people to talk back, which has been an interesting experience as an adult now.

Looking at the ‘talking back’ then - did you feel during the process that there was a danger that you were misreading the film or projecting onto it personally too much? Did you feel that perhaps the queer truth that you saw within the film might have been more accidental than you’d hoped?

I think there was a lot of fear throughout the process of, you know, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’, ‘is anybody going to care about this?’. Things of that nature. And I think there’s some truth in doubting myself and doubting if anybody else would see the things that I’m seeing.

I also knew, because I had been researching Chasing Amy for so long, that yes, there was validity to them. But our subjective truths as moviegoers, those are true for us. Our take on a movie, our read on a movie is personal. Every time you watch a movie, you have this individualistic experience with it. Then you go out to seek community to see if other people feel the same way you do.

There’s this exchange of ideas when you talk about it. I met a ton of queer people who loved the movie, way more than I ever thought existed. I sought out people that made the think pieces that made me go ‘Okay, I’m not alone here’. But I would also talk to people who detested the film and get their perspective on it. So there was less of a fear that nobody else would feel the way that I felt, but I did feel nervous at this idea that there was no queer consensus on Chasing Amy. And that’s still true because there can’t be – there’s no 100% love or dislike of a movie across the board.

What I’ve found is that the conversation that I thought I would be having ultimately changed, because it went from ‘What is this film’s legacy’ to ‘What does it mean to love a film?’. Who do you get to become when you know that you exist because you’ve seen something? I think that’s something that every cinemagoer can identify with.

Watching the film, Kevin Smith’s response to you feels very open and receptive, it’s wonderful. How did it feel approaching him when you are approaching from a queer perspective a work that was a cishet perspective on queerness?

I didn’t feel any kind of nervousness about talking to Kevin about a queer perspective on Chasing Amy, because for years in public and in interviews and tweets he would acknowledge any shortcomings that other people felt that he had had. It was more intimidating to meet Kevin the person who made me want to become a filmmaker and then figuring out how I navigate a rapport with somebody so likable and friendly. This film will inherently bring up questions of his legacy - the first day I met him, that was a conversation I had with him. To his credit, he was very open when I said that there will be people in this movie who do not like Chasing Amy and do not like you and do not appreciate the film at all, before you participate, you need to know that. And he said – great. And that truly is the kind of guy he is. But I also think you can see in the film how I’m trying to navigate that relationship with Kevin as the person who made me want to become a filmmaker, but also a filmmaker whose work I’m assessing in real-time from a place of queer perspective and fandom. It’s messy and it’s complicated.

Chasing Chasing Amy
Chasing Chasing Amy (2023); image courtesy of BFI Flare (via Strike Media)

Do you hope that your film will canonise Chasing Amy afresh in any way, or is that unimportant to you as it already has a place in your own personal canon?

I don’t feel the need to either protect the film or defend it or ask other people to do that assessment. I’m glad that more people are watching the movie and considering perspectives that I’ve held for so long, but also perspectives antithetical to my own that are also explored in the film. It’s exciting to see people talk about it more and reflect on it 25, 30 years on.

I don’t think Chasing Amy needs a solidified place in the queer film canon. It’s its own thing. It has its own place in Kevin Smith’s canon, independent film canon. I think regardless of whether anybody thinks it’s a queer film or not, it does have its own place by virtue of the fact that it was one of the few films with mainstream exposure. For the independent film movement in 1997, to get a theatrical release, make $12 million at the box office, and ultimately influence people’s opinions on LGBTQ people - it’s already had an impact regardless of if people want to let into a specific club or not.

I was just in Austin, and I met somebody who saw Chasing Amy when it came out and it changed their minds about queer people in general. It made them more open. And just as many times as I hear that I also hear ‘It made me feel isolated and bad about myself’. I think both of those things are valid and it’s what makes it such an interesting film. It’s like a cultural Rorschach test in some ways.

I watched Chasing Amy for the first time a few days ago and was taken aback. The characters feel like living, breathing, identifiable queer characters, and Affleck and co. are having to wrestle with the reality of those queer characters on screen, a reality that doesn’t necessarily line up with the established archetypes.

Whether we classify Chasing Amy as speaking to a queer audience or to a straight one, the conversations it creates perhaps bridge understanding between the two. Do you think there’s still a space and place for cishet people to make films about queer people? Are there still stories about queer people that are for cishet people to tell that should still be told? Have we had that phase in film history - is it too contentious now?

It's an interesting question because I think there’s almost like a false dichotomy there, because effectively– let’s operate from the place where we want more queer storytellers telling queer stories. We’re putting the onus on queer storytellers to tell all queer stories, right? Those filmmakers need to be funded, prioritised. They need to be mentored, greenlit, paid appropriately. They need people really investing in their careers and that’s happening more, but it’s not happening in the same way that it’s happening for the biggest filmmakers or even the most successful independent filmmakers. Storytellers will always find a way, but I don’t think we can demand at the present moment that only queer people can tell queer stories because we’re just not being funded enough, we’re not being prioritised enough in the marketplace. We’re still considered too niche. And I think that also lets cisgender and straight filmmakers off the hook of, well, they don’t need to include queer people.

I’m not looking for a world where I’m not included in a major studio film that only gets to be greenlit by a handful of people who are not from our community. I want to see this everywhere and I want to see us casually included just as much as I want to see coming-of-age stories about trans people that aren’t about the worst things that have ever happened to us. I think it’s a nuanced thing, but I do want straight people including LGBTQ people in their stories. Because we need allies, and I would always want to encourage people to include us and consult with us and hire us in front of and behind the camera. It’s not just a black-or-white thing, it’s a multi-pronged problem that requires solutions that address some of our industry ills and not just this idea that representation can be fixed if you put in a gay best friend.

Chasing Chasing Amy
Chasing Chasing Amy (2023); image courtesy of BFI Flare (via Strike Media)

Let’s talk about trans cinema then, which seems to be having a bit of a moment right now. There are films such as I Saw The TV Glow, The People’s Joker, T-Blockers, The Matrix Resurrections - I could go on. And you’ve founded the Trans Film Center, a funding nonprofit for trans cinema, which is very cool. How does it feel to be part of this moment? Do you feel like we might be on the cusp of a New Trans Cinema?

Yeah, I’m really excited about this moment that we’re in where trans people are having opportunities to have their films funded and their stories prioritised and told, and it’s one of the reasons that the Trans Film Center was started. I was sick of not seeing a space where I could apply for funding basically. We launched in 2020 during lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and I was seeing grant funds shut down. I was seeing artist development opportunities go away and that’s just kind of my personality of like, well, nobody’s doing it, might as well do it ourselves.

I recruited some friends to become board members who had a variety of skill sets who were just amazing people and we started our first grant fund, the Trailblazer Grant. It’s not anything that I can apply to, I’ve just created more work for myself, but we do get to support other trans creatives, which is truly an amazing experience, and I’ve learned so much from them. I can say with authority that there are so many trans creatives whose works we haven’t seen yet, whose works are gonna come down the pipeline and you’re gonna be blown away by. Just from the few people that we’ve been able to help since we started, I’m really blown away by the immense talent of the trans filmmaking community.

You just listed a bunch of titles that are amazing. There’s also Kokomo City, The Stroll, there’s also all these other films, again, from all intersections of trans creatives, that for the first time as far I know, really showcases to the world, hey – this is what we can do through cinema, and everyone has a unique bespoke perspective. My perspective is not the same as Zachary Drucker’s or Dee Smith’s or any of the other incredible filmmakers that are even at BFI Flare or London Film Festival. We all have something different to contribute and I think that’s a wonderful thing, to be able to see the wide range of stories that can come from trans storytellers if you just give us a shot.

And these films are fucking phenomenal. So I’m honoured to be even a footnote in this moment of trans people getting to tell their own stories. It’s really pretty amazing.

That makes me want to ask a broader question – what is queer cinema to you? What does that encompass, what can it be, what should it be?

Oh gosh. I’m going to answer the question of what can it be, because I think queer cinema can be a lot of things and it’s been a lot of things already.

Pre-existing the New Queer Cinema movement, there were always people who were getting their perspective in there, even pre-code movies all the way till now. In the last 100 years of cinema, there have always been queer people doing something. What I always like to look to is the future, and what the possibilities are, and I do think the possibilities are endless, especially as the industry is in this moment of crisis of figuring out what it wants to be.

What I want to see are trans creatives and queer creatives funded, greenlit, working with supportive executives if they’re going through the studio system, working with great funders if they’re going independently. I want to see different kinds of queer stories greenlit. I want to see nuanced characters. I want to see joyful stories about trans people.

I’d love to see the movies I wish that I had had when I was twelve years old and found Chasing Amy, but gosh, wouldn’t it have been great if I had seen a trans boy on screen coming of age, figuring out his stuff as I was trying to figure out my stuff. I want to see a future where we’re casually included and it’s not a big deal. I want to see trans actors able to make a living as professional actors. I want to see first-time filmmakers being able to go through the development process and it’s fine. There are a lot of things that I want for the future.

And I think that’s what’s so great about queer cinema, that it’s always been a space of innovation. I don’t think there’s anything original under the sun, but I do think there’s always an opportunity to innovate and get your story out there and do something rad. And that requires all of us to work together in community because life and filmmaking are team sports.

What advice would you give to anyone who might go chasing that one film that occupies that personal space for them as you’ve done?

I think we all tell ourselves stories to make gaps in our knowledge make sense. And you don’t know what you don’t know about something that you love. Recognise that your relationship with that thing is your relationship with that thing, and your perspective may not be considered universal - it may be novel, it may not be. The narrative that we tell ourselves may be completely different than what someone else has experienced, or their own perspective on the thing that you love so much. Be prepared to be okay with that, because that’s their perspective. Your job is to listen and take in that information and bear witness.

Chasing Chasing Amy releases in UK cinemas on May 17th.


Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor


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