Sav Rodgers on Chasing Chasing Amy’s Tribeca premiere and the multi-year process behind his debut feature

"I made a choice to listen to the people around me and make the most compelling version of the movie, even if it wasn’t what I set out to do."
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Rodgers and Kevin Smith. // Photo by Bill Winters

When Sav Rodgers was 12, he saw a movie that changed his life forever: Kevin Smith’s 1998 romantic comedy Chasing Amy. The movie, in which Ben Affleck plays a comic book artist who falls in love with a lesbian woman only to learn that he’s not the only man she’s been with, has something of a checkered reputation among the LGBTQIA community. For a young queer kid growing up in Johnson county, however, it was a revelation.

When Rodgers first set out to make a documentary about the queer community’s reactions to Chasing Amy in 2018, years after his first encounter with the movie, he had no idea where that journey would take him. The resulting film, Chasing Chasing Amy, opens at the Tribeca Film Festival June 8. It includes interviews with LGBTQIA artists, filmmakers and writers like Guinevere Turner and Princess Weekes, as well as people involved in making Chasing Amy, including Smith and star Joey Lauren Adams. 

Most importantly, however, Chasing Chasing Amy becomes an unexpected chronicle of Rodgers’ evolving relationship with the movie, himself and the people around him as he comes out as trans, gets engaged and gets married over the course of the production. Ahead of the film’s premiere, Rodgers talked with The Pitch about his experience making the film, how his own relationship to Chasing Amy has changed over time, and pre-festival excitement.

The Pitch: This movie has been a long time in the making, and I think the journey we go on with the finished film reflects that. Can you walk us through what your initial plan for the film was, and how that changed as you were making it?

Sav Rodgers: The journey for Chasing Chasing Amy started when I was 12, and I saw the movie for the first time. Day one of production was September 1, 2018 when I moved to New York for a TED residency to start developing it and telling my own story. We shot the first footage of Chasing Chasing Amy a week after I gave my TED Talk, which was December 14, 2018.

The movie I set out to make was more of an examination of the variety of responses among LGBTQ people regarding Chasing Amy, and what it says to have such a diverse and complex reaction from a community to a movie like that. As we continued, working with all these amazing collaborators, they kept pointing back at me and saying, “You should add your personal story, and the story of the movie is your relationship to Chasing Amy.” I made a choice to listen to the people around me and make the most compelling version of the movie, even if it wasn’t what I set out to do.

What was the most surprising reaction you encountered from the people you interviewed for the film?

I was fully expecting more people to talk about how they disliked Chasing Amy, but they had a nuanced point of view, which is such a core aspect to the documentary. Very few people ever came in and trashed it, which was not the point of interviewing folks in the first place. They each showed me where to explore different avenues. The most delightful part of making it was exploring Chasing Amy with intelligent, brilliant people. It was 12-year-old Sav’s dream come true.

Speaking of dreams coming true, as part of making this movie, you ended up developing a working relationship with Kevin Smith, which I have to imagine was thrilling.

Kevin has always treated me with kindness and generosity. When the TED Talk came out, enough people had sent it to him within an hour of it being online that he just reached out immediately and was so generous with me in that way. He didn’t have to offer to be in my movie, give an interview, or do any of the things he did to participate in the documentary. 

Through the rapport we developed it became a mentor and peer relationship in some ways. I’m immensely thankful for the gift of his time in addition to making Chasing Amy because his participation made my movie better. A lot of people in his position wouldn’t go the distance with me to tell the story we ended up telling.

Part of your film includes an interview with Joey Lauren Adams that really goes deep on her experience making Chasing Amy and afterward in a way I don’t think audiences will expect. We won’t spoil anything here, but suffice it to say her experience making that movie was different from Kevin Smith’s. Did anything about that conversation change your own relationship to the movie?

I think it changed as I was doing the interview with Joey, and I have nothing but love and respect for her vulnerability and honesty in that interview. It was a profound moment in my life, and in the documentary. I’m glad she was able to speak her truth. I can’t speak to how she felt, but in all of my research on Chasing Amy, I hadn’t seen that point of view that she shared in that interview anywhere else. It was so great that she shared that truth with me. 

Yes, unquestionably, it changed my relationship to the movie. I was coming at everything through my lens, which is a valuable one, about the media that saves our lives and how it shapes us. But there’s room for nuance, for things to be complicated and messy. The experience of that interview doesn’t change how 12-year-old Sav felt, but I think it helped me let go of my need to hang on to the movie. It was grounding and a great reminder that I have a lot going on that’s more important than my relationship to that movie, period. The Joey interview grounded that perspective for me, and helped me to consider other points of view even beyond LGBTQIA community reactions.

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Sav Rodgers with his magical moving picture device. // Photo by Michael Ori

Another aspect of your documentary that I love is that it introduces a lot of further watching for people who have a limited knowledge of queer cinema. After audiences watch Chasing Chasing Amy, what would you recommend they watch next? 

I’d say dive straight into the New Queer Cinema movement. Watch everything from Tongues Untied, Blue, But I’m a Cheerleader and The Watermelon Woman, along with any of the movies we reference in the documentary, and filmmakers like Todd Haynes, Gregg Araki or Alison Anders. Beyond that, go to Outfest, and watch stuff coming out now. One of my favorite movies of the last few years was 2019’s Straight Up. It’s a nuanced take on queer relationships that reminded me a lot of Chasing Amy

There’s so much great queer cinema out there. If you’re looking in the right places you’ll be so pleasantly surprised. It’s that feeling when you see queer joy and think “I didn’t know I was missing this,” or something that’s angry and makes you feel. I love watching a movie that’s angry. When I talked to Teo Bugbee, a critic at New York Times, for this movie, she responded by saying “I don’t think you go to the movies to see yourself. You go to empathize with another person.” I still think about that. Whose perspective can I get inside of by watching this movie? 

Because it’s not often I get to talk to people who are getting ready to premiere their first movie at a major film festival, I feel like I have to ask: how do you get a film into a festival like Tribeca? What was that process like?

It’s hard! It’s hard to get into a fest like Tribeca. This is my first major market festival where you go through the process of trying to sell a picture, and I’m thankful it’s Tribeca. What a platform!

Typically you finish the movie, and once it’s in an acceptable state, you send it out and get people to look at it. You send it out to SXSW, Tribeca, Sundance, all these festivals where it’s a privilege for them to see the movie, let alone actually get accepted and be there. You hope for the best, and hope a programmer likes your movie. As someone who’s done a lot of programming the last five years, I know how hard that is, and I recognize when a movie stands out like that among so many submissions. You have to be happy about that and thankful for the opportunity. 

What’s the hope beyond getting this in front of audiences? Are you looking for a distributor?

Correct! Hopeful next steps are that we’ll have a great time at Tribeca, then the Provincetown International Film Festival, then Frameline and any others coming up. I hope that it connects with an audience, they get some meaning out of it and enjoy the 90 minutes we spend together. 

Beyond that, I hope we find the right home for it, a studio who’s willing to invest in a queer underdog story like ours. I don’t think you have to be trans to relate to this movie. So much of it is just about the media we consume and why it’s important to us. I hope there are people who find a pathway into relating to this movie and that we have a lot of fun along the way, regardless of what happens next. 

Categories: Movies