How Kevin Smith’s ‘Chasing Amy’ Became a ‘Life Raft’ for Trans Filmmaker Sav Rodgers

Sav Rodgers directed the new documentary Chasing Chasing Amy.  (Photo: Getty Images)

Sav Rodgers directed the new documentary Chasing Amy, which will premiere at the Tribeca Festival this week. (Photo: Getty Images)

Growing up as a queer kid in Kansas, Sav Rodgers often struggled to find the exact words to define himself. He finally found these words in Chasing Amy, the 1997 romance between a straight man, Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck), and a queer woman, Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), written and directed by Kevin Smith, a notorious gift for gossip. “This movie provided me with a language when I didn’t have it any other way,” Rodgers told Yahoo Entertainment. “It gave me a sense of security and a life raft that I desperately needed when I became a teenager. This film was All for me when I was a kid.”

It wasn’t until he was in college that Rodgers learned another word frequently associated with Chasing Amy: “Problem.” While the film was widely acclaimed when it was released in the late 90s – save Smith Mallrats– career in jeopardy and Affleck and Adams’ promotion to Hollywood’s A-list – its portrayal of LGBTQ characters is out of step with the more personal stories being told by a new generation of queer directors, writers and actors. For viewers high on movies like Hedwig and the Angry Thumb Or Fire Island, Chasing Amy increasingly looked like a relic of another age, when gay stories were largely filtered through a straight lens.

But Rodgers always found the dismissal of Chasing Amy as “problematic” in order to be itself problematic. “There is always an opportunity to learn from films of the past,” he explains. “Not everything is meant to age perfectly, because our culture is changing rapidly. Chasing Amy now and what I see is a young filmmaker with an incredible point of view, and point of view is, to me, everything in storytelling.”

Chasing Amy is very telling of what a straight person who is empathetic to queer people — and might know queer people — would do,” Rodgers continues. “It’s a movie that exists in a time capsule. A lot of criticism is, ‘Why hasn’t anyone else told this story?’ And I always say, ‘Somebody else doesn’t tell this story. Kevin told this story. This movie wouldn’t happen the same way today, and I think it’s a measure of the progress of society to see how the stories evolve over time.”

From left: Kevin Smith and the cast of Chasing Amy, Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee at the film's premiere in 1997. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

From left to right: Kevin Smith and the Chasing Amy cast, Joey Lauren Adams, Dwight Ewell, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee at the film’s premiere in 1997. (Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

Rodgers used his own take on Chasing Amy as inspiration for a 2019 viral TED Talk where he hailed it as the “rom-com that saved my life”. And that TED Talk became the starting point for his first non-fiction feature, Chasing Amy, which has its world premiere at the Tribeca Festival on June 8 with Smith in attendance. THE Chasing Amy The writer/director is a passionate and active participant in Rodgers’ film, which is both a making-of story and a coming-out story. In the four years of making the film, Rodgers finally found the words to come out as transgender — an evolution of identity and appearance presented on camera.

“A big thing that we explored in the documentary was how to approach the fact that I’m coming out as trans,” Rodgers says, adding that he was uncomfortable constructing the kind of “giant moment of disclosure. which is the traditional centerpiece of exit stories. .

“My initial instincts were to regurgitate the messages that were given to trans people [in movies] i.e. “This is what it’s like to inject hormones”, “Here is your private medical history exposed to the world”, he says. doesn’t do that?’ So the way we deal with it in the documentary is exactly the way I handled it in real life: I change a lot as a person over the course of the film, but it’s also an emotional change.”

Rodgers is also aware that he is telling a trans story at a time when those narratives are under attack from conservative politicians in states like Florida, Oklahoma and his native Kansas. But he refused to play politics with his own life. “Identifying as trans is not a political thing – it has become politicized by people who know nothing of my life experience and want to cash in on votes hoping a culture war will keep them in power” , he said pointedly. “But we are so much more than this moment when we are directly antagonized.”

In fact, Rodgers thinks the best way for trans storytellers to meet the current moment is to diversify the types of trans stories that are told — moving beyond traditional coming out stories or harrowing stories of prejudice. “Let’s look at the nuances of what our lives are really like, which are not [defined] by the worst things that have happened to us. Most of what I do during the day is hang out with my wife, play with our pugs, and play Pokemon. What’s missing in trans representation is the boring stuff: we’ve always been there, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect more diversity in storytelling.”

At the same time, Rodgers acknowledges that access to trans stories – including his own – is increasingly jeopardized by the Ron DeSantises of the world, who use state houses to restrict what children can read. and look in libraries and schools. When asked if he was worried that today’s gay teens aren’t allowed to find a “life raft” like Chasing Amy Or Chasing Amy, Rodgers is visibly tearing up. “I think about it a lot,” he admits. “I didn’t know I could be myself when I was younger, now people are trying to ban books and movies that help people kiss. It’s more important than ever to have access to physical media and to have access to life-saving stories.”

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 12: Sav Rodgers of the Transgender Film Center speaks onstage as members of the community organization reveal their own coming-of-age stories in light of the entry of WarnerMedia's SXSW film OneFifty -

Rodgers speaks onstage at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. (Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)

As for Chasing Amy, Rodgers says the process of making his documentary allowed him to still love Smith’s film, but also to let it go. And he credits the film’s star with helping him come to that realization. Near the end of the film, Rodgers has a one-on-one chat with Adams where the actress offers the most revealing interview she’s ever given on the film, an interview that isn’t always flattering for Smith. . Over the years, the writer/director said he and Adams – who dated before and during the film’s production – broke up due to the pressures of being in the spotlight and the film was a love letter. what they had.

But the actress reveals to Rodgers that Smith’s version of events is not her “truth” on the Chasing Amy experience. Instead, she describes being deeply uncomfortable with her ex’s insecurities about her dating history and how that meshed into her portrayal of Alyssa. “I don’t like looking back at that time,” she admits, adding that she had her own run-ins with Harvey Weinstein, who produced the film. “I was trying to be taken seriously as an actress, and I was dating this guy who made me feel bad about myself.”

Adams’ confession clearly catches Rodgers off guard, and you can see the director trying to reconcile his narrative with his own relationship to the film. “I have nothing but respect for Joey for being honest with me like she was that day,” he says now. “She could have given another bull *** Chasing Amy interview, but she chose to share her truth with me. And sitting in that chair at that time made me think about my own growth as a person and as a filmmaker.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14: Joey Lauren Adams (L) and Kevin Smith pose at the after party for the premiere of Saban Films'

Adams and Smith pose at the 2019 premiere after party Jay and Silent Bob reboot, in which she reprized her role as Alyssa Jones. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Adams also makes it clear in the documentary that she is forever grateful to have been a part of Chasing Amy, and remains friends with Smith. (The actress reprized her role as Alyssa in the director’s comedy in 2019, Jay and Silent Bob rebootwho reveals that she is married to a woman and that Holden was their child’s sperm donor.) Rodgers says that Smith saw the final cut of Chasing Amy and called the actress’ interview one of his favorite parts of the film, but isn’t sure if this is the first time the director has heard him be so candid about the film.

“It allowed me to grow,” Rodgers said of the personal impact of her difficult but necessary conversation with Adams. “Nothing will ever change my relationship with Chasing Amy “I really introduced myself as the Chasing Amy guys! But this interview gave me permission not to cling to this movie like I needed to when I was 12. I entered the next phase of my life where I got married and made many other changes. Not that I needed anyone’s permission to do any of those things, but it told me, “This is your life now.” It allowed me to close this chapter.”

Chasing Amy premieres June 8 at the Tribeca Festival

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