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Trans filmmaker Sav Rodgers traces his own journey in “CHASING CHASING AMY” | INTERVIEW

Kevin Smith agrees to chat on camera in this most personal documentary that comes to Palm Springs this week

Sav Rodgers discovered Kevin Smith’s “Chasing Amy” at a crucial time in his life. Rodgers connected with Smith’s comedy about a straight comic book artist (Ben Affleck) who falls for a fellow artist (Joey Lauren Adams) who also happens to be a lesbian. Hijinks ensue, leading to a bittersweet ending not atypical of Smith’s work.

Rodgers watched the film dozens of times, if not more. However, as the fanboy came into adulthood, he began to see “Chasing Amy,” perhaps, as somewhat “problematic.” For one, the idea that a lesbian simply needed the right man was a tired trope that essentially posited the gay character required “fixing.” Rodgers, a trans man, gave a Ted Talk in 2018 that quickly gained him wide recognition—and into the room with Smith himself to not cancel “Chasing Amy,” but to discuss its legacy among the LGBTQ community a quarter-century after its 1997 release.

Rodgers’s fascinating cinematic journey is captured in “Chasing Chasing Amy,” which played at Tribeca last summer and continues its festival run this weekend at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

“I was very transparent with everybody who participated that this work [examines] ‘Chasing Amy’’s place in queer history. [And] this is my relationship to it,” Rodgers said from his home in Las Vegas. “It’s interesting being present with audiences [watching] a movie accidentally being about your own life.”

Rodgers’s film is nuanced in that he not only recognizes that his understanding of the film has changed with age, but that any art is necessarily a product of its time. This is an especially important lesson in the cancel culture era, when retroactive reification of anything that doesn’t live up to modern sensibilities is considered suspect—and often excommunicated.

“What the movie talks about is that ‘Chasing Amy’ is this microcosm of what was happening in the larger entertainment industry” in the late-nineties, Rodgers said, “but also is a jumping-off point for discussions about self-identification and what movies mean to us.”

Indeed, his documentary takes an all-sides approach. There are those who remain angry that Smith deigned to tell a queer story at all, while others say the film helped to at least partially normalize gay culture and cinematic representation. Smith gamefully sits for Rodgers’s camera, bringing both his trademark irreverent humor as well as his wit to the proceedings. And like any intelligent artist who has gained wisdom with age, Smith acknowledges the umbrage some people take with a film he made as a young man, though he stops well short of apologizing for it.

Kevin Smith and director Sav Rodgers

And Adams, who portrayed the lesbian at the center of “Chasing Amy”—and who for a time dated Smith in real life—also details in her lengthy interview that her acting career never quite panned out as she hoped, at least partially, she believes, thanks to the machinations of executive producer Harvey Weinstein.

“What’s important to me when talking about ‘Chasing Amy’ is that I am a part of the community and these are other people’s responses to it and here’s my response to it and here are all of these people’s personal experiences with it,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think of it as a ‘but,’ I think of it as an ‘and’ situation.”

Rodgers started work on “Chasing Chasing Amy” from his hometown of Kansas City. He says he and his team worked hard to secure funding and grants, including from such organizations as Frameline, InsideOut and Mountainfilm that specifically back LGBTQ film projects. The covid pandemic put the work on ice for a time, but he was able to finish his interviews in the fall of 2022.

“It’s really hard to raise funding for any independent film, and I always say that the biggest barrier between you getting your story made versus not is does somebody want to finance it,” Rodgers said. “What I think is advantageous [is having] a very specific point of view, and it worked out for us in the fundraising for sure.”

Rodgers says that Smith was well-meaning in making “Chasing Amy,” but that the comedy nonetheless requires reexamination in hindsight. However, he also believes that no matter how you might feel about a certain film, there is always something to be learned from it, even decades later—and even if you dislike it.

“There are so many things we can take away looking at works from the past—something that might inform your perspective as a filmmaker or as a storyteller,” he said. “Everybody has the right to make up their mind about the works that they watch, and I’m not here to police any of that. But I think having that approach can be helpful if you’re looking at it through an artistic lens.

“You can see how much progress has been made since ‘Chasing Amy’ came out. ‘Chasing Chasing Amy’ is a queer story told by a queer person. … One person who saw ‘Chasing Amy’ became an artist and a filmmaker because he saw this film at a crucial point in his life. And I think that’s something that we can celebrate.”

But despite such progress, there are revanchist elements within the culture that seek to roll back certain advances. This is especially concerning heading into a major election year, and while Rodgers registers his horror at the ongoing “othering” of trans people, he nonetheless believes that the wheel of time cannot be scrolled in reverse.

“I’m hopeful because I see trans filmmakers getting to tell their stories and having their works funded and distributed and prioritized,” he said. “I know so many people who are saying we’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going anywhere.

“We’re continuing to make our work. I’m continuing to make my work. And I’m hoping that something like ‘Chasing Chasing Amy’ can provide comfort at a time when people are trying to stoke the fires of prejudice in every direction.”

The reception at various screenings has been enthusiastic. At Outfest Los Angeles last summer, audiences cheered. As a trans filmmaker, Rodgers hopes that young people who are themselves coming into their own might see themselves represented in his documentary. This way, at least they can know they’re not alone.

“And I hope it can be a good introduction to people who don’t believe they’ve ever met a trans person before and say this guy’s a nerd just like anybody else who talks way too much about movies,” Rodgers said. “And now I know how I’ll feel about him in person.”

“Chasing Chasing Amy” will screen at the Palm Springs International Film Festival January 6th and 7th. Tickets are available at PSFilmFest.org.