This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Sav Rodgers' documentary charts his obsession with the 1997 Kevin Smith film about a comic book writer who falls in love with a lesbian called Alyssa. As he explores the controversies, criticism, and those who love the film, he also comes to terms with his own gender identity and what darkness lurks beneath the film he holds close. FILMHOUNDS caught the film as part of the BFI London Film Festival and got to sit down with director Sav Rodgers, and producers Matthew C. Mills and Lela Meadow-Conner for a discussion on Chasing Chasing Amy and the difficult subjects it addresses.
When you guys are making a documentary about a film like Chasing Amy how do you balance addressing the issues while also celebrating the film?
Sav Rodgers: I was never going to have a film where I would personally be objective about Chasing Amy, right? Chasing Amy was such a personal experience for me, and I talked about it in the TED Talk. What I tried to do was hold space for other speakers because those are just as valid as mine. Mine is very specific, but there's real hurt caused by the movie, including queer ones. It's also a film that's widely celebrated and beloved, it's this divisive in some places. It's objective, even though I couldn't be objective, there's space for all the discourse to flow in an organic way without lecturing the audience about how to feel, but rather present the options and make up how they feel. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what I think of Chasing Amy — it matters what other people think of that film, and to hold space for multiple truths at once.
Matthew C. Mills: We've all had such a great time on this film, doing things a specific way, and that way has been more inclusive than on any other project on which I've worked. I'll never work another way again. It's been so rewarding to be in audiences where they've finished the movie and are so inspired because it's a coming-of-age love story and that's what they get out of it, whether they've seen the source material or not. Then they share their incredibly personal stories with Sav and us afterwards and it's just this real, beautiful, commiseration between people who really want to be seen, heard, and represented. I think it's been incredibly cathartic for audiences.
Lela Meadow-Conner: I've never actually seen the source material. I'm a producer on this film, and I've never actually seen Chasing Amy. So for me, it was Sav that drew me to the project.
SR: I think having someone with that perspective of never having seen Chasing Amy was invaluable though, to make sure that the film could appeal to people who had seen the original movie and also somebody who is coming at it from a totally outside perspective. Lela brought so much to the table, and her story notes were just one of the things, and not having seen it is one of your super-powers.
I have seen it but it was a long time ago, so I sort of had that thing of “Oh I sort of remember this.”
LMC: That's what I thought. I thought I saw it in the '90s with those other indie movies but I downloaded it for the plane when we were coming here, and started watching it and was like “Oh, no I haven't seen this”.
These are quite scary times for people who are trans or gender non-conforming, do you feel that the journey you go through in this film helps to humanise the “other” and not make trans people this scary thing people demonise?
SR: That's the novel thing about this movie. I'm just a guy. I'm a guy who likes movies, I genuinely think in this world we have more in common than we're led to believe by people who don't wish the best for us. It's often the case that someone watches the film and I'm the first trans person they've seen or spent any time with, either on screen or in person at the Q&A. So, I'm sometimes the first trans person that they're meeting, and that gives power to us to tell our own stories. I wouldn't have given another documentarian permission to make Chasing Chasing Amy about me. My story is mine alone. But, I'm glad it can be a cathartic thing for people to learn what the life of this specific trans-guy is like, or to see what it's like for them to be represented. That's a lovely thing. At these screenings we've been able to meet people who are parents of trans-kids, trans-kids, and allies, just queer people from all around the spectrum who found some identification. That's what we hoped for when we made the film but it's even lovelier to see in person. It's very emotional.
With the film, there's an obvious elephant in the room when you talk about Chasing Amy, which is Harvey Weinstein as a producer. For the longest time you don't address it, and then you address it head-on. Were you concerned that going into him as a producer could swallow the film? The film has such a lightness and affection, even during the criticisms of a cis-straight man doing this story people appreciate Kevin Smith trying. But once you introduce Weinstein and MeToo and everything he did, it could bring the film down.
SR: We had a lot of conversations during the production of the film about where introducing Harvey Weinstein fit into it. That was very intentional. Acknowledging Harvey Weinstein is a deeply serious topic to address, but he also wasn't the subject of this documentary. When we're acknowledging hurt, when we're acknowledging a film culture we no longer want to exist in, that was important to acknowledge but only within the context of acknowledging other people's hurt within the film. So after we did our interview with Joey [Lauren Adams, who plays Alyssa] it became very apparent where this fit in, but we didn't want him to be the main focus because it's not his story.
LMC: We did talk about it a lot, and I was probably the one who was like “No!” I didn't even want to say his name. But I think that it was important for that reason, to show what the culture was at the time. We thought it was the heyday of independent film. And to show Joey's hurt, but not to take up any more time than we had to.
MCM: Not to belabour the point, Kevin's career is inextricably linked with him. You simply can't look at his earlier work without having the knowledge that that's who was involved. Simultaneously we learned, Sav as a first-time filmmaker, and us as GenX viewers and fans that “oh.. it was that deep.” It was from Joey Lauren Adams that we learned what a rotten time she had at that moment in her career. So I agree they acknowledged it, let Joey lay it all on the field so to speak, and we were all shook by that interview.
Speaking of Joey Lauren Adams: as a production, how do you navigate speaking to someone who is discussing something so painful and so raw? The bit that floored me was when she was talking about all the praise it was getting on stage and she mentioned the sexual assault and rape of Rose McGowan that practically happened in the back room. How do you navigate having someone dig up things that are so traumatic?
SR: You see it on my face, you see everything, and that was quite intentional. To showcase my real reaction at that moment, which is “Okay, this is not going how I thought it was, have to pivot, have to take it seriously,” because this is real hurt, and trauma, for a lot of people. Afterwards, we took a long time in the edit to figure out how to include the entire scope of the conversation without showing all four hours. How do we showcase the range of that conversation? Like I said we were trying to showcase these multiple truths at once. My truth is that I loved Chasing Amy as a 12-year-old and it saved my life – and there's real hurt for people who were there at the time. I think we treated it really seriously. There were a lot of conversations with our editor Sharika [Ajaikumar], as a producing film how to handle this with the utmost sensitivity. You know we're proud of what we have in the movie night, just because it's harrowing.
I saw the film at home and at that point, I had to pause it and take a walk. Until that point, the film has been so joyous and Kevin Smith is such a great conversationalist that you buy into how it was a great time, but when Joey speaks away from him you realise you sort of fell into the trap, the myth.
SR: The whole purpose of the movie is for audiences to go on the journey that I went on. From age 12 all the way to the end of it. What you're describing is exactly what I wanted.
MCM: Meeting your heroes is fraught with peril. But it's also fraught with joy. There can be a lot of emotions concurrently happening and the thing I'm so proud of Sav for doing is just the way everyone is heard. There is no value judgement that Sav places on that movie in his movie. It's there for you to decide.
LMC: I think really the reactions, like your reaction, are so raw. Joey's reaction when Kevin is talking, you can tell she has something to say. It's so honest, and raw.
SR: People have that thing where if they're watching a screener they have to pause and take a minute and there's that moment in the theatre where people have uncomfortable shifting, but I'm really thankful that people bear witness to that. We didn't want a bunch of bullshit. In the same way that Joey said she didn't want to do another bullshit Chasing Amy interview. It's holding space for multiple truths at once. It's acknowledging past hurt, and hoping we can make a better space for people in the future.
MCM: I think it's also important to acknowledge that if you're in the audience of that film you're going to hear laughter, gasps, ah-has, and maybe a few sniffles.
LMC: A lot of sniffles.
MCM: And some of those sniffles are tears of joy, are tears of empathy, but you get it all!
I described it as the interview with Joey broke my heart and the following interview with your partner Riley mended it. It is as much a love story as it is a love letter. How do you balance the personal and exploring the phenomena around a film?
SR: Well that.. we could talk about for days.
And trust me I would.
SR: I'm flattered! For me, I wasn't sure how I wanted to handle including so much of my personal life in the movie. I'm so thankful that we did it the way we did, there was a constant conflict between me as a filmmaker and me as a person. I didn't want to be in the film but I had to be to make the most interesting version of that, so it was a negotiation of what parts of myself am I good sharing. My relationship with Riley is foundational to this journey I've gone on. There was no way to tell this story without talking about how lovely, and wonderful she is. Every step of the way she has supported me.
[Lela begins laughing]
SR: You're laughing!
LMC: It's just funny to hear you say “we filmmakers” and Riley is just… she's so lovely.
SR: She's what you see is what you get, she's joyful and fun to be around, and she loves the attention.
MCM: What's it like being married to a future superstar and burgeoning superstar? Riley gets a lot of love at screenings. People want to meet her.
SR: Deadline called her “incredibly charismatic,” and I have never been able to forget it.
Oh, that's going to be a T-shirt eventually.
SR: People keep threatening to make it.
That final interview with her, where you both affirm how much you care about each other because I was still so upset by everything that happened before, I was like “If she breaks up with him… I am not going to forgive this film”, and then she doesn't and I sighed “thank god for that!” I don't think my heart could have taken it. I cry at everything.
SR: As a fellow crybaby, isn't it a testament to how low the bar is for seeing trans people in the film that you're like “Please don't break up, please don't break up, please don't break up!” It's kind of maddening that we don't expect trans people to have a happy ending on screen. It's like, well I mean whatever happens the rest of our lives, we still have this beautiful moment together. And things are better off-camera because I don't have to film myself.
I can imagine that can be quite stressful. “I need to have a conversation.” “Okay, let me get the lights.”
SR: I was like “Do we have to do this?” But I had to do it for the movie.
MCM: The palpable relief you two have after the last interview is hilarious.
SR: When we're walking out at the end, we're walking out for real. We're like – “bye!”
The sigh of relief I heaved at the end, I think shook the house.
SR: People ask me “Why that opening shot, why that closing shot,” and there are reasons for it. So, beginning of the movie you see 12-year-old me just enveloped in the television, that was me. TV was my friend. There are two parallel things at the end. One, we walk out into the real world. At the end of Chasing Amy Holden [played by Ben Affleck] walks out without Alyssa, I walk out with the love of my life and we've gone through this journey and we get to walk out into our future. It's symbolic, but it's also real. The parallels between my life and Chasing Amy are totally, accidentally, 100% true. If we had written this as a screenplay we would have been told to fuck off because it's too unrealistic.
MCM: Yet, in the rom-com tradition – we happily end.
Now the film's out, people are watching it, reviewing it, they're heaving sighs of relief, how does it feel to see the reactions?
LMC: It's just fabulous. I mean I cry every time I watch it. I could cry talking about it, it's been magical, and I agree with Matthew, working with this team has been amazing. It really gives me energy, because indie producing is a thankless job, but seeing this on the screen is so amazing. You get texts and messages saying they love it. It keeps you going.
MCM: It's been really satisfying, we took a real chance on this guy because we believed in him, and what he was doing. We just knew something. No one in my production company needed to be convinced, we saw early on the potential. We believed in Sav because of his gumption. Sav just gets shit done. He's been that way as a short filmmaker and as a collaborator. It's been great to sit with people who get it, read reviews, and get inspired.
SR: Yes and… I've been truly blown away by the response. These two can attest to the levels of anxiety I had before the premiere because it truly is leaping into the unknown. There was this anxiety that I didn't know how people were going to respond. I couldn't have perspective, but other people were like “Sav, the movie's great”. I was glad they thought so. The leap into the unknown is the audience's opinion because I didn't just make the movie, I'm in it, so if they didn't like the movie then maybe I don't have a future in this business. Maybe they just don't like me. We've had two bad reviews to date. Which is fine, I'm sure there'll be more, but when the first bad one came I was relieved. The sky didn't fall. I got a bad review and lived. So now I'm on the other side of that I get to be with people who do enjoy the film and get it. This has been my dream movie in so many ways, and none of the ways I imagined. I'll forever be grateful.
Well if all else fails and you start getting loads of terrible reviews, Riley can have a career.
SR: Yes! Exactly! She'll love every second.
Chasing Chasing Amy was shown as part of this year's BFI London Film Festival.