When Sav Rodgers was growing up in Kansas, he developed a bizarre obsession with Ben Affleck movies. But what started with 2003’s Daredevil eventually led Sav to a different kind of film, where Affleck — sporting an unfortunate goatee — portrayed a comic book artist who falls in love with a lesbian. That film, Kevin Smith’s 1997 feature Chasing Amy, was not only instrumental in unlocking and giving voice to Sav’s burgeoning feelings about his own sexuality, he even credits it with saving his life.
In a funny and poignant 2019 TED Talk that garnered widespread attention, Sav spoke about his affection for Chasing Amy, a film which has been increasingly labeled as problematic when viewed through a modern critical lens. That dichotomy between contemporary opinions and Sav’s own experience with the film is one of the key themes explored in his directorial debut, the documentary Chasing Chasing Amy, premiering this week at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival.
We were fortunate enough to chat with Sav last week via Zoom to discuss his experience working on the film, including a pivotal interview in the latter half which completely changes the course of the documentary — and of Sav’s life.
[Editor’s Note: this interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity]
I’ve seen the film, and I had seen the TED Talk prior. I’m curious how you get from A to B, because in the original talk you mentioned that you were in the process of making a documentary. What led you down that path, what made you decide this was something that you wanted to explore via a documentary film?
Sav Rodgers: I think my path to becoming a filmmaker really starts at age 12 when I see Chasing Amy for the first time. As a 12-year-old in Kansas, as you can imagine, Chasing Amy was a very specific favorite movie answer whenever there was class trivia or whatever, so I was used to having to talk about why I loved it so much. But the TED Talk was a complete accident; I had been planning to make the documentary, and the TED Talk came up as an opportunity before anything else kicked off.
I saw this ad for something called the Ted Residency, where Adobe was sponsoring a couple of spots in this idea incubator program through TED that would pay for you to go to New York and live there, do some project research — in my case, Chasing Chasing Amy — and allow you a platform to share a story on the topic. I didn’t really have the idea of talking about Chasing Amy at first. What I was thinking about was “well, I could just give a talk on how stories are meaningful and how that matters, especially if you’re queer or from any kind of under-represented community.” And then, when I got into the finalist interview, Cyndi Stivers and Katrina Conanan-Riel were interviewing me and they were like “you don’t really have an idea for a TED Talk, but we really like you, so if you were going to give a TED Talk tomorrow, what would it be about?”
I told the story of what Chasing Amy meant to me, and they sat there for a second and after a beat, Cindy said “that is the most narrow, specific idea for a TED Talk I’ve ever heard.” Three days later, I found out that I got it, and I prepared to move to New York. So I consider day one of Chasing Chasing Amy to be September 1, 2018 when I moved to New York to participate in the TED Residency program.
I found the documentary to be very interesting, because when you’ve seen as many films as I have, you sort of develop a sense that you can predict where a movie is headed. And I think for the first half of the film or so, that’s exactly how I felt — and then comes the solo interview with Joey Lauren Adams, and everything changes. I don’t want to say the conversation was hostile, but it definitely felt uncomfortable and almost confrontational. How were you able to adapt to that and keep the interview from running completely off the rails?
Sav Rodgers: That’s a great question that has a very nuanced answer, so I hope you’ll allow me a few minutes to talk about it.
Sav Rodgers: If I had written any of this as a screenplay, it would’ve been considered too unrealistic. I love and respect Joey so much, not only for her performance as Alyssa Jones, but for that interview, and the work that she contributes to the world as an artist, a very talented actor and director. Sitting there, it was definitely very unexpected, but the fact that she trusted me with her story that much, to bring the walls and in her own words, “not give another bullshit Chasing Amy interview” — I mean, that’s an immense privilege.
So while it was surprising to sit there, and it definitely caught me off guard for the interview to take the turn that it did, it was a blessing because it was a dose of truth that I know I needed, and that I think a lot of people need as they romanticize storytellers, films, whatever. There’s the side of this thing that saved my life, and there’s also the reality for the people who worked on it, who made the movie and worked in entertainment during that period of time.
It was definitely vulnerable and challenging. It was a tough interview to sit in, the hardest day of work as a director in my life — so far, anyway — but it is a gift. It allowed me to kind of ground myself and really consider “what am I doing? What is the premise of this?” And I think that not only makes the movie better, but it’s made my life better, having had that conversation.
There’s a quote from the film that sums it up very nicely, I think. At once point you say “this isn’t the movie I set out to make, but this is the movie that I have.” And I think that’s such a wonderful way to look at it, because life doesn’t always lead us down the path we expect it to, but we can choose to take something from that, or we can choose to be pissed off because we didn’t get what we want.
Sav Rodgers: Right, exactly.
And of course, there are some parallels happening with the film and your own journey. If that conversation with Joey doesn’t unfold that way, does that have a different effect on your journey and where you’ve come to be at this point in your life? There’s a very interesting synergy there.
Sav Rodgers: One hundred percent, and that’s why I always say that interview was a gift, the greatest Joey could have given me: the gift of her honesty and her authenticity in that moment. It’s a reality check, you know? For a minute there, I’m living in Kevin Smith world, getting to make the movie of my dreams, but my life is much more than this moment in time, and Joey’s life is much more than that moment in time that she’s persistently remembered for.
To have someone just come at you as another human being, daring to challenge you to be better and to question more, it is a gift, even if it’s uncomfortable to sit there while the conversation is happening. My life would be totally different without that reality check, and it’s a humbling thing, as it should be. I don’t know what the movie would be without that, and I don’t know what my life would be without that moment.
So as you said, this is the movie you have, and that movie is debuting at one of the biggest film festivals in North America. How are you feeling leading up to the premiere?
Sav Rodgers: I don’t know how I feel presently, to be completely honest. It’s an overwhelming position to be in, because it’s not just my directorial debut, it’s also my life and sharing that vulnerability with a lot of people in a mass media sort of way. I don’t know if it’s totally set in yet. I think it will set in when I’m sitting there and I’m faced with audience members, I think that’s where it’ll really hit me, that this is real.
I’ve been preparing for the last six months for this, and it’s a lot to prepare, it’s a lot to get out the door, and it’s a lot to just twiddle your thumbs and be like “I don’t know what people are going to think of this” when it’s your real life. But I’m excited for whatever comes next and I’m taking it all with a grain of salt, because I know this moment is totally temporary.
So you’ve poured years of your life into this project, and it’s helped inform who you’ve become, both as a human being and as an artist. Do you have a sense of what comes next, beyond Tribeca, once you’re on the other side of the mountain?
Sav Rodgers: Gosh, I ask myself that question every day. But it’s tough, because there’s the threat of an entire industry shutdown. You can’t really develop narrative projects right now, and being in solidarity with the writers who are risking their livelihoods…
What I would love to say is that when the strike is over and the labor dispute has been resolved, I’m really looking forward to just making more movies that are from my perspective, which I think are optimistic and are about how we’re better together than we are separately, and most of the time involve a lot of queer people and queer stuff. I’m really excited for the possibility to do that. I lean more towards narrative in general, but I’m also down to do another documentary, as long as it’s the right story.
So in that way, anything is possible, but what’s certain is that I will make another movie, and that I’ll continue to hone my perspective on what I think is special about storytelling.
Chasing Chasing Amy will have its world premiere on June 8th at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. Find more of our Tribeca 2023 coverage at this link.