By Kelcie McKenney
When Savannah Rodgers walks into a room, she instantly fills it with radiating, invigorating energy. Always wearing a baseball hat—often repping KC on it—she’ll wrap you up in a rush of ideas, complex conversation, questions about who you are, how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and why you’re here. At 24 years old, Rodgers is a force to be reckoned with—enough so that you often forget just how young she is.
Last fall Rodgers was a New York City TED Resident. She spent 14 weeks in an idea incubator where she was given the space to work on a personal project tied to a talk at the end of the program. Focused on Chasing Amy, the 1997 film by Kevin Smith starring Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams, Rodgers’s talk delves into how the film impacted her life.
“I think the TED Talk really says a lot about my feelings on it. I was a kid in a really vulnerable place in my life and Chasing Amy made me feel seen,” Rodgers says. “Honestly, it’s still the only queer film I’ve watched that I’ve ever felt truly seen by.”
Chasing Amy represented a lot of what Rodgers processed throughout her life, from the fluidity of her sexuality to her queer identity. Both main characters, Holden and Alyssa, mirrored a lot of emotions she was processing. The film meant so much to Rodgers; not only did she feature it in her TED Talk, but she’s also working on a documentary about the film called Chasing, Chasing Amy. This project will look at the film’s impact on the greater LGBTQ+ community, what it means for the state of queer movies, and the way we talk about representation. Rodgers has been working on it since her TED residency.
But before Rodgers made it to New York City, she was a filmmaker in Kansas City. We first met on the set of How to Kill a Guy in 10 Days, a short film for Kansas City’s 2017 48 Hour Film Festival. She was one of the producers; I was an actor. We became fast friends, and over the course of a few months that friendship grew. Rodgers was the first person I came out to; I was the first person she talked about her gender identity. This story isn’t about our relationship, but I do think it’s relevant to understand just how much I’ve seen Rodgers grow over the past couple years—and over the course of this story.
When I first talked to Rodgers, she hadn’t yet discovered her acceptance to TED’s program and she had just won 2018’s Kansas City Women in Film & TV’s Spirit Award.
“I just felt really lucky,” Rodgers said. The previous two winners of that award were Steph Scupham, the KC Film Commissioner, and Morgan Dameron, a director from Kansas City who is now based in L.A. “It’s really nice to be in the company of great colleagues like them. KCWIFT has been incredibly supportive of my work over the last few years, so to grow from being a college kid who didn’t know a single person in the KC film community to winning something like this is really, really gratifying.”
In less than a year, Rodgers has catapulted her career exponentially.
“A lot has changed. I answered your first round of questions almost a year ago. In that time, I have moved to both New York and Los Angeles,” Rodgers says. After her TED residency, Rodgers is now an OutSet Fellow through Outfest and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She has a new short screening through the coming months. She’s also engaged.
“It’s really been a hell of a year,” Rodgers says.
If you haven’t caught on yet, LGBTQ+ identity is a big theme in Rodgers’s work. She’s interested in looking at queer characters differently, by creating them in a way where their “sexulaities and genders are not their primary character trait.” Rodgers now has a number of queer-centered projects under her belt. Her documentary Dragtivists, a seven-minute short about drag performance and activism, won Best Kansas Documentary Short Film at the Tallgrass Film Festival.
“Being so queer and so gender non-conforming, it would feel disingenuous for me to not tell the stories of people like me,” Rodgers says.
Queen for a Day, Rodgers’s latest film, is a short about drag and marriage, and the complexities of identity. It stars Joe Carey and Michelle Davidson (previously the host of Kansas City Live), and at under four minutes, it leaves you smiling. It’s currently on the festival circuit: Queen for a Day is a finalist at the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival in May—along with a number of other screenings from the Oxford Film Festival to Kansas City Film Festival International.
“There are way too many sad queer and trans films,” Rodgers notes in her director’s statement. “The LGBTQ+ community is far more than the worst things that have ever happened to us. My goal with Queen for a Day was to represent the complexities of gender norms while making the audience laugh. By subverting sad gay tropes, I hope to provide a film that’s unique and entertaining at once. Let’s make some happy gay films.”
Rodgers and I didn’t stop working together after that first 48 Hour Film Fest short: you’ll find my name in the credits for Queen for a Day as Hair & Makeup / Wardrobe—neither are necessarily my forte, but it’s hard not to work with Rodgers. Being on set with her is electrifying, and each project leaves you looking inward: you think about your own identity, maybe about your queerness, but you laugh, too.
And working around women is empowering. Of the top 100 grossing films of 2018, only 4 percent were directed by women. Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director—only five have ever been nominated. Rodgers, while she classifies herself as genderfluid rather than entirely female, represents that dramatically marginalized group.
“The entertainment industry needs to change at an institutional level to enable more female-directed films and shows to be funded and produced by major entities,” Rodgers says. “However, I think we could all do more to help female directors—and creators of any marginalized background. Mentorship helps. Film festival organizers being conscious of who is in the room helps. Hell, contributing to crowdfunding campaigns or Patreon accounts helps. There are little things we can do everyday to help lift up others. We just have to make a concerted effort to take those actions.”
That’s something Rodgers is working on at her current position as OutSet Fellow at Outfest and the Los Angeles LGBT Center: bringing to light other stories that might not have another platform. One more accomplishment to add to her growing resume. At 24, Rodgers is just getting started.
In the time between our two interviews, there was one answer that remained the same; her advice for aspiring female filmmakers: “Don’t wait for permission.”
Kelcie McKenney is a writer, editor, and artist who is passionate about feminism. She currently works as Digital Editor at The Pitch, where she writes and edits for Kansas City’s alternative magazine. You can often find Kelcie sipping a cocktail while discussing ways to smash the patriarchy.