We had the opportunity to talk to two independent filmmakers about their award-winning LGBTQ short film, "Chasing The Dragon", which tells the story of a trans woman detective investigating a murder in a rural Utah town. Queer Latino Writer/Director Eduardo Ayres and trans actress Natalie Day sat down to talk to us about their film and a whole lot more.
Our conversation took place right before election day. Without a doubt, politics came up. Spanning topics from the election, to racism, homophobia, mental health awareness and crimes against transgender people in America, our conversation covered a lot of ground. We ended the interview on a hopeful note, discussing the massive impact that films like "Chasing The Dragon" have on individual communities and society at large.
Ayres, who currently resides in Los Angeles, explained why he chose to film in Utah where he got his MFA in Film Production from the University of Utah. He explained that Utah, home of the world-renowned Sundance Institute and Film Festival, has many skilled filmmakers.
He said, “Utah is a beautiful place. You drive 30 miles in every direction and you can find amazing, diverse landscapes. We have incredible actors here. The Utah Film Commission is also very helpful. I love Utah, and I have the intention to film at least two short films there in the next three years.”
He shared that "Chasing The Dragon" was inspired by his childhood friend, Alessandra whose life was tragically cut short as she struggled to live as a trans person in Brazil. He talked about the amazing person she was and how he wanted to make a film in her honor.
“She was such a sweet person and the world was so mean to her. She was going through a lot and she was very lonely. I think that she was someone who needed protection. I think that had a deep effect on me. I still have dreams of her today. She’s always in my thoughts.”
Natalie Day discussed her powerful role as a detective and how she prepared for the role, drawing inspiration from filmmakers like David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson. She explained that she was transitioning during the filmmaking process and felt that this aided to the authenticity and rawness of the work. She also discussed working with the director in the early planning stages.
“Eduardo and I instantly clicked. We met together multiple times. We talked about the direction he wanted to go, and the things I could bring to [the story.] Initially when the character Hannah was written, she was much further into her journey. At the time I was on hormones for six or seven months. I looked rough, and felt very unconfident at the time. I think that lended itself well to Hannah. It gave her a lot of rawness and visceral qualities.”
Day described how she developed her character and went inward to find common ground with Hannah. She said that the role “lended itself to a lot of vulnerability… [I thought] in the backwoods of Utah in the middle of nowhere, these people are not going to be very accepting of me.”
Day, who is based in Park City Utah, discussed another poignant story element which is grounded in reality. In the film, a young woman dies of a heroine overdose and Day’s character discovers her on the family farm. Just like in the film, in present day Utah, the grim reality is that an ongoing opioid epidemic ravages small and large communities alike.
New research from Gardner Institute reveals that the leading cause of death by injury in Utah is due to drug overdose. Speaking of problems in America, Day discussed how terrible trans people in America are made to feel, how they are singled out and abused while these real monumental problems rage on, destroying communities and ripping families apart.
Speaking of the story Day said, “someone [in the film] dies from an overdose, there’s a murder, and I’m viewed as the trash? I think that’s very poignant. People are more willing to judge you for what they don’t like about you and hold that against you. But as for people who do actually hurt people and do cause problems in society, the same people are much more willing to turn [a blind eye] and ignore it, even commending and loving those people as opposed to people who go against the status quo. That was something that I really wanted to show.”
As the discussion turned to politics and the election, Day got real with us about the deep cracks within American society and the ongoing systemic issues of racism, homophobia and violence towards transgender people that plagues the nation.
She says, “there’s this deep divide within humanity right now, within the U.S. It’s so fascinating to me that people are so anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, they’re racist… when it’s convenient for them. No one cares that I’m sitting in my room right now wearing makeup, that I have my life the way I do, but the moment that they feel they have something to say about it, then all of a sudden they say, I hate that person.”
Day opened up about growing up in conservative Mormon Utah where she was bullied for 22 years. She told us the heart-breaking story of her younger years facing adversity which led her to consider taking her own life at one point.
She talked about growing up in a repressive Mormon culture where children were not taught to open up about their feelings or have open communication with their families or friends.
“If something bad happened in your family, you swept it under the rug. That’s just the way it was.” She also discussed the heart-wrenching challenge of transitioning twice. She said, “that’s my metaphorical Everest.”
We asked Natalie for resources for transgender people who are having crises. She shared some helpful, life-saving information with us.
She said, “on some of my hardest days I’ve called the trans lifeline. Society is so mean to trans people. They need resources. Pride Centers are a great place to find people who will love you, accept you and see you no matter what. No one should do this path alone. Therapy is crucial. There are great doctors in Utah.”
She also mentions The Trevor Project as a great resource for young queer people who are struggling.
Ayres let us in on his plans to develop a television series based off of the short film with a goal of reaching as many people as possible and having a positive impact on the world. When speaking of the series, he explained that he wants it to be a limited series of six episodes, which could be pitched to major and small studios in LA.
He talked about the intention of the series and what he would like to explore with it. He said, "we'll explore the intersection of law enforcement and gender identity, the conservative and liberal sides, how they coalesce and conflict with each other. It's about individuals who live in a gray area of identities and politics that don't merge well or accept each other entirely. The intention is to open a discussion about prejudice, belonging, and spaces of masculinity and queerness, and what is accepted in each of those environments."
Day shared her final thoughts about the film and her hopes and dreams for humanity, which had us in tears. She said, “I hope that when people see "Chasing The Dragon" they will find power, courage and determination to go forward in life. But more than that, I hope they begin to understand that gender identity should not be a disqualifying factor and people should never be pushed into the closet or made to feel less than. I hope that people can take something positive from this movie because it feels like more than a film, it’s something to believe in. I hope that trans individuals who are going through the absolute ringer with COVID, with election chaos, job insecurity, loss of healthcare, and loss of family and support, I hope they can see that it really does get better. I’ve had this mantra my entire life. There’s something inside of me every step of the way that says, keep going, it will get better. It’s a belief I carried even in the most horrific times in my life. I hope that people will hold onto some modicum of hope. I hope that people will start to feel that they can be who they are, because we are so much more complex than our biology, our chemistry, our karyotype. I hope that people will start to see that we’re more complex than that and that everyone deserves the same rights in life—the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
These two incredible artists are on a mission to bring visibility to transgender people in the world today. We are hopeful that after watching a new generation of queer filmmakers who are simultaneously working as activists and making a difference by demanding progress and change through their work will inspire others to do the same and more.
Go check out their website and see the film. You can watch the film through streaming site, Revry, or through Filmocracy. Be sure to follow Eduardo and Natalie on their social media accounts. CHASING THE DRAGON has sites on Instagram and Facebook and the website is: https://www.chasingthedragonshort.com.