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.”