time warp

WATCH: 10 years later, this controversial gay film is a snapshot of a time before PrEP

A decade ago this month, the FDA approved Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), making it the first official drug for reducing the risk of sexually acquired HIV infection.

Though the pill has stirred up a number of debates over the years, its introduction was a major moment for the LGBTQ community, forever changing the way we think about, talk about, and have sex.

Through that lens, that makes filmmaker Sal Bardo’s short, Chaser, a fascinating time capsule. Filmed in 2012, its story concerns itself with Zach (Max Rhyser), a gay man who escapes the confines of his daily life by exploring New York’s barebacking scene.

Shown to be a well-liked high school teacher by day, Zach nonetheless feels alienated at home, where his Orthodox Jewish family holds him to impossibly high standards. It’s in the evenings that he’s able to find some sort of fulfillment—or at least that’s what he tells himself—pursuing anonymous, unsafe sex. The short doesn’t hold back in depicting the realities of this world, while still offering Zach a chance at deeper human connection.

Ironically, Chaser wrapped production just days before the FDA’s historic approval.

“PrEP was a real game changer,” the director shares in a press statement for the film’s 10th anniversary. “And it almost instantly made Chaser a snapshot in time, reflecting a period of transition and divisiveness in the gay community. There was a growing number of men who wanted more sexual freedom, but there was also a lot of denial and fear. We really wanted to explore how this one character was choosing to express his sexuality—and why.”

Related: And the films played on: 17 essential movies about HIV/AIDS

Chaser officially premiered in 2014 and then went on to play a number of film festivals across the country, including the Palm Springs International ShortFest and the Provincetown International Film Festival, before making its official Video On Demand debut in 2016.

Along the way, the film was met with pushback from some LGBTQ organizations, particularly in the way it discussed so-called “bug chasers.” Both Bardo and Rhyser have responded to the feedback over the years, sharing that they always viewed Zach as educator on the topic.

Just recently, Bardo even posted a “throwback” video on his Instagram, sharing clips from an interview he and his star gave on HuffPost Live back in 2014.


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A post shared by Sal Bardo (@sal.bardo)

Ten years on, Chaser stands as a fascinating, transgressive, and powerful statement on where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

For the curious, the 15-minute short film is available to rent through Vimeo’s VOD platform for $0.99, featuring director commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, a deleted scenes, and even bloopers.

You can watch the trailer for Chaser below.

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