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Meet the 2011 AFI Filmmakers | “Light Of Mine” Director Brett Eichenberger

Meet the 2011 AFI Filmmakers | "Light Of Mine" Director Brett Eichenberger

Owen is a photographer with an incurable and debilitating eye disease that will soon leave him blind. Before his sight is completely gone, he and his wife Laura take a once-in-a-lifetime road trip to Yellowstone National Park. During their bittersweet photography expedition, they bond over their surroundings and experience a depth to their relationship that they never knew was there. Newcomers Rebecca Sanborn and Ji Tanzer take the audience on a cathartic journey, imbuing this subdued drama with grace and empathy. As Owen’s world rapidly goes dark, their strength and perseverance becomes more life-changing than Owen’s condition. In the end, the audience is left with the feeling that the couple’s loss is more of a beginning than an ending. In his feature film debut, director Brett Eichenberger has crafted an intimate and emotional film with cinematography as stunning as its powerful performances. [Synopsis courtesy of Tristen Tuckfield, AFI FEST]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in 2011 AFI Fest’s Breakthrough, New Auteurs and Young Americans section to submit responses in their own words about their films. Get to know the films before they screen. AFI Fest takes place November 3 – 10 in Los Angeles.]

“Light of Mine”
Director: Brett Eichenberger
Screenwriter: Jill Remensnyder
Producer: Brett Eichenberger, Jill Remensnyder
Director of Photography: Mike Ferry, Patrick Neary
Editor: Brett Eichenberger
Production Designer: Becky Wilberding
Music: John Askew, Rebecca Sanborn
Cast: Ji Tanzer, Rebecca Sanborn

Director’s Bio: Brett Eichenberger was born in Portland, Oregon in 1975. His short films include “Long Time No See” (2002) and “The Leeward Tide” (2005). “Light of Mine” is Eichenberger’s feature directing debut.

Responses courtesy of “Light of Mine” director Brett Eichenberger.

Your movie: In 140 characters or less, what’s it about?

A photographer losing his sight travels to Yellowstone to take photos before he goes blind.

OK: Now tell us what it’s really about.

“Light of Mine” is really about overcoming life’s obstacles and how love can lead the way. At its core it’s a love story, but it’s also about how we can see the world through our hearts and not necessarily through our eyes.

The power of “E.T.”…

My father produced infomercials when I was a kid, so I’ve always been around cameras and production equipment. I started experimenting with cameras and editing equipment when I was about twelve years old. When I was six I saw “E.T.,” and it introduced me to the magic of film. That film had a huge emotional impact on me. I then realized film had the ability to affect millions of people. That’s when I knew I wanted to make movies. I wanted to create that same experience for others. I still have the 2nd grade journal entry that mentions wanting to be just like Steven Spielberg someday.

Inspiration from an article…

I feel it’s incredibly easy to take our life and health for granted. I’ve had a few near death experiences and I’ve witnessed horrible traumatic events. These memories are with me on a daily basis and I continue to explore these themes in my films. It’s therapeutic to me in a lot of ways and helps me demystify the human experience – something I think we’re all interested in. The idea to make “Light of Mine” came from an article I read about blind photographers who take photos based on sound and “sensing” where to point their cameras. And even though they couldn’t see their photographs, they were able to experience their work by being able to hear how others responded to their photos. The more I read about these incredible individuals and how they overcame, I realized I wanted to make a movie along these same lines.

The beauty of working with a small cast…

No movie is without challenges. “Light of Mine” really came together unlike any other project I’ve worked on. I felt like there was an invisible hand guiding us throughout the production. There are always issues with budget, time, casting and external forces like the weather – and those were hurdles, but I don’t think I can say there was a single biggest challenge. At times working with a combined cast and crew of 6 people during filming was difficult, but the beauty of working with such a small cast and crew is being able to bond and make sure everyone is getting the direction and attention they need. It was as if we spent a few weeks together at summer camp. My on-set philosophy is to have fun and I think we all shared those same ideals during production. I think setting a tone from the beginning helps deter personality clashes.

Any inspirations?

Yes, there were quite a few: “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “Primer,” “Old Joy,” Ken Burns’ “The National Parks,” and “127 Hours.” The Yellowstone episode of “The National Parks” really stuck with me as I thought about a unique visual place for the protagonist to visit as he’s going blind. “127 Hours” was instrumental because of the way Aron fought his predicament and triumphed in the end. Danny Boyle took something horrid and added humanity and heart to it. I wanted to do the same with Owen in “Light of Mine.”

In the works…

There are a few. A possible web series, and a couple more features including a sci-fi film and a family dramedy about a woman grieving over her father who’s gone missing in the Himalayans.

Special shout outs…

I’m grateful for everyone who helped get “Light of Mine” made. I was completely humbled by the talent I was able to work with. Making a movie is building a community and developing life long relationships. Everyone should make a movie at some point in their lives. I also want to thank my friend Jill Neary who was battling brain cancer as we produced this film. She inspired all of us as we shot our movie and she continues to inspire us. Unfortunately Jill wasn’t able to see the finished film, but her spirit is in every scene. I would also like to thank the LHON (Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy) community for embracing us and letting us embrace them. This disease is so rare must people haven’t heard of it. I hope “Light of Mine” can help make a difference for them.

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