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Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers #32: Ira Sachs, ‘Keep the Lights On’

Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers #32: Ira Sachs, 'Keep the Lights On'

New York filmmaker Ira Sachs returns to Sundance with his new feature “Keep the Lights On,” an autobiographical gay romance that spans several years.

What’s it about? A tumultuous, decade-long relationship between two men in NYC – the addictions that tear them apart, the bonds that keep them together.

Director Ira Sachs says: “Inspired by filmmakers like Bergman, Cassavetes, Jean Eustache, and other heroes of mine who worked in a very personal type of cinema, I wanted to make a movie that examines and reveals the delicate intricacies of a relationship, as I saw it. To do so without shame, without judgment, but with lightness, passion, humor and love. Why do people stay in relationships that are tough from almost the very beginning? What holds two people together when so many forces – drugs, sex, secrets, lies – pull them apart? Never simple questions to answer, “Keep the Lights On” is my attempt to understand the ins and outs of a relationship between two people who can’t let go, no matter what — by simply telling their story without judgment or shame. It’s my “Scenes from a Marriage,” circa New York of a very recent past.

“I started making movies in the early 90s, a few years after I discovered “the cinema” during a three month stay in Paris during which I watched 100s of films. It was a great education, and when soon after I applied to film school – and then didn’t get in – I decided I would start to make my own work. I had blind faith that if I had a story to tell, and some understanding of how to tell it, I could make a good movie. For me, making movies was always a form of autobiography, even when translated through the pleasures of fiction. Each of my films – including my last feature, “Married Life,” set in a 1940s movie-past — is, for me, a thinly veiled form of memoir. Having come out of the closet less than 15 years after Stonewall, I have also always been interested in films that shed light on people and behavior that is often hidden. Secrets make for good drama, and revealing the hidden truths and contradictions of life is for me one of the most exciting aspects of making movies.

“My biggest challenge was the experiences I lived through that gave me the material to write this story. Those were pretty hellish, often, to be honest, and I was enough of a masochist, it seems, to enjoy the pain. Or at least wallow in it. These difficult experiences, however, were the same ones that at forty forced me to make radical changes in how I wanted to live my life going forward. For me, the pattern I most needed to change was to begin to live an honest life. In that way, I think this film is the story of the after-effect of living in the closet. These characters clearly have choices, but they are also products of their own time: two men who learned love in the darkness, and didn’t know how to change those patterns, until everything got very bad.

“I always hope that people feel less alone when they see a movie that I make. That some part of the story played out on the big screen will resonate for individuals in the audience in a way that gives them comfort. I also hope that the audience feels like they’ve gone through a journey with the characters in the film. In this film particularly, I hope that people are moved, surprised, unsettled at times, and that they feel. Lastly, I hope they enjoy the generosity of these actors, who are sharing so much of themselves. For me, actors like Thure Lindhardt, Zach Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Paprika Steen, Souleymane Sy Savane – the stars of my film – are giving of themselves in a way that’s brave and generous. They are not hiding.”

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