Ira Sachs sees Keep The Lights On as affirmative not cathartic

Director Ira Sachs admits his latest film Keep The Lights On is very personal, but says that enough time has passed to allow him to tell the story well and with perspective.

“My own personal experience is the best thing I have to offer to the audience, so it’s always where I start when I make a film,” says Sachs. “Those are also the kinds of films I love: open, revealing, almost obscenely intimate. Like for the audience there is a sense that they almost shouldn’t be there, watching this closely.”

Based on Sachs’ real-life relationship with Bill Clegg, Keep The Lights On follows the ten year on-again-off-again relationship between documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and literary lawyer Paul (Zachary Booth).  Chronicling their turbulent decade together, Sachs exposes the relationship as Paul’s crack addiction and Erik’s sex addiction takes a toll on their life together.

Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and Paul (Zachary Booth) in KEEP THE LIGHTS ON. Photo by Jean-Christophe Husson, courtesy of Music Box Films.
Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and Paul (Zachary Booth) in Keep The Lights On. Photo by Jean-Christophe Husson, courtesy of Music Box Films.

Despite the film’s personal connection, Sachs doesn’t see it as a cathartic exercise but rather as an affirmative experience in making a movie with a community of people invested in the project and, according to his fundraising pitch on Kickstarter, having been frustrated by how few films exist that reflect life as gay men living in New York City.

“Both the filmmaking and queer communities in New York rallied behind this movie because there was the feeling that their stories hadn’t been seen on screen before,” he says.

With a very short production timeline by industry standards that saw the film from first draft to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in just over a year, the road to completion hit an almost immediate roadblock when Sachs sent the script to an agent that he had worked with many times before in Hollywood.

“Usually he comes back with a long list of actors I should consider, and the response I got when I sent him Keep the Lights On was, ‘no one in our agency will be available for this film’,” recounts Sachs.  “It was a quick assessment that something about the film was going to be uncomfortable for American production, and I would have to make it differently.”

While Sachs gives no indication as to why he thinks the film received the reaction it did from Hollywood, he does hope that audiences will not look to label it, but instead see that the heart of his film is simply what he knows or has observed about human nature and intimacy.

While Keep The Lights On may not have been particularly therapeutic for the filmmaker, one may be forgiven in thinking his next project, Love Is Strange, may be that film.

“It’s a film about the potential for love to blossom over years instead of destruct.  Which is something, until this point in my life, I didn’t think was possible. I’m happy to say now that I do.”

Keep The Lights On

Directed by Ira Sachs.  Starring Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth.  Screens as part of the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival.  Visit for tickets and information.

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