Ira Sachs is known for his mining of various communities: queer culture, art culture, film culture, literary culture. His previous films include Last Address (2010), Married Life (2007), The Delta (2007), and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize–winning Forty Shades of Blue (2005). His latest effort, the semiautobiographical Keep the Lights On, will have its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Here, Sachs discusses his various personal motivations for creating the film.
THE FILM COMES OUT OF THE DESIRE to tell our story honestly, without judgment and with a certain transparency. There’s a particular way that gay people learn about their lives in secret, and that becomes the overriding means of narrating our stories. I find that a lack of honesty is what has gotten me into the most trouble in my life. I wanted to make a film that was straightforward about the experiences that I’ve gone through in a long-term relationship, which were fueled, in some ways, by hiding.
The script initially came out of a close reading of journals. What’s interesting about reading journals is the ellipse and the power of the ellipse in conveying time. I hoped to kind of use that as a propelling force. The gaps are what propel the film through time. I specifically tried to convey emotional time with these actors, based on the small shifts of how they related to each other, as characters.
I’ve made a film with a Vietnamese lead actor, I’ve made one with a Russian lead actor, and now I’ve made a film with a Danish lead actor, and I think that there's the sort of intellectual reason of the nature of the outsider, that I'm interested in, as a character. But it also has something to do with a certain kind of acting style that you find in non-American performers, which I am really drawn to, which tends to be the certain level of realism that you find in European performers. There’s a certain interest in the detail of each moment on-screen. It feels very experiential––really exposing the details of life, in some ways.
Before Keep the Lights On, I made a nine-minute film called Last Address that consists of portraits of the last residential addresses of a group of New York artists who died of AIDS. I got very interested in the changing nature of queer life in New York over generations, and particularly because of this idea of a “lost generation.” For me, as an artist, I found that having these relationships with individuals from other generations, as well as the work from other generations, was really crucial to developing my voice. This compelled me to create QUEER | ART | MENTORSHIP, which gives other people a way to really learn and work with artists from these various times. In the most banal way of putting it: We live in isolation, and we gain strength from community. For me, in creating this program is also the sense of re-creating my own community.
I need to remind myself, at some points, that I have permission to make certain kinds of images. The best way to do this is to look at the work of people who’ve come before us, someone like David Wojnarowicz, or the New York artists of the 1970s and ’80s, the age of punk. Punk meant comfort with being outside the mainstream––not to be careful, not to be precious, to be messy, and not to worry too much about what your parents might think. A really important part of being an artist is trying to forget your mother, on some level.