The Emotional NYC Premiere of "Keep the Lights On" at Tribeca

by Austin Dale
April 26, 2012 6:59 PM
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"Keep the Lights On."
"Keep the Lights On."

Being a gay film person in New York has its perks, one of which was being able to follow the production of a movie we all felt would be really important. Ira Sachs' "Keep The Lights On" was the movie, it was the summer of 2011, and we were all excited to have a gay-themed story told in a big way by one of New York's greatest gay filmmakers. It seemed that, at some point, everyone I know took part in the film somehow. When I watch the film now, I lose track of the number of friends' faces that pop up in the background. (Yes, I'm also in it at one point, but you can hardly see me.)

When I finally saw the film at Sundance, it excited me so much. My personal admiration for Ira aside, I think "Keep The Lights On" is an amazing, engrossing achievement, emphasized only further by its fearless autobiography. But at the time, I felt the Sundance premiere was premature. Although the Sundance crowd received the film well and debated it day and night, and despite its universal themes of companionship and heartbreak, I couldn't help but feel that "Keep the Lights On" just wasn't made for them. It's a film about New York and its people, past and present.

The cast and crew of Keep The Lights On at Tribeca
AUSTIN DALE The cast and crew of Keep The Lights On at Tribeca

When I arrived for its long-awaited NYC premiere last night, I was surprised and thrilled that the long, long lines outside the theater were packed with New York's gay men of all ages. I spoke with a few people outside. "I heard it was a New York gay film," said one boy, "which is great because "Weekend" didn't cut it for me."

As I expected, the reception was rapturous. After the screening, Ira took the stage and told everybody who was involved with the film to get on stage, which is something that often happens at festivals. I didn't expect such a massive percentage of the audience to take the stage.

We don't often have the luxury of these moments at premieres these days. Usually, the audience arrives and leaves and discusses (or not), and the filmmakers answer to some dumb criticisms for the overeager and uninformed, but last night, "Keep the Lights On" played in the right town for the right people, and those who worked on it received their due acclaim.

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  • david glassman | April 27, 2012 11:52 AMReply

    Reading this kid's posts in this blogspace is a slog. Talk about being somehow both totally green and an annoying name-dropper. The tone of this just sucks and it is horribly written.

  • bob hawk | April 27, 2012 3:53 AMReply

    RE: "Although the Sundance crowd received the film well and debated it day and night, and despite its universal themes of companionship and heartbreak, I couldn't help but feel that 'Keep the Lights On' just wasn't made for them." -- Who is "THEM"?! Whatever are you talking about? Of course, its New York premiere would have its own brand of specialness. But there are lots of New Yorkers, other urbanites, and queers who attend Sundance. The great thing about Ira's profoundly affecting, absorbing, moving and riveting film is that it transcends narrow considerations of who's going to "get" the film (beyond those who wouldn't go near it in the first place). At the screening I attended last January you could have heard a pin drop -- and I never heard one negative comment about it for the rest of Sundance. In February it then went on to win the Teddy Award for best feature at the Berlinale. I predict that it's chances are excellent of garnering lots of positive reviews across the U.S. and playing well to a wider audience than most "gay" films traditionally reach. (P.S. I feel that comparing it to the wonderful WEEKEND is off the mark. It's not just that WEEKEND is U.K., its focus is extremely intimate and takes place over a few days between two people who barely know each other, whereas the canvas of KEEP THE LIGHTS ON is comparatively enormous, taking place over a number of years, with numerous arcs bisecting one another while having as its strongest through line the many ups and downs of an on-and-off but long-standing relationship. And I think that both films can be relatable and resonant around the globe and for both straight and gay people.)

  • Ira Sachs | April 28, 2012 6:44 AM

    Thanks Austin for your coverage of the premiere, and getting a sense of what made the night special. It was a great moment, having 50+ of the cast and crew together to see the film for the first time, and in the city that is in itself such a character in the film. And thank you, Bob, for your comments, and your prognosis for the film's future. I appreciate your assessment of the film's intention, and the scope of its potential audience. I agree with you about Sundance being a very diverse and urbane (and often queer) audience, but I also find it, in terms of the market, a very marginalizing, fearful place. Read the trade reviews for KEEP THE LIGHTS ON, and you'll know what I'm talking about. Sundance is a combination of both the expansion possible for independent film (see: the wonderful programmers) and the fearful enclosed world of capitalism (see: the trades and the distributors). I get it: Sundance is only a mirror of the industry, and capitalism. But it does make a different experience with a film then a screening at the heart of New York City -- particularly after the film has been sold (see: Music Box Films) and is no longer being viewed from the lens of how is it LIKE other things in the marketplace. Instead, as it has been by the NYC press this week (see: Village Voice, Wall St Journal, Time Out NY, New York magazine, NEXT...), the film can now be embraced for how its NOT LIKE other things.

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