POV: What's the film about? Could you describe Alice Sees the Light for someone who hasn't seen it?
Ariana Gerstein: That's always a tough question for me! The film is as much about a feeling as it is about a place or circumstance. It's a meditation on loss, in a way. In the film, Alice can be heard describing her reactions to the changing environment in a very intimate way. I think a lot of people can relate to her tale, when they reflect on the changes in their own environments. The images are of upstate New York, illuminated by an electric glow. There are also photograms and scanned images, which are surreal in their texture, but feel true on an emotional level, in the way they play off of Alice's narrative.
Thematically, the film is about a specific kind of loss but it's also about hope. The loss is the gradual kind that seems to occur while your busy caring for some other aspect of your life. You do feel it; it acts on you, even if you can't quite define it. Alice defines her loss. And her loss is one that a lot of us share, and probably feel, without stopping to realize it. The hope comes about in the act of recognizing what's going on and expressing it. That's the starting place for change. In a sense, this kind of filmmaking is also about recognition, or attention, as well. It's about seeing a film as crafted work, which is visible in it's own right. It is not just a window to look through, at some other view.
POV: How did you come to make this film? What drew you to the subject of light and darkness?
Gerstein: I moved to upstate New York from Chicago in order to take a job in the Cinema Department at SUNY Binghamton. I also chose a house in the country as a kind of escape from the city. The sky at night was amazing, filled with more stars than I had ever seen. One night I noticed the loss. Instead of a black sky filled with millions of stars, I was confronted with an orange haze drowning out half my view. After realizing that the situation was permanent, I felt sad, and a little angry, even though I knew that this was just a little problem compared to so many others. I decided to make a film about this relatively small change in my local environment. No one was really talking about it. I guess they just accepted it. I really didn't want to make an activist documentary. I just wanted to vent a little bit. And so did Alice. She lives closer to the light, and so she feels its presence more strongly. She did get the facility to change the direction of the lamps a little, but she hasn't fully regained her nights. I interviewed Alice one day. I drove to the facility over multiple nights and shot the surrounding landscape. I made a photogram in my barn on 16mm, and I used my desktop scanner to animate nails, writing and the glow of my daughter's hair. My husband composed and recorded some music. I put it all together on my desktop editing system.
POV: How long did it take to make the film? Could you describe the process briefly?
Gerstein: The film itself did not take long to make. I had been thinking about it for a while though. Once I got to work on the images and talked with Alice, it came together within two weeks. The most important work happens, for me, in the editing.
POV: "Alice Sees The Light" is full of beautiful images and haunting narration. How would you describe the film stylistically? Tell us a little about your aesthetic choices. Why did you make those choices?
Gerstein: Stylistically, the film comes from my background in experimental film practice. That is, thinking about way the images work in a poetic way rather than say, strictly as "document" or for the sake of journalistic or anthropological purposes. I like to work with narration that has an intimate quality and images that harmonize with, rather than illustrate, the narrator's words.
POV: Who do you want to see the film? Who is the film for?
Gerstein: The film is for everyone. We all share the same sky. And the actions of some affect many. As we become more aware of that, we can make choices that are respectful to our environment. In the case of light pollution, properly shielded and angled lights can make a huge difference. More communities are becoming aware of this and putting out light pollution regulations, and it makes a huge difference. But you need to be aware; to feel there is a problem, maybe even to remember an experience of when it was different, before you would ever think about making different choices.
I hope people are able to experience six minutes of curiosity and reflection on the importance of darkness, light pollution, our modern state of being, their own opinions, Alice's story and film as an art form. Maybe that's asking a lot, but I would love it to happen!
POV: What are you working on next?
Gerstein: I have been working on a documentary about milk with my husband and filmmaking partner for several years. It is finally done and starting to show up at festivals. It's called Milk in the Land, Ballad of an American Drink. The film explores the varied and surprising rise of milk as the iconic American drink using animation, time lapse, narration, music and landscape cinematography. It's full of interesting ideas and stories presented in a kind of essay form. I hope that people who liked Alice Sees the Light will keep and eye out for Milk in the Land. After that — I'm open to new ideas and suggestions!