Academy Award winner Allie Light talks grief, aging in filmmaking process

Allie Light/Courtesy

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Allie Light is no stranger to the world of filmmaking, having spent more than 25 years in the proverbial director’s chair over a filmography of 12 projects. But when she began production on her most recent project, she faced a cinematic challenge entirely different than any she had ever encountered behind the camera.

“Any Wednesday” is Light’s first nondocumentary project and a dramatic pivot from her previous body of work in both genre and subject matter. It is also Light’s first film as the sole screenwriter. The script emerged from a creative period after the death of Light’s husband and long-time creative partner, Irving Saraf.

“After Irving’s death — and we had worked together many, many years — I wrote these four scripts all on the same themes: grief and desire and old age, all generally making a comment on my life in that moment,” Light said.

“Any Wednesday” is the first of those four scripts and the first to become fully realized on-screen. The film plays like a short vignette and tells the story of an elderly woman who bonds with a homeless Iraq war veteran over the course of an evening. The film follows them as they drive around their community, exploring their differences in age, race and their respective experiences with dementia and PTSD.

Light adapted the story in part from real life, after her daughter’s mother-in-law had a similar experience to Agnes, the female protagonist in “Any Wednesday”: One evening, after not coming home on time, it was discovered that she had driven around the duration of the evening with a stranger. Because of her early stage dementia, however, the details of the night were lost. The “blank canvas” of the film’s script was found in that gap of memory and was the space into which Light placed the character of C’Mo, the Iraq war veteran whom Agnes befriends.

The connection between reality and fiction is present throughout the short film, particularly in the naturalistic use of sound and the sparse soundtrack, which Light said was something she had to fight for. “Music manipulates the viewer and tries to tell them how to feel, so I’m careful with it,” Light said.

The shift to a more creative format presented new challenges for Light, such as working with rain effects or lifted cameras. “There were 30 crew members, and I was used to working with just my partner and a sound recorder,” Light said. She also added that this transition was made easier by her co-director Patrick Stark, who has worked on other bigger-budget Hollywood films.

Another new facet to dramatic filmmaking was the chance to work with actors rather than the real-life subjects of a documentary. “To tell you the truth, I was terrified of making (“Any Wednesday”) because I’d never worked with actors before. And it was wonderful. They listen to you and do a better job than you could’ve expected. … I lost my fear completely,” Light said.

According to Light, the shift from documentary to narrative filmmaking was never a massive leap. The bridge can be found in the ways that each form brings intimate stories to the screen.

“Being able to talk to people about their innermost lives, which is what documentary film is … you have to have an ability to go into someone’s life without feeling like interfering,” Light said. “The camera is a confessor.” To Light, one informs the other rather than existing in disparate stylistic planes.

Light described her upcoming projects from the cohort of four scripts, including one that deals with a romance between a widowed man and woman, the plot of which was also adapted from a real-life personal experience. She described it as a “senior telephone sex story,” and also lamented the general approach to filmmaking about elderly people and how it can often come across as silly or out-of-touch.

“What keeps me going is the idea of making, creating something. Irving and I were together for 44 years. … Now that’s all over. I’ve made something not only for myself but for him as well,” Light said.

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].