Faith, not just gayness, informs filmmaker’s works


This has been a good year for filmmaker Ira Sachs. His new feature, “Keep the Lights On,” received a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and won the prestigious Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. And while the intensely personal, autobiographical film centers on a tumultuous love affair between two men, Sachs believes audiences will relate to the human experience of relationships shared by all couples.

During a phone interview from his New York City home, Sachs attributed his ability for universal affinity to his cultural heritage. “I feel that I live and breathe my Judaism as an individual, and it is how I connect to people here every day.”    

Sachs has been living in Manhattan since 1987, but his roots stem from the Deep South city of Memphis, Tenn., where he was raised in what he described as a Reform Jewish household. 

“My maternal side was German Jews who came to Memphis in 1850, and, on my father's side, Eastern Europeans who came in 1900; two major Southern immigration times for Jews, so I grew up in a mixed Jewish family,” he said.  

Sachs also points to the era of social change, in which he grew up, as an influence on his formative years. 

“I was in Memphis in the '60s, and that was obviously a very complicated time,” he explained. “One of the things about growing up Jewish in the South was there was a lot of assimilation going on among Southern Jews. And one of the things that did was create a greater interest in social action there. For example, there was a great connection between our rabbi and the civil rights movement, so I've always been interested in how people live and how difference is a part of one's experience. And growing up in the South as a Jewish person, and as a gay person, I think there were certain ways in which the two identities would overlap because it was a place in which I was an outsider. But I felt more of an outsider being gay.”

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