On Monday, March 2, at 7 p.m. in East Tennessee State University’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium in the D.P. Culp Student Center, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts will present a screening of the 2019 narrative film “Light From Light” as part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. The free public film screening will be followed by a Q&A and reception with writer/director Paul Harrill, who lives, teaches and makes films in the Knoxville area.
“We are especially excited to have a filmmaker from our region coming with Southern Circuit,” says Anita DeAngelis, director of the Martin School of the Arts. “We met Paul some years back with his short, ‘Gina.’ We are looking forward to sharing his feature ‘Light From Light’ and enjoying seeing the beauty of our region on the big screen.”
Titled after a mysterious phrase in the Nicene Creed, “Light From Light” stars Tony Award nominee Marin Ireland and actor/comedian Jim Gaffigan. It introduces viewers to Shelia, who is gifted with sometimes-prophetic dreams and a lifelong interest in the paranormal. Shelia is asked to investigate a potential haunting at an East Tennessee farmhouse. There she meets Richard, a recent widower who believes his wife may still be with him. The investigation that ensues – which eventually pulls in Shelia’s son, Owen, and his classmate Lucy – forces them to confront the mysteries of their own lives.
Harrill, who wrote as well as directed the film, does not think of it as being about ghosts, but rather about humans who are haunted in various ways and seeking ... something.
“I wanted to tell a story in which the real world was the foundation of the story,” Harrill says in a Decent Films interview. “I basically asked myself, ‘What would I, or anyone I know, do if we felt like something like this was happening to us?’
“So it wasn’t ‘There are ghosts’ or ‘This is spooky,’ but it was just, ‘OK. This is a story about people.’ This isn’t a story about a ghost.”
Harrill’s first feature film, “Something, Anything,” had a similar spiritual seeker thread and was a New York Times Critics’ Pick and named one of the Top 25 Best First Features in IndieWire’s 2015 Year-End Critics’ Poll.
“We live in times in which more of us are seeking than are willing to admit,” the filmmaker tells rogerebert.com. “We don’t want to talk about it. It’s scary to talk about it, because when we are seeking we don’t have answers, we don’t understand what’s happening in our lives. I tried to represent that process in my two movies.”
While audiences never meet the ghosts in “Light From Light,” they get to know the characters as their human depths are plumbed. Gaffigan earned critical praise for his portrayal of the widower still reaching out for his wife.
“This always surprises people, but I wrote the part with Jim in mind,” says Harrill, who teaches film at University of Tennessee. “In Richard, I wanted a character with real physical presence. Jim has that. Among other things, he shared with me the experience of almost having lost his wife. He connected to the part very deeply.”
Audiences, too, have connected with the film that premiered at Sundance Film Festival, perhaps because Harrill focused on the audience as he wrote and directed the film. “I definitely am thinking about an audience, or audiences, as I make the work,” Harrill tells Film Comment. “But I also want to make a film that people in my family would watch.
“I know my films aren’t for everyone, but I want people with different backgrounds and interests to find them approachable.”
While there may be ghosts somewhere, it’s the human, emotional side of Harrill’s story that resonates. “I’d argue that both of my features are about love, just not necessarily romantic love,” Harrill says. They’re about connection. And they’re about loneliness.”
Harrill’s own love story with the region plays a key part in his films, as well. “It has to do with beauty,” he tells Arts Knoxville. “It also has to do with the diversity – rivers, mountains, the very special diversity of life that is in this region. But it’s also more mysterious than that. That mystery is probably why I keep returning to them to film them.”
The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers is a program of South Arts. Southern Circuit screenings are funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
For more information on the film, visit www.Lightfromlightfilm.com. For more information on the event or film series, call the Martin School of the Arts at 423-439-8587 or visit www.etsu.edu/martin. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.