“I’m 78. Now what?”
by Petra Meterc
The documentary I Like It Here (2022) by Ralph Arlyck—a figurehead of the American independent documentary film, who has produced and directed more than a dozen films—has received awards at festivals worldwide. As an artwork, it could be read as a means of the director looking back at his life and career, a type of autobiographical film where the creator turns the camera on himself and his surroundings if you will. But it is, at the same time, so much more than that. I Like It Here talks about what constitutes one’s inner world and everyday life – meeting friends, building emotional bonds, finding love, creating a family, the people who live in your community, but also aging, and with it, the passing of more and more people close to you every year.
Arlyck is very clear in his intentions; he wishes to talk about himself, yet for him that does not necessitate an autocentric approach. Instead of presenting himself as an awarded auteur, he mostly immortalises, and by that, acknowledges his love for the people surrounding him and without whom he would have been a different person. He goes around with his camera and films just about everything he does and the people he does it with, but also directly, without making it a big deal, asks people about their view on the passing of time and facing the end of the upcoming days, as Arlyck says euphemistically. After all, a few storylines in the film end with Arlyck telling us that someone has passed away, be it of natural causes or from COVID-19.
For most of the film, we are either inside his house or in the community where he lives; we meet his neighbors, friends, the local arthouse cinema projectionist who also sells popcorn, his college girlfriend whom he once lost contact with, but who now lives nearby, his old friends who he hasn’t seen in decades, casually taking off where they left it, as well as some random people he simply finds interesting. The film is a mixture of casual tone and a bit more on the philosophical side, but Arlyck is mostly just conversing with these people while they go about their errands or while they hang out as they normally would, which means that nothing in the film seems pre-planned, adding to authenticity and the feel that we, the viewers, were simply invited to Arlyck’s intimate world.
Despite the camera mostly focusing on others, it is Arlyck’s own narration and commentary that functions as a glue to the stories told and the reflections coming out of them. He reveals a lot about himself and honestly shares even some very intimate thoughts passing through his mind regarding his own aging. Some are even seemingly mundane, but poignant, like how the box of pencils he keeps in his drawer, since he doesn’t use them much, will probably be the last one he will ever buy. Or just out of the blue, he will present us with a frequently asked question, which he has started to ask himself lately: “What did I come down here for?”, pointing to forgetfulness that happens more often now. The realizations are bittersweet and very universal. Oftentimes, his narration is witty, especially when he visits the doctor and is told that he doesn’t need to film everything (to which he replies –“What a strange idea!”), but his humor always remains kind.
Although the film also looks back at Arlyck’s young age with accompanying archival photographs, the intention is never to reckon with the past, but to simply reminisce and capture memories. As the title of the film goes, it is evident that Arlyck likes his life and, as well as the community and surroundings where he lives today. In this way, the film becomes a love letter to life itself, as well as a wonderfully honest and gentle testimony of Arlyck’s life, including so many things, but especially people that have shaped him as a person and as a filmmaker. It is through these people and the stories that connect them to Arlyck, that we get to know, as we realize throughout the film, what also made and still makes him the filmmaker that he is – a person who loves meeting people, who is fascinated by ordinary people and their lives, someone with a curious eye for stories and hidden details, and last but not least, someone who is very empathetic and is still always ready to learn from others, which is also why this is probably, as he points it out, not his last film.
Edited by Savina Petkova
© FIPRESCI 2023