To Keep the Light is at once simple and beautiful, a film that reflects the history that comes with the rocky and turbulent landscape it depicts. Both a geographical and period piece, the story pushes forward on a contemplative tone and tempo.
The film centres on Abbie Moore (Erica Fae), a woman living by a lighthouse off the coastline of Maine in 1876. She cares for her bedridden husband while fulfilling his position as the lighthouse keeper — a prestigious post not traditionally given to a woman. After a rough storm, Abbie finds herself in the company of Johan (Antti Reini), a Swede washed up on the rocks.
“[Abbie] is a very recognizable character in New England,” explained Erica Fae. “A sultry, hard-working, I-will-do-it-all, kind of women, and also doesn’t make a big show of herself.”
For a piece where much of the story moves through visual and nonverbal elements, the concise nature of the script draws attention to subtle details — from the slow replay of bodies moving, to wind brushing the grass, to string instruments weaving between the sound of waves against rocks.
Directed, written, co-produced, and performed by Fae, To Keep the Light marks her first feature film. The success of which can be seen in her strong portrayal of Abbie and the two festival award nominations the film has received thus far.
Fae expressed her fascination with the intersection between the public and personal for women who became lighthouse keepers due to their circumstances. Often times, these women found themselves fulfilling the non-traditional post when their father, brother, or husband became indisposed — by sickness, injury, or death.
The main character, Abbie, is herself a composite of several historical women.
Interwoven in the plot is the story connected to Johan and the once-mentioned town of New Sweden, where the fear of others was visible even in the 1870s, and immigration was rare.
When asked about the process, Fae pointed out the huge learning curve in making her first feature, and the realization that the process was, in a way, backwards from theatre. In theatre, rehearsal and editing go hand-in-hand and the product is fully realized during a performance. With film, however, “The performing was just the beginning.
“That was an interesting process for me, just artistically, to get into the editing room and [think], ‘Oh my God, we’re just in rehearsal now.’”
From the visuals to the score, the writing to the editing, all of the film’s elements weave seamlessly with one another to create a surprisingly layered yet beautifully composed work. To Keep the Light captures and highlights these finer details beautifully.
While the film may not be suitable for every wandering mind, it is well-worth it to follow Abbie’s journey through all the moments until the end.