Based on blind faith, first-time documentary filmmaker Jeremy Ambers followed the uncertain path from conception to execution of the Bay Lights. At a height of 500 feet and a length of 1.8 miles, it represents the world’s largest LED light sculpture installed on the much-maligned western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. He really had no idea if the project would reach a successful conclusion, and that ambivalence is captured in the compelling narrative he follows for just 71 minutes. Ambers wisely focuses on three key figures, the first being Ben Davis, the founder of the Illuminate the Arts program and the guiding light, if you will, of the entire project. It was his dream to have a public art display that would allow some of the spotlight normally reserved for the more photogenic Golden Gate Bridge. This dream evolves into a vision created by the film’s second pivotal figure, expressionist artist Leo Villareal, whose renown comes from elaborate lighting displays.
Many of his exhibits are shown here with the most famous being the stunning concourse walkway between the West and East buildings of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. The third figure is Amy Critchett, a no-nonsense creative producer instrumental in the budgeting and fundraising efforts to bring the project to life. While a number of engineers were obviously critical to the effort and are included in brief snippets, it is the combined effort of this charismatic trio who manages to elicit support from a wide-ranging and often hesitant group of stakeholders from government agencies to private anonymous donors . Interspersed between the interviews is some remarkable footage of the installation including setbacks caused by either the elements or the experimental nature of the whole venture. Ambers shows a true gift for editing as the momentum never flags, and the evocative score by Kevin T. Doyle lends a nicely surreal touch to the story. I look forward to Ambers’ next feature film.
The film will be screened at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street, San Francisco, on May 8 at 7PM, and at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Avenue, Oakland, from May 9 through May 15 starting at 6PM for three successive showings nightly.