Filmmaker Ralph Arlyck's "I Like it Here" is screening as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Filmmaker Ralph Arlyck's "I Like it Here" is screening as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

‘I Like It Here’: In S.F. Jewish Film Fest gem, an aging filmmaker reflects on mortality 

Full coverage of the 43rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

While making a documentary about aging, filmmaker Ralph Arlyck takes a bad turn on his bike and lands on his hip in unbearable pain, a crash captured by his video camera. After a surgeon fits him with a metal rod and screws to mend the break, he wakes to find his wife of more than 50 years by his side.

“How many more times will we emerge from anesthesia to find the other one sitting at the edge of a bed?” Arlyck wonders aloud as his camera scans Elisabeth’s empathetic face.

It’s one of the many poignant, and unanswerable, questions posed in “I Like It Here,” Arlyck’s highly personal 2022 documentary, showing at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The filmmaker, 82, received a 2022 grant from the Jewish Film Institute, which runs the festival, to complete this film. He is scheduled to appear at the July 23 screening.

Arlyck lived in the Haight-Ashbury as a grad student at San Francisco State, and his past films have covered 1960s San Francisco counterculture, as well as profiled people who respond to numbing global news with inspirational action. In this wistful, moving meditation on time’s inevitable march, the producer and director turns the camera on himself and a colorful cadre of pals who are also looking back — and ahead — later in life. It’s his first movie in 18 years.

“I’m wondering how much my friends are thinking about the upcoming end of the days we’re all walking through, about the absolute finality of what will soon happen,” Arlyck, who narrates the film, says in voice-over.

So, with those friends, he goes about exploring the sorts of gnawing existential questions he’s been pondering himself. Underlying them all, the one he calls the most astonishing: “How did this happen to me?” “This,” of course, being life itself.

How can it be that one day Arlyck is Ralphie the boychik hoisted atop his Yiddish-speaking father’s shoulders, while the next, he’s a grandfather whose grown sons fret whenever he climbs a ladder? Life can be as mysterious as the dense fog that shrouds Arlyk’s bucolic upstate New York home in the film’s hauntingly beautiful opening shots. How do we make sense of its mind-boggling speed, its absurdity, its random cruelties? How do we maximize the time that remains? How do we let go?

“Sometimes,” Arlyck says of his sons in one of the film’s most powerful moments, “I want to grab these two by the shoulders and say, ‘This is the me I hope you’ll keep in your heads. Not the future 90-year-old who’ll keep asking you whose child you are.’”

But despite its heart-tugging revelations, “I Like it Here” is hardly a somber slog.

This is the me I hope you’ll keep in your heads. Not the future 90-year-old who’ll keep asking you whose child you are.

Humor infuses what is ultimately a life-affirming film, even when the subject of death comes up. So does gratitude for being alive, down to the little gifts — friendly neighbors who watch out for one another, a wife who dries Arlyck’s feet in her lap (“even between the toes!”) after his hip operation makes it hard to get in and out of the shower.

“I feel like Jesus, or at least like the king of the Jews,” Arlyck says of Elisabeth’s post-op doting.

At the film’s warm heart, there’s an appreciation of the well-earned wisdom and serenity that can accompany aging. There’s also a calm acceptance of life’s universal cycles, especially shifting parent-child roles and relationships. Arlyck recalls moving his own mom and dad into assisted living years earlier, and imagines the day his sons might do the same for him. It will be tough when they take away his car, he reflects.

“This is life in the slow lane,” says Danny Klein, a 78-year-old writer friend who sings to his young granddaughter in Yiddish while he gathers supplies for their shared crafts project. “This is why old people and little people get along so well.”

That lane seems to suit Arlyck. As the film’s title suggests, he likes it “here” — both at home in the country, where he gazes out the window at the changing seasons, and in this phase of life where he can pause and appreciate the poetry of everyday life in a new way, reconstructed hip and all.

“I Like it Here”

(89 minutes) 12 p.m. Sunday, July 23 at Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F., with scheduled appearance by Arlyck. Also screens at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4 at Piedmont Theatre, 4186 Piedmont Ave., Oakland.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.