“What if the Bay Bridge was a canvas of light?”
The Bay Bridge is often overshadowed by its cross-bay counterpart. When conceptual visionary Ben Davis, founder of Illuminate the Arts in Larkspur, first posed this question, it seemed an ambitious project at best and an impossible dream at worst. Not to be deterred, Davis enlisted Leo Villareal, a New York-based sculptor and interactive artist, and dozens of technical and creative partners who spent two years conceiving and installing the Bay Lights, the largest LED light sculpture in the world.
Filmmaker Jeremy Ambers was there every step of the way. Now, a year after the Bay Lights opened in stunning fashion, Ambers’ new documentary, Impossible Light, captures the dreamers from far out idea to reality with breathtaking footage and inspiring interviews. In an interview, Ambers talks about the exhilaration and challenges that came with making his debut independent documentary.
“I’ve always felt a personal affinity to the bridge. It represents home to me,” he says. The Bay Bridge was the first sight of San Francisco that Ambers ever saw, coming down Route 80 in a U-Haul van, moving to the Bay Area from New York. “It’s an engineering marvel, and it deserves more attention.”
Living near the bridge in the South of Market neighborhood, Ambers was introduced to Ben Davis at a party in 2010, and that’s when Davis posed the impossible question to him.
“He started telling me about this crazy idea,” recalls Ambers. “His vision was to make the Bay Bridge into an abstract light sculpture.”
Ambers immediately knew he wanted to document the experience on camera.
In the film, Ambers follows Davis, artist Villareal, and the host of dedicated people who designed and constructed the 1.8-mile long light sculpture. The 25,000 LED lights that adorn the towers and suspension cables across the west side of the Bay Bridge are all individually programmed, creating sparkling displays that never repeat. The suspense in Impossible Light comes mainly from the arduous task of installing the light sculpture on a bridge that constantly shakes from traffic and 40-50 mph winds. “There is no book on how to do this, they pretty much made it up as they went along,” explains Ambers.
Completing such a daunting project mirrors Ambers’ own struggle to fund and complete the film. A self-described “one-man crew,” Ambers scaled the bridge himself several times to capture the vast scale of the work.
Ambers moves the film at a brisk and suspenseful pace, while composer Kevin T Doyle creates a stirring, emotionally resonant score. The result is a captivating document of a once in a lifetime art project.