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North Medford grad tackles dementia in AIFF short film

Zach Bandler knows what it’s like to watch the mind of someone he cares for fade.

Prior to his filmmaking career, the 2003 North Medford High School graduate was focused on becoming a classical opera singer, working closely with a vocal coach to hone his pipes. To Bandler, his mentor was brilliant, inspirational.

A few short years later, Bandler’s teacher had a series of strokes that resulted in vascular dementia, which affected his memory in ways that were clear as the two continued to exchange letters after Bandler’s move to New York City.

“It was really my first experience with kind of the capriciousness of life, watching this brilliant man and having to see him slowly slip away,” Bandler says.

The man died two years ago, and what happened to him is the inspiration for Bandler’s short film “The Lightkeeper,” which will screen at the Ashland Independent Film Festival this weekend. The film will be shown at 9:40 p.m. Friday and Sunday at Ashland Street Cinema, according to the AIFF website. Starring Bruce Davison (“X-Men,” “The Crucible”) and Meg Steedle (“Boardwalk Empire”), it’s his second short film to be screened at the festival.

The movie has also screened at the Newport Beach, Beverly Hills, Phoenix and Omaha film festivals.

Bandler doesn’t want to give too much away, but he says the story is set on a remote stretch of Oregon coastline, where a young woman who is a military veteran agrees to go to dinner at the home of an aging man suffering from dementia.

The film is about communication and reconciliation, Bandler says, adding that the two elements are “naturally related.”

Exterior shoots for the film took place in Florence over a two-day period in October 2016. The interior shoots, which make up the bulk of the film, took place over about three days in Topanga Canyon, near Malibu, California. Post-production and editing lasted from March to July 2017.

The movie is in consideration for several other festivals.

“We’re kind of in the middle of our festival run right now,” Bandler says.

Bandler’s first film, “The Stairs,” which starred Anthony Heald and also showed at AIFF, deals with loneliness. Bandler says he has learned a lot about storytelling in the few years since he completed it.

“Something I really learned over that time with the short film as a medium is that, really, conciseness is your greatest ally,” Bandler says.

“The Lightkeeper” is 16 minutes long. “The Stairs” was 33 minutes long.

“If you try to say too many things, you risk saying nothing at all,” he adds.

Ticket information for “The Lightkeeper” is available online at www.ashlandfilm.org.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or at 541-776-4468.

Meg Steedle stars in “The Lightkeeper.”
Bruce Davison stars in Zach Bandler’s “The Lightkeeper.”