The flourishingly bittersweet “I Like It Here” captures the golden essence of humanity

Documentarian Ralph Arlyck’s latest autobiographical feature premieres locally at the Wisconsin Film Festival on April 16 and 17.
Ralph Arlyck's friend discusses his wife's declining health and battle with memory issues as the two get ready to ski together.
Ralph Arlyck’s friend discusses his wife’s declining health and battle with memory issues as the two get ready to ski together.

Documentarian Ralph Arlyck’s latest autobiographical feature premieres locally at the Wisconsin Film Festival on April 16 and 17.

In 1977, NASA sent out Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 to explore the solar system. Scientists equipped the spacecraft with “golden records,” audio-visual discs containing pertinent scientific information encoded to assist intelligent extraterrestrials in discerning what it is they may have happened to come across. 

But these phonographic records also include more personal glimpses of life on Earth, messages intended to “communicate a story of our world.” Images of sheet music, a traffic jam, runners, a mother breastfeeding. The sound of a baby crying, thunder, laughter, greetings in 55 different languages. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and a Peruvian wedding song. 

Whenever we decide to dispatch our next golden record, I think we should make sure American director Ralph Arlyck’s I Like It Here (2022) is on it. If showcasing the essence of humanity is the goal, then Arlyck’s documentary fits the criteria. 


Screening as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival on Sunday, April 16, at 4 p.m. at UW Cinematheque, and Monday, April 17, at 12:30 p.m. at Hilldale, both with appearances by Arlyck, I Like It Here meditates on aging, on dying. But dying and living go hand-in-hand, leaving the octogenarian Arlyck to examine and contemplate a single human’s place in the grand scheme of a limited period on Earth. It sounds serious. Luckily, the life part can be a bit silly at times, as Arlyck and his “interview subjects” approach it with just the right amount of humor (as Arlyck has become known for in other work, like 2006’s Following Sean, also screening at the 2023 Wisconsin Film Festival).

Really, the entirety of I Like It Here, filmed over several years in upstate New York, is a conglomerate of both casual and philosophic conversations with Arlyck’s friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, and first loves. There are no obviously pre-prepared questions, no cameras atop tripods, and no carefully placed backlights. Essentially, there are no elements of production that threaten the authenticity of the humanness we see on the screen. 

Instead, Arlyck walks around with his camera at the height of his chest, often pointed upward toward the speakers as they look into his eyes or at the ground around them. Arlyck admits himself that “documentary filmmaking is almost as invasive as the quadruple bypass” one of his friends had, a confession that comes as a voiceover on footage of the aforementioned friend describing the operation firsthand. 

That awareness, however, is what makes I Like It Here as flourishingly bittersweet and existential as it is. We quickly find ourselves and our loved ones reflected in scenes where Arlyck’s wife lovingly scolds him for always having his camera out as they wash dishes, snowshoe around their farm, or visit their old, crumbling starter home. 

But Arlyck’s interviewees are only able to share their genuine stories and truths because they’ve lived; death tends to follow close behind life, its foil. Multiple “storylines” documented in I Like It Here are brought to their natural end by Arlyck relating that someone has died. Whether caused by COVID-19 or Alzheimer’s, physical death is the inevitable finale.

Arlyck doesn’t shy away from his own fate either, openly contemplating his life’s narrative alongside his friends, while inviting the viewer to do so in turn. In one sequence, he muses on how his sons are already starting to reverse the roles of the family dynamic. The parent becomes the child. He hopes his sons remember him for who he is “now,” not for whom he may be in his mid-90s when he might not recognize their faces.

Luckily, Arlyck’s sons will have I Like It Here—a tangible testament to Arlyck’s, and humanity’s, desire to “make a deal with whoever or whatever that I’m having fun, and I’d actually rather not leave just yet” (as Arlyck muses)—to look back on, should they ever happen to forget. If the aliens want to understand how desperately Earthlings relate to this sentiment and how it shapes our beliefs, behavior, and values, they should see I Like It Here, too.

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