It’s 1990, and New York City is in shambles: unemployment reigns, crack wars rage, and whole neighborhoods burn as delinquent landlords cash in. Struggling to come to terms with his father’s death, paramedic and photographer Frank Verbeckas descends into the chaos and misery of upper Manhattan, taking photographs of the ill, the wounded, the dying, and the down-and-out. Accompanying him on his wanderings are his loudmouthed partner, Burnett; his best friend, Hock, who boosts drugs from the hospital; and his brother, Norman, a surgeon who can’t understand why Frank is in such pain. Frank’s ruin seems inevitable, but when he meets Emily, a professional fencer whose days are numbered by a fatal illness, his world changes. Against everyone’s advice, Frank and Emily fall in love. Together, they try to find a way out of the murk of guilt and sadness and learn to draw meaning and beauty from despair.
In short, cinematic scenes, with not a word wasted and nothing told that can be shown, Shannon Burke leads us on a powerful journey through the darkest precincts of the street and of the soul. Honest, terse, and enormously moving, Safelight is a debut of remarkable depth, a stunning, clear-eyed, and sympathetic portrait of American life and death–a love story not for the faint of heart.