The Washing Society
a film by Lizzie Olesker and Lynne Sachs
44 min. 2018
When you drop off a bag of dirty laundry, who’s doing the washing and folding? THE WASHING SOCIETY brings us into New York City laundromats and the experiences of the people who work there. Collaborating together for the first time, filmmaker Lynne Sachs and playwright Lizzie Olesker observe the disappearing public space of the neighborhood laundromat and the continual, intimate labor that happens there. With a title inspired by the 1881 organization of African-American laundresses, THE WASHING SOCIETY investigates the intersection of history, underpaid work, immigration, and the sheer math of doing laundry. Drawing on each other’s artistic practices, Sachs and Olesker present a stark yet poetic vision of those whose working lives often go unrecognized, turning a lens onto their hidden stories, which are often overlooked. Dirt, skin, lint, stains, money, and time are thematically interwoven into the very fabric of THE WASHING SOCIETY through interviews and observational moments. With original music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello, the film explores the slippery relationship between the real and the re-enacted with layers of dramatic dialogue and gestural choreography. The juxtaposition of narrative and documentary elements in THE WASHING SOCIETY creates a dream-like, yet hyper-real portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, both past and present.
THE WASHING SOCIETY has received support from Workers Unite Film Festival, New York State Council on the Arts, Brooklyn Arts Council, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Women and Media Coalition, Puffin Foundation and Fandor FIX Filmmakers.
Our collaborators include acclaimed downtown actors Ching Valdes-Aran, Jasmine Holloway, Veraalba Santa, film editor Amanda Katz, cinematographer Sean Hanley and sound artist Stephen Vitiello.
Festival Screenings: Premiere ‘Punto de Vista’ International Documentary Film Festival, Pamplona, Spain, March 8, 2018; Black Maria Film Festival Juror’s Stellar Award; Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival; Athens Film and Video Festival; El Festival Internacional de Cine Documental “Encuentros del Otro Cine”, Ecuador; European Media Arts Festival, Osnabruck, Germany; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
University & College Screenings: Symposium on Black Feminist History, Carter Woodson Institute for African-American Studies, University of Virginia; University of Pennsylvania; Smith College; Mount Holyoke College; University of North Carolina; Dennison College; Amherst College; University of Buffalo; Tisch School of the Arts, New York University; Princeton University, Lewis Center for the Arts.
Biographies of Directors:
Lizzie Olesker is a writer/director/performer whose plays and performances explore the poetry of the everyday. Lizzie presented her solo piece TINY LIGHTS: Infinite Miniature at the New Ohio Theater and Invisible Dog in Brooklyn. She was a 2013-14 Audrey Fellow with New Georges, with her new play EMBROIDERED PAST about family hoarding and loss of nature. Other plays have been developed and presented at Dixon Place, Brave New World Repertory, Clubbed Thumb, the Cherry Lane Theater and the Public. Published in the Brooklyn Rail and Heinemann Press, she’s received support from the Brooklyn Arts Council, New York Foundation for the Arts and the Dramatists Guild. Also worked with the Talking Band (at the Ohio Theater and at Here) and teaches playwriting at Tisch/NYU and the New School.
Lynne Sachs makes films, installations, performances and web projects that explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together poetry, collage, painting, politics and layered sound design. Strongly committed to a dialogue between cinematic theory and practice, she searches for a rigorous play between image and sound, pushing the visual and aural textures in her work with every new project. Between 1994 and 2006, she produced five essay films that took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany — sites affected by international war – where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own subjective perceptions. Recently, after 25 years of making experimental documentaries, Sachs learned something that turned her filmmaking upside down. While working on Your Day is My Night (2013) in NYC’s Chinatown, she realized that her subjects were performing for the camera rather than revealing something completely candid about their lives. The process of recording guaranteed that some aspect of the project would be artificial. This moved Sachs toward a new type of filmmaking — she invited her subjects to become her collaborators — to work with her to make the film about their lives. This new way of “working with reality” has inspired Sachs to present Your Day is My Night (2013) as well as Every Fold Matters (2016) as live film performances in alternative venues around New York City — including homeless shelters, labor union headquarters and laundromats as well as small non-commercial theaters. In 2017, she completed her newest experimental documentary Tip of My Tongue which was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts and premiered as the closing night film in the Museum of Modern Art’s Documentary Fortnight.
Sachs has made over 25 films. Her films have screened at the New York Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival and Toronto’s Images Festival amongst others. They have also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts and other venues nationally and internationally. The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, Festival International Nuevo Cine in Havana and the China Women’s Film Festival have all presented retrospectives of Sachs’ films.
Since 2006, Sachs has collaborated with her partner, filmmaker Mark Street, in a series of playful, mixed-media performances called “The XY Chromosome Project”. Lynne holds an MFA in Film from the San Francisco Art Institute, an MA in Cinema from San Francisco State University, and a BA in History from Brown University. She has taught at New York University, Princeton, Hunter College, The New School, and the University of California, Berkeley.