LRMOnline: Film About A Father Who Documentary: Director Lynne Sachs Interview | Slamdance 2020








Film About A Father Who Documentary: Director Lynne Sachs Interview | Slamdance 2020

By Gig Patta

It is about a personal exploration of a filmmaker and her father.

For the opening night of Slamdance 2020, the documentary Film About A Father will explore a personal, intimate look from director Lynne Sachs about her father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah.

She filmed the documentary over 35 years, between 1984 and 2019, from 8 and 16mm film, videotape, and digital images of her father. The cinematic exploration of her father offers contradictory views of one seemingly unknowable man who is publicly the uninhibited center of the frame yet privately ensconced in secrets. The film will show beyond the surface of the skin, the projected reality. As his daughter, she discovers more than she hoped to reveal.

Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker who explores the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences through text, collage, painting, politics, and layered sound design. She previously made Tip of My TongueYour Day is My NightInvestigation of a Flame,and Which Way is East. She received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts. In 2019, Tender Buttons Press published Lynne’s first collection of poetry called “Year by Year Poems.”

LRM Online spoke with Lynne Sachs over the phone last week to discuss the film, her father, and her family.

As Slamdance’s opening film, Film About A Father Who is showing tonight at 7 p.m. at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City, Utah. The replay is on Monday, January 27, at 11 a.m. Director Lynne Sachs will be at the showings in person.

For more information about Slamdance Film Festival, visit its site by clicking here.

Read the exclusive interview below.

LRM Online: I’ve checked out your film, Film About A Father Who.

Lynne Sachs: Thank you very much for taking a look at it. You’re one of the first.

LRM Online: You’re making a Slamdance world premiere. How do you feel about this film premiering in Slamdance, since it’s in the film’s backyard?

Lynne Sachs: Yes! I am nervous about it because my dad is a presence there. Although as he’s gotten older, he’s also spent more time in other places. He has been of great interest and appreciated. He’s seen in all his complexity for decades there. It builds on it to show how our family had challenges as well as to stay cohesive.

It will be attractive to locals. I didn’t necessarily think I would have the premiere in Park City. It’s a bit of a shock. In other ways, it feels more appropriate since it’s an extension of a part of Park City; that’s not the Sundance story. It’s how people grow and change to live their lives in a town in America.

LRM Online: You did say he has such a presence, and it shows in the documentary. How important is he to the community there?

Lynne Sachs: That word that you chose “important” is critical because he’s very much not relevant. He wasn’t a mayor. He didn’t own any of the large properties. Plus, he helped start one of the hotels. Whenever there was a big project, he might be involved briefly, but then he had gotten a little bored. He would say I want to do something more outdoors or more Bohemian. The critical part was more of a person who followed his own “use.” You could see that in the film. My dad does not follow the rules. He doesn’t take a traditional path as a dad or a businessperson. Even society might say he plays by his own rules.

That was the wild west thing. We were from Memphis, Tennessee, and people play by the rules a bit more. He wanted to like go west as in “go west, young man.” Everything was more of an adventure. He wasn’t an important person. Some people say a legend, but that’s hard for me to calibrate since I wasn’t there full-time. I know when someone’s a legend, there are multiple sides to them.

LRM Online: When did it came about that you decided to make a documentary on your father?

Lynne Sachs: Definitely around 1991. I was a new filmmaker and getting comfortable with my medium. I was shooting a lot of 16-millimeter films. As I was with my dad, I have a camera all the time. Then I decided in 1991 that I did that interview, which was with his wife and girlfriend. They both had children who were my sister and brother. More than curious, I was trying to reckon with it as his daughter as someone who was trying to be friends with these two women to understand their lives with some sympathy or pathos.

LRM Online: Before I got to the rest of the family when you revealed to your father that you were going to do a documentary– what was his initial reaction?

Lynne Sachs: He was excited about it. That’s a very interesting question. It’s hard for us to transpose ourselves back to the early nineties when everything wasn’t photographed all the time. You could honestly say the whole zeitgeist was radically different from how we live today. In those days, when families take photographs, they photograph birthday parties or holidays or vacations. There wasn’t this notion of let’s witness our lives with a camera.

He thought it was a novelty, and he was very appreciative of it. He had the sense he had this crew following him, which was his daughter. You may know a bit about filmmaking in terms of the production part of it. In one of those scenes, where the tree falls, and he’s standing in what will be a parking lot, I have a wireless microphone on him, and he thought that was a kick. It was so professional and high-tech at the time. [Laughs] He would say, “This is my movie. So I get to wear a radio mike around my neck.” I was learning the tricks of the trade at the time.

LRM Online: It sounded like he’s somewhat opened about this. When you were doing the documentary, did he hold anything back?

Lynne Sachs: Yeah. That’s the second word that you use related to my dad; that’s there that you could answer it in two different ways. We can say yes. He was open because when I was with him we would go out for dinner and he might have a whole posse of people with him. At that time, I had a sense that this wasn’t his entire life.

It’s a different zeitgeist because you can compartmentalize in those days. I think probably more comfortable than one could now where you carry a cell phone, and you’re trackable. In a sense, there was a veneer of openness but also a mystery to parts of his life. As you saw later in the film, I didn’t know anything about it.

LRM Online: Let’s talk about the rest of the family. How easy or difficult was to put that entire story together?

Lynne Sachs: I wouldn’t say easy, but I think that everyone got used to me carrying a camera all the time. They didn’t imagine I would premier at a film festival in Park City, but they realized that I spent most of my adult life making this my movie. [Laughs] They knew that I was super-committed to it.

We’re quite a close family, even with my sisters whom I’ve met more recently in the last four years. In nonfiction filmmaking or documentary, you have to develop trust with strangers or with family. For example, I wanted to listen to every one of my siblings equally, not just the ones I knew better. In that process, the making of the film made the nine of us closer.

LRM Online: Were some of them reluctant or they wanted to hold back because this is an unusual thing to talk about?

Lynne Sachs: When I started making the film, I didn’t know what I was talking about. [Laughs] You can’t be on a mission about your own life. It’s not like writing a novel, and you know what the ending is going to be. I didn’t know that the last two years would go in the direction that it did. I just kept doing it.

There was nobody who said no to me at all. Most of my siblings had seen the film now, and they’d been supportive. But, a couple of haven’t, they’ll see it for the first time in Park City.

LRM Online: Tell me about the production itself. It took a very long time as you compiled 35 years of videotapes and digital images. Tell me about the gathering process for all that.

Lynne Sachs: It’s videotapes, digital images but also super-eight films, 16-millimeter films, and cell phones. I was shooting with whatever the current technology was like, Hi8. Then throughout the whole movie, I was shooting 16 millimeters because it was what I loved the most. Even though it’s the oldest, it’s the most beautiful, aesthetic experience.

In terms of production, I shot most of it, but my brother, Ira, also shot a fair amount. My dad shot home movies, which didn’t make it in this movie, but he allowed me to use them. Only one time did I shoot with two friends of mine, who were professional cinematographers, I got all of my siblings together. I couldn’t shoot it at the same time, so I had put together for a small crew.

LRM Online: Could you talk about any future projects for yourself? Are you going to stick with documentaries?

Lynne Sachs: A lot of my work is what I call personal, experimental documentary, or even call it essay films. It has a point. I always have a point of view coming through the stretch of the whole movie.

This next film, it takes me back to our hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. I’m going to make this film about Ida B. Wells. I don’t know if you know she was. Do you know who she was?

LRM Online: No, I have no idea. Who was she?

Lynne Sachs: She was an African American journalist from Memphis, who has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years. She was the person who did the original research as a journalist on lynching. She collected the data at the end of the 19th century, early 20th century. Very few people know about her. I’m interested in this is the person in my hometown and why we didn’t learn anything about her.

At the same time, you know, there was a whole Confederate part and how one of the generals was celebrated. We’re looking back at how our histories are changing. It’s going to be a personal film, but also understanding how history is constructed.

LRM Online: One last question, and it’s the most important one. As audiences watch your documentary, what is the one most important lesson that you hope they learn?

Lynne Sachs: I’m interested in the ways that families work. Even when they don’t work, families can maintain a kind of intimacy and a willingness to struggle through hard times. It’s so often when there are these kinds of situations or pain, and people say the best way to function is with willful amnesia or running away.

You can find some way to feel love, cohesiveness, or commitment to working through the ways people think couples have to do. But, families need to find forgiveness where there has been pain. It is the only way to manage to move forward.

LRM Online: Excellent answer, Lynne. Thank you very much for taking your time to speak with me. I wish you good luck outside at Slamdance.

Lynne Sachs: Thank you.

As Slamdance’s opening film, Film About A Father Who is showing tonight at 7 p.m. at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City, Utah. The replay is on Monday, January 27, at 11 a.m. Director Lynne Sachs will be at the showings in person.