We Are Moving Stories – An Interview with Lynne Sachs on “Film About a Father Who”

May 2020
We Are Moving Stories
Sarasota Film Festival 2020 – Film About a Father Who

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Between 1984 and 2019, filmmaker Lynne Sachs shot a film with her father, a bohemian businessman who sometimes chose to reveal less than was really there.

Interview with Director Lynne Sachs

Congratulations! Why did you make your film?

Since I began making films, I’ve been collecting material for a film about my father. It took me three decades to complete this film. Life goes on, and each day brings surprises, joys and disappointments. In 2020, I premiered Film About a Father Who at Slamdance and then at Documentary Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art. This is the third film in my trilogy (including States of UnBelonging, 2005, and The Last Happy Day, 2009) of essay films that explore the degree by which one human being can know another. This film is a partial portrait of my father Ira Sachs, a bohemian businessman living in the mountains of Utah. My father has always chosen the alternative path in life, a path that has brought unpredictable adventures, nine children with six different women, brief marijuana-related brushes with the police and a life-long interest in doing some good in the world. It is also a film about the complex dynamics that conspire to create a family. There is nothing nuclear about all of us, we are a solar system comprised of nine planets revolving around a single sun, a sun that nourishes, a sun that burns, a sun that each of us knows is good and bad for us. We accept and celebrate, somehow, the consequences.

Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?

Over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, I shot 8 and 16mm film, videotape and digital images of my father. Film About a Father Who is my attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to her siblings. With a nod to the Cubist renderings of a face, this exploration of my father offers simultaneous, sometimes contradictory, views of one seemingly unknowable man who is publicly the uninhibited center of the frame yet privately ensconced in secrets. In the process, I allow myself and my audience inside to see beyond the surface of the skin, the projected reality. As the startling facts mount, I, as a daughter, discover more about my father than I had ever hoped to reveal. Over the last few months since the film’s Slamdance Premiere, I have had some of the deepest most intense interactions of my career as a filmmaker with people in my audiences. These conversations have allowed me to see the ways in which this film stirs viewers into thinking about the imprint their own fathers and mothers have had on who they are in the world today.

Lynne Sachs with Ira Sachs Sr
Lynne Sachs with Ira Sachs Sr

How do personal and universal themes work in your film?

Weighing the importance of the personal in relationship to the universal was an absolutely critical aspect of the editing process for this film. I had to search for a universality from my particular experience while weeding through 35 years of film, video and digital material. This was a critical journey to finding a way to tell this story. When I finally brought artist and editor Rebecca Shapass into my process, I found a way to convey the story of my family to a new person who knew nothing about us, had no expectations, prejudices or affinities. Through her sensitive, compassionate listening ear, I was able to carve out the kind of distance that allowed me to see that this was not really a character-driven portrait of one man but rather an investigation into the way that “family” is really just a term describing the intricate, sometimes heart-breaking series of relationships that hold a group of people together in a cosmos.

How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?

In 2017, I gathered all nine of my siblings together for the first time. We shot for four hours, and the experience was, for the most part, cathartic. But, as I looked through the footage I noticed that everyone was extremely aware of how I, in particular, responded to their words. It took me a year to accept that this singular, more contrived, scene was significant in terms of who was there in the same room but did not take the film to the place I needed it to go. Throughout 2018, I either flew my siblings to Brooklyn or went to meet them where they live. In almost every case, I convinced my sisters and brothers to go into a completely darkened space with me. We often sat in closets. It was weird and very intimate. As I recorded their voices, resonating through my headphones, I knew I was listening to them in a deeper way than I had ever done before. There in the dark, they each accessed something new about our father that they had never articulated before.

One of the biggest and most intimidating aspects of making this film was finding a way to translate my own interior thoughts – be they loving, rage-filled, compassionate or simply contradictory – about our father into a convincing, not too self-conscious voiceover narration. From the very beginning, I knew that Film About a Father Who would be an essay film that would include my own writing. One of the reasons the film took so long to make was that every time I sat down to put a pen to paper, I became intimidated by the process. During an artist residency at Yaddo, I plopped myself on my bed with a bunch of pillows, and began to speak into a microphone. Over a period of 10 days, I recorded hours of material – oral histories, in a sense – that were generated by me as daughter, artist and director. To my surprise, I was actually able to apply the newly discovered “in the dark” approach to recording with my siblings to the way that I listened to my own thoughts and this more spontaneous vocalized writing became the framework for the whole movie.

Dir Lynne Sachs in Film About A Father Who
Dir Lynne Sachs in Film About A Father Who

What type of feedback have you received so far?

This film has probably generated some of the most interesting, deeply felt responses I have ever received for my work. Here are a few, I would like to share:

“The film is bookended with footage of Lynne Sachs attempting to cut her aging father’s sandy hair, which — complemented by his signature walrus mustache — is as long and hippie-ish as it was during the man’s still locally infamous party-hearty heyday, when Ira Sachs Sr. restored, renovated and lived in the historic Adams Avenue property that is now home to the Mollie Fontaine Lounge. ‘There’s just one part that’s very tangly,’ Lynne comments, as the simple grooming activity becomes a metaphor for the daughter’s attempt to negotiate the thicket of her father’s romantic entanglements, the branches of her extended family tree and the thorny concepts of personal and social responsibility.” – John Beiffus, Memphis Commercial Appeal

A Film About a Father Who is also remarkable for its terrific synthesizing of the wealth of archival material. Given the breadth of the narrative span, it’s extraordinary that the director fits the story into a compact length of just 73 minutes, yet, masterfully, she does. Given her extremely personal connection to the story, it’s astonishing how deeply she investigates the good and the bad in a person she clearly loves. This gripping documentary, the opener of the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival, speaks its truth and speaks it beautifully. Let it be heard.” – Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Hammer to Nail

Film About a Father Who is simply a masterpiece. Ultimately, a parent’s legacy is found in their children and the worth of Ira Sachs Sr. is found in his “tribe” of talented, artistic offsprings.” – Nina Rothe, E. Nina Rothe.com

“In this compelling and genuine documentary, [Sachs] has…taken the audience on a hypnotic and profound journey.” – Alexandra Hidalgo, Agnès Films

“Lynne’s newest, Film About a Father Who, brings that unflinching honesty to a new level. Because this is a personal story told by the children forced to come to terms with his behavior, preserving that ambiguity also, as Lynne herself puts it, preserves the truth. Both Lynne and we are perhaps no closer to understanding Ira Sr. by film’s end, but we at least know him as his children do and all things considered, that’s nothing short of miraculous.” – Mariso Carpico, The Pop Break

Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?

Even during the film’s years-long protracted post-production, I was always scared and somehow motivated by my awareness that there would be extremely strong reactions to my film. My portrait of my father is one that includes my own rage and forgiveness, and finding the balance between the two was integral to expressing my own experience through the film’s images and voice-over narration. There have been a surprisingly large number of people who have written about the film or written to me directly about the film who have had similarly complex and fraught relationships with their own parents. It seems that watching “Film About a Father Who” gave them some new insight and perspective. There have also been other people who felt that I, as a woman, gave my dad too much of a break, that I was too kind to him when he only considered his own needs and desires rather than those of others around him. This point of view is reflective of the sentiments that have grown out of the women’s movement and more recently the Me-Too Movement. I feel such allegiance to these emotions, and yet when it came down to expressing my own experience, I had to allow for the nuances of a daughter’s own evolving love for her father.

What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?

I would love for the visibility that We Are Moving Stories provides to lead to new conversations, surprising insights, future screenings and maybe a distributor!

Ira Sachs with painting
Ira Sachs with painting

Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?

The film has quite a few upcoming festival screenings including Sarasota Film Festival, Indie Memphis, Sheffield Doc Festival in the UK, Montreal Documentary Festival, and Oxford Film Festival, but the pandemic has, of course, slowed everything down. I could definitely use some support from sales agents, buyers, programmers or distributor. Let’s talk!

What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?

While I have been making films for more than thirty years, each film I have made has led to a new relationship with a certain community. My film Your Day is My Night led me to the Asian and Asian-American community in the US, Canada and China and to a far deeper relationship with people living in Chinatown right here in NYC. My film Carolee, Barbara and Gunvor has led to amazing conversations around feminism, cinema and the avant-garde. We make films to lead us to new places, physically, artistically and emotionally. With Film About a Father Who I hope to go deep in conversation around family, rage, and forgiveness.

What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?

In light of the current Me Too debate around men in power and their influence on the lives of the women around them, how can we find a context by which we can discuss the place of rage, dignity, and forgiveness?

Would you like to add anything else?

Thank you for inviting me to be part of your cinema community.

What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?

Lynne Sachs is currently working on Oh Ida: The Fluid Time Travels of a Radical Spirit, an essay film that will trace the erasure and recent emergence (in the form of monuments) of the story of activist and 2020 Pultizer Prize winning journalist Ida B. Wells who spent her early years in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee and committed her life to nurturing a spirit of liberation in the face of resounding oppression. In collaboration with historian and author Tera Hunter, I will produce a film using a hybrid form of cinematic time-travel that will examine Wells’s historical trajectory within the current controversies around American monuments by looking at their symbolic power, their historiographic influence on our collective consciousness, what they have been and what they could become.

Film About a Father Who poster
Film About a Father Who poster

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Film About a Father Who

Between 1984 and 2019, filmmaker Lynne Sachs shot a film with her father, a bohemian businessman who sometimes chose to reveal less than was really there.

Director: Lynne Sachs

Producer: Lynne Sachs

Writer: Lynne Sachs

About the writer, director and producer:

LYNNE SACHS makes films and writes poems that explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences. Her work embraces hybrid forms, combining memoir, experimental and documentary modes. Recently, she has expanded her practice to include live performances.

Key cast: Ira Sachs Sr.

Looking for: sales agents, distributors, journalists, film festival directors, buyers

Facebook: Film About a Father Who

Twitter: @aboutafatherwho

Instagram: @lynnesachs1

Hashtags used: #filmaboutafatherwho

Website: www.lynnesachs.com/2019/12/19/filmaboutafatherwho/

Funders: Partially supported by an artist residency at Yaddo.

Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? The film is not streaming again in the coming month but it will be presented at Indie Memphis, Oxford Film Festival, Montreal International Documentary Festival, and Sheffield International Festival of Documentary Film.