January 19, 2021
By Joel Copling
A daughter explores her feelings about, the biographical landmarks and the explosion of family begotten by her father in Film About a Father Who, a free-flowing documentary whose title might lack the literal ellipsis that is nevertheless implied. For here is director Lynne Sachs, a veteran experimental filmmaker, reflecting upon exactly who her father, Ira Sachs Sr., is, and, more importantly, how she came to understand the who, when and why of his legacy. This is remarkably candid about a man who is, in many ways, anything but candid.
Legacy is at the forefront of study for Sachs, whose career has spanned the last three-and-a-half decades. Indeed, filmmaking kind of runs in the family. Keen observers will recognize the elder Sachs’ son and namesake, Ira Sachs, whose films (the most recognizable, perhaps, being 2008’s Married Life and 2014’s Love Is Strange) commonly explored marriage and relationships in flux and under strain. The younger Ira shows up only a few times in the framing device of the film, shot in the year 2019, but one can imagine that such a filmography was in answer to the tumultuous nature of his father’s relationships.
Those relationships have certainly had an impact, and if a minor disappointment here is that Sachs is not entirely able to communicate whose children were born to which woman, perhaps that is part of the point. Ira has lived a full life (he was 83 at the time of filming this documentary, and a spot of investigative work reveals that he is still alive now) – one of contradictions and blessings and hypocrisies and riches. A pioneering developer who, among other accomplishments, established the Yarrow Hotel (now the Doubletree by Hilton) in Park City, Utah, Ira was also a famed womanizer and was raised by a domineering mother who taught her son to push off all emotional maturity.
The result is a man who smiles through everything, who hides a whole lot of himself, and who seems unable to face anything that might present the opportunity for catharsis. At one point, when asked the question about when he knew that one of his daughters was his daughter, he cannot answer. Moreover, he would rather not try to remember, either. He says all of this with something of an empty smile on his face – remembering the good times and trying to push away the part that actually means anything.
Somehow, Sachs has made a documentary that is as comprehensive as it can be about a man who is almost the opposite of a generous subject. When we meet his mother, by the way, the interview is even more hostile about revealing any truth. That isn’t surprising, considering what we have come to learn about the woman, but it is a significant achievement on the part of Sachs to have shaped any of this material – culled from, as one could only imagine, hundreds of hours of home-video footage over the course of 35 years – into a workable motion picture. It is quite a moving one, too, especially on the level of personal introspection and reflection.
There is occasionally the feeling that this project is too personal to Sachs to translate for those looking from the outside in. Film About a Father Who still resonates as a reflection on a life lived and the love that has lingered.