Tag Archives: A Month of Single Frames

Next Best Picture – Uncertain Times: What Is The Future of the Film Festival?

Next Big Picture 
08/18/2020
By Bianca Garner
https://www.nextbestpicture.com/latest/uncertain-times-what-is-the-future-of-the-film-festival

This year has not been a kind year for the film festival. Several major film festivals including Cannes and Telluride have been canceled as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic, and rightly so. We can probably all agree that the idea of thousands of people from across the globe gathering in one place, standing shoulder to shoulder, and sitting tightly packed inside a small dark room for long periods, is the perfect breeding ground for a virus as deadly as COVID-19.

Some film festivals still took place at the start of the year, most notably Sundance and Berlinale. However, a report from the Hollywood Reporter stated that this year’s Sundance Film Festival could have been the “first petri dish” for the spread of the virus with many attendees reporting coronavirus-like symptoms after attending the festival. However, it is worth mentioning that according to the festival organizers, they are “not aware of any confirmed festival-connected cases of Covid-19.”

The postponement of Cannes this year marks the first time since 1968 that the festival hasn’t taken place since the end of the Second World War. Coincidentally, the festival didn’t take place in ‘68 due to nationwide student protests. When asked about whether or not the festival could take place virtually, Festival director Thierry Frémaux stated that it “wouldn’t work”. However, festivals such as CPH:DOX did make the transition from physical to virtual, with festival organizer Tine Fischer stating, “If we had not gone online I’m not sure that we would have survived.”

And, while we have heard from the major film festival organizers, what about the film critics who have been affected by the coronavirus situation and how has it impacted their film festival experience? Well, I felt compelled to seek out people and ask them about their thoughts regarding the impact that coronavirus has had on the film festival circuit, as well as what the future has in store for the film festival experience. If film festivals were all to make the transition from the physical form to the vertical/digital form, would we not lose something truly unique? Attending film festivals is a major way to network with film industry individuals and allows filmmakers to exhibit their films in the hopes of being picked up for distribution. The right amount of festival buzz can make (or break) a film. Could this be achieved in a digital sense or would we miss out on that special act of social interaction?

Personally speaking, I believe the best outcome is for film festival organizers to host smaller scale festivals once restrictions ease. By controlling the number of attendees, festivals could enforce social distancing quite easily. However, the next question would be – who would be allowed to attend the festival if a limitation of attendees was enforced? Ask any aspiring critic about how strict the restrictions and regulations are for the press accreditation process and they will more than likely express their frustrations. Would film festivals become even more restrictive and selective in terms of what level of film critic and/or industry professional they allow to attend?

Since the pandemic, I have been able to cover Sheffield Documentary Film Festival (a festival I attended last year in person), Edinburgh Film Festival, review films for SXSW, and I hope to help in covering Fantasia Film Festival as well. Being able to access the films via the online Doc Player for the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival made things a lot easier. There were no anxieties about organizing travel and accommodation, no rushing around to make sure I got to the screenings on time. I could simply sit at home on my sofa all day and watch the films I wanted to see and not worry about having to pick and choose films. However, I missed the networking and social interaction aspect of attending a film festival.

Inspired by my own experiences of attending film festivals in the past, and thoughts about the future of film festivals, I decided to reach out to a few fellow film critics and also ask some filmmakers about their thoughts on the matter. Kathia Woods recently covered the AFI Documentary Film Festival which took place online. “It was kinda nice to see the films without standing in line,” she says. “I miss connecting with my fellow critics. A nice part of the festivals are the Q&A [sessions] afterward.”

Woods isn’t the only film critic to have attended a festival in the virtual sense; however, in the case of film critic Alex Billington, his experience wasn’t exactly a straightforward one. “So far the only film festival I’ve tried to cover online is the Annecy Film Festival (the top animation festival in France). It was a disaster,” he explains. “Online festivals are temporary solutions, but definitely do not compare in any way to actual festivals. They said all of their films would be available online. But after logging in I discovered only half were available, the rest were only 10-minute clips. Watching a few of them by myself, at my home, without anyone to talk to about them wasn’t very exciting. I know it’s the only way to run a festival during this pandemic, but it has been a very bad experience so far.”

While Billington had a bad experience with the Annecy Film Festival, critic Cameron Ward’s experience was far more enjoyable. “For Annecy Online, my experience was very positive,” he says. “I don’t have the finances to take a trip to France and the expenses that come with that, so being able to experience the world of animation from the comfort of my home with no real schedule to keep track of was refreshing. If I could afford to go to Annecy France to attend the physical festival, I would. But with everything going on, it wouldn’t have been possible anyway. Going online was a way for animation fans and critics alike to get a taste of seeing what the animation scene from around the world was working on.”

However, even Ward has to admit that “attending festivals in person is fun since you will get the chance to meet the directors, teams, and actors for the films in question, and see new films before anyone else for the most part.” He also explains the cons of physical festivals, but the pros always outweigh them. “[Festivals are] a lot to plan out with schedules to execute, making sure you get your questions answered, walking back and [forth] to different screenings, and sitting down for two or so hours. Like I said above, the pros of it all are being able to see new films, experience the audience reactions, getting to meet the directors in person, and being able to talk to them.”

Critic Max Borg – who I had the pleasure of meeting at this year’s Berlinale – spoke about the prospect of more festivals becoming digital. “Going digital – if we’re talking post-COVID times – should be something that enhances the existing festival experience, rather than replacing it,” he explains. “We’re already seeing that now with Venice electing to be 100% physical (presumably due to rights issues) and Toronto doing a hybrid edition where only some of the films will be available online. I don’t think the online version is much of an incentive to be honest because all of the ones I’ve covered had some kind of restriction, be it geoblocking or some films being unavailable (the latter happened with Annecy, where some of the feature films were not viewable in full unless you were a jury member). And everyone I’ve spoken to about this said the same thing: they miss getting to interact with a physical audience.”

Certainly, the idea of missing out on the human/social interaction side of film festivals seems to be a consensus that most critics I spoke to shared. Awards Watch founder and owner, Erik Anderson, explains that “removing the audience element of festivals and filmgoing misses out on certain key components about film itself.” He continues by saying, “I can watch a movie alone in my living room and laugh at funny parts or jump at scary parts, but more often than not those are less likely to happen or happen with less fervor as an individual. It’s great to gauge how funny a joke is by the audience response or hear someone crying when an earned tearful response happens.” However, Anderson made a very good point which I think we should all consider: “There is a great advantage to people with difficulties or disabilities that would be able to enjoy these films and that’s an undeniable plus.”

Critic Caitlin Kennedy spoke about the accessibility of film festivals, drawing my attention to the fact that not all critics are as privileged as those who work at a professional level. “Traveling to film festivals puts a great burden on time and finances and not all critics or fans have the resources to meet that burden,” she explains. “It’s nice to have the option to interact with film festivals that I previously had no relationship with because it has been made convenient to do so. Of course, with accessibility comes a lack of exclusivity. That “special” feeling of being in a small crowd, limited by time and space, to be the first to experience a film goes away, but we’re at a point where it’s more important than ever for those opportunities to be accessible. Film should not operate under the limitations of privilege. No art should, honestly.” Kennedy’s words certainly gave me food for thought and made me realize how privileged I have been this year to have been able to attend Berlinale.

We have heard that many major film releases such as “Black Widow” and “No Time to Die” have had their release dates pushed back, but what about the future of independent films especially those who were due to be screened at festivals such as SXSW and Telluride? What are their thoughts on the future of the film festival and do they have any concerns about festivals making the transition to the virtual world?

Danny Mendlow, the producer of the documentary, “Never Be Done: The Richard Glen Lett Story,” expressed his thoughts about digital vs. physical film festivals. “There’s no comparison in my mind. It’s like comparing watching a basketball game on your TV at home to sitting next to Spike Lee in the front row of Madison Square Garden. It’s that different,” he states. “You can watch the Super Bowl at home, sure, but how can you compare that to a tailgate party and seats at the 50-yard line? You can watch a hundred really well-produced documentaries of Woodstock, but if you weren’t there in person, you didn’t get to go hang out with Jimi Hendrix after he played ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. So I’m not trashing digital/online film festivals, I think they have an important place in things, and obviously, we are all being catapulted into a more digital world, but there’s just no comparison to what a live, in-the-flesh film festival offers. I mean, I’ve been to rooftop Turkish Film Parties at TIFF or Louisiana Film Parties at Sundance and there’s no universe that skyping into either would’ve been comparable in any way.” Mendlow goes on to add that “attending as a filmmaker and film fan is fun and party hopping and networking, but there’s nothing like attending as a filmmaker or team with a good movie that people like screening at the fest.”

David Lawson, the producer of “She Dies Tomorrow,” also shared his thoughts. The film was scheduled to be screened at SXSW but the festival was sadly canceled. Luckily, Lawson and his team were “extremely fortunate to already have a sales/PR team around the film that had anticipated this as a possibility.” He continues by explaining that they “screened the film for a small group of distributors and press outlets in NY and LA and were extremely fortunate to come out of that situation with NEON picking up the film for distribution.” 

Lawson makes a good point which I didn’t even consider: the issue of piracy. “The obvious and biggest disadvantage to me on online film festivals is the potential for piracy,” he says. “I think that should be every festival’s number one concern when opting for a digital version. I’m not sure that everyone is aware that most films at a festival haven’t been sold yet, and if a film ends up on a torrent platform it could destroy the ability for that film to recoup its money, and thus hurting a filmmaker/investor’s future potential in film.”

Gavin Booth, the director of “Last Call,” says that, as a filmmaker, he’s “losing the ability to meet other filmmakers, actors, and creative people.” He says that his favorite thing at any festival is meeting peers. “The energy and excitement of talking to creators fuels my own creativity and often you are meeting your fellow creators. There’s a sort of summer camp aspect to it where you find your circle of people at any given festival and share meals, laughs, screenings, and are able to support and promote one another’s festival events.” Booth also stressed the point of directors missing out on the audience’s reaction to their film. “It’s nice to see what works and doesn’t work with the film. When a film is at a festival, it’s finished, but hey, if you see a real sticking point that audiences don’t respond well to, there’s a hail mary chance to go in and adjust the film before you attempt to find distribution for it.”

In a similar fashion to film critics, Booth agrees that the experience of watching the film with a collective audience is something that would be greatly missed if more festivals took place in a digital sense. “Virtual screenings are no different to watching Netflix or renting a movie on iTunes,” he explains. “What we will lose in terms of a viewing experience at festivals is the community. A community of filmmakers supporting one another’s work as well as each festival’s loyal audience that enjoys taking in new independent cinema. It definitely is more accessible. This can be looked at either way. It’s a great benefit that more than a few hundred people at a time in a cinema can see these films premiere, but at the same time, it’s taking some of the mystique away from the buzz a film gets at a festival and then that buzz is used as a groundswell marketing campaign to help bring the film to the masses upon traditional release.”

Lynne Sachs – whose documentary feature “Film About A Father Who” screened digitally at Sheffield Doc/Fest and whose short “A Month of Single Frames” screened at Oberhausen, Dokufest in Kosovo, Sydney Underground Film Fest, and the Gimli Film Fest in Canada – says that going online may be a good thing. “For smaller festivals, I think there were some very gratifying and democratizing aspects to going online. I was on the jury at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in March this year. They quickly pivoted to an online experience and the results were truly breathtaking,” she says. “Basically, hundreds of filmmakers with work in the festival were able to watch the entire festival and participate in live Q and A’s from literally all over the world! My fellow judges and I spent an intense week on Zoom watching all of the films and discussing them. We felt extremely close after this, not only because we connected via our film viewing, but also because we were bonding during one of the most horrific shared times in world history.”

I also asked Lynne Sachs about her thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of film festivals becoming more virtual, and whether or not that was the right direction to go. She believes that “a hybrid model is really the way to go.” “Our society has become far too dependent on air travel which is expensive, elitist, and terrible for the environment,” she continues. “Ever since I attended my first film festival in the late 1980s, I have loved my experiences participating in all aspects of this very special convergence of cinephiles. But, I also think that we must recognize that the cost of traveling with your film divides those filmmakers with additional financial means from those without. There are so many festivals that just don’t have the budget to pay for airfares, lodging, and food for their participating artists. So, the burden of participating face-to-face lands on the filmmaker who has already probably spent money for the festival submission fee. This is absolutely unfair. Adding a virtual component to a festival enlarges audience and artist participation.”

Communicating with my fellow film critics, and also corresponding with filmmakers, really helped me gain a greater insight into how the cancellation of film festivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the film industry in a way that goes beyond the headlines. Hopefully, film festival organizers will take the opportunity to reach out to filmmakers and critics alike, as well as film festival attendees, to ask for their input, recommendations, and thoughts about the future of the film festival. One can only hope that we can all come together to support film festivals large and small, as well as indie filmmakers and film critics (at all levels) to maintain our love and appreciation for the film festival spirit. Personally speaking, I’m even beginning to miss the early morning queues at the London Film Festival which I used to moan about all the time. It’s funny how you miss the little things in life.

Editor’s note: The interviews included in this piece have been edited for clarity.

Docs In Orbit – Masters Edition: In Conversation with Lynne Sachs

Docs in Orbit
Masters Edition: in Conversation with Lynne Sachs
August 2020
https://www.docsinorbit.com/masters-edition-in-conversation-with-lynne-sachs?fbclid=IwAR0GFg3TSr-leoQrQhmKl9MzMaRiaE3Zxbx0b-lsyos4EzqZDI0CpaXO1IU

Welcome to another Masters Edition episode of Docs in Orbit, where we feature conversations with filmmakers who have made exceptional contributions to documentary film.  

In this episode, we feature a two part conversation with the remarkable and highly acclaimed feminist, experimental filmmaker and poet Lynne Sachs

In part one of the conversation, Lynne Sachs speaks about how feminist film theory has shaped her work and her approach to experimental filmmaking. We also discuss her collaborative process in her films including, her short documentary film A MONTH OF SINGLE FRAMES (for Barbara Hammer), which is currently available to screen at Sheffield Doc/Fest until August 31st.


In part two, we discuss her latest feature-length documentary film, FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO, which will be having its international premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest in Autumn.


LYNNE SACHS’ WORK REFERENCED (in order mentioned)


OTHER INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS AND FILMMAKERS (in order mentioned) 

Maya Deren | Laura Mulvey | Carolee Schneemann | Kara Walker | Bell Hooks | Cauleen Smith | Ja’Tovia Gary 


FILM THEORIST AND FOUNDATIONAL ESSAYS

  • Mulvey, Laura. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen, 16(3), 6-18, Link
  • Steyerl, Hito. (2009). In Defense of the Poor Image. e-flux, 10, Link

Lynne Sachs is a Memphis-born, Brooklyn-based artist who has made over 35 films. Her work explores the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together text, 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. 

Sachs films have been screened all over the world, including New York Film Festival, Sundance, Oberhausen, Viennale, BAMCinemaFest, Vancouver Film Festival, DocLisboa and many others. Her work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts and other venues, including retrospectives in Argentina, Cuba, and China. 

She received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts. In 2019, Tender Buttons Press published Lynne’s first collection of poetry Year by Year Poems. 

Lynne Sachs is currently one of the artists in focus at Sheffield Doc Fest where her most recent feature documentary film, A FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO is presented alongside a curated selection of five of her earlier films.

“A Month of Single Frames” at DokuFest Kosova 2020

DokuFest
Aug 7- 25, 2020
A Month of Single Frames

https://dokufest.com/en/programme/6004/film/603209

DokuFest, International Documentary and Short Film Festival is the largest film festival in Kosova. This year marks the 19th edition of the festival and the first time DokuFest is rolling out in an online format.

A Month of Single Frames will play in the International Docs program.

Synopsis
In 1998, filmmaker Barbara Hammer had a one-month artist residency in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The shack had no running water or electricity. While there, she shot 16mm film, recorded sounds and kept a journal. In 2018, Barbara began her own process of dying by revisiting her personal archive. She gave all of her images, sounds and writing from the residency to filmmaker Lynne Sachs and invited her to make a film with the material.

In Their Own League – Exclusive Interview with Filmmaker Lynne Sachs

Exclusive Interview with Filmmaker Lynne Sachs
In Their Own League 
By Bianca ‘Bee’ Garner 
July 17, 2020
https://intheirownleague.com/2020/07/17/exclusive-interview-with-filmmaker-lynne-sachs/

Lynne Sachs is an extraordinary filmmaker with a distinct and unique approach to documentary filmmaking. Each one of her films is an exploration into a secret hidden world as well as an experiment with the medium of visual storytelling. Currently, the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival is running a ‘Directors in Focus’ showcase of Sachs’ work where you can catch pieces like “Your Day is My Night”, “The Washing Society” and her latest film “Film About a Father Who”.

It’s been a real delight to explore Sachs’ work as part of the festival and when the opportunity arose to speak to Lynne personally, I jumped at the chance. Here’s our interview where we discuss how she approaches documentary filmmaking, her friendship with Barbara Hammer and the art of editing. 

Bianca: Hello Lynne, lovely to chat to talk. I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed exploring your work as part of the Sheffield Doc Fest “Directors in Focus”, you have such an unique approach to filmmaking. I find it to be this unusual blend of traditional documentary style filmmaking meets the avant-garde artistic style of filmmaking of allowing imagery and sound to tell the stories. How did you develop this approach and style of filmmaking, and what was it about documentary filmmaking that appealed to you as a filmmaker?

Lynne: I’ll guess I’ll start by admitting that I don’t even know if I would be able to make a traditional documentary, that might be because of when I invest myself into an investigation or a story I take such a deep dive and I am always looking for a visual or an oral method by which I can comment on that particular theme in a way that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes it’s the topic that guides me. 

The more conventional approach would be to have a template or a formula or maybe even a time-limit like 58 minutes so you would have time for the commercial breaks, then you would take your subject and frame it by those expectations. However, that approach never really interested me and I wonder whether I have the skill or the commitment to do that style of filmmaking. 

My desire to work in the documentary realm came from a convergence of the love of art and the love of politics. My background was as an undergraduate in history, I never expected to be an academic historian but it feeds my way of thinking. I wanted my creative juices to fly but the limitations of being a historian weren’t appealing to me.

Lynne Sachs, dir. of Film About a Father Who

Bianca: Did you always strive to have a personal connection with the people and the subjects you film?

Lynne: It’s very important to me to have a complex relationship with the people in my film, just like the one I would have normally with a friend. It takes work, and often in the field of filmmaking there’s the sense of jumping in as quickly as possible then leaving. You actually leave with this gift: the interaction you had with the people you filmed. You then own that gift, but those people don’t have that anymore. I think the whole process has to take a whole circle where you work to find the right participants for your film, you work on that film and then you come back to them after completion and during distribution. 

With “Your Day is my Night” we worked on that film for a couple of years and it became a live performance and I was bringing the people from Chinatown, to places in New York City where they hadn’t been before. I was organising cars for them as they were older people and we couldn’t expect them to travel via Subway. I wanted them to experience that pleasure, and two years after we had finished shooting we took the film and the live performance to a public library in Chinatown where we had an afternoon matinee where all of their friends came.

It was actually quite a sad moment because one of the participants in the film had died since we made the film, so when his face came up in the film everyone in the audience started crying. So, it was a memorial for him in a way. There are ways films can function outside the function of building your career or taking you to film festivals. I really feel committed about the idea of having movies been shown on all different kinds of screens.

Bianca: People often overlook the importance of sound and audio in filmmaking because film is a visual medium. What I find fascinating about your films is that often the audio doesn’t always match up to what’s being depicted on-screen. I think this is brilliantly showcased in your latest film “Film About a Father Who” where we see one version of your father being shown but the narration is discussing a different aspect of his character.

Lynne: I just want to touch on something I hadn’t thought about, the formal connection between the way you understand a human being and the way that film works, and how you process what you see and what you later discover. I think that’s very particular to this medium. We have this notion that the visual and the sound should be married but we all know that marriage is just an agreement that can fall apart. It’s through that use of ‘falling apart’ where we begin to see that what something appears like isn’t actually what it is in reality, and we build in doubt. 

I think doubt should be a part of any filmmaking experience, whether you’re talking about fiction or non-fiction, do we believe the ideology that is intact. If you’re a doubtful viewer in any way then you start to engage with it in a deeper way, you start to question everything and as a result you become more intellectually engaged. What I wanted to say about “Film About a Father Who” that there were times where maybe I was uncomfortable in a situation where I did have doubts, but I wanted to believe that things were more acceptable than they actually were and worked with how I thought a father should be. 

If you think about the foundations of who we think we are as children and the notions of how we fit into that micro community it’s usually pretty transparent. However, maybe that’s no longer the case today. I used to think my family was very atypical, but now that I’ve screened the film quite a lot of people have either come up to me or written to me to share their own experiences. I think our notions of family are now more evolved than how it was when I was a kid.

Ira Sachs Sr. w Painting in Film About a Father Who

Since making the film I’ve been able to have some really profound conversations with those who have watched it. Whether or not it’s your mother or father who have secrets it’s their way of protecting themselves, but it also leaves an imprint on us and we’re left with a sense of confusion about how we’re supposed to process this new information and emotions. 

Bianca: The impression I got from your film was that this was not only a self-discovery for you but also a self-discovery of who your father is. It was a self discovery of a family too.

Lynne: It took me a year of going through all the videos and super-8 films and I realise I had a lot of content about my father. The traditional approach to documentary filmmaking is that you take all the footage and make a character so people leave the movie thinking they really know that person. I thought about whether that was what I really wanted to do, as what I was really interested in was the interrelationships between people and the way we yearn for a part of our parents in ourselves and how we are always looking for stability. I know I have very distinct relationships with my parents and I value that in its own way. 

Bianca: What’s something you want the viewer to take away from “Film About a Father Who”?

Lynne: I’m very interested portraying the layers of expression especially in terms of being a woman, that include your anger and your rage as well as your ability to integrate forgiveness because I think it’s very hard to go on living your life if you hold onto the pain of your own rage. Forgiveness isn’t about saying that something didn’t happen, there are parts in my film where I realise that I’ve become very good at training myself to have forced amnesia. If you can find forgiveness and realize that the person who hurt you or made mistakes, made those mistakes because of the things they went through themselves that can help you move forward.

Photo collage from Film About A Father Who

I am also interested in showing my family’s story so others can investigate their own stories. I showed the film to a group of fifteen men in their 80s who were in a fraternity with my father and all idolised him. After the film, they said to me that they wished their daughters had made a film about them which surprised me. I think it was because the film elevated my dad to a full person and his entire life was told. He came to the premiere in New York and he was happy with the film. And he’s told me that he wants to do better in the future. 

Bianca: Another recent film of yours is “A Month of Single Frames”, a beautiful collaboration with the late filmmaker Barbara Hammer. How did that film come around?

Lynne: I met Barbara in the late ‘80s as we were both in San Francisco during that time. At that time and well into the 1990s, San Francisco was a mecca for experimental filmmakers. I think that’s the place where my style really evolved as it’s not a commercial film centre like New York or Los Angeles. There was a place called the Film Arts Foundation where you could go and learn different skills or edit your films on a 16mm flatbed and Barbara was there teaching a class. I took a weekend class with her and we hit it off! We became friends and both ended up moving to New York City. 

Twelve years ago, Barbara found out she had ovarian cancer. She was going through chemotherapy and we would take meals to her and talk to her. She actually lived a lot longer than she thought she would. During that time we became deep friends, and I think she appreciated that me and my husband (Mark Street) were not intimidated by the word ‘cancer’. She asked Mark and me to make a film with the material she gave us when she saw her life coming to an end. 

When she gave me the footage she hadn’t told me she’d also kept a journal. Her health was declining but she was quite active in terms of filmmaking in her last year, so I had to squeeze in my visits with her between chemotherapy and her trips to the Berlin Film Festival for a premiere of a film she made. And, when she went to Berlin in 2018 she lost one of her vocal chords so when we were recording her narration for the film we had to use an amplifier. What’s amazing about making a film is that it’s a sustained experience and a gift with that person you’re collaborating with. It was also a gift in the sense that we could share all that time together. 

Barbara passed away in March 2019, and I’d hadn’t yet written the text you see in the film. I really wanted a way so you could dive into the film on a personal level, and on a level where I could be talking to her, the audience, the Earth, to the future and to anyone who could be watching the movie. What’s so specific about film, that it can transport you back in history but can also propel you forward in time too. I wanted there to be an active presence which is why I talk to the audience. 

Bianca: That’s what is so special about “A Month of Single Frames” is that feeling of conversation between you, the audience and Barbara. In the way it felt like therapy and a precious way of capturing someone’s memory.

Lynne: We think of film as a closed system where you enter it but you don’t affect it although it may affect you in a psychological way. I wanted that system to be more open, the screen is no longer a closed system. 

Bianca: Do you think we’ve lost something special about the art of shooting on film compared to how we now seem to shoot everything on digital, especially in terms of the craft of editing?

Lynne: It’s funny that you mention editing because it made me recall Dziga Vertov’s “The Man With a Movie Camera” because many people believe that the director’s wife (Yelizaveta Ignatevna Svilova) really made the film, I believe her work helped give the film it’s rhythm. There’s an image of her in the film where she’s sat at the editing table and she looks like she’s sewing. This image reminds us that analogue film was constructed in a method that was very identified with women. There has been a revived interest in the materialistic qualities of the medium and the fact you can go from something three-dimensional to something two-dimensional.

In terms of my own filmmaking, “Which Way is East” was shot all on film and so was “A Month of Single Frames” and “The Last Happy Day” was digital and film. It’s a real mix. In terms of the images I shoot on Super-8 and 16mm, well I just like them better. Digital can be so pristine. There’s a sense of physicality to analogue film. Sometimes you see a strand of hair or dust, and that’s part of the real world that we’ve left behind like a fossil. 

“Film About a Father Who” is to be screened in Sheffield in Autumn, and online on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects in parallel. The Filmmaker Focus- retrospective films are streaming now in the UK and their accessibility has been extended through August 31st.

Please see: https://selects.sheffdocfest.com/bundle/lynne-sachs-focus/

Watch Sheffield Doc/Fest : Lynne Sachs Live Q&A with Festival Director Cíntia Gil

DATE: Thursday, 2 July
TIME: 7pm (BST)

Sheffield Doc/Fest Director, Cíntia Gil is joined by director, Lynne Sachs to discuss her films and to take questions from the audience for a live Q&A.

Filmmaker Lynne Sachs, in conversation with Festival Director Cíntia Gil, discuss 5 films that form her Director’s Focus within the Ghosts & Apparitions strand and her upcoming international premiere of Film About A Father Who which screens as part of Doc/Fest in October. Lynne Sachs’ films explore the notion of translation as a poetic and political tool for widening the world. Together with the focus, Doc/Fest presents Sachs’ video lecture My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World, a fascinating journey through her themes and work.

Her films are currently available to watch on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects and Doc/Player through August 31, 2020:

The Last Happy Day, 2009, 37’
Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam in collaboration with Dana Sachs, 1994, 33’
Your Day Is My Night, 2013, 64’
The Washing Society, co-directed by Lizzie Olesker, 2018, 44’
A Month of Single Frames, made with and for Barbara Hammer, 2019, 14’

How Lynne Sachs Turns Spoken Word Into Cinematic Language

A long-overdue retrospective of the feminist artist and filmmaker demonstrates how she explores communication in her work.

By Serena Scateni
July 13, 2020
Hyperallergic 
https://hyperallergic.com/575385/lynne-sachs-sheffield-docfest-retrospective/

Lynne Sachs has always eluded easy labeling. Since her first short films in the late ’80s — the black-and-white character study Still Life With a Woman and Four Objects and the Laura-Mulvey-inspired observation on gendered bodies that is Drawn and Quartered — she’s eschewed traditional film grammar. She’s focused instead on capturing gestures, inches of skin, fragments of conversations, casual moments in time, personal memorabilia, and weaving them into unexpected patterns. This year, Sheffield Doc/Fest has celebrated Sachs with a long-overdue retrospective.

A recurring theme in Sachs’s filmography is the elliptical tension of translating spoken language into visual language. From her video travelogue of two clashing cultures in Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994) to the visual haiku of Sound of a Shadow (2010), she grounds her work in using aesthetics to decipher how people communicate. For Sachs, translation is frequently as much a vessel for encountering others as it is a tool to mold her films’ forms. 

Two titles in the retrospective use this approach to give voice to the marginalized. The Washing Society (2018) documents both the contemporary and historical invisible labor in New York City laundromats, mostly performed by Black and brown women. Their repetitive gestures are performed in tempo to the words of the Atlanta black laundresses’ manifesto of 1881, and their unappreciated work is eventually exalted by artistic performances in the laundromats. Similarly, Your Day is My Night (2014) steps into the overcrowded apartments of immigrants in New York’s Chinatown. Their beds and common rooms are turned into stages on which they recount their pasts and talk about their current experiences. Sachs sublimes the personal into the theatrical.

Translation is more directly approached in Which Way Is East. Visiting her sister Dana in Vietnam, Sachs acts as both an outsider enchanted by the unfamiliar (while trying to avoid succumbing to Orientalist tropes) and a displaced explorer. She does not perceive her inability to speak Vietnamese as a barrier, even though communication would be arduous without Dana acting as an interpreter. Meanwhile, the peculiar The Last Happy Day (2009) explores the intricacies of the Sachs family genealogy. Sachs and her daughters peruse the letters of a distant cousin, Alexander Lenard, trying to piece his life together. The result is a fragmented series of floating imagery which gradually coheres into a portrait of an interesting man, a doctor who fought World War II and later translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin. 

Sachs’s mentor and friend Barbara Hammer inhabits A Month of Single Frames (2019), her moving tribute to the late filmmaker’s work and inspiration. Some of Hammer’s personal materials were given to Sachs with absolute freedom regarding what form they would take in her hands. With fondness, she merges 16mm film shot by Hammer during an artist residency at Cape Cod in 1998 with a 2018 recording of Hammer reading excerpts from her journal. On-screen text sporadically appears to further dialogue with the source material, and perhaps Hammer herself as well. It is cinema as a conversation between generations, and between the living and the dead. Translation is not merely a utilitarian mediation for mutual understanding, but also a political act. Sachs embraces variegated renditions of filmic language, recording the world, digesting it, and offering it to viewers in its performative beauty.

Lynne Sachs’s work is available on a variety of platforms.
https://hyperallergic.com/575385/lynne-sachs-sheffield-docfest-retrospective/

Screen Queens: Sheff Doc/Fest 2020— The Lynne Sachs Focus

By Fatima Sheriff
July 11, 2020
Screen Queens
https://screen-queens.com/2020/07/11/sheff-doc-fest-2020-the-lynne-sachs-focus/

Premiering Lynne Sachs’ latest feature, A Film About A Father Who, Doc/Fest 2020 has taken the opportunity to curate a few of the director’s most intriguing films. Spanning over decades of empathetic, experimental filmmaking, Festival Director Cintia Gil mentions that the overarching theme of these works is “translation”. Sachs elaborates that while her films often feature other countries and languages, the experience isn’t meant to feel seamless, but instead explore the sense of dépaysement, of being out of your own comfort zone, and revelling in that unfamiliarity and curiosity. 

Which Way is East (1994)
In which Lynne joins her sister Dana in Vietnam, and documents their travels north. Primarily she is connecting with the country: eating copious amounts of fruit, bonding with friends and strangers alike, examining the damage left behind from the war. There are layers beyond the direct translation of Vietnamese as peppered throughout are proverbs, which connect with the discussions and reveal how cultures perceive life differently. On another level she’s reconnecting and collaborating with a sister who she’s been separated from, and building a bridge between her own fictional, creative inclinations as a filmmaker and her sister’s political, non-fiction perceptions as a journalist. At 33 minutes, it feels like a whirlwind, footage zooming past on the roads, but one that really feels shared by all who feature in it. 

The Last Happy Day (2009)
This title is a quote from letters received by Sachs’ uncle referring to the day before the outbreak of WWI, marking a shattering of naïvité and the start of a century of disillusionment. In an incredibly liminal and fascinating piece of exploration, Sachs’ children tell the story of Sandor Lenard, a distant Hungarian cousin who fled a small town in Germany in 1938. 

Surrounded by death as he worked for the US to identify the broken bones of soldiers, his later project is intriguingly different: the translation of Winnie the Pooh into Latin. A so-called dead language, that he said best expressed dread, was applied to the philosophical exploits of children’s characters. Having watched many young men become soldiers, seeing Sachs’ kids interpret his letters and his translation brings out a deeper meaning within them. It’s a patchy portrait of a mysterious man that brings about a sense of existential crisis and a permanent exile from security. 

Your Day Is My Night (2013) 
My personal favourite, a window into the world of Chinese immigrants in New York City, who rent “shift-beds” in order to afford to live and work there. It’s a carefully orchestrated blend of performance art to highlight the nocturnal, upside-down lifestyle and monologues perfected to best tell the stories of each inhabitant. One stand out is Huang, a wedding singer who lives with his father, who shares his unique passions and fears. It is a tactile, emotional approach with many dimensions that helps the viewer begin to comprehend these experiences, and brings this hidden side of the city to light. 

The Washing Society (2018)
Co-directed with playwright Lizzie Olesker, this team effort is the culmination of a performance piece named ‘Every Fold Matters’, detailing and valuing the efforts of laundry workers. This film is named after the original Atlanta Washing Society of 1881, where thousands of African American laundresses unionised and demanded better pay and agency over clients. This revolutionary spirit is carried on, as the film juxtaposes three actresses with three workers, folding and carrying thousands of garments a day, unappreciated and undervalued. Through the combination of conversation and performances, the intimacy and volume of their work is brought to light. 

A Month In Single Frames (For Barbara Hammer) (2018) 
As filmmaker Barbara Hammer was undergoing chemotherapy, she gave certain filmmakers free reign with her unpublished work. In this case, Sachs plays with the footage taken on Hammer’s month long residency at Cape Cod. Particularly hypnotic are past Barbara’s meticulous and beautiful attempts to capture new colours in the sun, the sea and the sand, and the spontaneous originality with which she saw the same cabin and its surroundings. Here the translation is very much inter-generational, as Hammer reads from her journal at the time, and we overhear discussions between the two. Sachs revisits this time of creativity in an organic way and carefully scrapbooks it into a philosophical homage.

Note: this particular film makes a beautiful double bill with Lynne Ramsay’s Brigitte which will be out on Doc/Fest Selects in the autumn. She profiles a prolific portrait photographer, trying to see what Brigitte sees in her subjects, and turns that mirror towards her own life and approach to art.   

Full film available as part of Doc/Fest Selects here.

Throughout all these works, the partnership between Sachs and her subjects shines. Often she remains in contact with them, continuing to campaign alongside them. The collection boasts celebrating “translation as a political and poetic tool” and through this glimpse into her career, it is clear that the bridges she builds last. By the end of her films, it feels like both an honour and a necessity to inhabit these spaces and listen to these stories. 

Lynne Sachs Q&A at Sheffield Doc/Fest

July 2, 2020
Sheffield Doc/ Fest – Lynne Sachs – Live Q&A

Our Festival Director, Cíntia Gil is joined by our in-focus director, Lynne Sachs to discuss her films and to take questions from the audience for a live Q&A.  

DATE: Thursday, 2 July 
TIME: 7pm (BST)

The Q&A is free and open to all – please register through link below: 

Lynne Sachs Live Q&A registration

Filmmaker Lynne Sachs, in conversation with Festival Director Cíntia Gil, will discuss 5 films that form her Director’s Focus within the Ghosts & Apparitions strand and her upcoming international premiere of Film About A Father Who which screens as part of Doc/Fest in October. Lynne Sachs’ films explore the notion of translation as a poetic and political tool for widening the world. Together with the focus, Doc/Fest presents Sachs’ video lecture My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World, a fascinating journey through her themes and work. 

Her films are currently available to watch on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects and Doc/Player:

The Last Happy Day, 2009, 37’
Which Way Is EastNotebooks from Vietnam in collaboration with Dana Sachs, 1994, 33’ 
Your Day Is My Night, 2013, 64’
The Washing Society, co-directed by Lizzie Olesker, 2018, 44’ 
A Month of Single Frames, made with and for Barbara Hammer, 2019, 14’ 

https://sheffdocfest.com/articles/867-lynne-sachs-live-q-a

A Month of Single Frames – Sheffield Doc/ Fest 2020 Review

by Robert Salsbury
June 25, 2020
One Room With A View

In 2018, one year before she passed away, the influential feminist filmmaker Barbara Hammer revisited a project she had worked on 20 years prior, compiled over the course of a month while living in one of Princeton’s Dune Shacks. In this short film created in collaboration with experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs, we are immersed in Hammer’s observations from the dunes through film, writing, and photography.

The film is structured around Hammer reading from her 1998 diary while images from her month of seclusion capture the biodiversity of the sand dunes. The result is an incredibly potent study of life in all its many forms and the difficulty of facing one’s own mortality. As Hammer looks back on her younger self, layers of memory cascade over each other as the images of the sand dunes slide together to form a compelling montage of the natural world.

Sachs deliberately contrasts Hammer’s shots of the gorgeous sun-dappled ridges with her close-ups of plants and insects, setting the grand majesty of the world against its delicate minutiae to form a rich tapestry of life among the banks. Crucially, the film never feels manufactured or over-structured. Sachs successfully maintains the feeling of an off-the-cuff journal that captures Hammer’s ideas as they come to her. We hear conversations between the two filmmakers discussing the footage and the diary extracts, helping to build up the idea that the production is a spur of the moment thing.

At the beginning of the film, Hammer reads from her diary “I didn’t shoot it, I saw it,” and it is this feeling of spontaneous observation and meditation that Sachs manages to recapture so successfully here. Gorgeous timelapses of the sun rising and falling over the dunes form a soothing document of the beauty of seclusion, while Hammer’s narration makes this a touching memorial.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION
CAST: Barbara Hammer, Lynne Sachs
DIRECTOR: Lynne Sachs
SYNOPSIS: Barbara Hammer looks back on a project from 1998 in which she spent a month in the Princeton sand dunes observing nature and reflecting on her life.

Ubiquarian: The Process is the Practice

Ubiquarian 
The Process is the Practice
By Tara Judah
June 21, 2020
http://ubiquarian.net/2020/06/the-process-is-the-practice/

Prolific and poetic, experimental and documentary filmmaker, Lynne Sachs, lights up this year’s online edition of Sheffield Doc|Fest with a mini-retrospective, annotated lecture and her new feature, Film About a Father Who (2020).

Tara Judah

It happened less than ten years ago, when she was working on Your Day is My Night (2013): Lynne Sachs located the performance within her process and set out to challenge/change it. The idea was to gain participation, collaboration. Instead of turning a camera on her subjects – when they would perform instead of reveal – she decided to include them in the construction and craft of her filmmaking; when you point a camera at a subject, you can’t capture, you command. And power, though useful for its authoritative and therefore convincing tone, is also deeply problematic. In a way, what Sachs is doing is quietly radical. Not just because it is an attempt to remove the hierarchy inherent in documentary since Robert Flaherty started its discourse (Sachs is also a Flaherty Seminar alumnus) but, also, because it is an admission and undermining of her own intrinsic and pervasive authorial voice. It’s ambitious, but that’s also where a kind of freedom resides. The ambition is so substantial that it alone is enough; it doesn’t matter if she succeeds. In this way, Sachs’ later work, from Your Day is My Night onwards, is less about subjects and more about process.

Film still from “Your Day is My Night” (2013) by Lynne Sachs. Courtesy of Sheffield Doc|Fest

She’s been making films for more than thirty years, but the mini retrospective screening as part of this year’s online edition of Doc/Fest selects moments from the last decade to fit a through-line about Ghosts and Apparitions. I’m not interested in these, as they could be found almost anywhere, and in anyone’s work. In Sachs’ work all I find – and all I want to find – is respectful practice. There is more than just an artist at work, here, there is a generous exploration at play.

Before Sachs experienced her epiphany, she made Which Way is East? (1994), an arresting, painterly exploration of Vietnam. As one of the first American filmmakers granted permission to shoot in Vietnam, Sachs had the weight of responsibility and expectation on her shoulders. Despite this, the film has a sense of lightness and freedom, especially in its aesthetic and aural approach: it begins with a stilted photographic trajectory, literally rendering the moving image as a series of broad brush strokes, while the almost endlessness of the cicadas’ chirrup pitch moves the image along, though not necessarily forward. It is a sensory introduction, rather than a history lesson, and here Sachs’ work is at its most successful, inviting us, as viewers and listeners to be in this depiction of Vietnam, not to look at or hear a presentation of it. Eventually, Sachs and her camera will arrive somewhere static, she will then switch to a show and tell mode, which is informative but less awesome. She flits between the two with relative ease for the remainder of the film, letting her observations and those of her sister, Dana, interpolate the experience. It is as much about making her own memories as it is the chasing of those left behind by others. Her sister’s remarks are among the most revelatory, “I hate the camera,” she muses, “The world feels too wide for the lens and if I try to frame it, I only cut it up.” Holding a camera and being a filmmaker are not one and the same, “Lynne sees it through the eyes of its lens,” she continues, “It’s as if she understands Vietnam better when she looks at it through the lens of her camera.” For Sachs, the practice has always been the pursuit. She instinctively knew, even before it occurred to her laterally, to share the filmmaking in order to make it more accessible, more honest and more like the world it hopes to offer. It may have taken her another almost twenty years to fully understand and break with the idea of documentary as an act or approach, but there is a silver lining of melancholia inside Which Way is East? It makes me wonder if 1) she already knew and 2) if the practice, though expressive and creative as an outlet is also overwhelming, as there is some sadness here.

Film still from “Which Way is East?” (1994) by Lynne Sachs. Courtesy of Sheffield Doc|Fest

Looking at historical resonance while also pursuing the interplay between the personal and political, Sachs can’t help but put her heart into her films. The Last Happy Day (2009) stars her own children and uses family, performance, narration, interviews and archive to construct a story about stories. For some, it’s a story about Sachs’ relative, Sandor (Alexander) Lenard, a Hungarian Jew who fled to Rome and later Brazil, where he translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin. Lenard spoke thirteen different languages, and no one knew he was Jewish, so the film is also about what we do and do not know, and how we might go about trying to unpick the constructions and obstructions therein. To demonstrate the difficulty to (re)telling history, Sachs has whole through-lines about bones, with several stunning superimposed images that offer the fragments and the palimpsest at once. She even has one interviewee straight up tell us, “I don’t know anymore what’s real and what’s fantasy,” perhaps even a little too direct for a doc, but ironically true nonetheless, “I am not sure of the truth.”

Remembrance is also brought into question via the presence of doctored documents; literal erasure of a name lets us reflect on the ethics and truths that we can never know as so many were removed from our future before they could even make their mark. What struck me most, however, was the role of the central, yet arguably flippant, text. I wonder how the characters are in translation. Sachs’ band of performers – here, her children and their friends – act out scenes and discuss the meaning behind some of the plot points. Inevitably, they end up discussing the death drive when they get to talking about depression and Eeyore. I’ve always hated Winne the Pooh, because I thought he and many of his mates – Tigger, Rabbit, Owl and maybe even Piglet in his cowardice – were bullies, unkind to Eeyore, to whom my heart always went out. If I were Eeyore and had to live in their world, I might also desire death as an end to my depression. Even Christopher Robin didn’t seem to do anything to help, and he was a (white) human, surely the one with all the power. Could be that I remember it wrong, unsure what’s real and what’s fantasy, but in my remembrance, it is a horrible story filled with horrible characters. It’s lack of compassion makes me sad, still.

Film still from “The Last Happy Day” (2009) by Lynne Sachs. Courtesy of Sheffield Doc|Fest

But the film itself failed to move me. It was clever and fits a bunch of paradigms that I’d call smart documentary filmmaking. I even think it’s the most obvious fit for that Ghosts and Apparitions programme title. Perhaps that is why it didn’t move me at all. It’s all a bit too neat, well thought out. Nothing incidental or imperfect. No rough edges. But then I watched The Washing Society (2017, co-directed with Lizzie Olesker) and everything changed.

Thanks to Sachs’ newfound process of inclusive filmmaking, with her subjects, The Washing Society feels like a story from, not about New York City laundromats. Visiting over fifty laundries, Sachs tells us, “Sometimes they told us to stop, other times no one notices.” This is how her filmmaking has fundamentally changed: it’s not a process of requesting permission and setting up a tripod to stage an interview, it’s being in the space, with the people, and finding out what the story is as it unravels. Owing to this shift, the performative set pieces within the film – be it actors reading lines, narrated poetic interventions, or even Sachs’ fascination and lingering look at the way light dances around her subject(s) – are seamlessly integrated into an otherwise seemingly observatory mode. What I liked most was that it felt personal, private, public and political at once; the invisible labour of laundry workers is made visible, while the objects we wear to cover and conceal are laid bare, tossing and turning in machines after their toil, until they are, eventually, ready to perform their duty once more. Clothes are the ultimate in public and private markers; from the hours and loads of labour used to make, market and sell them before they even become hours and loads of labour to clean, fold and return to their often-oblivious wearers. I watched, at home, folding my own laundry, mostly that of my almost one-year-old son, painfully aware as I am that domestic labour (performed here whilst undertaking professional labour) is almost always unseen and almost never remunerated. I loved this film not because it struck a chord, but because it could; its poetry sparing and its humanity, honesty and openness laid out with generosity and as a gesture to the many faces that have served and are fast disappearing from NY’s many regenerated neighbourhoods as an app and its collection truck counterpart take over the (barely) visible nature of the business.

Film still from “The Washing Society” (2017) by Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker. Courtesy of Sheffield Doc|Fest

It’s an important reminder, from Sachs, to think about what is not seen, whenever we reflect on what we have seen. Your Day is My Night (2013) is not just a film; it has had live stage performances and it is alive in the lives of those it features. Beds and stages and monologues and movement and projection are all elements of this docu-dramatic staged record of what it means to be more than how we are recognised. Spanning the deep economic issues of the US, and the failed reality of the outwardly boastful American Dream, all the way to micro-communities and what ‘home’ might ever mean, Your Day is My Night doesn’t show but does reveal the alienation inherent in both Chinese and American society. In making this film, and the live performances that span its production life, Sachs really got to know her collaborators – well, as well as she could with the bridge of a translator. Language can be a powerful separator, and Sachs hints at this in the film by bringing in an actress (Veraalba Santa, who also features in The Washing Society) to play the part of a Puerto Rican immigrant. It’s not Sachs, but her questioning and unease is represented in Santa’s performative role.

In her lecture, My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World, Sachs admits that she is still grappling with the extent to which she should express herself, and the subject. Her body may not be present in this film (it features heavily in many of her earlier, more experimental and material works), but exposing herself has served as a form of generosity, especially where she is asking an actress to expose themselves bare, as in The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts (1991).

Bodies exist but so do thoughts and feelings. And suicide is genuinely considered as an option when old age sets in for those who have no real ‘home’ to go to – neither a citizen of the US or China, there is a unique and pugilistic purgatory for some. Every round is a beating, but fight is what you came to do. I kept thinking of Charles Yu’s fantastic new book, Interior Chinatown (2020) as I watched it. Yu’s book is so many things – maybe everything – a documentary as a book, certainly. A uniquely crafted satire of Hollywood, racism in the United States, and the slippage between screenwriting and prose, Yu’s book looks at the stereotypes of ‘Generic Asian Man’, ‘Background Oriental Male’, ‘Kung Fu Guy’ and more. The people in Sachs’ film feel like characters, at times. Maybe because their lives, like the characters in Yu’s book, are enmeshed with the performance of their parameters – Chinatown in NYC, stuck in a stereotyped nightmare, “I was very aware of the narrow spectrum of representation of the denizens of New York City’s Chinatown,” Sachs tells Paolo Javier in an interview for BOMB Magazine, “Those kinds of Hollywood  images haunted me really. In fact, when I first chose the seven people who are featured in my film, I realized that most of them had already worked as extras for the movie industry at some point in their lives.” Fictions and realities reside, side by side, sometimes even in the same bed, sleeping in shifts.

Film still from Lynne Sachs’s “A Month of Single Frames” (2019) Courtesy of Sheffield Doc|fest

Sachs can’t, shouldn’t and thankfully doesn’t separate these two elements in her films. She works with them. And, now, in her more recent work, she allows the process to become the practice. In her most recent film screening in the programme focus at Doc|Fest, A Month of Single Frames(2019), a work pulling together various pieces of Barbara Hammer’s personal archive – 16mm film footage, journal entries and recorded stories – Sachs lets decisions leak into the final edit, allows us to understand how images move as time lapses. For Hammer as for Sachs as for an audience, frame rates and time passing is only relevant insofar as it is a part of the process that makes up such a thing as a filmmaking practice. It is not important when it occurs, only that it does. In that way, the film is not an archive or an object to be examined or understood. It is the act of holding those things, that person, their feelings, their being.

In this way, Film About a Father Who (2020) is her greatest achievement yet. Digging into far more than the family archive, Sachs takes footage and feelings that span her entire life to create a portrait, not of her father, but of “complicit ignorance” and how pervasive lies of omission might permeate both films and lives, through their intrinsic and insidious power dynamic. Her father is many things, among them a philanderer. Much was uncovered, but he withheld more. This is the role of structure and authority, the act of patriarchy and the act of whomsoever holds power. In this film, it is clear that her father is not the only one with power to play with – his mother, Maw-Maw, is just as commanding, especially as the puller of purse-strings, whose judgement has the ability to grant or take away knowledge, access, identity; family, truth and more. This is what Sachs has been working on all her life because it is the process of uncovering her power and confronting herself. Her aim to frame truth and authenticity will always be compromised by the reality of the moment that the camera is turned on, be it for family or strangers. In Film About a Father Who, Sachs admits that she is filming as a way of finding transparency. It is the ultimate in searching for cinematic veracity. She finds something beautiful and deeply moving, here. Speaking about the differences between her parents, she uses grammar as a metaphor. By extension, her own practice can be understood as a process of grammatic excellence; each thought, memory, scene, time and space given pause and punctuated by still more dancing light.

Film still from Lynne Sachs’s “Film About a Father Who” (2020) Courtesy of Sheffield Doc|fest

Reflecting on the impact of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage and his ground-breaking film Window Water Baby Moving (1959), Sachs understands her practice as the unification of art and life, “As a mom and an artist, I was extremely inspired by the way that he integrated his family into his daily practice as an artist. If you separate the two, both suffer.” On her own website, she further imagines “a list of possible lectures one might give in conjunction with the screening of this film [Window Water Baby Moving]. I offer them to you as a vehicle by which to ponder the last forty years of American cultural history.” There are twenty-three. I won’t list them, here. But they did get me thinking about possible lectures one might give in conjunction with the screenings of Sachs’ films. Here’s five of my suggestions.

Confronting Performativity
In Defense of Poetry
The Collaborative Moment
Towards an Understanding of Dancing Light
The Camera as Pencil; Drawing in the Margins