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Noa, Noa by Lynne Sachs with Noa Street-Sachs 16mm released on DVD or Mini DV 8 min., B&W and Color, sound 2006
Over the course of three years, Sachs collaborated with her daughter Noa (from 5 to 8 years old), criss-crossing the wooded landscapes of Brooklyn with camera and costumes in hand. Noa’s grand finale is her own rendition of the bluegrass classic “Crawdad Song”.
Screening: Anthology Film Archive, New York, May 2006
Investigation of a Flame: A Portrait of the Catonsville Nine by Lynne Sachs
45 min. color and B&W, 2001
plus 5 min. Sundance Channel documentary on Daniel Berrigan and the making of the film
On May 17, 1968 nine Vietnam War protesters led by Daniel and Philip Berrigan, walked into a Catonsville, Maryland draft board office, grabbed hundreds of selective service records and burned them with homemade napalm.
“Investigation of a Flame” is an intimate, experimental documentary portrait of the Catonsville Nine, this disparate band of resisters who chose to break the law in a defiant, poetic act of civil disobedience.
How did the photos, trial publicity and news of the two year prison sentences help to galvanize a disillusioned American public? “Investigation of a Flame” explores this politically and religiously motivated performance of the 1960’s in the context of extremely different times — times in which critics of Middle East peace agreements, abortion and technology resort to violence of the most random and sanguine kind in order to access the public imagination.
“BEST DOCUMENTARY in 2001”, Phillip Lopate, Village Voice Critic
“One of the ten best films released in 2002” Phillip Lopate, Film Comment
“A complex rumination on the power of protest…..the trauma of the past, the continued mistakes of the present and the necessity to reflect actively on our government’s wartime antics.” The LA Weekly
“A film to rave about, as well as reckon with.” The Independent Film and Video Monthly
“Sachs’ elegant, elliptical documentary visits with surviving members of what became known as the Catonsville Nine, humble architects of this purposeful yet scathingly metaphoric act of civil disobedience.” The Village Voice
“Investigation of a Flame captures the heartfelt belief behind the Nine’s symbolic action of civil disobedience that sparked other (actions) like it across the nation. (The film) provides a potent reminder that some Americans are willing to pay a heavy price to promote peace.” Baltimore City Paper
“This is a documentary about the protest events that made Catonsville, Maryland, an unpretentious suburb on the cusp of Baltimore, a flash point for citizens’ resistance at the height of the war. Sachs found assorted characters still firm to fiery on the topic. She came to admire the consistency of the mutual antagonists in an argument that still rages (today).” The New York Times
“This poetic essay offers the perfect antidote to PBS: there is no omniscient narrator talking down to the viewer, reciting facts and explaining what to think, yet the story is perfectly clear. Brothers Phil and Dan Berrigan, who led the protest, appear both in the present and in archival footage, a mix that makes their commitment palpable.” Chicago Reader
“To those who think that everything in a society and its culture must move in lock step at times of crisis, (this film) might seem to be ‘off-message.’ But it’s in essence patriotic… saluting U.S. democracy as it pays homage to the U.S. tradition of dissent.” The Baltimore Sun
Screenings: National Broadcast on the Sundance Channel; Maryland Film Festival “Opening Night”; Museum of Modern Art, Documentary Fortnight “Opening Night”; Rhode Island Film Festival; Art Institute of Chicago; Mill Valley Film Festival; San Francisco Cinematheque; Pacific Film Archive; Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Olympia Film Festival., Providence Women’s Film Festival, Denver Film Festival; Harvard University Film Archive; Cornell University Cinema; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; NY Underground Film Festival; Vassar College; Ithaca College; Massachusetts College of Art; Catholic University; Maine Film Festival; Florida Film Festival; Georgetown University; Brooklyn Academy of Music, Portland Doc. Festival, Wisconsin Film Festival, Georgetown University’s Jesuit Week, American University Center for Social Media
Awards: Black Maria Film Festival; San Francisco International Film Festival: New Jersey Film Festival; Ann Arbor Film Festival; First Prize Documentary Athens Film Festival
Supported with funding from the Maryland Humanities Council, the Maryland State Council on the Arts, the Puffin Foundation and a Media Arts fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation.
by Lynne Sachs in Collaboration with Dana Sachs 33 min.
“A frog that sits at the bottom of a well thinks that the whole sky is only as big as the lid of a pot.”
In 1994, two American sisters – a filmmaker and a writer — travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Together, they attempt to make a candid cinema portrait of the country they witness. Their conversations with Vietnamese strangers and friends reveal to them the flip side of a shared history. Lynne and Dana Sachs’ travel diary revels in the sounds, proverbs, and images of Vietnamese daily life. Both a culture clash and an historic inquiry, their film comes together with the warmth of a quilt, weaving together stories of people the sisters met with their own childhood memories of the war on TV.
When two American sisters travel north from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, conversations with Vietnamese strangers and friends reveal to them the flip side of a shared history. Lynne and Dana Sachs’ travel diary of their trip to Vietnam is a collection of tourism, city life, culture clash, and historic inquiry that’s put together with the warmth of a quilt. “Which Way Is East” starts as a road trip and flowers into a political discourse. It combines Vietnamese parables, history and memories of the people the sisters met, as well as their own childhood memories of the war on TV. To Americans for whom “Vietnam” ended in 1975, “Which Way Is East” is a reminder that Vietnam is a country, not a war. The film has a combination of qualities: compassion, acute observational skills, an understanding of history’s scope, and a critical ability to discern what’s missing from the textbooks and TV news.
from The Independent Film and Video Monthly, Susan Gerhard
“Captures the Vietnam experience with comprehension and compassion, squeezing a vast and incredible country into an intriguing film.”
Portland Tonic Magazine
“The sound track is layered with the cacophony of bustling city streets, the chirps of cicadas and gentle rustles of trees in the countryside, and the visuals, devoid of travelogue clichés, are a collage of pictorial snippets taken from unusual vantage points…. What comes through is such a strong sense of the place you can almost smell it.”
The Chicago Reader
“It’s really a magnificent film about translation, with the play of light and shadow mirroring the movement between language, cultures, and moments in time. It brought back memories of my own years in east Asia, too. The light was exactly the same!”
“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.”
Criterion Channel streaming premiere with 7 other films, Oct. 2021.
Library Collections: Amherst College; Arizona State University; University of California, Berkeley and Irvine; Duke University; Hong Kong University of Science; New York University; New York Public Library; Penn State; Rutgers University; University of Iowa; Minneapolis Public Library; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of Virginia; Northwestern; Seattle Public Library
An experimental documentary on Reverend L.O. Taylor, a Black Baptist minister from Memphis, Tennessee who was also an inspired filmmaker with an overwhelming interest in preserving the social and cultural fabric of his own community in the 1930′ s and ‘ 40’ s . I combine his films and music recordings with my own images of Memphis neighborhoods and religious gatherings.
Taylor photographed and filmed businesses and schools in the black community, trips to the National Baptist Convention, baptisms, funerals, social events, and individuals in the quiet dignity of their everyday lives. Over the years he compiled an extraordinary record of black life in the South before the Civil Rights movement captured the attention of the nation. Sermons and Sacred Pictures combines Rev. Taylor’s black-and-white films and audio recordings with color images of contemporary Memphis neighborhoods and religious gatherings. Commentary by his widow and others who knew him forms an intertwined narrative focusing on Rev. Taylor as a pioneering documentarian and social activist. Taylor emerges as a man of humor, piety and intelligence, vibrantly involved in the community he loved.
Supported by a Pioneer Fund Grant for Emerging Documentary Filmmakers and a Film Arts Foundation Development Grant.
“Sermons and Sacred Pictures has a magical quality….It brings to life the work of Rev.. Taylor through his community filmmaking efforts. The film in turn affirms African-American identity and spirit.” Elaine Charnov, Margaret Mead Film Festival
“Viewers will be fascinated by this half hour documentary…among the highlights of the Margaret Mead Film Festival.” J. Hoberman, Village Voice
Screenings and Festivals include: Museum of Modern Art, New York (1989 and 2015) “Best Short Documentary” 1989 Athens (Ohio) Film Festival CINE Golden Eagle Margaret Mead Film Festival Robert Flaherty Film Seminar American Anthropological Association honoree, 1991 Black Cultural Expo (Memphis) honoree National Education Film Festival Award “Best Documentary” Sinking Creek Film Festival, Nashville WKNO Memphis, WYBE Philadelphia
In the library collections of: Duke, Los Angeles Public Library, Memphis State University, Newark Public Library, Northwestern, New York University, Reed College , Stanford and Temple
“Drawn and Quartered”, 4 min. color 16mm. by Lynne Sachs Optically printed images of a man and a woman fragmented by a film frame that is divided into four distinct sections. An experiment in form/content relationships that are peculiar to the medium, 1987
“Images of a male form (on the left) and a female form (right) exist in their own private domains, separated by a barrier. Only for a moment does the one intrude upon the pictorial space of the other.” – Albert Kilchesty, LA Filmforum
San Francisco Film Festival, Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal, Installation at Pacific Film Archive “Way Bay 2” Survey of Bay Area Art 2018; Camára Lucída Festival de Ciné 2021 , Museum of the Moving Image 2021
MAKING AND BEING “DRAWN & QUARTERED” an essay by Lynne Sachs
My great Uncle Charlie was a prominent Memphis businessman who took a giddy pleasure in shooting some of the most elegant, compassionate photographs I’ve ever seen. I remember his close-up portrait taken in the late 1950’s of a wizened black man looking into the lens. I would sneak into the back hall of his house to look at this image, as if those large eyes revealed to me all the horrors of a segregated South that was beginning, thank god, to disappear. The face still haunts me.
None of Uncle Charlie’s children or even grandchildren took much interest in photography. My teenage obsession with the camera thus became the reason we developed such a long-lasting relationship. He and I would spend hours together looking at the photographs we’d both taken. These were the first rigorous, aesthetic dialogues around image-making I’d ever had.
One afternoon in 1984, when were sitting side-by-side in Uncle Charlie’s study pouring over some travel slides, I announced that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was 22 years old. Uncle Charlie’s response was immediate and silent. He got up abruptly, pulled an object from a bureau drawer, and handed me a heavy, brown camera that looked and felt like an army hand grenade. This was the first time I had ever seen a Regular 8 Filmo camera. He carefully explained to me how a 50 foot reel fit into the casing, that I needed to shoot half the reel one way, then open the camera, flip the reel and camera and shoot the rest. “Beware,” he warned me, “if you forget to shoot the second half with the camera right-side up the world will appear topsy-turvy. After you shoot all three minutes, send the film to a lab to have it processed and split down the middle.”
“SPLIT IT DOWN THE MIDDLE?” I thought to myself, “How violent, how intriguing, how corporeal.” Strangely enough, I didn’t actually use the camera until three years later. It was the fall of 1987, and I was a new graduate student at the San Francisco Art Institute. By this time, I’d aligned myself with the film avant-garde. Every normal way of doing anything with a camera was anathema. My little Filmo cine hand grenade still had an aura I couldn’t resist. It finally beckoned me to be used. On one of those rare, warm San Francisco afternoons I convinced my new boyfriend John to follow me to the roof of the Art Institute to make the first movie I would ever shoot in Regular 8mm. Despite having no experience whatsoever with the camera, I’d meticulously planned every shot we would make together. Perhaps I’d been inspired by the organized fluidity of Maya Deren’s “Choreography for the Camera”. Just as significant, I believe, were the mechanical properties of that Filmo. What would happen if I didn’t rip apart the spinal chord of the film itself?
Once we reached the roof, I surprised John by informing him that we would both have to take off our clothes. I then explained that I would shoot images of him for the first 1 1/2 minutes of film and that he would shoot the second half of me. He wasn’t happy with the rules, but he accepted them for the three hours it took. That must have been the year I first encountered Laura Mulvey’s theory of the “male gaze”, seen Carolee Schneeman’s “Fuses”, pondered Yvonne Rainer’s “Lives of Performers”. The artistic practice of being a feminist in the late 1980’s was whirling wildly in my mind.
When I took the roll to the lab, I begged them NOT to split the film as they normally would, to leave it all in tact after the processing. The resulting 8mm footage was simultaneously thrilling (artistically) and humiliating (personally). There were our two nude bodies on the same screen but also divided by four equilateral frames. I looked at John (fine…); John looked at me (yikes!). Within the parameters of the image gestalt, we are dancing together without ever touching. Our two bodies remain totally distinct and apart.
My immediate reaction took me directly to the editing room where I cut out all the frames of my face. I wanted to erase myself from the film. I held these “out takes” in my hand, breathing a sigh of relief at knowing that my nude body could never be identified. Then I felt strangely ashamed at my own un-hip cowardice. A few days later, I returned to the splicer and “reconstituted” my body by replacing my face, owning up to what I’d made, and, in a way, accepting my own body with all its flab and flaws. This was years before the time of “nondestructive” (digital) editing, so if you were to look closely at the finished film print now on 16mm you would see those cuts (SCARS!!). You would see the mark making that reveals so much about my apprehension in those days.
At that moment, the technological limitations of Uncle Charlie’s hallowed regular 8mm Filmo movie camera lead me to a know place as an artist. Scared and anxious but also aware of a burgeoning excitement, I named my little movie “Drawn and Quartered”. Months later, I screened the silent movie to a packed audience at San Francisco’s Red Vic Theatre on Haight Street. Within those few painful minutes, the crowd went from absolute silence, to raucous laughter and back to an exquisite quiet. I was shaking.