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RIDM Interviews Lynne Sachs about “Film About a Father Who”

November 2020

Interview with Lynne Sachs, filmmaker of Film About a Father Who, presented in the section Seeking Communities (November 12-18)

You started shooting some of the material in the film some thirty years ago. Did you know at the time you wanted to make a film about your father? Why did you need three decades to achieve what you were looking for?

By the early 1990s, I decided that I would keep one foot in documentary and the other in experimental film. Deeply moved by critical and theoretical writings on reality-based filmmaking, I realized that I needed to invert the field’s tendency to look at others’ lives by turning the camera on myself. With this personal challenge in mind, I decided to shoot a film with and about my father. At the time, I was equal parts fascinated and confused by the free-spirited, iconoclastic, often secretive life that he led. When I told him that I was making a film about him, he seemed intrigued, and off we went. But the “production” was not an easy one. I stopped and started every year. When you are holding a camera, you sometimes see more than you bargain for.

How did your father, and the rest of the family, feel about the project?

It’s funny. I think that being the “star” of a movie these days comes with a kind of allure. My dad always seemed to enjoy his place in front of my camera. He got so into the idea of making a movie with me that he would say Hollywood things like “Lynne, hurry up, we’re losing light!” Clearly, we live in such an image-dominated society that people are more and aware of how they present themselves. It’s in the realm of sound, specifically voice, then, where I think you can find the most intimacy, candor and insight. As you can see in my film, my father was very controlled in terms of what he would say or, probably more accurately, what he could say about his feelings. Maybe that’s generational, common for men of his age. I hate to make these kinds of gendered observations. In terms of working with my eight siblings on this film, I discovered that keeping my camera off, and sitting with each one alone, in total darkness with my microphone and audio recorder was extraordinarily generative. A film director’s eyes function like a mirror for the people in front of the camera – whether they are subjects in a documentary or actors in a narrative. Having the lights out was key to taking my film to a deeper place.

Your footage comes from a variety of media (film, video, digital), but you manage to bring them all together in an aesthetically successful way. Was it a challenge?

Unlike painters, filmmakers need to adapt to constantly changing technologies. For me, there are some constants. I’ve been using the same wind-up Bolex 16mm silent film camera since 1987 but the video cameras I use change pretty much every two years, from VHS to Hi8 to MinDV to high-definition digital to cell phone. Thus, my film is a kind of archeological document of the changing field. The screen image reflects the times, both in terms of context and texture. But unlike the technology, we as subjects remain the same, only we get older, all of us at the same rate, day by day. I decided to edit the film with Rebecca Shapass, a wonderful artist and filmmaker who was a student of mine just a few years ago. Together in my studio, we watched the skin of the film and the skin of our bodies change over three decades. This process was extremely difficult for me, both personally and aesthetically. But, it was so important to share the stories in the film with someone who could have a distance from our story, and who clearly was not going to be judgemental. In addition, Rebecca, who is in her mid-twenties, was able to see the beauty in the older footage and to appreciate the refreshing non-digital wrinkles. We spent the first year editing 12 discrete experimental films that had their own interior shape and structure. We spent the second year pulling these apart and reconstructing them into a single feature-length film.

Your look on your father is very lucid but never judgmental, which I think is a great strength of the film. Was that a difficult balance to strike?

You’ve asked a key question by pointing to the daunting, interior challenge that both nourished my process and stopped me in my tracks. I needed to find a place in my narration for the film that could candidly articulate my rage and my forgiveness. Some cuts went too much in one direction, some in the other. I finished my film during a time in our culture when so many women are reckoning with who they are in relationship to the men in their lives. Our personal investigations necessitate finding a strategy where we can do so many things at once – resist a self-imposed artificial amnesia, be true to our own stories, and go forward.

You may still ignore who your father really is, but what did you learn about family through making this film?

Frankly, I have learned so much about the imprint of family on all of us from audiences who

have watched Film About a Father Who. Despite the fact that I have only interacted with people in real theaters three times since its premiere, more people have written to me (through my website lynnesachs.com) after watching this film than ever before. Virtual screenings, Q and A’s and these email responses are simply part of our lives these days, and the result is that viewers are watching films and seeking out ways to engage one-on-one with their makers. It’s really been extraordinary. To my surprise, I have heard from almost as many men as women, and in each case people are writing to me about the way that my film somehow offers them a way to think about the imprint that their parents have had on them as children and later as adults. This, in and of itself, is more important to me than the fact that they have “learned” something about me or my family. My intention was not to make an exposé but rather a visual essay, a 74-minute cinema experience that ultimately made people think about their own lives and relationships.

What was it like premiering the film at Slamdance, in Park City, where your father lives? It was also one of the last “live festivals” before the pandemic!

Ok, so I am going to tell you a behind-the-scenes story. In December of 2019, Paul Rachman, one of the founders and directors of Slamdance, called me from his car in Los Angeles. He told me that my film had not only been accepted to the festival but that they wanted it to be their Opening Night feature. At first, I was thrilled, but quickly my emotions shifted to fear and worry, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. Paul spent the next few days convincing me that Slamdance would be an exciting and supportive place for my World Premiere. He could not have been more correct. Hundreds of people came to the two scheduled screenings. There was so much interest in the film, they added a third show. More important than the number of people, however, was the special mix in the audience: local family friends, Sundance folks, cinephiles who come to Park City every year, film critics, and festival directors. Of course, I had deep face-to-face conversations with people who had known my father for decades but still discovered new, probably shocking, aspects to his complicated personal life. I also got the chance to talk to film writers, podcasters, and feminist bloggers. My father, who is now 84 and spends the winter in a warmer place, flew to NYC for the second screening of the film in the Museum of Modern Art’s Documentary Fortnight. He has expressed subtle regret at the pain some of his life choices have caused, but this was the life he chose, and he owns it.

Anything else?

I wish I were planning to come to Montreal by car or plane in a few weeks. The only time I have ever been to the city was for Expo ’67, when I was six years old. I was so enthralled by the exhibits, particularly the Telephone Pavilion which featured a 360-degree film screen that surrounded viewers. I just looked up this building and discovered that it was designed by Saskatchewan-born woman architect Dorice Brown. Very cool, especially for that time. I should also add that I got lost at the Expo for an entire day. My parents eventually found me at the police station. Somehow, I did not know I was lost, until they showed up with very relieved faces.

Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal (RIDM) Screening “Film About a Father Who”

November 2020
By Charlotte Selb

Over a 35-year period (1984–2019), acclaimed experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs filmed a considerable amount of footage of and about her father, Ira Sachs, an eccentric, Bohemian businessman from Park City, Utah. The skillfully edited images – captured on film, video and digital media – form a puzzling portrait of a man she loves but doesn’t truly know. Questioning her mother and eight siblings (some of whom she met only recently) and several of her father’s girlfriends, Sachs takes a non-judgmental look at the contradictions of a man who keeps many secrets even as he fills the screen. Through him, the director tries to unpack the complexity of the emotions that shape family relationships. (Charlotte Selb)

“Film About a Father Who” Screening at 2020 Doclisboa

Film About a Father Who will have its Portuguese premiere on December 5, 2020 at Doclisboa.


Program: “Spaces of Intimacy”
December 3 – 9th.

The spaces we navigate are organized according to the idea of intimacy. We move based on proximity, keeping a constant relational metric between different private spheres and the interstice between them. The closest intimacy unit, ‘me’, is in an ongoing relation with the other, be it a person or a landscape. One projects memories and emotions onto the sea or the mountains. Or strangers start a relationship in a city that is also strange. Sometimes even with the very city and its catacombs. Or one revisits a place that was once familiar, but is now absolutely unrecognizable.

Pain, loss, love and desire may also reach the other in a sharing gesture, establishing bridges and somewhat easing loneliness. Family—a core of intimate relations constantly negotiating proximity and imbued with their own codes—is scrutinized from different points of view. The home or the homeland, places circumscribing and determining identities, are interchangeable notions in someone’s life.

Where do we belong? What belongs to us? In this way we explore the ongoing tension between exterior and interior, the juxtaposition of private lives and public narratives.

Brown Alumni Magazine Features “Film About a Father Who”

A Man in Focus – For Lynne Sachs ’83, Film About a Father Who was a decades-long effort

By Brent Lang ’04 / November–December 2020
October 23rd, 2020

Lynne Sachs ’83 editing some of the footage she first started filming in 1984 to chronicle the life of her elusive father. PHOTO: MARK STREET

Every family has its issues. But few have to deal with a parent quite like Ira Sachs Sr., the roguish, hard-living, serial philandering id at the center of a new documentary by Lynne Sachs ’83, Film About a Father Who. Sachs worked on the project for three decades, beginning to shoot the film shortly after graduating from Brown with a degree in history. By turning her camera on her father, Sachs wanted to better understand a man who remained stubbornly enigmatic. 

“Making a film provided me with an excuse to ask the questions I’d always wanted to ask,” says Sachs. 

The film doesn’t let the Sachs family patriarch off the hook. It shows his charming side as well as the drive and confidence that enabled him to become a successful developer and hotelier. Yet Ira Sachs Sr.’s personal life was a jumble of failed relationships, emotionally neglected offspring, and substance abuse (he smoked pot obsessively). He also fathered nine children with six different women and was notorious for his wandering eye.

“I had different cuts of the film, one that totally forgives him and one filled with rage,” says Sachs. “The final version falls somewhere between those poles. I hope it gives audiences permission to dig deep with their own parents.” 

As a director, Sachs has a penchant for tackling challenging subjects, making movies about everything from an Israeli filmmaker killed near the West Bank (States of Unbelonging) to New York City laundromats (The Washing Society). She also recently published Year by Year, her first collection of poetry. Sachs credits Brown, and particularly the late Naomi Schor, who taught French literature and feminist theory, with honing her analytical skills. 

“She taught me how to read and how to observe,” said Sachs. “I like attention to detail in films. I believe the micro ends up revealing the macro.” 

Film About a Father Who had its world premiere on the opening night of Slamdance in Park City, Utah, and screened at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight, where Ira Sachs Sr. was in attendance. Despite the fact that the film is an unvarnished look at his life and legacy, the elder Sachs is pleased with the final cut. 

“When he watched it, I saw him cry for the first time,” said Sachs. “Part of the weeping was that feeling of here’s your life. I filmed this for decades, so it’s impossible to not watch it and feel the vulnerability of your own passage.”

Film About a Father Who will be released in U.S. theaters soon. Lynne Sachs’ first book of poetry, Year by Year Poems is out now from Tender Buttons Press. For more information on Sachs’ work, please see: http://www.lynnesachs.com/

Radio Interview on “Film About a Father Who” with WKNO (Memphis)

Native Memphian Brings Searingly Honest Portrait Of Family To Indie Memphis Film Festival


Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker and poet who grew up in Memphis and is currently living in Brooklyn, New York.  Her moving image work ranges from short experimental films, to essay films to hybrid live performances.

Her latest project premiered Wednesday, October 21, Opening Night of the 23rd Annual Indie Memphis Film Festival.  Over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, Lynne Sachs shot 8 and 16mm film, videotape and digital images of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah. FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO is her attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to her siblings. Sachs’ cinematic exploration of her 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, Sachs allows herself and her audience inside to see beyond the surface of the skin, the projected reality. As the startling facts mount, Sachs as a daughter discovers more about her father than she had ever hoped to reveal. 

 “FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO is a personal meditation on our dad, specifically, and fatherhood and masculinity more generally. The film is one of Lynne’s most searingly honest works. Very proud of my sister, as I have been since we were kids, and so deeply inspired.” –  Filmmaker & brother, Ira Sachs, Jr.

Kacky Walton spoke to Lynne about this cinematic journey of discovery.

German Art Magazine – Texte Zur Kunst on the Work of Lynne Sachs

Oct. 16, 2020
By Esther Buss
TACTILE TRANSLATIONS Esther Buss on Lynne Sachs’ retrospective at the Sheffield Doc / Fest

Try about the encounter. This year’s Sheffield Doc / Fest, which took place exclusively online due to the pandemic, dedicated a carefully curated retrospective to the filmmaker Lynne Sachs. This shows the community-creating moment of Sachs’ films, which are often the result of close collaborations – whether with family members, migrant communities or artistic companions like Barbara Hammer or Carolee Schneemann – especially under the restrictions of the pandemic: like the film critic Esther Buss argues, these films are always evidence of the ambivalence between ‘lonely’ art production on the one hand and shared experience on the other.

Lynne Sachs’ films usually begin with a tactile approach: touches with surfaces and textures of bodies, landscapes and fabrics – touches that always include or even affect the materiality of the image. Her most recent work, Film About A Father Who (2020) – the title refers to Yvonne Rainer’s 1974 film About a Woman Who… – begins with a close-up of two hands untangling the tangled white hair in a head of hair . Lynne Sachs cuts the hair of Ira Sachs, her father, who is over 80, the main character in the film and the center of gravity in a complex network of family relationships. From this concrete and symbolically legible entrance image, a fragmentary narrative unfolds that spans 35 years.

Between 1984 and 2019, Sachs repeatedly filmed his own father: a man who is still difficult to decipher for his family members to this day. A promiscuous hippie businessman who had the reputation of being “Hugh Hefner of Park City”, Ira Sachs, father of nine children from different women, is entirely a product of the 1960s. Sachs is only marginally concerned with the finding of a patriarchal order that was carried forward in a break with existing moral and sexual norms. The film About A Father Who is rather an attempt to decenter the enigmatic figure of the father in the form of a polyphonic, sometimes contradicting essay and to let it merge into a horizontal narrative of family connections. With every new memory, every new face, another mesh is woven in the fabric of the Sachs family, which has grown steadily over the course of the film. The result is a collage of different perspectives and voices, which also remains fragile on the level of the material. Grainy 8 and 16 mm images and muddy VHS line up with high-definition digital material, old and new recordings for interviews and home movies – a significant part of which was shot by Ira Sachs and Ira Sachs Jr., Lynne Sachs’ younger brother and filmmaker too. [1]

As part of Sheffield Doc / Fest, the film About A Father Who was shown to an international audience for the first time in early October. The documentary film festival, which took place exclusively online this year, also dedicated a carefully curated program of five films from 1994 to 2018 to Sachs. The selection focused on the term “translation”, with which Sachs is sometimes more, sometimes less explicit in her work (the first in The Task of the Translator, 2010, a film that answers Walter Benjamin’s essay of the same name with three body studies). What was meant was not just translating from spoken to visual language or transferring from a source to a target language. [2] The thematic bracket here was, in general, translation as a practice of encounter and communication and, connected to it, as an awareness of difference. There is a vivid picture of this in the film About A Father Who: The mother had mastered grammar, Sachs said in an interview with her siblings Dana and Ira. Everything was transparent, linear and in the right place, there were commas and points. The punctuation marks with the father, on the other hand, are exclamation marks and question marks.

The work of Lynne Sachs, born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1961 and trained at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she a. a. collaborated with artists such as Bruce Conner and Trinh T. Minh-Ha are hybrid structures. Since her first films, Drawn and Quartered and Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (both from 1987), which are strongly determined by Laura Mulvey’s feminist essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), she has made more than 30 mostly short and medium-length films. The aforementioned “encounter” is essential for Sachs’ artistic practice. Her films are often the result of close collaborations: for example with close or distant family members, migrant communities or artistic companions such as Barbara Hammer, Carolee Schneemann or Gunvor Nelson – she dedicated the film Carolee, Barbara and Gunvor to them in 2018.

As an experimental documentary filmmaker, Sachs always seeks the permeability of authorial authority and filmic subject. In relation to the concept of “fly on the wall” – the most invisible observer – that is decisive for US American direct cinema, she programmatically distanced itself: “As a documentary filmmaker, I am always reckoning with what it means to shoot ‘from the outside in ‘, using my camera to peer into the lives of people from other places, cultures, or communities. Honestly, it’s the foundation of the documentary paradigm that most disturbs me, “said the artist in an interview with the documentary film magazine Modern Times Review. [3] Sachs is always present in her films: as a body, as an off-voice, as a text. There are also fictional and performative elements.

Your Day is My Night (2013) and the film The Washing Society (2018), made in collaboration with playwright and director Lizzie Olesker, both provide insights into the undocumented cultural microcosms of New York, which has been Sachs ’hometown for many years. The subject of Your Day is My Night is a so-called shift-bed apartment in Chinatown – an apartment in which Chinese immigrants from the working class share a bed in layers (i.e. in coordination with their respective day and night jobs), sometimes over many years. With a precise and poetic eye for the economy of the rooms, Sachs portrays a household with seven residents, or rather ‘characters’, on the corner of Hester Street. In the form of autobiographical monologues and re-enacted conversations, these provide information about political upheavals and family separations, talk about exhausting journeys, fears and longings. In an abstract setting that looks like a theater room, the beds become a stage for a stylized body game. The camera touches lying, sleeping and stretching bodies in haptic movements.

The Washing Society is a document of the invisible work that has increasingly come into the public eye with the outbreak of Covid-19 ‘. The setting is in the laundromats that are increasingly being displaced by large laundries in urban areas. With a mixed cast of actresses and real laundresses, Sachs observes the repetitive gestures of reproductive work and gives a voice to the experiences of the predominantly African-American and Hispanic workers. The laundromat is increasingly contouring itself as a space in which underpaid work, racism and classicism become just as evident as solidarity and community. The historical anchor of the film is the eponymous “Washing Society”, an organization founded in 1881 by 20 African-American laundresses that fought for better working conditions. Looking at the remains of the washing process – the camera keeps pointing at an abject mixture of dust and hair – and the omnipresence of touch, Sachs also defines a moment of physical intimacy – “… there are still two hands … washing your skirt, your shirt, your socks, almost touching you, almost connecting with your skin. Another layer ”, it says from the off at the end.

A completely different touch takes place in A Month of Single Frames (2019), a 14-minute short film “made with and for Barbara Hammer”. Sachs processed the 8 and 16 mm film material that the pioneer of lesbian avant-garde cinema, who died in 2019, shot in the late 1990s during a month-long residency in a lonely hut with no electricity or running water on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. When Hammer began to organize her estate because of her progressive cancer, she handed the recordings over to her younger colleague with the invitation to make a film out of them. Sachs assembles tape recordings that she made in her studio shortly before the death of her mentor and on which she had them read from her Duneshack journal with Hammer’s pictures: recordings of insects, the barren vegetation in the dunes, of light reflections, shadow play and weather changes as well of banal everyday things that transform into lyrical objects when the camera looks at them. “I am overwhelmed by simplicity”, one hears Hammer say to the image of a shred of plastic film blowing in the wind. Another time she looks fascinated at a fly, in which she recognizes a miniature of the army helicopters patrolling the coast. Despite all the amazement, A Month of Single Frames is far from an essentialist view of nature. “Why is it I can’t see nature whole and pure without artifice?” Hammer wonders once. She experimented extensively with the possibilities of camera technology: for example, by slowing down the flow of film material to the point of taking individual images and playing with colored foils that throw colored lights in the sand or immerse the landscape in shimmering magenta. The most striking sign of the posthumous treatment by Sachs are the inserted text panels in which she addresses her girlfriend, who is both present and absent.

The ambivalence of isolation and, lonely ‘art production on the one hand, and shared experience on the other, could seldom be experienced as physically as in this film. A Month of Single Frames is a contemplation of nature, an homage to analog cinema and a testimony to a friendship between women without any claim to exclusivity, quite the opposite. The you in the film is always directed towards a counterpart who is invited to join together to form a community across social and geographical distances. [4] “You are alone” – “I am here with you in this film” – “There are others here with us” – “We are all together”.

Some of Lynne Sachs ‘films can be seen on her website: https://www.lynnesachs.com. A Film About A Father Who will soon be showing at various festivals, including Indie Memphis. The restrictions caused by the pandemic make online viewing possible.

Esther Buss works as a freelance film critic in Berlin. She writes u. a. for kolik.film, Jungle World, Der Tagesspiegel and Cargo. Last publication in: A story of its own: Women Film Austria since 1999, ed. by Isabella Reicher, Vienna 2020.

[1] With films like Keep the Lights On , Ira Sachs Jr. Early 2010s among the protagonists of the New Wave of Queer Cinema.
[2] The seemingly seamless transition from the ‘other’ to one’s own language is repeatedly questioned by Sachs. In her Travelogue Which Way is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994) there are decidedly untranslated passages that make one aware of the linguistic difference. In this film, Sachs also works with Vietnamese parables, the translations of which remain puzzling.
[3] https://www.moderntimes.review/lynne-sachs-on-sheffield-doc-fest-retrospective/?fbclid=IwAR3OR4Y1Fo13SLsvoRJG39EE3EuFgl7jRmbHqRJW9K3Tpf5mV2z_UCVPsVY .
[4] When A Month of Single Frames was presented as part of the digital edition of the 66th Oberhausen Short Film Festival during the lockdown, its community-promoting message took on a larger dimension. The jury awarded the film the main prize.

VODzilla Reviews “Film About a Father Who”

Sheffield Doc/Fest film review: Film About a Father Who

by Laurence Boyce 
On 14, Oct 2020

Sheffield Doc/Fest is going digital this autumn, with a string of weekend collections playing in cinemas and streaming online.

The fractious relationship between a parent and their children has long been a rich seam for documentary cinema to explore, especially when filmmakers are using the medium to explore their own relationships. Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (2003) infamously told the story of the director, his complex relationship with his mother and both of their struggles with mental health through 20 years of video footage. Stories We Tell (2012) saw actress and director Sarah Polley discover that her father wasn’t who she thought she was. Tell Them Who You Are (2004) had Mark Wexler follow his father, the renowned cinematographer Haskell Wexler, as the two dealt with a professional rivalry that spoke of more profound problems in their relationship. Each of these films eschewed a neutral tone for a more emotional and personal approach to the material while also utilising much use of archive footage, not only to signify the passing of time but also to illustrate the impermanence of memory.

Lynne Sachs’ Film About a Father Who follows many of these tropes as she gathers years of documentary footage – at one point she states that she’s been making the film for 26 years – to try and gain a better understanding of her father, Ira Sachs Sr. Outwardly, Sachs Sr is an open book, a Utah businessman known for gregariousness and an eye for the ladies. But inwardly, he’s closed off, showing little emotion and keeping a myriad of secrets from those who are supposed to be nearest and dearest to him.
Footage that emanates from the past few decades – alongside more formal contemporary footage and a sparely used voiceover from the director – paints a picture of a family typified by dysfunction.

As the large number of siblings – from different mothers, some of whom were kept secret from the others for decades – recount various stories of connection and abandonment, Ira sits as a kind of unknowable monolith as – in the modern day – he conveniently forgets about crucial questions about his past. His impassiveness does sometimes become a barrier as – even when his former paramours try to explain it – it becomes difficult to understand why so many women seemed to the be under his thrall.

While there is plenty of pain and recrimination to be had throughout the film, Film About a Father Who is not an exercise in condemning Sachs Sr. Indeed, it’s a heartfelt attempt to find out more about a man who doesn’t give to emotion easily. He’s not cold or heartless – just neutral and passive, his 1960s hippie demeanour going partway to explaining his seemingly carefree attitude to relationships and his children. He’s not a monster or a deliberately evil person – there are no massive and dark skeletons in the closet to be found, although there are plenty of secrets.

But as the film reminds us, he still leaves plenty of emotional wreckage in his wake. A meeting with one of his former lovers, who came all the way to the Philippines to be with him, reveals just how damaged she was when it all went south. One of his younger daughters – whose existence was kept from the rest of the family for decades – recounts how angry she was when, even though he would visit, she would be living in near poverty while he wanted for nearly nothing.

Footage from across numerous timelines is used indiscriminately throughout, with grainy VHS footage placed next to modern day interviews. The lack of clarity on timelines and what is happening is sometimes confusing, but one suspects that is the point as it echoes the confusion and chaos at the centre of the family dynamic. Film About a Father Who is a gently affecting piece of work – with moments of dry humour studded amongst the emotion – told with a subtle passion and grace.

Film About a Father Who is available to rent for £4 on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects, or as part of a £12 pass for the Into the World collection, until 11.59pm 15th October 2020.

Memphis Flyer Reviews “Film About a Father Who”

2020 Vision: Indie Memphis Film Festival Moves Outdoors and Online 
Memphis Flyer
10/ 14/ 2020

The 23rd edition of the Indie Memphis Film Festival will be like no other. Like most activities that rely on bringing groups of people together, theatrical film screenings were brought to a screeching halt in mid-March by the coronavirus pandemic. The shutdown came at a particularly bad time for Indie Memphis. In recent years, the nonprofit has expanded from throwing an annual celebration of the art of cinema to offering year-round programming. That led to a deal with Malco Theatres to take over a screen at Studio on the Square, where Indie Memphis could showcase the eclectic collection of independent, art house, international, and just plain weird films they have been bringing to the Bluff City since 1998.

“We were set for an April opening,” says Indie Memphis executive director Ryan Watt. “Malco had just put in the new seats a week before everything started shutting down.”

Mississippi’s Oxford Film Festival was one of the first of the thousands of festivals worldwide that had to unexpectedly figure out how to carry on in the new environment. Eventive, a Memphis-based cinema services company, stepped into the breach. Eventive, which was originally founded to overhaul Indie Memphis’ ticketing system, developed a new system that allowed festivals to present their programming online, and Oxford became the test case.

Watt and Indie Memphis artistic director Miriam Bale were watching closely. “I have so much sympathy for people like Melanie [Addington] at Oxford, who were out front. We did have the advantage of learning from them. But the other thing that was always a challenge was planning things out in advance. You’re thinking not ‘What do people need right now?’ but ‘What are people going to need and want in October?’ This has been both the longest and the shortest seven months ever. There’s new crises every week, every month. I think it’s been really hard mentally on everyone and really hard economically.”

Failure was not an option. “We made the decision early on: We’re not going to cancel,” says Bale. “We saw a lot of film festivals canceled. We were just gonna exist in whatever form we could.”

But would there even be films to show? Indie Memphis typically gets thousands of entries every year, but the pandemic hit just as many filmmakers would be finishing up their projects. Watt says submissions were down, but ultimately, the creative community came through. “I was very pleasantly surprised, considering there was basically no production from March on — aside from some intimate projects that people could do at their house.”

The plan that took shape over the long, chaotic summer was to mount what Watt calls an “online and outdoor” festival. During the festival, which runs October 21-29, all of the narrative features, documentaries, shorts, experimental films, and music videos will be available online through Eventive. Memphis audiences are invited to outdoor, socially distanced screenings at venues such as the Malco Summer Drive-In, the Levitt Shell, and The Grove at Germantown Performing Arts Center, as well as pop-up screenings at Shelby Farms, the riverfront, and the Stax Museum.

As things were coming together, the Indie Memphis crew got another shock. Watt, who took over as executive director in 2015, announced his intention to resign at the end of the year.

“It’s really bittersweet,” says Brighid Wheeler, senior programmer and director of operations. “There was a point a few years ago when it was just me and Ryan sitting in the office, scrambling to put a program together, not knowing the future of Indie Memphis. In the following years, what he has done — between the amazing team he’s assembled, incredible board of directors, etc. — is nothing short of incredible, and a true testament to what leadership looks like. His leadership has given Memphis and our filmmaking community what it has always needed and deserves: a place to grow, thrive, and create in the city we love so dearly.”

Under Watt’s leadership, Indie Memphis has grown from a cozy local festival to an industry leader. In 2019, the festival attracted more than 12,000 ticket buyers, and the organization’s revenue topped $800,000. He oversaw the expansion of artist development programs, including the Youth Film Festival and the Indie Grants program. Under his watch, Indie Memphis mounted a major push to increase diversity among both the filmmakers and the audience, with programs such as the Black Creator’s Forum. In a film industry historically dominated by white men, Indie Memphis 2020 stands out with 43 percent of features directed by women and 50 percent directed by people of color.

“Ryan is such a good executive director because he approaches it like a creative producer,” Bale says. “He knows what needs to be done. But even more than that, he loves recognizing the vision of people, whether it’s local filmmakers or all of his staff. He is so good at letting us all shine. … He’s so empathetic, and sees who people are and how they can best shine. And it’s really incredibly rare in this business.”

Watt says his decision was not taken lightly. “I will always call this a dream job. That’s why it’s really hard to walk away from it. It’s meant everything to me. This is a kind of job that just kind of becomes your identity. But at the same time, as I told the staff, everything I’ve done up till now has been five- or six-year stints, where I kind of dove into something that I had very little experience in, because of the challenge and the excitement. So I think it’s just sort of the right time to hand things off. But it’s been awesome — something I will always treasure.”

Highlights from the Indie Memphis 2020 Lineup.

Film About a Father Who
Many directors describe their works as labors of love, but few earn that title as thoroughly as Indie Memphis’ opening night feature, Film About a Father Who.

Lynne Sachs says she decided to make a movie about her father, Ira Sachs Sr., in 1991. “The first material I shot, which was with my dad on this trip in Bali, where I talk about my sister and me getting angry at him and running away, was shot on VHS,” she says. “The earliest footage is from 1965. I did not shoot that, but you can see Ira [Sachs Jr.] as a baby. He was just a few months old. My mom must’ve shot it. I can tell you — because I’ve mined every bit of it — that we have 12 minutes of footage of my whole childhood.”

Ira Sachs Sr. had a legendary career as a real estate developer and entrepreneur. He developed one of the first hotels in the ski resort town of Park City, Utah — ironically, now one of the centers of the film universe, as home to the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals. An early adopter of mobile phone technology, Sachs is seen early in the film wheeling and dealing while skiing down immaculate powder slopes.

But he was also an unreconstructed member of Memphis’ legendary counterculture. He smoked marijuana religiously and took pride in never venturing out to the square world beyond East Parkway. In the 1970s, he bought a crumbling Victorian home on Adams Avenue in Downtown Memphis for $14,000 and renovated it, at least enough to live in. It’s now the site of Mollie Fontaine Lounge restaurant.

“When my dad lived on Adams [Avenue], he never locked his doors,” says Lynne Sachs. “So when I look back on that, I can say, ‘Whoa, I had this kind of hippie life for part of the week, and isn’t that interesting? And isn’t that different from all the other middle-class kids’ parents?’ But on the other hand, you had no idea who was going to walk in. There was always this ambiguity between being very much a free spirit and being vulnerable and awkward and open to something that you don’t want. … It wasn’t easy to be growing older, but my dad’s girlfriends were always staying the same age.”

In this confessional documentary, Lynne Sachs creates a warts-and-all portrait of a mercurial and ultimately fascinating man. “I would have long periods of time, like a year at a time, where I was scared to make it, or I’d say I’ve had enough, this is exhausting. I had to reckon with that space between rage — which I had plenty of times — and forgiveness, which was part of almost every interaction that my dad and I had. I would go from one extreme to the other. A good photograph has a pure black and a pure white — and then it also has all of those grays in between.”

Doc Weekly: “The Artful, Experimental and Brilliant Study of a Promiscuous Father Headlining Sheffield’s Autumn Programme”

Documentary Weekly
October 2, 2020 
By Benjamin Hollis 

“Film About A Father Who” and a live online Q&A with director Lynne Sachs is screening in Sheffield on Saturday 3 October at 5:30pm, book your tickets here.

The film will be available on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects and Doc/Player from Saturday 3 October at 7:30pm BST until Thursday 15 October at 11:59pm BST. You can watch it here.

Documentaries on family members can be a filmmaker’s downfall. In pandering to a personal obsession they can struggle to connect with the viewer or worse still, follow a predictable narrative at the expense of developing their subject. But in the case of Lynne Sachs’ film, Sheffield’s early Autumn headliner, it is without doubt her greatest achievement to date.

“Film About A Father Who…” is Sachs’ attempt to understand her wayward and seemingly unknowable father Ira and the complex web of family ties woven by decades of his promiscuity. Filmed over the course of 35 years in a variety of formats, the film charts Ira’s multiple wives, innumerable girlfriends and his ever-growing list of offspring.

The result is an experimental collage of home footage, idle conversations and the occasional tense confrontation that will be familiar to any member of a recomposed family. Although her offbeat style isn’t for everyone, Sachs successfully creates a reflective, surreal atmosphere without neglecting the story’s intrigue, which delivers a surprising amount of twists and turns and a late, quite shocking, discovery. 

Ira is a product of the 60s, a self-made hippy entrepreneur, but also the “kind of man who’s been able to keep profound secrets”. His mysterious, exciting life and its abounding unanswered questions trigger Sachs’ decision to start filming and reach out to more distant members of the family. The process sets off a broader debate between her disparate relatives and a reflection on the delicate, familial bond that they share : an irresponsible father.

While the story Lynne uncovers is fascinating in its own right, it’s the film’s unconventional style and refreshing disregard for chronology that sets it apart. As 8 and 16 mm film footage blends with mini-dv and digital, we encounter the family’s characters at different times in their lives; babies return to screen as adults and then reappear as teenagers. Although confusing at times, a little concentration and a gentle nudge from Lynne’s narration keeps the story moving.

Sequences are instead themed around emotions, thoughts and reflections. Combined with the mix of image formats and some artful editing, Lynne creates an effect that is eerily like recalling memories. The fact that characters contradict each other and that some mysteries are left unsolved contributes to this effect, lacing the film with the half-truths and suspicions, in the same way that all recollections inevitably are.

Without giving too much away, and despite Sachs’ sincere efforts to tease more information out of him, Ira remains shrouded in mystery. Paradoxically, he is as uninhibited in his personal life as he is tight-lipped and evasive in a family setting. Nonetheless, the countless discoveries that Sachs artfully reveals throughout the film are enough to satisfy, with a remarkable final twist that will take your breath away. In Sachs’ own words : “These are things that children shouldn’t know about their father”. Sachs goes on to conclude that her film is not a portrait or even a self-portrait, but rather her “reckoning with the conundrum of [their] asymmetry”.

It’s also a unique, brilliant film that has stayed with me ever since – go see it!