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YNet in Conversation with Lynne Sachs on “Film About a Father Who” and “States of UnBelonging”

Lynne Sachs: “I watched Rabin’s funeral, I called my daughter Noa”
09/08/2020
Ynet
Amir Bogen
https://www.ynet.co.il/entertainment/article/B1TCDpmmP

For 30 years, director Lynne Sachs has documented her complex relationship with her father, Jewish real estate developer Ira Sachs, who knew many lovers and nine children from different women. In an interview to screen the film in Dokaviv, Sachs talks about his aging process and his complicated relationship with his family. To Israel and the decision to name her daughter Noa, after Rabin’s granddaughter

For more than three decades, filmmaker Lynne Sachs has been filming experimental documentaries. Her work encompasses a variety of topics that have taken her to various places in the world, both across the United States and in countries like Bosnia, Vietnam, and even Israel. Throughout that time, however, the 59-year-old Sachs continued to work on one film, very close to her heart, an intimate documentary about her father, the real estate man Ira Sachs Senior. About A Father Who) at the Slamdance Festival in Park City, Utah (parallel to Sundance), and a deep freeze imposed following the Corona, the film arrives in Israel and will be screened as part of the Dokaviv Festival, which will be held this year in a virtual edition. I did not know exactly what I was doing, but I knew he had a very strong presence in my life. That was the starting point, “she says in an interview with Ynet after the American premiere.

In her new film the director provides the audience with an almost unmediated perspective from within her nuclear family cell, which has expanded and then spread everywhere following her father’s sexual adventures. In an attempt to crack the image of someone who was known as an extraordinary entrepreneur, a lover of entertainment and recreation, and also a dress chaser, she rummages through her own memories, as well as those of her mother, mistresses, and the many children she gave birth to from various women (nine in all). Sachs (“Love is Strange”, “Frankie”). Combining home archive footage, he forms a complex cinematic portrait of a man full of lust for life, who inspired many around him, but at the same time also hurt them. In her loving and compassionate gaze she weaves together several perspectives of the family members close to her, as well as those she has only recently discovered, and collects the fragments of memory in an effort to form the father figure. Although he is still alive, at an advanced age he suffers from poor health and difficulties in speech, and probably also in memory.

“I accompanied this film’s journey throughout my adult life, so I ended up having to either complete it or forget about it,” Sachs explains of the motives that left her committed to the project for so many years, “if you don’t write a diary, or poetry or Some documentation, so you’re actually promoting intentional forgetfulness. Most of us do it well. Either you talk about something or you repress. The easier way is to ignore. I had two sisters I did not know until a few years ago, one of whom was very involved in my father’s life. “It gives them a place to express themselves and express themselves. We all have half-brothers and stepbrothers. The nuclear family is becoming more and more rare nowadays. My film is not about DNA but it takes place in a society where secrets are something that is harder to keep.” Today she says that as the wife of a man and the mother of two daughters, the investigation of her family background is only intensifying.

“Most of the time I make experimental documentaries that do not go according to routine frameworks. I made films that explore the world around me. There are films I made in which I am part of the encounter with reality but not at the center. Here the experience is completely different. I tried to decipher this fingerprint of our parents. Whether we really knew them or not, whether they were unsettling or complex, whether they were terrible and disconnected from them in adulthood, or whether they had a positive impact on your life.In recent weeks, after completing the film, I came to the point where I realized the pattern of looking at other people’s lives “I open a door inside them, and I felt I needed the door to turn in my direction as if to balance and feel what it feels like to be looked at, even when I’m actually looking at myself and my family. It’s special to the cinema. When you carry a camera in public, everyone looks back at you.”

How do you balance the deepening of the intimate family experience with a voyeuristic intrusion into privacy?

“The gossip point of view threatens me, and I hope at my age I can handle it already. The editor and I tried to identify and sift through the moments that were mostly gossipy. And into it all came the MeToo thing. I wanted to complicate the representation of older men in our society, and the baggage they Bring with them, but suddenly I was required to represent a snapshot of black and white and all shades of gray in between. Inside this package there are loving and compassionate sides, and others that are selfish and problematic. I wanted the story to draw people into it, and make them think what it means to be someone’s daughter , And on the other hand consider the various aspects of masculinity.Especially when it comes to older and vulnerable men, when they think about the choices in their lives, some of which they probably regret.I found that the film encourages people to talk about these issues more openly than a decade ago.So the story becomes more inclusive. Resounding stories of all of us. “

The film documents the aging process of an active, energetic and strong man who is weakening and fading in the present. It’s not easy to experience it. “Cinema allows us access to the past in a way that no other medium can do. My father grows old throughout the film, but so do I, and everyone else within him. We are all aging people. Unfortunately, in our society it is customary to say, ‘You are not considered age’. , And it’s become a sign of success. But the truth is that they do age. Cinema launches you like a missile back and forth into someone else’s life, or your own life, a parallel life or in separate periods. My father is fragile now, and he has a hard time talking, but I did not want to expand. “Because I tried to avoid the film being explicitly about it, and instead focus on accessing or deterring memories.”

Ira Sachs Senior’s personal story has been twisted and full of twists since childhood. He was born to American parents of Jewish descent, and grew up with his mother and stepfather who converted to Christianity after World War II. In his adulthood he used to promote construction projects for wealthy investors, but made sure to keep free time for outdoor activities and clubs. He married his first wife who was the mother of his first three children including Lynn and the young Ira. During the marriage and after his divorce he had relationships with many women, some of whom even became pregnant and gave birth to more offspring across the country. This is not an exemplary father model in American family values, and certainly not Jewish. However, Sachs says that the Jewish identity of the family was present and existed from a young age, and under her inspiration she even created a number of films such as A Biography of Lilith from 1997 and The Last Happy Day from 2009. Along with filmmaking, Saks was personally connected to Israel in an unconventional way through her young daughter, Noa – named after Noa Ben-Artzi-Philosoph (now Rotman), the granddaughter of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“Like millions of viewers around the world, I also watched Noa when her grandfather Yitzhak Rabin was mourned in the fall of 1995,” Sachs recalls. It may sound strange today, but it’s true – to be a Jew in the world we live in is to be political. This brave and eloquent teenage girl was exposed there with a committee over the loss of her beloved grandfather. But beyond that difficult moment, I faced the death of “A moment, the slow suffocation of the possibility of peace. Noa was not known in the clichéd sense of the word, but at that moment she was a symbol of a person with decency, compassion and courage.”

And you found yourself connecting to this historic moment in a very personal way. “When I watched Noa during the funeral I was very excited and saw that she has a deep connection with her grandfather and a great hope for peace. In addition, her name felt wonderful to me, it is a name that is not gender defined and not necessarily Jewish. I was then pregnant with my second daughter, my husband Mark Street and I agreed very early on that her name would be Noa, in order to give her and us a lifelong connection with a woman who even now, more than twenty years later, is spreading his word of peace that her grandfather wished for his country, the Middle East and for us in the Diaspora. Somehow it does not surprise me that today at the age of 22, Noa Street-Sachs is fighting for her principles in the field of social justice. As part of her studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, she volunteered for an education program in prisons, and now that she has graduated, she is investigating incidents of police violence in New York City.

Along with the deep intuitive connection to Noa and the good news she brought, Saks found herself linked to the story of another Israeli woman, Revital Ohayon, who was killed with her two young children by a Palestinian terrorist in a terrorist attack on Kibbutz Metzar in 2002. The tragic story, which actually expresses the hope that failed, led to the creation of the film “States of UnBeloging” which will also be screened in Dokaviv.

An article about the case in the New York Times ignited the American director’s interest in a woman who was found dead on the other side of the world. A process that Sachs itself defines as an obsession. This is how she creates the abstract portrait of Ohayon on screen in parallel with her exchange of messages with an Israeli student named Nir Zetz. While she is drawn to the character of Ohayon from a place of residence in New York, Zetz provides her with sights and voices from Israel. Among other things, Revital’s brother and her ex-husband Avi Ohayon are interviewed for the film. Sachs eventually finds herself drawn not only to the life of the film’s subject but also to the landscapes in which she lives, has acted and created. At the end of the process, she takes action and arrives in Israel and deals with her complex relationship with the state.

“I was so obsessed with her,” Sacks recalls, revealing that Revital and the issues in the film come to mind to this day, “I remember calling Avi Ohayon over and over again until he agreed to answer me. I think he was afraid to talk to me. Lots of things happened. I located Brother. She’s in New York and he’s the one who gave me all the home videos. He never even watched them. It was too traumatic for him. I could not stop thinking about her. The only thing that disappointed me in the drift to her story is that I did not connect to the movies she made. I really disturbed myself for a few days – I told myself I must love her work. I tried to convince myself that it’s okay because she’s more of a film teacher than a filmmaker and that’s okay because I also teach film. And anyway you can not expect everything to fit. Anyway I was so Wrapped in the need to look at the world through her eyes. “

Through the film you develop a very strong point of identification with Revital, but it is not drawn to the burning rage that was our Israeli share at the time of the second intifada, and refrains from expressing aspirations for revenge on the terrorist Sirhan Sirhan who committed the heinous crime.

“I have a great anger towards all the killers wherever they are, but not specifically towards him,” she explains, “People act as part of a group and they do such and such things on its behalf. I think what he did is a terrible and shocking violent thing, but the reality in which he lives is “I was terribly violent and shocking. I did not spend much time thinking about him. There are a lot of people who do such things on both sides. I may need to find ways to express my anger.”

Although Sachs enjoys the personal, her film is inevitably also seen as part of the general political context, in which different people expected her to represent a different side in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. “Following the film, I was on several panels regarding BDS, and with me sat some Jewish-American artists whose position was that Israel should be completely boycotted. I, on the other hand, tried to find a place to have a dialogue and visit Israel to talk to peace activists in the country.” She says, and clarifies that although she found herself identifying with Revital who was murdered by a Palestinian, she was usually looking for the complexities. “When I started working on the film, there was an expectation that it would be a protest demonstration against terrorism directed against Israel,” she explains, “but there are several types of terrorism. There is gun terrorism, and there is military terrorism that is institutionalized and much larger. But I tried to avoid it.”

This must have caused confusion in quite a few people.

“When I submitted the film to the Jerusalem Film Festival, I had to coordinate the delivery of the copy. I called the office and talked to a member of the festival staff who told me that none of the competition judges would like the film. And when I wondered why he said: ‘Obviously it’s a very Zionist film. And when I asked him why he thought it was necessarily a Zionist film he said it was because I was focusing on a woman killed in a terrorist attack. When I explained that I was trying to look at it in a more complex way, he said: ‘Well, then maybe they would like the film.’ Preface about my work. Then when I came to the festival in 2006 I was very excited, but then the Second Lebanon War started. I remember hearing explosions and the organizers said to me: ‘Do not worry, these are just fireworks for Bastille Day. Besides, the fighting is 240 kilometers away. “As soon as I heard that, I packed my things and immediately took a taxi to the airport. It was so disappointing.”

Unfortunately, Saks will no longer be able to close the circle and reach Israel. Then it was the crippling fear of terror and war, and now it’s the corona. “After experiencing the New York twin disaster up close, I still thought it uncomfortable to embark on a journey to another place on the globe where so much violence is taking place. Honestly, I was scared,” she admits, “so I convinced myself I could understand this fragile place from a distance. It was An effort to make an anti-documentary film. I did not want to see, hear or smell myself, but to trust my imagination. Eventually, I devoted myself to the documentary filmmaker in me and in 2005 I flew to Tel Aviv to complete the filming from there. Mine, so among other things to see so many young soldiers in the streets and the voices of the muezzin from the mosque. In the film I tried to filmfully capture these moments of discovery. Observations of a society that has tensions in the shadow of war and that cultural differences are part of routine. Which relied on the media.”

Docs in Orbit / Masters Episode – Lynne Sachs – Part 2

Docs in Orbit / Masters Episode LYNNE SACHS PART 2 Transcript

Page Link:  https://www.docsinorbit.com/masters-edition-in-conversation-with-lynne-sachs

You can also listen to the interview here:
https://soundcloud.com/user-744431761/masters-edition-in-conversation-with-lynne-sachs-part-2

DOCS IN ORBIT – INTRO 
Welcome back to part two of our Master Edition Episode featuring the highly acclaimed feminist, experimental filmmaker and poet, Lynne Sachs. 

In the first part of the episode, Lynne Sachs spoke about how feminist film theory has shaped her work and her approach to experimental filmmaking. 

We also discussed her collaborative process in her past films including, TIP OF MY TOUNGE and her short documentary film A MONTH OF SINGLE FRAMES (for Barbara Hammer) which is currently available to screen at Sheffield Doc/Fest until the end of this August. 

Today, we continue the conversation about her latest feature length documentary film, FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO.

FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO is perhaps one of Lynne’s most personal works and the longest of her collaborations. Filmed over a period of 35 years, Lynne Sachs collected interviews with her father, her siblings and other family members in an attempt to understand the web that connects a child to their parent and a sister to their siblings. 

With a nod to the Cubist renderings of a face, 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 critics and programmers have described FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO as “a divine masterwork of vulnerability that weaves past and present together with ease.”    

I definitely consider this film essential viewing for filmmakers who lean towards the personal. 

FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO had its world premiere at Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. It then went on the screen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of Documentary Fortnight, and will be having it’s international premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest in Autumn. 

Lynne also briefly speaks about her writing process, and her book, Year by Year Poems. 

Christina: 
I think we should go to Film About A Father Who (2020), which was shot over a period of 35 years, and it’s described as a portrait of your father, though actually I think in your film, you say it’s not a portrait of your father. 

Lynne: 
The convention of a portrait is sort of one facade. And as I was making that film, I started to think about Cubist paintings, portraits, let’s say – Pablo Picasso made portraits of his daughter, Maya Picasso, or, you know, there, there’s a way that you see multiple facades at the same time, multiple sides of a person. And so I think we tried to, together myself and my siblings construct, an understanding of our father, which I think basically any child, whether that child knew their parents or not, you try to have a mental image of them in order to understand how you yourself can move forward. 

So, in some ways it’s like a failed portrait because I certainly didn’t have access to all of the things that one might think that one should ask, but I actually was able to finish it when I realized that the pursuit of knowledge of my father, which might lead me to understand myself and my family better was what the film was. It was a pursuit. It’s driven the desire to paint a picture of a person, but it also has lots of holes because that’s kind of the way we can, we can know anybody else or not know.

Christina
And it’s also a very moving pursuit and I appreciate and am grateful for all your films and this one in particular. So 35 years though – so  can you talk a little bit about what was the first kernel of the idea? So where did the film start in terms of process and what the motivation to begin filming your father? 

Lynne:
I’d probably say in a very typical way that perhaps as a going back years as a young woman, I was both enchanted by my father and deeply exasperated by him. And, I wanted him to be like everybody else’s dad, and yet he wasn’t. 

There’s always this impulse by children to be both conventional and invisible and to be a little different. And so I was kind of in a quandary about that. 

And, from an early age, I knew my father was not monogamous, even before I knew the definition, that word.

I saw him as letting down my mom, or I saw him as going from one girlfriend to the next or one wife to the next. And, and, and it seemed like he was always kind of indulging his own interests and I felt like resentful of that while I also was completely enamored with my dad and the sense that he was very loving to me, he respected my work as a student and as an artist and – 

Practically every film I’ve ever made, my father was there for the premiere in that old fashioned way. Like, does your father come to the spelling bee? If you’re a good speller come to, you know, I never was a good speller, but he would come to things and clap, but it was all the other stuff that was sort of the in between things that he couldn’t necessarily be counted upon.

And, there was a point where I started making films, which was in the mid eighties. And then by 1991, I said, Oh, I’m like, I make experimental documentaries.  And maybe I feel connected enough to my work as an artist then maybe it could be part of my own process of understanding who my dad is and who I am in relationship to it. 

So in 91, I consciously thought I’m making a film with and about and around. And, and despite my dad, and he loved the idea and he was seemingly cooperative, in his own way. So he’d say things like we’re losing light then, or, you know, that’s a cut or all that kind of movie language.  

It became truly like a running joke in my family. “Oh, Lynne’s making her dad film again.” 

So I had high tapes and mini DV tapes and 16 millimeter that I just kept shooting for all those decades, And then I kept being really baffled. I had to make it, and I felt there were two reasons. I think why I finish it, initially.

And one was that it was hard, painful to make. And my other films gave me more joy at got point.

And then second of all, when I dare to look back at the material at shot on these cameras that now seem to obsolete video cameras or film cameras I’d look at the footage. I was very judgmental. 

I thought it was horrible because I was trying to deal with my personal life. At the same time I was, I was making a movie and I felt aesthetically that it was very compromised.

And then about three years ago, I said, I have to finish the film because I needed to move on to the next phase of my life, whatever that may be. 

I saw my dad get older, though keep in mind you grow older at the same rate that I grow older at the same rate that he does, we do it day by day. But he was having some problems with his speech so I didn’t think I’d get very much further with our conversations. 

Christina: 
So 35 years of footage, so it’s um, I can’t imagine how much footage that you amassed over that period of time.  

And, I was totally in this film from the very first shot where we see this shared moment between you and your father. And it’s a very recognizable moment. It’s very touching. It’s – you’re with him, you’re, you’re giving him a haircut which so many daughters do to their, to their fathers. And it immediately establishes a relation between two people between you and your father. 

And for me, this relation is carried out through the film, and this closeness, but also the acceptance of the pain that comes with this closeness. 

And you come back to this similar shot in the end where we see you both on the sofa, watching a film together. And by the time we get to both of you sitting together, there’s meaning in that image because we’ve kind of been on a journey of, of, uh, of your reckoning with him. 

So I wanted to ask, I mean, I just think that these, the beginning finding that the beginning of the ending are just so powerful for me. I wanted to ask about how it was finding the opening and the closing of the film.

Lynne: 
Clearly you are asking this as a filmmaker, so I love it. Because when we’re editing work, especially work, that wasn’t shot with the, with the kind of structure in mind, we’re always looking for the shape of the work. 

There are a few images that I knew would in a sense, like a balloon, would inflate with meaning for the audience. The audience would be able to create that fullness based on your immersion in these 74 minutes.

The image of the brushing of the hair on the cutting is kind of repeated, but the first time it’s like a gesture, like a woman, you don’t even know maybe this is the daughter, but I needed to land myself as filmmaker. 

For example, when you’re making a movie, do you put a film by, or directed by at the beginning? I didn’t want to do that. So I had to leave my fingerprint pretty early. So the fingerprint was actually on the scissors in a way. 

Like if you saw scissors in a film, it’s kind of like MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA and you see Dziga Vertov’s Elizaveta Svilova, I don’t know how to pronounce her name, but you see her with the scissors cutting that film, you know, that she edited that film.

So you see this person with scissors and there’s something that says this person might be involved on a deeper level. 

So, by the time you get to the end and you see the two of us sitting on the couch, or you see my cutting of the hair again, you know, you know who I am.

And  it’s tricky because do you give ideas for yourself? I didn’t, you know, like there’s a lot of like little details that you’re trying to work out. 

But I really appreciate your thinking about the visuals in that way because I try to make films that aren’t so dependent on dialogue. And especially a movie like this, when you don’t have the chance to direct people and you can’t say, “can you do it that again?” 

So you have to take those images that have resonance beyond the plot or beyond the conversations. And I tried not to have anything that I would call a B roll in any of my footage. So the B roll the convention of the B roll, which is just backdrop to voiceover, like, Oh, well, let’s go into that folder called B roll. And then it doesn’t have any resonance, it’s filler and no shots should be filler. 

The B roll folder or envelope should be those images like that resonate beyond the story.

There’s one other shot in the film that I used that lasted about seven minutes, but I use it three times. And it’s the image of the children. Me and my siblings like out in the, in a little stream bed in the rocks, and you hear my father because he shot it. It was shot on VHS. It was kept in a garage for like 30 years. It’s very degraded. 

But to me, that image is so important because it has this fatherly resonance, where a father is shooting a home movie and also being a little bossy and also getting irritated and also lovingly recording his own children with his camera.  

And I think it’s shot exquisitely. Like, you know, when we talk about a classical image that takes on a triangle shape and everything kind of moves in towards the center of the, of the frame. 

So I use that film three times and it’s not that the image was repeated. It’s continued. I don’t like to repeat the same shot, but as it continues, I hope it does what you suggested earlier that each time you engage with it in a deeper and deeper way.

Christina: 
So yeah, this takes me to ask about the editing – so how did the editing process work on this film?

Lynne
I’m really glad you asked that because I wanted to talk about one extremely important person, and that is Rebecca Shapass. So she is a young artist who was a student of mine when I was teaching at NYU. 

And she, about three years ago became my studio assistant meaning she comes to my editing room, studio space a couple of times a week and we work all different kinds of things. 

And I said, one of the things we’re going to do is go through all the tapes and transcribe them. And what was so liberating was as we were doing that, which we did for a year, she was never judgmental. She was never kind of, Oh my God. 

You know, she would just listen and she would ask me questions – such good questions that, I said, Hmm, I think she understands this material in a way, with a level of detachment that I cannot get. 

I cannot edit this form by myself. I can’t, because I’m always trying to contextualize, I’m always trying to apologize for situations. 

Like, I think women do that a lot and sorry to make a generalization, but – 

Christina
You are apologizing right now. 

Lynne: 
Yeah. I just apologize. Right. But we take situations for which we have no control and we still apologize. So I think that I was going to do that throughout and even the film would have become a big apology problem. 

So by working with Rebecca over the course of three years, and we worked on other things as well, uh, it became more fun and fun is key. It became more about making a film rather than just excavating material that I found very upsetting to look at. 

And, she was sitting at the keyboard and I was next to her. So when we were transcribing, sometimes I would be typing and she would be moving through Premiere and vice versa. 

And so, within a few months, I realized that nothing embarrassed me, and that was a breakthrough. She just was so open to work with. And supportive. And I think she learned a lot. I’m sure the most complicated film she ever edited. So it was a breakthrough for both of us. So that helped a lot.  

Christina
That’s great, I was also going to ask about managing the vulnerability. And so, it sounds like she was integral in being able to distance you from the material and also having fun with it as well. 

Lynne: (01:33:58)
Yeah, and it’s not just Rebecca now because I’ve now shared it with a lot more people than Rebecca. And that was emotionally pretty hard, but also has led to so many interesting interactions with people that I still, I feel okay about it. So, um, but I wasn’t sure how I would feel because this, you know.

I made a film, for example, the House of Science, that’s super personal, but it’s also very generic. Like I’m talking about women’s experiences, even though I kept a diary, it could have been a diary button, woman. But this story is very much my story. And so it has layer of vulnerability that, um, you know, which is tricky.

Christina:
Yeah. I think it’s brave. I think these types of films are really compelling because they’re so honest. 

Christina: (01:39:06)
There are a couple moments in this film that, um, that I wanted to kind of pull out and have you speak about, uh, I think because they’re, they’re reflexive, they’re, there’s this like self reflexive. 

There’s this moment where it’s a young age, you you’re, you’re it’s you at it as a young filmmaker, seemingly talking to your father. I think your father might actually be filming you you’re outside on a patio and introducing the idea of like, why you’re going to be doing this project…

And the second, the second moment that I wanted to kind of pull out and have you talk about is I think it might’ve been your brother who said it, which is very self reflexive and it’s that “you and Dana liked to ask dad for things that he won’t give you.” 

And  after that, you talk about, um, the motivation for this and about understanding your father and about using the lens as a way to capture the reality in a sense.  And it’s a moment in the film where it’s actually about the film. It’s like, you, we understand why you’re actually making this film so yeah, cause you’re talking about moments in the film.

Lynne: (01:40:03)
I really appreciate your picking both of those moments. And I think that those are definitely examples of material that initially I might have thought would not be included in the film. And that’s one of the reasons I would share, like with any, um, young filmmaker to cut your home movie and then to go back and look at the sections that you dismissed because they weren’t, they weren’t useful enough or they were, they were hard to understand orally or they were, they were about the making an initial reason. Well, why would I include something about the making when I’m making it? And then you go back and they, you, that that’s kind of the glue that content sections together. 

So, um, when my brother’s cutting, um, telling me that, that I do a certain thing at first, I’m going to feel like how dare you tell me, but then I realized that he is looking at the rhetoric of filmmaking.

Lynne: (01:41:16)
So the part of the rhetoric of documentary filmmaker is to ask the questions that we think people won’t answer, but to ask them again and again and again, so he’s a fiction filmmaker and I’m a, my brother Ira is a fiction filmmaker. So he’s not, he’s not standing in front of those walls because he writes stories, but I’m a documentary filmmaker more so, so I’m constantly being put in front of situations that I’m trying to enter, but there are so many walls that come in front of come, come before me. 

There’s also a process of therapy. You could say, which I’m not trying to say the film is therapy, but I think Ira recognized that part of the maturation process is to recognize things that you cannot control. 

like to recognize where you, the point at which you cannot shape other people.

And I think that, um, my sister and I were always expecting our dad to come around and to be what we wanted him to be. And I think that’s, that’s part of like eventually becoming a mature human being is to recognize that people are who they are.

And so maybe my filmmaking was, it’s a series of chapters in which I’m constantly trying to figure out who he is, but also who I am in relationship to it. And so there’s that section, where we’re sitting on a patio and another one of the many visits where my father came to see me, which he’s always done. And I was living in San Francisco at the time.

And so he’d come and we’d do things like eat meals or go to Alcatraz. And I’d say, now I have to make my movie dad, I’m going to ask you the same old questions and we’d sit. And I was really a young filmmaker. So I sat on a patio. 

And the sound was horrible. And I didn’t think I could even use that. I never even considered using it because it sounded so bad. And then I realized that it’s this opportunity to look at myself as a younger person and to see that, that I was trying to reveal to him what I was trying to do. You know, I’m making a film about you sort of, and other things at the same time. And I’m, I, I actually love in film and audio until I love when people can’t find the right word.

I’d rather I watch somebody in search of meaning and have them sit there for like, I think in a film when there’s a pause, then the audience has a place to enter in wonder there’s an anticipation. I think pauses are great, but there’s very few of them in documentary they’re always filled with music or this or that. 

So like you brought up that point that I was searching for my words. And I think that now that I look back at it, even though it’s flawed, because I didn’t know what to say, it has this opportunity for the viewer to think about process.

Christina: (01:45:13)
Yeah. I love that though. Yeah, it is about the acknowledgement of process in film, in your films. Um, and you do it in so many of them. I mean, it’s definitely a part of your style, a part of your language is to include in there the process a bit. 

I want to get to your writing and your process of writing, because that’s also another element that is in your work. It’s constantly popping up. I mean, you’re, you’re a poet. The language is very beautiful in all of your films. Um, the way that you described situations and then also in your year by your poems book, that accompanies the film Tip of My Tongue. Um, so can you talk a little bit about your approach to writing?

Lynne: (01:48:25)
Um, actually that could be another thread of like, I could explore through a lot of my work going back to, uh, the film house of science, which has a lot of writing, um, diary writing. And you hear, you actually hear the sound of my urinating at the same time that you see the, the, the words handwritten words on the screen. And what I tried to do all the way along in my work was to, to, to take writing as a, as a method of, of getting in touch with the internal voice. 

So instead of saying writing is for writers, um, which so many people do. They’re like they say, you know, I make films and I’m not a writer, but, but in a sense, writing is about introspection. It’s just accessing that introspection. That’s kind of the, you know, you could say the calling card of the essay film or you, I know you’re interested in Chris Marker.

There’s a way that he would write, for example, in Sans Soliel, he would write as if he were writing from a woman’s voice or a woman reading a letter from a man. And there were all these kinds of iterations of the writing process. So I think that the writing is very active. It’s not just a kind of skill that you have, or you don’t have, but it’s an engagement with your present moment, as well as your past and how those, through writing, we can integrate the present and the past. 

That is something that’s really hard to do with the image. We look at the image and we say, “Oh, that’s like an archival image. So it’s in the past.” Or we see some new images, so it’s present. But in writing we can have this fluidity through time.

And I’m also really interested in writing as a gesture. 

So I mentioned the part about the writing in IN HOUSE OF SCIENCE, I have the sound of the pencil on the paper, or the sound – we write in our heads. 

If you think of writing as just an access to what is on your mind, what is concerning you, especially during the pandemic, what is of utmost importance to you or how you respond to things, then it’s a bit like writing is a validation of your mind. 

Christina:
Right, and I think that’s what I appreciated in your, by your poems is the process is again, it’s the, you put the process in everything, whether you’re making a film or whether you’re writing a book or publishing a book of poems, you have the poem, but then you also have the scrap of paper that the poem was written on in its earlier form – and I go back and forth when you were kind of brainstorming what that poem be. Um, so it’s really, it’s really, uh, uh, nice to be able to see that. 

Lynne: 
I really liked that you say you go back and forth, because usually a book like a film moves in a progression from page one to page 64 or from minute one to minute 74. And we as an audience or as a reader, we expect everything to move forward. 

And I think one of the experimental aspects to that book is that your eyes can move in various ways. You can move from the top of the page to the bottom. You can move left to right. You can go backwards and forwards. And so there’s a kind of freedom that’s different. And I think that was exciting to me as a graphic.  And also because it’s built on a chronology and we physically cannot go backwards in time, but through filmmaking and through writing and poetry, we can.

Christina: 
And, so, Year by Year Poems, your book of poetry, where can we find that? 

Lynne: (02:22:09)
Well, of course it’s on Amazon, but it’s also on small press distribution, which is a fantastic not for profit, but it’s on bookshop.com. Pretty much any place that you buy or order books, it’s available. 

Christina 
And I highly recommended it as a birthday gift! Thank you so much! 

DOCS IN ORBIT – OUTRO 

Thanks for listening. And head over to our website, docsinorbit.com that include links to films and articles referenced in this episode. 

This podcast was produced by Panda Ray Productions. 

With music by Nayeem Mahbub in Stockholm. And Produced by Christina Zachariades in Brooklyn. Special thanks to Sylvia Savadjian. And for more goodies follow us on twitter, instagram and facebook for all the updates.  

Docs in Orbit / Masters Episode – Lynne Sachs – Part 1

Docs in Orbit / Masters Episode LYNNE SACHS PART 1 Transcript

Page Link:  https://www.docsinorbit.com/masters-edition-in-conversation-with-lynne-sachs

You can also listen to the interview here:
https://soundcloud.com/user-744431761/masters-edition-in-conversation-with-lynne-sachs

DOCS IN ORBIT – INTRO 
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 part one of a two part conversation with the remarkable and highly acclaimed feminist, experimental filmmaker and poet, Lynne Sachs.  

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 a 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, BAMCinemaFest, 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, and other venues, including retrospectives in Argentina, Cuba, and China.

She’s also received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts and 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, FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO is presented alongside a curated selection of five of her earlier films.

I caught up with Sachs recently to discuss the many aspects of her work, including feminist film theory, experimental filmmaking, and her collaborative approach. We also discuss her short film, A MONTH OF SINGLE FRAMES (FOR BARBRA HAMMER), which is currently available at Dokufest until August 25th.  

Christina:
I’m just so grateful to have you here today. I have to first say that I’m emerging from this journey of reviewing many of your films and your work over the past 30 years, as well as a video lecture, MY BODY YOUR BODY OUR BODIES: SOMATIC CINEMA AT HOME AND IN THE WORLD, which is a fascinating guide through your work and evolution as a filmmaker. And it’s also available online. I’ll include links to all of this on the website so that our listeners are able to easily find it.

You know, it’s kind of very difficult to figure out where to start after reviewing so much of your work, but I figured maybe it would be nice to just kind of start off with what has shaped you as a filmmaker?

Lynne:
First of all, I wanted to say that it’s very interesting to talk to someone who has taken that journey through my work, because one of the things that I think is very much an aspect of my way of making films is that they are so interconnected with my own life. 

So if you saw my film, THE HOUSE OF SCIENCE, you’d see that I write within it. I keep journals within it. And I talk a lot about the day that I left for college and I had this male gynecologist, I went to check in with him and get some birth control, but I wasn’t even sure where my cervix cervix was. 

And then you all the way to my more recent films from 20 years ago, and they were a lot about having children. And then in between that there’s films that include a lot of travel and a kind of exploration as a young filmmaker. 

And then, I have a whole group of films that I made usually in the town where I lived. So partially in Baltimore and a lot in New York. And that was maybe because I didn’t believe that documentary film had to come with a big, expensive airplane ticket. And also I had young children at a certain point. 

So there’s a kind of way that each film, whether in subject or in execution, reflects what was going on in my life, in those decades.

Christina:
There is this very personal aspect of your work as well. This link of what’s happening historically in the world around you, but then also through the lens of how it connects to something that you’re experiencing. 

And I love that you mentioned this notion of going to your gynecologist, because there is also another element of your work that is very much exploring feminism. In a lot of your previous lectures of when you were talking about or writing about what has been influential, you mentioned feminist film theories in your work, and I would love to hear from you- I know it’s a big topic – but what feminist film and feminist filmmaking means to you and why it’ s still important today.

Lynne:
I think that in the world of that it has built up around the film industry. There’s been an enormous emphasis on access to the means of production. Are women able to break into the hierarchy and even climb or be given the opportunity to access the top. 

So there’s this idea that you become a director and therefore you have accomplished what any other woman would want to do. 

But unfortunately that does not necessarily come with what maybe you or I would call a feminist sensibility. So there is this breaking of the glass ceiling on the level of job opportunities, but then once you’re there, you’re still replicating what the men have already done. 

So important filmmakers and thinkers around film who’ve really shaken me up on the level of image making and encouraged or compelled me to, to bring a feminist commitment to my work would probably start with Maya Deren

She’s probably the best known grandmother. And I say that in this very broad way. She was a grandmother to many men also. But this person who believed in the possibility for personal filmmaking to break through, to be accessible to many people and in the process to speak to her own experience, which was a woman’s experience. 

And then thinking about theory, I would say, Laura Mulvey’s article on Visual Pleasure, because I think even putting those two things together, visual pleasure –  and she was writing about narrative cinema. We look at art for pleasure. Yes, we eat food for pleasure, and we travel for pleasure, and we do many things, but art also offers that.

But if the visual pleasure is replicating the desires of a male cinematographer or director, then what she is asking us. And she did this in the early seventies. What she’s asking is, is that really progress? 

So Maya Deren, Laura Mulvey, and then I think other people writing on film, who demanded that we not only talk about women’s experiences, but be very vulnerable in our openness to talking about the body, because that’s what distinguishes us from men. 

I think a kind of hero in that respect would be Carolee Schneemann, who was a great performance artist, conceptual thinker and filmmaker.

Christina:
Yeah, so it’s not just about being able to give a woman a camera and access to making a film, but it’s about actually putting on screen, the way that a woman sees the world, the way that a woman sees her body and it not being through the lens of this male perspective

Lynne:
Yeah.. How the body is framed and how we articulate a point of view and being really thoughtful about that. And eventually, maybe there’s the, there will come a time where we don’t have to be as self-conscious, it will just happen. But I think right now we have to investigate that. 

And I think particularly in the year, 2020, we also have to look at how the articulation or the expression is also open to a kind of freedom around race too. A freedom of expression that’s not tied down to stereotypes and tied down the burden of what, what cinema has done for so long in terms of how women and women of color have been represented.

Christina:
Yeah, and I was going to ask about this because this feminist movement in cinema, as you had mentioned, has been around since the seventies. And you were exploring that when you were in college as well in the eighties, and reading about these theories and then taking your camera up to the roof and exploring the way bodies were represented in film. But how about today? What more can you say about how this is still important?

Lynne:
I think one of the people who kind of broke through our, our way of thinking would be bell hooks. She writes a great deal about those forms of representation.  I personally have been very influenced by Kara Walker’s work, and by the imagery that she boldly has presented to the world of art. 

Then there’s a few filmmakers whose work has been very influential to me. These Black women filmmakers. Cauleen Smith is a super interesting filmmaker. Her work is very much about Afro surrealism. 

I actually really liked the way Ja’Tovia Gary integrates these interview processes. She takes a kind of a convention of the reporter on the street, but she has this intimacy at the same time, which I find very empowering as a woman, you know, like let’s do it the old fashioned way with this phallic thing, the microphone, but let’s do it in this way that’s like female bonding. So I love, I really love her work.

Christina:
Yeah, I do too. It was one of the delights to discover at Hot Docs this year. I think it’s been around for a while, that short film, but I had only come to see it when it was on display at Hot Docs. 

So another thing that you’re known for … I’m trying to pull the threads of how to describe you as a filmmaker and the adjectives that are most commonly used and the word feminist always comes up, but then also experimental filmmaker.

For me, this is very visible in your work and how you play with textures in your films. I would describe your work as being very idea centric, not so much plot driven, but it’s very much that there’s a thought in the center that you’re exploring and you’re using film as a way to bring that to life. 

So can you speak a little bit about this idea of experimental filmmaking and what that means for you?

Lynne:
I really appreciate your saying that because I actually do think the kernel, the seed is a thought and there’s an expectation in documentary film that we start with a story.  And that I feel a bit resentful of because story also applies to plot also applies to the whole condition or expectations of literature as in you have a protagonist or character, and everything is revolving around that character. 

And I find that to be kind of derivative. So if you, with an idea, as you’ve suggested, then the aesthetics have to build up around that and they have to take on a more complex approach. 

So, if I have an idea or a curiosity or something I want to investigate, then I have to think about how I will hold the camera? You were talking about texture, how will I hold the camera to make that evident?

Or sometimes it goes the other way. Does the fact that the camera shook give you the sense that we have doubt? So there’s a give and take between process instead of always judging what you did. 

Like if you did something all by yourself, the production values are often let’s say disappointing on first view. 

But if the idea rises to the top, the idea says to you, well those obstacles, those production value obstacles actually lead us to something more real. Revealed something about the situation, for example, that you were shooting in a place where you felt scared. 

Those things can come through the texture, but the problem with, what I think a conventional approach to documentary is there’s always this expectation that you’re going for something that’s perfect that follows a template that is beautiful in the most obvious ways. 

But sometimes beautiful is opaque and not so beautiful adds a transparency of process that actually can be very stimulating to the viewer. 

I mean, I really believe we’re sick of looking at the perfect image.

And actually you were asking about theory, and I would say another big influence is the German theorist and filmmaker, Hito Steyerl. She definitely identifies as highly conceptual and highly committed to the documentary impulse. 

She wrote this article about the perfect image versus the degraded image. She sort of thinks it’s really interesting to look at the degraded image, the one that you find on the internet and how it moves from hand to hand, and that we become aware of its demise and we see all like all its wrinkles. Instead of thinking it has to be like fresh out of the camera and an unaffected by its life journey.

Christina:
Another aspect of your work that really drew me / collaboration is a really important element in your process. Somewhere I read that there’s a point in your career as a filmmaker where you note this shift in your approach, as you begin to consider your subject as a collaborator. Can you speak a little bit about this and how it shaped sort of where that insight kind of came from and how it shaped the work that you do now?

Lynne:
I’ve had this notion that historically in filmmaking, that actors are, have been treated like props, especially women. So if you allow those participants to become creatively involved, I actually think they feel more, there’s more gratitude.

Maybe that’s part of a kind of feminist resistance to the power that comes with being a director that’s never about listening? Like in my film TIP OF MY TOUNGE, I wanted that film to be a lot about listening – my listening to the people in the film and they’re listening to each other and not just about my directing.

Christina:
I think, for me, that’s very resonant in your work. So I want to talk a little bit about that film also, but within the context of collaboration, because I’m really intrigued by the nature of your collaborations, because there’s always a degree of it and it’s really interesting to look at, I’ll just pick three – 

Tip of My Tongue, and then Film About a Father Who, and A Month of Single Frames. So I think these three films, maybe we can just talk about these three films and the collaborative nature of them?

LYNNE:
I also thought about Which Way is East, which I made with my sister. Yeah, this could be interesting, like in a curatorial way, I hadn’t thought about it. 

In TIP OF MY TONGUE, it’s a film that started off with a collection of poems that I wrote for every year of my life, between 1961 and 2011, 2011 was the year I turned 50, but it took me about five years to write all those poems. 

And then I started to think about, well, why do I just want to know about my own experience, this sort of documentary maker in me reared its head and said, well, how would other people who lived in Iran or lived in Australia or lived in the Netherlands – how would they have seen those years from very distinct different points of view?

So I am the director of it, but a big part of it was bringing this group of people together. And I didnt say I was making a movie, I just said I’m looking for people to collaborate on a project and I’m looking for people who were born between 1958 and 64.

A couple of them were friends, but others had been recommended like, Oh, I know a woman from Iran and she lived those exact years. And, you know, so I figured, okay, when I was graduating from high school and worrying about whether I was going to go to the prom, she was dealing with a revolution. 

And we spent three days basically living together and talking to each other and I filmed it. And then I tried to, in a sense, collaborate with the city of New York, which was the only thing all of us have in common. We all lived in New York at that point, and so New York also becomes a collaborator with us as a backdrop and also as unifying aspect of our lives. 

And so, what I did was I got together with them and I did an audio interview and I asked them to pick five moments in their lives where a public event affected something very personal or transformed or allowed them to understand something very intimate in their own lives. 

So that was the prompt. That became a way by which they could think about Richard Nixon, or they could think about the first moon landing or they could think about 9-11. Some of those are more obvious than others. 

So we processed that and filtered those mate, those big events through our own lenses and experiences. 

Once I had those interviews, then I started to see intersections between the stories. And then I came back to them and acted a little bit more like Director. 

So I have all this openness, anything goes, and then when we actually shot everything was storyboarded.

I think there’s an interesting connection between something you brought up earlier, which is the idea. I think the link between the idea and the aesthetics has to do with finding formal strategies that resonate both conceptually and visually. That’s what I spend all my time thinking about it in the shower. Or dare I say it, driving my car on the subway. Or  I’ll wake up in the middle of the night. I think I need a strategy that works on both of those levels. And I’m very rigorous about that. And if it doesn’t work on both of those levels, then I kind of reject it. And sometimes that takes them years to figure it out.

Christina:
Right. And there’s different, I imagine, drafts of strategies that you’re trying and trying and trying until you finally find one that does work.

Lynne:
Yeah, sure. So that’s the process for that film. So maybe I’ll go on to A Month of Single Frames?

Christina:
Yes! Please!

Lynne:
So A Month of Single Frames is a film I made with Barbara Hammer who was a renowned lesbian, experimental filmmaker. And she always said intersectional; lesbian, experimental, and filmmaker, all all once! Woman. 

So, I have known her for about 30 years – she had been a mentor of mine back in San Francisco, which was very formulated for both of us and then we both came to New York. 

Then, just about two years ago, when she knew that she was dying, she came to four different artists and asked, would we like to work with material that she had? 

The material she gave me was uncut, 16 millimeter film that she shot in 1998 of an artist residency. 

And I said to her immediately, Barbara, why didn’t you make this? You’ve been so prolific, why didn’t make it? She said, well, it was too much about me. Which is funny because she made a lot of films about herself. But my feeling was maybe she thought the material was too beautiful. It didn’t have an edge to it. 

So I was faced with its absolute beauty. Cape Cod, and the dunes, and the sunset. The sound effects of the waves and the insects, and all that. 

And so there, I was in a sense collaborating with her work just by editing it. And that didn’t seem like enough. 

So I thought I needed to talk through the material to her and to audiences and even to a more epistemological engagement with cinema. Like, what is cinema? What is it in terms of the way it looks at time at place as it once was and now what has changed? And how does cinema allow two people to be in the same space and not in the same space?

And then I’m in the same space with Barbara, with you as viewer, with anyone who watches the film people. Total strangers. We’re all in the same space. 

So that actually came to me and I just started writing, as you’ve seen, in a lot of my films writing can find its way as voiceover or on the screen.

So the collaboration in a sense for me didn’t really happen until I was able to create my own place in it. Otherwise it was, it was more like, hagiography, and I didn’t want it to just be a portrait of a woman who had recently died. I needed to engage deeper in the deeper way. 

Christina:
You said it’s about cinema. It’s also about the making of cinema too and on that level, it resonated with me. It’s very clear from the beginning, when we hear you setting up the interviews, there’s a very reflexive mode in there. “I’m setting out to collaborate with this filmmaker and make a new creation out of her work”. 

I found it very moving, not just because the images were incredibly beautiful and the soundscape and the way that those worked so well together, but I found it really balanced in terms of the space you gave yourself in the film while you’re paying an homage to Barbara Hammer and her work during that residency.

Lynne:
One of the things that comes about when you’re making a work that uses this word, “about”.  Or we talk about the elevator pitch, like, how can you describe your film in the 20 seconds that you’re on an elevator with someone? And the word that always comes in is “about”. 

That’s the preposition, right? If the object of the preposition is only the name of someone, then I think it’s very reductive. 

But if you can say the about, can become more expanded and more reflective that about is also within, and it can be multiple prepositions, within or underneath or behind or with, like all of those things. 

Then we start to think about our engagement as being more fluid, more unpredictable, and more about point of view. 

So, if I had just said, this is a film about a woman who had cancer, or this is a film about a woman who was a lesbian experimental filmmaker, then you would enter those 14 minutes and you’d come out knowing more like in an educational experience.

Like I know more about Barbara Hammer. Or in, Film About A Father Who, I know more about this filmmaker’s father. But I didn’t want either of those films to function on that narrow a level. I wanted it to be about process and about failure. 

That’s why with A Month of Single Frames, you hear us setting up and you actually hear a place where, Barbara and I are talking about looking through her journal and she kind of gets a little irritated with me cause I don’t find the right part that she should read. 

Normally you would cut that out, because it sort of shows my failures or that I felt pressured, or I really didn’t know what I was doing. 

But if you leave it in, it becomes more human. 

That’s like the calling card of all essay films is those moments where the attempt to do one thing leads to something else and so you go one direction and then you find a kind of obstacle and you go another direction. 

There’s another part of A Month of Single Frames that you might not have noticed, but I almost took it out and it also shows failure. Barbara wanted to animate these little toys and she wanted to film them, but she was there all by herself in this remote shack in Cape Cod. 

So she’d wind up the toys and then she kind of like run back to her camera. But by the time she got your camera, these wind up toys didn’t move anymore. So you actually see her hand and so called “good animators” wouldn’t include the hand moving the toys. They would only include the success. But I actually thought what was more interesting was her attempt to do something which basically failed. 

Christina:
I do remember that. I do remember that bit, but I wasn’t, to me, it was just playful.  

Just to see somebody that is so renowned that, you know, it’s it’s, but at the same time, so devoted to the work as well and seeing how playful she is with her environment, it was just very nice to see.

Lynne:
Well, I think one of the things about that film that’s so extraordinary is that her situation while beautiful is also quite basic. 

And there’s a way that the film validates movie production on a budget. It doesn’t elevate access to funds and to locations. It just sort of says what the barest of tools you can make a movie. And I think that also is super validating and important to remember in our high tech and quite money oriented – our industry is a lot about money. 

So when you see someone who’s working in this very austere way, I think it’s quite (inaudible)

You asked earlier what makes for an experimental film. I think it’s the notion that work can be play and play can be work. That if you allow yourself to play for a while, rather than judging yourself immediately, which we all do, especially when we call it work, we call it work and we don’t think it’s good enough, then we pretty much stop. We censor ourselves and stop. 

But if we move into a realm of play, then  I think we often end up in a place of discovery. 

And Barbara was always doing that. And so she was most definitely a kind of role model for me. 

CHRISTINA:
That was it like when you first received this set of archives and  watching and hearing them for the first time? 

Lynne:
You know, I had a student about three years ago who asked me, why do I make movies? And I guess I kind of gave her an answer. And then I asked her because she was learning to make films. And she said to me, I think I make films because I want to give gifts. 

And I really loved that. I really loved that you do it because you’re sharing something or that you do have an experience that you want someone else to be able to engage with.  And might give them joy. Or might make them feel about the world in a deeper way. 

So, when Barbara gave me this imagery that she had, and she is giving me the gift of witnessing her solitude. So I felt that I needed to enter that experience of solitude and that was a gift that was from her to me. 

So I needed to find a way to give back to her and I knew that it would be posthumous. So I needed to give to her legacy, not just to her. There’s a real exchange between the two of us. 

And it’s interesting to find that I’m referring to her so much now that she’s not with us. I have this very profound belief that when we lose someone, someone who dies, that as much as we don’t want to say their names because it reminds us of them, that each time we say their name, we get  to be with them a bit longer.

I really love when I dream about someone who’s died. And so the film is a little bit like my dream of Barbara that I keep getting to have. 

Because, as you know with anyone who has died in life, you dream a lot about them, and you’re chit chatting with them and having dinner with them and all of that. When they appear in your dream, you feel wistful. And so the film was a little bit like that. 

Christina:
That’s wonderful. It’s actually a really wonderful way to close on, on the film too. 

DOCS IN ORBIT – OUTRO 

Thanks for listening. And make sure to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss part two of the conversation where we discuss more of Lynne’s work, including her feature film, FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO. 

Also, head over to our website, www.docsinorbit.com, for our show notes that include links to films and articles referenced in this episode. 

This podcast was produced by Panda Ray Productions. 

With music by Nayeem Mahbub in Stockholm. And Produced by Christina Zachariades in Brooklyn. Special thanks to Sylvia Savadjian. 

And for more goodies follow us on twitter, instagram and facebook for all the updates.  

“Film About a Father Who” at DocAviv 2020

Film About a Father Who
Doc Aviv
https://www.docaviv.co.il/2020-en/films/film-about-a-father-who/


“Film About a Father Who” will be available from 3/9 at 12AM until 12/9 at 12AM
Follow this link for tickets:
https://docaviv.pres.global/order/71

LIVE Q&A SUNDAY 6/9/ 2020 at 19:00
Lynne Sachs, Filmmaker of States of Unbelonging and Film About a Father Who in conversation with Dr. Laliv Melamed and Nir Zats, co-writer if States of Unbelonging

Register here to attend: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_0aZv_2c1QqiMEqCWECjDGQ


UNITED STATES 2020, 74 MIN, ENGLISH, HEBREW SUBTITLES
How does one paint the portrait of a father who may seem like a chatty, extraverted bon vivant, but keeps the really important parts of his life secret? Artist and filmmaker Lynne Sachs documented her father for 35 years, uncovering his vibrant, unusual, and disturbing persona with the dedication of an archaeologist. Her intimate film slowly unravels the tangled web her father wove: three women, nine children, numerous lovers, and a complicated relationship with his mother, the director’s grandmother.
Years of obfuscations and vague responses from her father have driven the filmmaker to try other avenues of investigation. Determined to solve the mystery, she seeks out siblings and spouses, carefully sewing their insights together into a captivating quilt of sights, sounds, and stories.

The film is screened as part of a tribute to Lynne Sachs, alongside her 2005 work States of Unbelonging.

Previous Festivals: MoMA Doc Fortnight (NYC), Slamdance FF, Sheffield, Sarasota Film Festival, Gimli Film Festival

“From the Outside In: Investigation as a Language In the Films of Lynne Sachs” at DocAviv

From the Outside In: Investigation as a Language In the Films of Lynne Sachs
DocAviv
Sunday, 6/9/2020 
By Dr. Laliv Melamed 
https://www.docaviv.co.il/2020-en/lynne-sachs/

A Conversation with Lynne Sachs, director of Film About a Father Who… and States of Unbelonging, with co-author Nir Zats, moderated by Dr. Laliv Melamed

Lynne Sachs has been making films for over thirty years. Her work is investigative, lyrical, sensitive, and intimate, and her films raise questions about language, narrative techniques, and the cinematic practice itself. Sachs delegates the storytelling work to her subjects—from illegal workers to her own family—letting them negotiate with her camera. Two of her films are screened at this year’s Docaviv: Film about a Father Who and States of Unbelonging. Both film take the viewers on a journey of discovery, but the roads fork many times over and do not lead to definite answers. The discovery, if it exists at all, isn’t always a solution or a revelation, and the journey is internal and external at the same time.

Sachs’ most recent film, Film about a Father Who, is the culmination of thirty years of documentary work—a period as long as her entire professional career. The film’s focus is on her father, Ira Sachs. Sachs Senior is a colorful and licentious type, and his daughter takes his character apart and puts it back together again through the testimonies of his mother, his wives, and his many children, scattered across considerable distances. The film, much like its title, is an unfinished sentence. “This is not a portrait,” she tells us. It is a space she crafts meticulously and laboriously, unraveling and weaving threads with anger and forgiveness, affection and aversion for a father who (…).

In States of Unbelonging (2005), Sachs follows the trail of Revital Ohayon, a film teacher from Metzer, a Kibbutz near the West Bank, who was murdered by a terrorist along with her two children. Having learned about the incident from a newspaper article, Sachs becomes determined to understand this woman, who was as close to her as she was far away. She does this through letters and footage obtained by Nir Zats, an Israeli filmmaker and friend. Driven by an imagined affinity between her and Ohayon, Sachs tries to figure out her relationship with Israel, a torn, wounded nation. “As a documentary filmmaker, I am always reckoning with what it means to shoot from the outside in,” she says. The two films move simultaneously inward and outward, cutting through layers of language, meaning, and identity.

Authored and presented by Dr. Laliv Melamed

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.

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/

Gimli Film Festival Reviews “Film About a Father Who”

Film About a Father Who – Review
Gimli Film Festival 
By Joshua Banman 
July 17, 2020 
https://gimlifilm.com/review-film-about-a-father-who/

Lynne Sachs gives a biography of her father, Ira, using footage she’s captured over the last 30 years in Film About a Father Who. It’s an investigative process as Sachs inspects, discovers, and unpacks what she knows and has learnt of her father, but it becomes something more than a biography as she discovers the many relationships her father has had and the siblings she has.

Film About a Father Who is aesthetically interesting. Sachs compiles footage she’s taken over the last 30 years to bring together moments that are rich and reveal more about what was going on at the time than maybe anyone knew. It’s really impressive what she’s compiled here. She layers that with interviews of Ira’s children, often against shots of conversation, creating something that feels like a memory and that we aren’t sure if we can trust.

The film is moment after moment of revelation and as we learn of Ira’s relationships and offspring. Ira’s children keep discovering each other right up until the end, and so it’s not until Film about a Father Who is over that we realize as much as this is a biography of Ira, it’s an exploration of family dynamics. What are the obligations of a sibling to another sibling when they only share one parent?

We hear how Sachs’ grandmother wouldn’t meet the children from Ira’s second marriage because she couldn’t handle forming the bonds for more and more people the way she thought she was supposed to, and that’s really Ira’s story. He’s constantly making new relationships, and he leaves his mother, children, and his partners having to discover for themselves what his new relationships mean for them.

That’s not to say that Ira is a villain by the end of the story. Sach’s lens and writing are compassionate while being honest, an impressive balance when she is so close to the story herself. Sach’s truth-seeking makes for a compelling experience and while we only feel like we’re beginning to open the book on who her father was by the end of the film, we get the sense that we have arrived at the same spot of Sachs and her siblings.

In Their Own League – Sheffield Doc/Fest Exclusive Review: ‘Film About a Father Who’

Sheffield Doc/Fest Exclusive Review: ‘Film About a Father Who’
In Their Own League
Review By Bianca Garner
July 12, 2020
https://intheirownleague.com/2020/07/12/sheffield-doc-fest-exclusive-review-film-about-a-father-who/

Lynne Sachs’ documentaries are quite unlike anything else you will ever see. Poetic, impactful and moving journeys into unique worlds which are rarely captured on-screen, whether it’s the hidden world of laundrettes in her film “The Washing Society” or the world of immigrants sharing a ‘shift-bed’ in “Your Day Is My Night”. Every film feels like it has a personal connection to Sachs, but it is perhaps her latest film, “Film About a Father Who” that is her most personal yet. 

Over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, Lynne shot 8 and 16mm film, videotape and digital images of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., an eccentric businessman from Park City, Utah. What the film ultimately becomes is a study, or rather, an investigation into this mysterious man that Lynne and her siblings (both known and unknown) call father. This is clearly an attempt to separate the man from the myth, but it becomes evidently clear that this is not an easy task to conduct. 

Film About a Father Who still

“Film About a Father Who” opens with the present day, we open with a close-up shot of an elderly man (Ira) having his hair combed. Compared to the different versions of Ira that we see throughout the film, this version seems almost a shadow of his former self, but he still holds onto his secrets, playing his cards close to his chest. Throughout the film we are introduced to the many faces and personas of Ira, but like Lynne and her siblings it’s hard trying to discover the real Ira. 

There’s the savvy businessman, the man we see skiing whilst talking on a cellphone. This version of Ira, we are told, worked from a shoebox and called himself a ‘hippy businessman’ who didn’t want to be defined by his work. It wasn’t really about his work, but the stuff that surrounded his work life.  There was the husband to Lynne’s mother, Dianne. In interviews we hear how she had her doubts about the wedding but loved him and overlooked those issues. “I tried to convince myself that this was what marriages were.” Ira isn’t a “swan” in his own words, he can’t settle down with one mate for life, “I wasn’t suitable for marriage, I didn’t want to burden your mother with that.”

Ira Sachs, Sr. in Park City Utah. From FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO (2020) by Lynne Sachs.

There’s the ‘playboy’ version of Ira. The man who is dubbed the ‘Hugh Hefner of Park City’ and would throw lavish parties. The man with a revolving door of girlfriends and wives. During the documentary Lynne and her siblings comment on how difficult it was to recall all their names. Lynne also contains interviews with some of the prominent wives and girlfriends, such as Diana, his second wife from Bali. Her tale is a tragic one, she was in her own words “naive and so innocent” when she married him and came to the States. However, it isn’t hard to see why women are drawn to Ira, he has this magnetic charm and charismatic presence that Lynne brilliantly captures with her camera. 

Photo collage from Film About A Father Who


And, then there’s also the ‘son’. A son that didn’t want his mother to know that he owned two red Cadillacs and say that he was extragevant. The son who bickers with his eldery mother but also seems to dote on her too. The son who was separated from his mother at an early age only to be reunited years later. Without giving away too many details in this review, this glimpse into the early life of Ira and the trauma that he endured does allow us to gain some understanding into the mystery that is Ira Sachs Sr.

Watching the documentary you can understand Lynne and her siblings’ frustrations and maybe even resentment towards their father especially when it concerns certain details about half-siblings. With “Film About a Father Who” we are presented with the fundamental truth that people are complicated creatures who are sometimes impossible to understand fully. This may frustrate some viewers because we aren’t granted all the explanations and the details are confusing to follow at times, but real life is a tangled mess of names, dates and distant memories.

Ultimately, “Film About a Father Who” is a family home-video like nothing else you’ve ever seen before. This is an interesting film to experience, presented in Lynne Sachs’ beautifully abstract and artistic approach to filmmaking, which some viewers may find alienating but I encourage you to stick with it.  I must offer gratitude to the Sachs’ family for allowing us access into their world and to experience it with them even if it’s just for a short period of time. Raw, honest and eye-opening. “Film About a Father Who” is just like its subject matter, something quite extraordinary.

Please Note: “Film About a Father Who” is to be screened in Sheffield in Autumn, and online on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects in parallel.

https://intheirownleague.com/2020/07/12/sheffield-doc-fest-exclusive-review-film-about-a-father-who/