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Cineaste: “Film About a Father Who”

Film About a Father Who (Web Exclusive)
Reviewed by Darragh O’Donoghue
Spring 2021

Produced, written and directed by Lynne Sachs; cinematography by Lynne Sachs, Ira Sachs Sr., and Ira Sachs Jr.; edited by Rebecca Shapass; music by Stephen Vitiello; sound collages by Kevin. T. Allen; featuring Ira Sachs Sr., Lynne Sachs, Dana Sachs, Ira Sachs Jr., Diane Sachs, and Rose Sachs. Color, 74 min. A Cinema Guild release.

As the British say about buses, you wait ages for an experimental film about an aging patriarch by his daughter, then two come along at once.

In October 2020, Netflix dropped Dick Johnson Is Dead, wherein long-time documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson confronted her retired father’s dementia and mortality by staging elaborate tableaux of his imagined death, involving angels, heaven, funeral services, and missiles falling from the sky. By continually casting her father in these fantasy scenarios, Johnson hoped to postpone his real and inevitable death—and, by the end of the film at least, had succeeded in doing so.

Three months later, Lynne Sachs’s Film About a Father Who was also released virtually. It too centers on a charismatic older man in physical and mental decline. Kirsten Johnson is the co-parent of twins with Lynne’s filmmaker brother Ira, so presumably Lynne knew all about Dick Johnson Is Dead when she was making her own work. Still, it still must have been a little galling to see her three-and-a-half-decades-long project eclipsed by a film that was not only released on the world’s biggest moving image distribution service, but also widely featured and reviewed in the press, culminating in a place on many best film of the year lists, such as Sight & Sound’s, where it ranked number six.

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Filmmaker Lynne Sachs with her father Ira Sachs Sr., the subject of her documentary.

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Kirsten Johnson’s Dick Johnson is Dead, about her father, appeared a few weeks before Sachs’s film (Kirsten Johnson with Dick Johnson).

That said, even had Film About a Father Who been released first, or without Dick Johnson Is Dead as competition, it would not necessarily have attained that film’s visibility or reach. This is partly due to Sachs’s career-long assertion of creative independence and her reluctance to court major studios or platforms like Netflix as so many of her peers have. Sachs is one of those awkward filmmakers with one foot in the art world, where many of her films are screened and even generated (through grants, residencies, fellowships, and the like), and the other in the documentary or essay film world. In practical terms, this means that she has a foot in neither; the art world doesn’t recognize her as a moving image artist (she is not represented by a commercial gallery, the sine qua non for institutional recognition), and her documentaries and essay films don’t conform to the rigid formulae demanded by studios and networks. As a result, Sachs’s exemplary body of work over thirty years has been largely ignored—as far as I am aware, she is yet to receive a feature, interview, or full-length review from any of the major English-language film periodicals. Compare this to the widespread coverage granted the fiction films of her brother Ira, who has engaged with both mainstream distribution and the star system (one movie even stars a former James Bond!). The price for Lynne Sachs’s preciously guarded independence has been critical invisibility. We must try harder.

But the film also resists mainstream co-option by its refusal to offer simplistic characterization or narrative. Dick Johnson is a model of probity, as a professional (he worked as a clinical psychiatrist), husband, and father; a religious man, his path never deviated from accepted norms of middle-class respectability. Ira Sachs Sr. is a sketchier figure, and as a result, Film About a Father Who is a sketchier film. Dick Johnson may feature in various fantasy scenarios, but he remains the same, recognizable person, physically and morally. Ira Sr.’s elusive identities are first signaled by his sundry business cards—he worked as a “hippie” entrepreneur, buying up unpromising tracts of land in remote areas and developing them—as if he were some sort of undercover agent. His latter-day presence as a beaming, seemingly vacant good ol’ boy is supplemented by footage from half a century’s worth of home movies in diverse formats (mostly shot by Lynne and both Iras), interviews past and present with Ira Sr. and his family, photographs, letters, and even vintage commercials.

The documentary or essay film is often compared to a detective story, with an investigator uncovering or sifting through evidence, parsing essential information from a mass of raw data, before arriving at a singular truth and resolution. Film About a Father Who is an antidetective story—the more we discover about Ira Sr., the less we know. A better metaphor for his narrative might be an endless Russian doll, or a defective onion—layers of skin are peeled away to reveal only more layers, although the peeler still ends up in tears.  

This ambiguity and indeterminacy is indicated by Sachs’s title—Film About a Father Who. “A” father, not “my father,” not All About My Father or something. “A father” distances the subject from the film in the manner of a fairy tale or myth, appropriate for a man who wanders in and out of assorted lives with little thought for the havoc he wreaks. “Who”—a father “who” did what? “Who” is Ira Sachs Sr.? The “who” may also reference the popular BBC/NBC television series Who Do You Think You Are? This genealogy format is structured around a subject–detective’s search through the archives and historical sites in order to construct their family tree. These subjects may find out more than they wanted to, but the format—question, quest, revelation, affirmation—never changes. Film About a Father Who shares similar themes and motifs, but its outcome couldn’t be more different.

The film’s conceptual and narrative structures are introduced by two sequences that, at first, seem uncharacteristically labored and literal, but resonate powerfully as the film develops. In the opening sequence, before any voice-over contextualizes what we see, an old man sits having his hair cut by a woman who is eventually revealed as the man’s daughter, and the film’s director Lynne Sachs. The hairdresser’s attempts to unravel the sitter’s matted hair mirrors the work the filmmaker will have to do on the clotted narrative strands of Ira Sr.’s life story. This sexually potent, Jewish alpha-male winces as his hair is manipulated, perhaps reminding us of the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah, the emasculation of a virile hero by his treacherous lover. In its quiet, patient, loving, intimate way, Film About a Father Who is a work of emasculation and betrayal, a feminist critique of patriarchal structures embedded in the family as rigorous as anything by Yvonne Rainer, whose 1974 classic Film About a Woman Who inspired Sachs’s title.  

But that very quiet, patience, love, and intimacy is part of the sequence too—for Lynne Sachs at least, Ira Sr. is a man worth spending time with, not least because he was not always there. The profusion of home movies in Film About a Father Who is misleading, as it occludes the unfilmed gaps when Ira Sr. was not present, when he left his first wife Diane (mother of Lynne, Ira, and their writer sibling Dana) for a trail of other women, including at least one other wife and numerous children. The media-savvy Sachs family—if nothing else, the film can be watched as a history of communications technology, as succeeding generations of cameras, televisions, video formats, and mobile phones appear as part of the familial mise en scène—shoot hungrily today because there may not be anything to shoot tomorrow. The fact that Ira Sr.’s other families were not as technologically adept as the Sachs’s mean that these parts of his life are not visually represented, their documentation dependent on hearsay, rumor, speculation, and oral histories that are occasionally, understandably, embittered. Such camera-free environments may have been part of the appeal of these other lives for a showman who is happy to perform for the camera but shrinks when it tries to peer behind the mask of bonhomie.

In the second key sequence, the now middle-aged Lynne, Ira Jr., and Dana sit on a bed like children, discussing their parents. They differentiate their characters in terms of grammar and punctuation: 

Ira: Mom was providing an example that was much more linear. 

Dana: And stable. There were no question marks when you were in [Mom’s] house, and with Dad’s, there was all question marks. You didn’t know what could happen.

Lynne:  With Mom there was a sense of…I was obsessed with grammar [as a child]. Grammar was worth understanding because once you had grammar you had total transparency. And Mom understood the grammar of…

Dana: In Dad’s life there was no grammar. There was no punctuation—

Lynne: There was no grammar…

Dana: Well, there was punctuation…

Lynne: Exclamation marks!

Dana: And question marks!

Lynne: Exclamation marks and questions marks. With Mom…periods and commas…and the comma gave you a sense, you knew where things went. The thing was, you had the commas and the pause and they were exquisite. They were just right, and you felt affirmed.

Dana: Well, she was steady, and she would keep things in discrete pieces. Life was very…you knew where the boundaries were, and his was always opening up into something. Like a colon opens onto something else—

If the first sequence signifies Lynne’s attempt to unravel the multiple strands of her father’s life, the film proper is an attempt to find a new grammatical form for the unsettlingly open, nonlinear, exploratory, unstructured, opaque, irregular, boundaryless narrative of Ira Sachs Sr., one that could not be contained by conventional film grammar.

This grammar is structured by its subject’s and the film’s relation to time. The classic detective story is defined by time—a crime has been committed that disrupts the flow of time; the detective establishes a chronology of events that restores it. In Dick Johnson Is Dead, Kirsten Johnson tries to stop the flow of time altogether, resulting in a deliberately static, repetitive work—the longer I keep things the same, the longer Dad will stay alive. Film About a Father Who, by contrast, can’t stop time. As edited by artist Rebecca Shapass, it is a vertigo of time, a criss-crossing of past, present, and future, producing a hall of mirrors wherein present-day Ira Sr. confronts his former selves, the time-traveling Father Who as Doctor Who. He never stands still, and neither does the film, resulting in a work as mercurial and fugitive as life itself, resistant to harmonious closure.

Sachs’s focus on her own family is typical of a certain strand of American avant-garde filmmaking—think of Jonas Mekas’s diaries, Stan Brakhage’s processed home movies, or Stephen Dwoskin’s ghostly portraits of long-deceased family members. In an interview with Reverse Shot, the house magazine of New York’s Museum of the Moving Image—which hosted a virtual retrospective of her work in January—Sachs discusses other experimental films about difficult fathers by Su Friedrich (Sink or Swim, 1990) and Alan Berliner (Nobody’s Business [1996]—Berliner is credited as an artistic advisor on Film About a Father Who). The joys and travails of family life are a recurrent subject in Sachs’s work—as it is, indeed, of Ira Jr.’s, with his films’ weak or difficult husbands and fathers. In particular, Lynne has confronted her own parenthood with portrait films of her children, such as a series that captures her daughter Maya at various ages (Photograph of Wind, 2001; Same Stream Twice, 2012; and Maya at 24, 2021), that anticipates in reverse many of the procedures of Film About a Father Who.

Film About a Father Who could have been a monumental film, a “summa” of a life’s work (Sachs will be sixty this year) as well as a multilayered portrait of a complex man. Such finality and thematic bombast is anathema to Sachs, however. This is a film, after all, as interested in the ritual of an old woman putting on a pair of stockings as it is in the great themes of Family, Identity, Time, or American Masculinity. Sachs’s aesthetic has always been defined by the fleeting and provisional, by the rejection of a saleable authorial style, and by formal and philosophical “lightness,” what the French praise as légèreté, the ability to find forms that critically distance subject matter that is emotionally volatile, even traumatic, with wit, illumination, empathy, and nimble intelligence. To call Film About a Father Who Sachs’s “best” or “breakthrough” film would be to miss the point. Like her great predecessors Jonas Mekas and Chris Marker, each work by Sachs—whether it is a film, a poem, a performance, or a Web installation—is a fragment of a larger body of work that is simply “the work.” One hopes that someday Sachs’s achievement will be recognized as the major contribution to modern American cinema it is. 

Darragh O’Donoghue works as an archivist at Tate Britain in London.

Copyright © 2021 by Cineaste Magazine 

Cineaste, Vol. XLVI, No. 2

Kino Rebelde to Represent Lynne Sachs’ Catalogue Internationally


Kino Rebelde has created a retrospective that traces a delicate line connecting intimacy, power relations, violence, memory, migration, desire, love, and war in Lynne’s films. By looking at each of these works, we can see a director facing her own fears and contradictions, as well as her sense of friendship and motherhood.  Moving from idea to emotion and back again, our retrospective takes us on a journey through Sachs’ life as a filmmaker, beginning in 1986 and moving all the way to the present.

With the intention of allowing her work to cross boundaries, to interpret and to inquire into her distinctive mode of engaging with the camera as an apparatus for expression, we are delighted to present 37 films that comprise the complete filmmography, so far, of Lynne Sachs as visual artist and filmmaker. Regardless of the passage of time, these works continue to be extremely contemporary, coherent and radical in their artistic conception.

About Kino Rebelde

Kino Rebelde is a Sales and Festival Distribution Agency created by María Vera in early 2017. Its exclusively dedicated to promotion of non-fiction cinema, hybrid narratives and experimental.

Based on the creative distribution of few titles by year, Kino Rebelde established itself as a “boutique agency”, working on a specialized strategy for each film, within its own characteristics, market potential, niches and formal and alternative windows.

This company supports short, medium and long feature films, from any country, with linear or non-linear narratives. They can be in development or WIP, preferably in the editing stage.

The focus: author point of view, pulse of stories, chaos, risk, more questions, less answers, aesthetic and politic transgression, empathy, identities, desires and memory.

Kino Rebelde was born in Madrid, but as its films, this is a nomadic project. In the last years María has been living in Lisbon, Belgrade and Hanoi and she’ll keep moving around.

About María Vera

Festival Distributor and Sales Agent born in Argentina. Founder of Kino Rebelde, a company focused on creative distribution of non-fiction, experimental and hybrid narratives.

Her films have been selected and awarded in festivals as Berlinale, IFFR Rotterdam, IDFA, Visions Du Réel, New York FF, Hot Docs, Jeonju IFF, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Sarajevo FF, Doclisboa and Viennale, among others.

María has a background as producer of socio-political and human rights contents as well as a film curator.Envelope


Lynne Sachs (1961) is an American filmmaker and poet living in Brooklyn, New York. Her moving image work ranges from documentaries, to essay films, to experimental shorts, to hybrid live performances.

Working from a feminist perspective, Lynne weaves together social criticism with personal subjectivity. Her films embrace a radical use of archives, performance and intricate sound work. Between 2013 and 2020, she collaborated with renowned musician and sound artist Stephen Vitiello on five films.

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 each new project.

Between 1994 and 2009, Lynne directed five essay films that took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany – sites affected by international war – where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own perception. 

Over the course of her career, she has worked closely with film artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Ernie Gehr, Barbara Hammer, Chris Marker, Gunvor Nelson, and Trinh T. Min-ha.

Retrospective – “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression” curated by Edo Choi, Asst. Curator, Museum of the Moving Image


“For more than thirty years, artist Lynne Sachs has constructed short, bold mid-length, and feature films incorporating elements of the essay film, collage, performance, and observational documentary. Her highly self-reflexive films have variously explored the relations between the body, camera, and the materiality of film itself; histories of personal, social, and political trauma; marginalized communities and their labor; and her own family life, slipping seamlessly between modes, from documentary essays to diaristic shorts.” (Edo Choi, Assistant Curator of Film, Museum of the Moving Image)

This five-part retrospective offers a career-ranging survey of Sachs’s work and includes new HD transfers of Still Life With Woman and Four Objects, Drawn and QuarteredThe House of Science: a museum of false facts, and Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam.

Note: The following programs can be rented individually or as a package. A new video interview and between Lynne Sachs and series curator Edo Choi is also available as part of the rental fee.

For rental and pricing information, please contact: info@canyoncinema.com

All films are directed by Lynne Sachs.
Program notes by Edo Choi.

Program 1: Early Dissections
In her first three films, Sachs performs an exuberant autopsy of the medium itself, reveling in the investigation of its formal possibilities and cultural implications: the disjunctive layering of visual and verbal phrases in Still Life with Woman and Four Objects; un-split regular 8mm film as a metaphorical body and site of intercourse in the optically printed Drawn and Quartered; the scopophilic and gendered intentions of the camera’s gaze in Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning. These experiments anticipate the range of the artist’s mature work, beginning with her first essayistic collage The House of Science: a museum of false facts. Itself an autopsy, this mid-length film exposes the anatomy of western rationalism as a framework for sexual subjugation via a finely stitched patchwork of sounds and images from artistic renderings to archival films, home movies to staged performances.

Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986, 4 mins.)  New HD transfer
Drawn and Quartered (1987, 4 mins.) – new HD transfer
Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning (1987, 9 mins.)
The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991, 30 mins.) – new HD transfer

Program 2: Family Travels
One of Lynne Sachs’s most sheerly beautiful films, Which Way Is East is a simultaneously intoxicating and politically sobering diary of encounters with the sights, sounds, and people of Vietnam, as Sachs pays a visit to her sister Dana and the two set off north from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. The film is paired here with a very different kind of family journey The Last Happy Day, recounting the life of Sachs’s distant cousin Sandor Lenard, a Jewish Hungarian doctor who survived the Second World War and was ultimately hired to reassemble the bones of dead American soldiers. Here Sachs journeys through time as opposed to space, as she assembles a typically colorful array of documentary and performative elements, including Sandor’s letters, a children’s performance, and highly abstracted war footage, to bring us closer to a man who bore witness to terrible things. This program also features The Last Happy Day’s brief predecessor, The Small Ones. Program running time: 73 mins.

Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994, 33 mins.) – new HD transfer
The Small Ones (2007, 3 mins.)
The Last Happy Day (2009, 37 mins.)

Program 3: Time Passes
Twenty years unspool over nine short films: portraits of Lynne Sachs’s children; visits with her mother, brother, niece and nephew; a tribute to the city where she lives; and scenes of sociopolitical trauma and protest. Nearly all shot on super 8mm or 16mm, and often silent, each work is at once a preservation of a moment and a record of change, seamlessly weaving together the candid and the performed gesture, the public and the private memory, in a simultaneously objective and subjective posture toward the passing of time. Program running time: 51 mins.

Photograph of Wind (2001, 4 mins.)
Tornado (2002, 4 mins.)
Noa, Noa (2006, 8 mins.)
Georgic for a Forgotten Planet (2008, 11 mins.)
Same Stream Twice (2012, 4 mins.)
Viva and Felix Growing Up (2015, 10 mins.)
Day Residue (2016, 3 mins.)
And Then We Marched (2017, 3 mins.)
Maya at 24 (2021, 4 mins.)

Program 4: Your Day Is My Night
2013, 64 mins. “This bed doesn’t necessarily belong to any one person,” someone says early in Your Day Is My Night. It could be the metaphorical thesis of this film, perhaps Lynne Sachs’s most self-effacing and meditative work. A seamless blend of closely observed verité footage, interpretive performance, and confessional monologues and interviews, the film doesn’t document so much as create a space to accommodate the stories and experiences of seven Chinese immigrants from ages 58 to 78 who live together in a “shift-bed” apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Sachs’s quilted sense of form achieves a new level of refinement and delicacy in collaboration with her cameraman Sean Hanley and her editor Amanda Katz, as she works with the participants to exhume a collective history of migration and struggle.

Program 5: Tip of My Tongue
2017, 80 mins. Sachs’s richly generative Tip of My Tongue finds the filmmaker responding to her 50th birthday by gathering twelve members of her generational cohort—friends and peers all born between 1958 and 1964, and originating as far as Cuba, Iran, and Australia—to participate in the creation of a choral work about the convergent and divergent effects history leaves upon those who live it. From the Kennedy assassination to Occupy Wall Street, the participants reveal their memories of, and reflections upon, the transformative experiences of their lives. Set to an ecstatic, pulsing score by Stephen Vitiello, the film interweaves these personal confessions with impressionistic images of contemporary New York, obscured glimpses of archival footage, and graphically rendered fragments of text to create a radiant prism of collective memory. Preceded by Sachs’s frantic record of accumulated daily to-do lists, A Year in Notes and Numbers (2018, 4 mins.).

Thanks to:

“Film About a Father Who” at The Cinematheque (Vancouver)

The Cinematheque – Vancouver 
Film About a Father Who – USA, 2020, dir. Lynne Sachs, 74 min.

February 5 (Friday) through February 18 (Thursday)

“Sachs achieves a poetic resignation about unknowability inside families, and the hidden roots never explained from looking at a family tree.”- Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times

“This is not a portrait. This is not a self-portrait. This is my reckoning with the conundrum of our asymmetry.” So experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs describes her beguiling new documentary and its profoundly personal intent: to reconcile the complicated relationship between herself and her bohemian father. Blending an array of home-movie footage shot between 1984 and 2019 (a veritable showcase of evolving media formats, from 8mm to digital), Film About a Father Who offers a kaleidoscopic view of Sachs’s hippie-businessman father, onetime  “Hugh Hefner of Park City, Utah,” whose knotty, often contradictory identities are slowly untangled by the documentarian and her network of equally bewildered siblings — many born from different mothers, some kept secret from each other. Throughout this candid, bravely public act of introspection, Sachs expresses conflicted empathy for the aging patriarch, a jovial but emotionally reticent man now in his eighties, and interrogates the bond implicit in father-daughter, and sibling-to-sibling, relationships. Its open-ended title is a nod to Yvonne Rainer’s 1974 study of female multiplicity, Film About a Woman Who.

This rental includes a Q&A between Lynne Sachs and film critic Ela Bittencourt.
Watch an introduction to the film from Lynne Sachs below.

To stream this film:

This will take you to Cinema Guild’s streaming platform, where you can watch the film. Purchase a virtual ticket for $12 CAD (you may need to create an account first). Once a virtual ticket has been purchased, you have three days to watch the film.

If you are having technical issues with the stream, please click here.

This film is avail­able to stream in Cana­da only.

Your ticket purchase supports The Cinematheque.

“[A] brisk, prismatic, and richly psychodramatic family portrait.” Ben Kenigsberg, New York Times

“Formidable in its candor and ambition … A chapter in a continuing stream of work by an experimental, highly personal filmmaker.” Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily

“In Their Own League ” Reviews “Film About a Father Who”

In Their Own League
By Joan Amenn

Year: 2020
Runtime: 74 minutes
Director: Lynne Sachs
Writer: Lynne Sachs

Part of the lineup of documentaries having to do with family histories at Sundance and also shown at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City in an exhibition of her work, Lynne Sachs’ “Film About a Father Who” (2020) is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Like looking through a View Master only to see that the duo of photos are slightly askew, the film always seems to be a little off kilter in portraying its subject, Ira Sachs Sr. What starts as a bemused tolerance by his children devolves into a pained recognition that their father was far more serial in his multiple amorous relationships than they ever imagined. At one point called the “Hugh Hefner of Park City, Utah” there is a feeling of wistfulness in the affection shown to the pater familias Ira, as if all of his children know that his love is ephemeral and needs to be captured while they still have his fleeting attention.

Home movies capturing memories over years give a dreamy quality to what at times seems a detective story. Why were there names crossed off their father’s insurance policy? Who are those people? Lynne’s father is seen always benignly smiling but it seems to be a mask he hides behind as his children discover more and more siblings they never knew existed from his brief encounters with various women over decades. Their grandmother is very vocal in her disapproval of her son’s behavior but is never seen directly confronting him about it in the film. Lynne mentioned in the round table discussion at Sundance following the screening of documentaries that “home movies” are often seen as a way to capture celebrations in life. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, all of these happy memories don’t address what else happens in a lifetime. “Film About a Father Who” shows a man who had many lives with many families who didn’t know they were making memories with someone who was in many ways a stranger to them, with many secrets.

The playfulness of a repeated montage and the charm of the director’s father go a long way in keeping the film from veering into bitterness rather than focusing on the sweetness of family reunions of both known and recently met siblings. However, a little more focus on what having such a chaotic force for a father did to his children and then as adults trying to reconcile their lives with his would have been less frustrating. We are left with words left unsaid and smiles covering anguish over a man who needed to be loved so much but couldn’t completely commit himself to love in return.

Austin Chronicle Reviews “Film About a Father Who”

Austin Chronicle
Film About a Father Who
2021, NR, 74 min. Directed by Lynne Sachs.
FRI., FEB. 12, 2021

Film About a Father Who, Lynne Sachs’ family self-portrait, opens with a shot of the documentarian brushing her father’s hair. Her gentle combing is then disrupted by a knot that won’t detangle. Sachs fights it, nervously laughing as she does, but refusing to give up. It’s a scene so personal, the act of grooming your own parent, but Sachs makes the audience aware that even in tenderness there is pain.

Ira Sachs Sr., we soon discover, has a complicated relationship with his daughter. She jokes he’s the “Hugh Hefner of Park City,” which is as playful as it is scathing, but there’s a sharp truth to his nickname. Sachs Sr. wasn’t just briefly unfaithful to his wife but has nine children with five different women. His lifestyle made him the black sheep of his family, and left his own mother ashamed and disgusted. She snarls in one interview about how her son has become an incredible disappointment, always on his phone and never present because he’s too busy toggling multiple women.

Sachs’ downward spiral into her father’s personal life has been in the works for roughly 26 years, with footage collected from 1984 to 2019. By using a mixture of 8mm film to pristine digital, her experimental documentary feels worn, an eclectic mixture of home videos that blends in with the film’s familial nature. Moments of Sachs as a child playing with her father are juxtaposed with interviews with the mothers of his children, whose openness with Sachs and the camera is intimate and brutal. Tears choked back, Sachs Sr.’s girlfriends have complex emotions toward their kids’ father, a man who betrayed their trust but who they also genuinely loved.

But Sachs doesn’t want to paint a picture of hate toward her father. This is the man who spent time with her on the self-proclaimed Bob Dylan Day, a man who has given her a large network of siblings to bond with. While family doesn’t mean everything, family is something that is a stable anchor to have when things feel hopeless, and while each child has complex feelings toward their father, it is also because of their father that they have a gigantic support circle who can (mostly) relate.

At one point in the film, Sachs explains that it’s her “reckoning with the conundrum of our asymmetry.” Film About a Father Who is not meant to give Sachs answers to her labyrinth of affection toward her father, but rather used to understand the man from whom she seeks so much approval. The film circles back to that opening scene of hair brushing, but the knot is no longer there. She’s finally tackled it and moved past it.

Stephen Vitiello: Soundtracks for Lynne Sachs (Volume 1)

Stephen Vitiello, an excerpt from Bowed from “Film About a Father Who”
Stephen Vitiello, an excerpt from Something Betweene from “Film About a Father Who”


Lynne Sachs first reached out to me in 2012, asking if I could recommend someone to work on the soundtrack for an upcoming film. I probably paused for a polite moment and then offered my own services. Since that time, I’ve created music for several projects by Lynne, including 4 feature-length films, a performance work (created in collaboration with playwright Lizzie Olesker) and a short film that uses a track I did with Molly Berg for a 12k CD. Over the years, I’ve amassed an archive of pieces made for these projects, some used in the films, some excerpted, some proposed. In some cases, Lynne would be looking for a 30-second clip for a transition and I’d use that as an excuse to record a 10-minute piece, figuring we’d find the 30-seconds somewhere in there.

This first volume of soundtracks works are from two films – Film About A Father Who, a complex portrait of Lynne’s father and (many) siblings. And then, Tip Of My Tongue, a piece on events of the last 55 years as remembered by a collection of friends and colleagues. As much as these musical tracks were created for the films, I don’t believe one has to have seen the films to enjoy them. That said, running out, or jumping on your computer, to watch and listen to the films would be a very good thing to consider.

Film About A Father Who, directed by Lynne Sachs, 2020
Editor – Rebecca Shapass

Tip Of My Tongue, directed by Lynne Sachs, 2017
Editor – Amanda Katz 


released February 5, 2021

Stephen Vitiello – guitar, modular synthesizer, piano, Rhodes keyboard, field recordings
Justin Alexander – percussion (FAFW)
Sara Bouchard – piano (FAFW)
Olivia LeClair – clarinet (TOMT)
Andy McGraw – percussion (TOMT)

Cover art – Lynne Sachs
Mastering – Lawrence English


all rights reserved

KQED: Now Playing! – Lynne Sachs at the Roxie

Now Playing! SF Alums and Urban Film Fest Find the Connective Threads

By Michael Fox
February 11, 2021

This week’s offerings commemorate the intersection of Valentine’s Day and Black History Month with an overlap of class reunion.

The Films of Lynne Sachs
Opens Feb. 12
Roxie Virtual Cinema

“This is not a portrait,” states Lynne Sachs, near the end of Film About a Father Who, after the last in a string of revelations. “This is not a self-portrait. This is my reckoning with the conundrum of our asymmetry.” Shot on a procession of film and video formats from 1965 though 2019, Sachs’ fascinating new film isn’t therapy, either.

Sachs studied and made films in San Francisco from the mid-’80s through the mid-’90s, bridging the experimental film and documentary worlds. Several of her pioneering works from that period, including The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991), are included in the Roxie’s accompanying shorts program “Inquiries Into Self and Others.” A second collection, “Profiles in Courage,” showcases Sachs’ recent work, including A Month of Single Frames (for Barbara Hammer).

Sachs’s films are, generally, intentionally unpolished, willfully undercutting the popular presumption that the job of documentaries is to provide answers. Film About a Father Who excavates her (now-elderly) dad’s messy, lifelong love life through a pastiche of loose ends, unanswered questions and unresolved emotions. The film imperceptibly gets deeper and darker as it goes, ultimately amassing the power of an indictment.

Show Me What You Got
Feb. 12, 14–15

Svetlana Cvetko lives in L.A. and shoots all over the world, but her roots as a filmmaker are in the Bay Area. After gravitating to San Francisco from the former Yugoslavia several years ago, Cvetko took film classes and turned her eye from photography to cinematography. She was a quick study, making narrative shorts while shooting local docs like Charles Ferguson’s Oscar-winning Inside Job, Jacob Kornbluth’s Inequality for All and Jason Cohen’s Silicon Cowboys.

Cvetko’s wonderful and wise second feature as a director, Show Me What You Got, is infused with an L.A. vibe filtered through the French New Wave. Shot by Cvetko in joyous, handheld black-and-white, the movie depicts a ménage à trois between a barista-slash-artist (Cristina Rambaldi), the son of an Italian TV soaps star (Mattia Minasi) and a would-be actor (Neyssan Falahi) postponing his return to Tehran.

A seductive yet mature study of love, freedom and responsibility, Show Me What You Got returns for a virtual run after screening at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2019. Play dates are limited, so hurry and schedule your play date (pun intended).

SF Urban Film Fest
Feb. 14–21

Film festivals continue to test and tweak virtual models, trying to conjure the group experience of live screenings and the connective threads of community. The first is a hard nut for anyone—even Sundance—to crack. This year’s SF Urban Film Fest, though, has mastered the second challenge, of bringing people together online to brainstorm on issues and seed solutions.

The theme of this year’s edition is “Wisdom Lives in Places,” which evokes the street-level experience and expertise on offer in the films as well as the accompanying panel discussions. The program “People-Led Solutions: Models of our Shared Future” centers on evictions and homelessness and features local filmmaker Irene Gustafson’s collaboration with the Tenderloin ensemble Skywatchers, reimagining the city, as our own. An inspiring group of activists and advocates convenes after the film program.

Who can resist an event called “Times Like These: An Inflection Point for Food & Our Cities”? The film component includes Aaron Lim, Anson Ho’s uplifting short doc about a young man doing his part and more to keep Chinatown restaurants going through the pandemic. The diverse group talking turkey following the films includes La Cocina Program Director Geetika Agrawal. Bring your wisdom; join the conversation.

SNF Parkway Theatre/ MdFF – Filmmaker Spotlight: Lynne Sachs

A conversation and live Q&A about Lynne Sachs’s newest documentary, a personal look at memory, familial love, and the unknowability of parents to their children. Sachs will discuss the movie with art historian, critic and long-time friend to the filmmaker, Kathy O’Dell and Artistic Director, Christy LeMaster and then take questions form the audience.

Lynne Sachs and Stephen Vitiello Program at the LA Film Forum

Lynne Sachs & Stephen Vitiello: Sound Engagements – Program 1: Four Films


Los Angeles Filmforum presents

Lynne Sachs & Stephen Vitiello: Sound Engagements

Part 1: Four Films

Films Screening February 12-22, 2021

Live Q&A with Lynne Sachs on Friday, February 19, 7:00 pm PST (10:00 pm EST) by Zoom

Conversation with Lynne Sachs and Stephen Vitiello moderated by musician and music critic Sasha Frere-Jones on Sunday February 21, 5:00 pm PST (8:00 pm EST) by Zoom

Online via Los Angeles Filmforum

Filmforum is delighted to kick off 2021 by welcoming back our friend Lynne Sachs with her new film and several past works, all of which include original music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello.

“In collaborating on the soundtracks for my films, Stephen Vitiello somehow recognizes the interior sounds of objects and releases them for us to hear. Together his music and his sound designs push audiences toward a new way of experiencing cinema.” – Lynne Sachs

In these two programs, Los Angeles Filmforum explores the seven-year collaborative relationship between filmmaker Lynne Sachs and sound artist Stephen Vitiello.

Admission will include receiving links to both Zoom conversations!

Four films are covered by this admission, which is on a sliding scale, and which takes you to a screening room set up by Canyon Cinema. You also get a free link to the live Q&A with Lynne on Friday February 19 and the tripartite conversation on Sunday Feb 21.!

Ticketing for Four Films: Sliding Scale, $0 for members, $5 for students, $8, $12, $20

at https://lynnesachs4films.bpt.me

We hope that, if your means allow, you might go for $20, as you will be getting to see 4 wonderful films and attend two discussions!

Film About a Father Who is distributed by Cinema Guild, and has its own virtual cinema admission charge, listed on its own Filmforum webpage at https://www.lafilmforum.org/schedule/winter-2021/film-about-a-father-who/

Special Thanks to Brett Kashmere, Canyon Cinema, Tom Sveen, Cinema Guild.

Films by Lynne Sachs with music and sound design by Stephen Vitiello

2013 – 2020


Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker and a poet born in Memphis, Tennessee but living in Brooklyn, New York. 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. Her work ranges from the very personal, as in her early experiments that are reminiscent of Bruce Connor’s found footage films and Chris Marker’s essay films, to documentary, as in her film on the Catonsville Nine’s antiwar-activism in Investigation of a Flame. Lynne discovered her love of filmmaking while living in San Francisco where she worked closely with film artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Barbara Hammer, George Kuchar, and Trinh T. Min-ha. Between 1994 and 2006, she produced five essay films that took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany — sites affected by international war — where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own subjective perceptions.

Sachs has made 37 films, which have screened at the New York Film Festival, Sundance, Oberhausen, Viennale, BAMCinemaFest, Vancouver Film Festival, DocLisboa and many others nationally and internationally. They have 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. The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, Festival International Nuevo Cine in Havana, China Women’s Film Festival and Sheffield Documentary Festival have all presented retrospectives of Lynne’s films. 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 lives in Brooklyn with filmmaker Mark Street. Together, they have two daughters, Maya and Noa Street-Sachs. www.lynnesachs.com

Stephen Vitiello is an electronic musician and sound artist who transforms incidental atmospheric noises into mesmerizing soundscapes that alter our perception of the surrounding environment. He has composed music for independent films, experimental video projects and art installations, collaborating with such artists as Nam June Paik, Tony Oursler and Dara Birnbaum. Solo and group exhibitions include MASS MoCA, The High Line, NYC, and the Museum of Modern Art.  https://www.stephenvitiello.com/
Solo exhibitions include All Those Vanished Engines, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2011-(ongoing)); A Bell For Every Minute, The High Line, NYC (2010-2011); More Songs About Buildings and Bells, Museum 52, New York (2011); and Stephen Vitiello, The Project, New York (2006). He has participated in such group exhibitions as Soundings: A Contemporary Score, Museum of Modern Art, NY (2013); Sound Objects: Leah Beeferman and Stephen Vitiello, Fridman Gallery, New York (2014); September 11, PS 1/MoMA, LIC, NY (2011-2012); the 15th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2006); Yanomami: Spirit of the Forest at the Cartier Foundation, Paris; and the 2002 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2002). Vitiello has performed nationally and internationally, at locations such as the Tate Modern, London; the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival; The Kitchen, New York; and the Cartier Foundation, Paris. In 2011, ABC-TV, Australia produced the documentary Stephen Vitiello: Listening With Intent. Awards include Creative Capital (2006) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2011-2012). Vitiello is a professor of Kinetic Imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University. He lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.  

Sasha Frere-Jones is a writer and musician from New York.

Los Angeles Filmforum screenings are supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture, the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, the Wilhelm Family Foundation, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. We also depend on our members, ticket buyers, and individual donors.

The Washing Society
Directed by Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker
2018, color, sound, 44 min.
When you drop off a bag of dirty laundry, who’s doing the washing and folding?  The Washing Society brings us into New York City laundromats and the experiences of the people who work there by observing these disappearing neighborhood spaces and the continual, intimate labor that happens there. The juxtaposition of narrative and documentary elements in THE WASHING SOCIETY creates a dream-like, yet hyper-real portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, both past and present.

“The legacy of domestic work, the issues surrounding power, and the exchange of money for services are all potent themes which rise to the surface and bubble over in dramatic, thrilling escalations of the everyday.” – Brooklyn Rail

“Spotlights the often-invisible workers who fold the clothes, maintain the machines and know your secrets.” – In These Times

Featuring: Jasmine Holloway, Veraalba Santa, and Ching Valdes-Aran
Cinematography: Sean Hanley, Editiing: Amanda Katz

Trailer:  http://www.lynnesachs.com/2017/08/23/the-washing-society/

Drift and Bough”
2014, Super 8mm on Digital, B&W, sound, 6 min.
Sachs spends a winter morning in Central Park shooting film in the snow. Holding her Super 8mm camera, she takes note of graphic explosions of dark and light and an occasional skyscraper. The stark black lines of the trees against the whiteness create the sensation of a painterʼs chiaroscuro. Woven into this cinematic landscape, we hear sound artist Stephen Vitielloʼs delicate yet soaring musical track which seems to wind its way across the frozen ground, up the tree trunks to the sky.

Tip of My Tongue
2017, color, sound, 80 min.
“To mark her 50th birthday, filmmaker Lynne Sachs gathers a group of her contemporaries—all New Yorkers but originally hailing from all corners of the globe—for a weekend of recollection and reflection on the most life-altering personal, local, and international events of the past half-century, creating what Sachs calls ‘a collective distillation of our times.’ Interspersed with poetry and flashes of archival footage, this poignant reverie reveals how far beyond our control life is, and how far we can go despite this.” — Kathy Brew, Museum of Modern Art

“A mesmerizing ride through time, a dreamscape full of reflection, filled with inspired use of archival footage, poetry, beautiful cinematography and music. Raises the question of how deeply events affect us, while granting us enough room to crash into our own thoughts, or float on by, rejoicing in the company of our newfound friends.”  — Screen Slate, Sonya Redi

“A beautiful, poetic collage of memory, history, poetry, and lived experience, in all its joys, sorrows, fears, hopes, triumphs, and tragedies … rendered in exquisite visual terms, creating an artful collective chronicle of history.” Christopher Bourne, Screen Anarchy

Trailer:   http://www.lynnesachs.com/2017/04/25/tip-of-my-tongue/

Featuring: Dominga Alvarado, Mark Cohen, Sholeh Dalai, Andrea Kannapell, Sarah Markgraf, Shira Nayman, George Sanchez, Adam Schartoff, Erik Schurink, Accra Shepp, Sue Simon, Jim Supanick

Cinematography: Sean Hanley

Editing: Amanda Katz

Your Day is My Night
2013, HD video and live performance, color, sound, 64 min.
Immigrant residents of a “shift-bed” apartment in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown share their stories of personal and political upheaval. As the bed transforms into a stage, the film reveals the collective history of the Chinese in the United States through conversations, autobiographical monologues, and theatrical movement pieces. Shot in the kitchens, bedrooms, wedding halls, cafés, and mahjong parlors of Chinatown, this provocative hybrid documentary addresses issues of privacy, intimacy, and urban life.

“A strikingly handsome, meditative work: a mixture of reportage, dreams, memories and playacting, which immerses you in an entire world that you might unknowingly pass on the corner of Hester Street, unable to guess what’s behind the fifth-floor windows.” -The Nation

In Chinese, English & Spanish with English Subtitles.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Pks0_IRHek

Featuring: Yi Chun Cao, Linda Y.H. Chan, Chung Qing Che, Ellen Ho, Yun Xiu Huang, Sheut Hing Lee, Kam Yin Tsui, & Veraalba Santa.

Camera by Sean Hanley and Ethan Mass

Winner, Best Feature Documentary, San Diego Asian Film Festival, 2013 * Winner, Best Feature Film, Workers Unite! Film Festival, 2013 * Winner, Best Experimental Film, Traverse City Film Festival, 2013