Film About a Father Who opens Friday via the Belcourt’s virtual cinema
Dick Johnson Is Dead — the largely acclaimed Netflix release in which filmmaker Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) finds myriad ways to kill her father on camera — was not the only documentary released last year in which a female filmmaker puts the focus on her old man.
Film About a Father Who, which was the opening-night film at last year’s Slamdance Film Festival and will be playing virtually at the Belcourt starting Friday, has Lynne Sachs doing a dark, deep dive into the life of her father, Ira Sachs. The younger Sachs mostly does this by patching together home-video clips and other footage she and her fam have shot throughout the decades on various formats.
Sachs immediately establishes that her dad is something of a character. Ira has spent most of his life building hotel properties (including a posh winter resort in Park City — Sundance territory), all while rocking a wild, walrusy mustache. But even when he was making major moves as a successful developer, he always had time to play.
It turns out the man was a big-time lothario, dating a series of ladies even though he had a wife and kids at the house. Ira would continue to do this after he was divorced, picking up not only several girlfriends, but several baby mamas.
Sachs basically uses Father to get to know her half-siblings, a couple of whom she didn’t even know that much about, as well as examine how these newfound kinfolk affected her and her siblings, among them fellow indie filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr. (Quick side note: Sachs Jr. and his spouse, Boris Torres, are the fathers of twins. Who’s the mom? Why, it’s Dick Johnson Is Dead director Kirsten Johnson.)
Of course, Sachs tries to figure out why her dad was such a major rolling stone. As always, all signs point to the grandparents — mainly, her wealthy grandmother, who is referred to as Maw Maw. Way, way back in the day, Maw Maw left her husband and took young Ira with her, practically setting off Ira’s daddy issues. As you would expect, Maw Maw is one ornery cuss, disapproving of her son’s bon vivant lifestyle and declaring she doesn’t want to know more about his other kids — so she won’t have to care about them.
It’s kinda crazy that Sachs’ dad was such a playa, pulling so many ladies that the director herself admits she couldn’t get many of their names. These days, old age has set in, and the younger Sachs predictably finds that getting answers out of the artful codger about his years of reckless philandering/fathering isn’t easy. Then again, as sly as he is, maybe dude is using his elderly state as a smokescreen, pretending not to remember because he doesn’t want to bring back the pain and confusion he inflicted upon people.
Lynne Sachs goes for an abstract, experimental tone in Father, essentially creating a fractured collage of, shall we say, life with father. You could say she makes Father all dazed and jumbled because that’s mostly how her dad eventually made everyone feel. No family is perfect, but having to discover all these secret relatives must have been a jarring mindfuck for Sachs and her peoples.
Nevertheless, Sachs and most of the brood surprisingly take this all in stride. As their father now spends his days picking up litter, his kids don’t seem to carry that much of a grudge. That was their father, and — as messed up as it all was — they’ve come to accept that.
Near the end of the film, there’s a lengthy shot in which Lynne and Ira watch TV on the couch, sharing a blanket. Even with everything that has happened with this man and his ever-expanding family, Sachs and Film About My Father Who show that you can still have quality time with the son of a bitch who brought you into this world.
An Interview with Lynne Sachs
By Chris Shields
The major online retrospective Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression runs from January 13–31 at Museum of the Moving Image, and will feature a first-run release of her latest, Film About a Father Who, from Cinema Guild. Read more info and order an all-series pass here.
Lynne Sachs’s Film About a Father Who is a hybrid work—part documentary, part experimental cinematic essay. Deftly weaving together several media formats and 35 years of footage, Sachs’s richly textured new film reveals the life and secrets of her father, Ira Sachs, a charming and enigmatic outsider-businessman, as well as the family members who in various ways are attempting to understand him.
Throughout her career, Sachs’s work has brought together thoughts, feelings, and materials collected throughout her daily life, wherein filmmaking is a seemingly daily practice, and her latest is no exception. It features Sachs’s characteristically beautiful 16mm photography, home movies, and interviews (past and recent) in which generations come together to discuss just who and what connects them. Beyond a family portrait however, Sachs’s film is an interrogation of the cinematic medium itself and its formal possibilities for the intimate and autobiographical. It’s an exciting work that is both formally uncompromising and surprisingly inviting.
As the centerpiece of Museum of the Moving Image’s current retrospective, “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression,” Film About a Father Who represents the culmination of years of her experimentation and exploration in the DIY film underground. Sachs’s career represents a balancing act between ideas and experiences, the personal and the formal, and the intellectual and the heartfelt. For Sachs, whose art is finding the profoundly human in the space between her life and her materials, the classic Lou Reed lyric that provides the title for her current retrospective rings true: “Between thought and expression, lies a lifetime.”
Reverse Shot:Film About a Father Who feels like—I don’t want to say conventional because it’s certainly not—it’s in a more accessible documentary format than the more experimental essay films you’re known for. Was this a conscious decision?
Lynne Sachs: I like that you used the word accessible, because actually my mother told me the same thing. I think it kind of touches on that word accessible—some people use it in a disparaging way and some people use it in a way to say, you know, that you can have an entry point to it. And I think part of that entry point maybe has to do with [how] we’re all trying to contend with the imprint of our own families on us, and how we will then come to a certain point. Maybe you come to that point at 18, or maybe you come to that point at 65 or whatever. It’s a point where you sort of say, I am who I am, but I see myself in my family, and I also separate myself. It’s like a Lacanian moment or psychoanalytic. So I think accessibility maybe had to do with that, that kind of prototype of family, and you just grappling with where you fit, where you can find an entry.
RS: Was there a moment where you realized the film could have a wider audience?
LS: Film About a Father Who was not only invited to screen at Slamdance, it was their opening night film. And I had this great conversation with one of the founders and directors of the festival, Paul Rachman, who said, “I know you’ve been in this niche world for a long time, but I think you can cross over.” I had a doubt about that, but I’ve always had a foot in the experimental world and one in the documentary world, but never strictly in one or the other. I would probably identify more with the experimental world than with the straight-ahead documentary. But I like the part about documentaries that allows you to work with all these different kinds of people and ask questions and be nosy and work with these complicated ideas around how society works.
RS: There is an approachability, yet it still fits so well with the rest of your work.
LS: The other side to it that maybe is more similar to my other previous work is that when I was working on it, I actually cut it as twelve little experimental films with Rebecca Shapass, my editor. My goal was to have a single film, but I didn’t want to structure it in a chronological order. So to work my way against that, against that obvious time passing, I just had to edit based on different themes or relationships between things or certain shots that I thought had this kind of resonance. Then I would build around it. And each of those shorter films began to have a beginning and an end. And then I spent another year with Rebecca, and we broke apart all those films and wove them together. So in that way it was similar to my process in that I often begin in the middle of a film and have to go searching for the start and the finish, which is very different from how you would organize a narrative film per se, where you would know where you’re going.
RS: Speaking of your work with Rebecca, the editing is tremendous. Once you started to work together, how did you know it was the time after collecting footage over so many years to complete the film and release it?
LS: She had never edited a film of that—let’s call it magnitude. And she really thinks of herself as an artist, not an editor. And so this was an experience that she could dive into. And so we would sit there together. And the reason I knew that I could work with her and that it was the right time was that I never felt that she was judgmental.
RS: And why did you feel that was important?
LS: Because I needed a way to both edit and distance myself from it. And so things I might get self-conscious about or question, Rebecca provided a sort of objectivity. At the same time she’s an artist and brings that perspective as well
RS: Were there revelations as you went through the footage in preparation for the film?
LS: Yes, things that seemed peripheral became very central, like the image that I actually decided to bring back three times of the children playing in the water. The first time I looked at that material, I thought, oh, it’s very degraded, I can’t use this. The second time I thought, hey, this looks like an impressionist painting. And then the third time I said, “This is actually the center of the whole film,” because we have my father’s point of view on his children, which is very loving. We were able to see his world as a dad and that we needed to have access to his psyche and that license.
RS: How was your interview process with your father?
LS: He wasn’t really giving me very much in a more conventional sort of question-and-answer way of interacting. So the material that he shot, for example, was so important. In documentary work it’s not just about seeing someone; it’s how they see that can tell you just as much about them.
RS: I think “Between Thought and Expression” is a very apt title for your current retrospective. There’s so much memory in your films, and yet also materiality is such a huge part. It feels like a really fundamental thing that you’re using so many different means, materially—film, video, spoken word, written word—to get at something that is essentially an ineffable, illusive place of feeling, memory, perception, understanding, etc. Do you see that as a central part of your work?
LS: The title of the current retrospective came from Edo Choi, the curator, and I was pretty excited about it because people often think that films start with a story, and that is not how I work. My films start with ideas. So that was very insightful. It was Edo Choi and Eric Hynes, but I think it’s really got Edo’s fingerprint over the whole retrospective. He chose to feature Same Stream Twice and Maya at 24. So, Maya at 24 is my daughter at 24, but it’s also the idea that you’re 24 frames per second. I made a film when Maya was six, when she was 16, then when she was 24, and all three are in the retrospective. So I thought that was at first kind of surprising, but then the audience gets to kind of move through the films as material things, as you said, but also move through her life.
RS: Your family has factored into your films before, and in your new film you had your brothers and sisters so heavily involved. Were they hesitant or onboard?
LS: For many years everybody just called it “Lynn’s [sic, this will be edited] Dad film.” They’d say, “When are you going to finish that Dad film?” So, I finished some other projects, even as far back as my film Which Way Is East?, which I finished in ’94. And so even then they’d say, “When are you going to go back to that? You started three years ago.” So I’d continue and I would shoot some more. And I would set up these interviews, kind of a familiar way of making a documentary—you set up a time and a place. But with my dad, I’d asked the same questions every time. And I’d always get the same answers, and I wasn’t really going any deeper. I could say that’s part of his generation for men, but maybe that’s not it, maybe it’s that people, certain people, are closed off from going to that place of sort of interiority. So my brothers and sisters became essential in forming a picture of my father. I found that when I would talk to different siblings, yes, they would be kind of protective of dad, but they also wanted to help me build an understanding of who he was.
So around 2017 and ’18, I, when I was aware that I had two sisters I hadn’t known about, I would either fly to where they lived or we would take special time when we were having a family gathering. And I think most of us are unaccustomed to being interviewed; it doesn’t happen that much in our lives. And I decided that those later interviews would be without a camera. So then you’re not as self-conscious. And so actually I think that sometimes they came to a place where they understand who they were in relation to our father that maybe they hadn’t ever expressed before. And so there was an appreciation for that, and it kind of brought us closer.
RS: Did you ever have any personal hesitation moving forward with the film?
LS: I was finishing the film very much in the “me too” era. And I had to contend with that and that I was trying to explore my relationship as a woman to this male presence in my life. But I think there’s another corresponding experience: my brothers and their own search for their masculinity. Your father is a model—it might not be a role model, but it is a model. So you either follow that and you yearn to be that, or you differentiate yourself as a man. And in the last period of time, when I was making the film, I think each of my brothers explored who he wanted to be as a man, both in a loving way to my dad, but also to say “I’m different, and I’m going to conduct myself differently.”
RS: Was Su Freidrich’s Sink or Swim an influence in any way, or a film you considered?
LS: Well, her work has been extremely important to me, and she has spent a lot of time making work about both her mother and her father. And if I’m interpreting the film correctly, I think that her alienation from her father continues and that is also reflected in the fact that you don’t see her father in it. So her father comes in kind of like a mythic person, and her film ends up being as much about her, and maybe mine does too. That might be something that I’ve learned from her. Sink or Swim uses these, let’s call them incidents in a life or a relationship as parables. And I really liked that. Like I used an incident where my father talks about two cars—he says he has two Cadillacs, and he wanted to hide that from his mother. So he just painted them the same color. And so it’s really just an anecdote, but it’s also telling about the way someone moves through their social space. I think that’s something I share with her. We take incidents and they kind of blossom or inflate into something more resonant, even for someone watching the film.
RS: Could you talk a little bit about how your feelings might have changed towards your father when the film was being completed or even now that people have been seeing it.
LS: When I was making the film, I took a walk with Alan Berliner, who had made a film about his dad called Nobody’s Business . And he said, “Our dads left a mark…they left a mark on the world that could be invisible to most but maybe not their children.” And so in some ways I feel that whatever flaws or scars or bad blood that happened as a result of my dad, he also lived this full life. I showed the film to some men of his age who were in a fraternity with him from the University of Florida. And so there was a part of me that felt really protective, or embarrassed, or I thought, “Oh my God, now they’re not gonna think he’s as perfect as they might have thought he was. They’re going to really know.” But instead they said, “I wish my daughter made a film about me, Lynne.”
There might be things that you did that people could call egregious; well it’s still the life you lead. It is your place on the earth. And so in that way I feel like it’s kind of giving my father this different kind of legacy per se. And I think he’s kind of excited. He came to the New York premiere; he was there with his cellphone and he was getting photographed and was pretty excited for the party afterwards.
RS: I wanted to ask you about your commitment to film as a material. I feel that there is something that I get from watching your films, especially images of the year 2017 or 2016 shot on 16mm film—there’s a presence.
LS: Well, I’ll tell you something that will even shock you more. I bought a 16mm Bolex windup camera in 1987. And that’s the camera I use. Wow. Can you think of all the cameras and cell phones and computers and laptops that each one of us has had in those intervening years? And I love that. I don’t have to worry about batteries. Sometimes I do hand processing, and I really like to go to a local lab in New York. And so it feels like you can just drop it off the way we used to. There’s a touching of the material that connects us to painters or ceramicists. I think it’s fascinating that people who shoot in 16 now like to show the sprockets—it’s an aesthetic choice.
RS: I think there’s sometimes a misunderstanding about formally engaged films and formally experimental or radical films. There’s a very accepting and humanistic aspect to imperfections and flaws.
LS: Do you know the Japanese expression, wabi-sabi? It’s all about that, about being drawn to the flaws of things. If that is your sensibility, then it is exactly the inverse of everything we see on television these days. But interestingly enough, now there are programs on Premiere where you can add scratches. It’s a trick, but it’s also coming full circle; it’s people saying, we’re hungry for the rust and for the path for the passage of time. When I was working with Rebecca, we started to recognize that the decay of the materials or degradation of the footage weren’t flaws, but something that gave it the test of time. Isn’t perfect a little dreary?
All the great filmmakers have been artists of the lens. If you think about Hitchcock, Truffaut, Wilder, Kazan, Visconti, Fellini and endless more that make up our collective cinematic heritage, they constructed their work like one long sequence of aesthetics — sight and sound.
Lynne Sachs is no exception. While effortlessly flowing between documentary, experimental and narrative styles, Sachs’ films — whether 4 minutes long or full length — reward the adventurous viewer with a sense of beauty, elegance and joie de vivre. And I say “adventurous viewer” because it may have been difficult for non-urban audiences to catch the prolific artist’s work.
Until now that is. While in the past someone like me had to rely on the cool publicist devoted to Sachs and her films to point me in the direction of her next screening at a festival or inside a hip city venue, this January the Museum of the Moving Image has organized a wonderfully comprehensive retrospective of Lynne Sachs’ cinematic work. Beginning on January 13th and streaming online this proves a rare treat, since Sachs’ films are perfect for the kind of intimate viewing we are relegated to these days. Watch one, switch it off, talk about it with your family or friends, share your views online with the larger social media community — Sachs is the filmmaker of the times and how appropriate for her retrospective take place now!
Lynne Sachs photographed by Abby Lord, used with permission
So what makes Sachs’ work so unique? When I met her in person, right before our current pandemic and at the screening of her latest film at MoMA in NYC, she struck me as a rare combination of kind, unconventional and courageous. And her clothes betrayed the kind of effortless elegance that makes her films so appealing. Her voice, so often the soundtrack of her work, feels familiar even the first time you hear it, like that of a best friend who calls just to see how you’re doing. And in doing so makes the world a better place.
To me, Sachs is an artist, a visual explorer of the beauty that is hidden in cinema, for only a few to figure out. But I wonder how she views herself, as an artist or a filmmaker, or even a poet? She answers via email from NYC, kind as ever. “When you add the word “hidden” to the word “beauty”, I really start to get interested. Lately I have been thinking about certain images that, like our bodies, are growing old with the dignity of their own life span, their provenance. These are the kinds of images that reveal their journey and don’t pretend to have appeared on this earth, or more precisely on our screens, in the year 2021.” She continues, “artist and cultural theorist Hito Steyerl writes eloquently and perceptively in her essay “In Defense of the Poor Image” about the way that images from the past move into our present by carrying the baggage of time. I like seeing the dirt, rust, and wrinkles that tell a story in a purely visual way. When I see images that insist on carrying slivers of their past –- be it joyous or traumatic –- I see beauty.”
The retrospective includes some of Sachs’ earlier work, shorts and mid-length films about her children, the world around her, art, poetry, feminism — her own brand of the stuff — and science. It’s divided into five programs — Early Investigations, Family Travels, Time Passes, Your Day Is My Night and Tip of My Tongue — plus a special online screening of her latest feature ‘Film About a Father Who’ which is a personal favorite and a must-watch for anyone wanting to learn more about Sachs and her fascinating family. You can find my personal review of it here.
There is a Michael Apted feel to her work which often revolves around family, or rather those who are important in Sachs’ life, shot over a long period of time. I’m thinking of the shorts which star her daughter Maya at around 6, in her teenage years and then again at 24. What a treat they are but also a wonderful way to examine the constantly changing pattern of our lives. So I ask Sachs how she’s seen the pandemic change things, as related to her work-in-progress with Maya and she surprises me. “Now this is an intriguing way of asking me about the pandemic, through a film about my daughter Maya that I have essentially shot three times over the course of twenty years. When she was six I made ‘Photograph of Wind’, at sixteen I made ‘Same Stream Twice’ and at twenty-four I made ‘Maya at 24’. What I think you are getting at is an epistemological question about the meaning of time.” Yes, she gets me, she really gets me! She continues, “in this period of sheltering-in-place or at least quasi-isolation, many of us are wondering how to register our days. Is there going to be an end? Or are we caught in a constant, traumatizing, unending middle? We are all aging at the same rate; we register each day in the same way. In these three films (each between 3 and 4 minutes), I asked Maya to run in circles around me while I was filming her with my 16mm camera. We both stare at each other the entire time. Dizzying as it may be, we are together exploring our relationship through our eyes. Without touching, we are as intimate as a parent and child can be. During the pandemic, as I communicate with my own mother from hundreds of miles away using the virtual technology available to us, I must remember that this form of contact might not be great, but it is good enough.”
A still from ‘House of Science’ by Lynne Sachs
Elements of her feminist spirit, but not the extremist kind we see these days rather a more inclusive approach, also permeate Sachs’ work. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a woman filmmaker explore our bodies, our minds and our sexuality on screen. And what a wonderful surprise to find out that Edo Choi curated for the Museum of the Moving Image this comprehensive retrospective of Sachs’ work. As both a lover of film and a film writer, Choi makes the perfect conductor for our journey in the midst of the filmmaker’s opus. So as a final question I asked Sachs how it feels to have a retrospective of her work at MoMI, especially now.
“Scary, vulnerable and exciting,” Sachs admits, mentioning Choi right away. “Today, I was working with the Museum of the Moving Image’s marvelous, insightful, and dedicated assistant curator Edo Choi on some technical aspects of the program. You see when you are dealing with film files that were created over thirty years, they might not be compatible, on a technological, thematic or conceptual level with other films that you recently completed. I mentioned earlier what we all know –- time runs in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years. It does not change. But technology does, at least in the world of video. So, some of my files run at 29.97 frames per second, some at 23.98 fps and some at 24 fps. It all depends on when the films were born! This makes it very hard to stream them together.” What does that mean to a filmmaker? She explains, “maybe this is telling me something about myself, what was on my mind back in 1986 may be very different from what I am thinking about in 2021. To my surprise, I do see themes that connect me to who I was at 25 and who I am today at 59. When people watch the films, I hope they can find some of these threads that carry through all of the work. I am not going to say here what I see, because I am very interested in finding out what viewers discover on their own.”
In FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO director Lynne Sachs takes 35 years of film and video of her father, mixes it with interviews with her family and friends and tries to figure out who her dad really is.
What starts out as a typical look at father by a daughter slowly becomes something else as revelations about Sachs’ father begin to muddy the waters and change what she and others think of him. It quickly becomes clear that there are more than one way to see him.
What I love about the film is that Sachs throws things out and doesn’t tie it all up. We are left to piece things together. If you’ve noticed that I am not discussing the details of the revelations it is because how Sachs tells us things influences how we feel at any particular moment. If I start to feed you revelations before you go in you will have a differing experience than what the director intended. You will also know where this goes and the journey there is the point of the film, so I’m not telling.
So where does that leave this review? It leaves me simply to say if you want to take an intriguing ride though one woman’s life see FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO.
Screen Time is your curated weekly guide to excellent documentaries and nonfiction programs that you can watch at home.
The documentary world lost Michael Apted last Friday, and the one work that most distinguished his career was The UP Series, which began in 1964 as an exploration into the British class system through the lens of a cross-section of seven-year-old children, then deepened over the subsequent decades into an affirmation—and perhaps refutation—of the Jesuit maxim that drove the entire series: “Show me the child at seven, and I’ll show you the person.” Most of the original 14 protagonists continued to participate in the series, right up to the final one, from 2019: 63-UP. We learned to love these UPpers. We agonized over their darkest days, we rooted for them when they bounced back, we welcomed them back to the series after they had dropped out, and with one of the UPpers, we mounted her passing. You can catch the entire UP Series on Amazon Prime, or BritBox.
Premiering in virtual theaters through Magnolia Pictures on January 15, Lance Oppenheim’s Some Kind of Heaven ventures into The Villages, America’s largest retirement community—a massive, self-contained utopia located in Central Florida—to meet some of the residents whose dreams and desires of a retirement in paradise have fallen short.
Premiering January 15 through Cinema Guild is Lynne Sachs’ Film About a Father Who. Shot in multiple formats over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, the film profiles Sachs’ father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah. Her film offers simultaneous, sometimes contradictory, views of one seemingly unknowable man who is publicly the uninhibited center of the frame yet privately ensconced in secrets. With this meditation on fatherhood and masculinity, Sachs allows herself and her audience to see beneath the surface of the skin, beyond the projected reality.
IDA Documentary Award nominee Acasa, My Home, from Radu Ciorniciuc, introduces viewers to the Enache family, who live in the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, an abandoned water reservoir just outside the bustling metropolis. The family has lived here for decades, sleeping in a hut on the lakeshore, catching fish barehanded, and following the rhythm of the seasons. When this area is transformed into a public national park, they are forced to leave behind their unconventional life and move to the city, where fishing rods are replaced by smartphones and idle afternoons are now spent in classrooms. Acasa, My Home, premieres January 15 through Zeitgeist Films, in association with Kino Lorber.
Premiering January 11 on Netflix, Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy, from Stanley Nelson, takes viewers to the origins of the devastating crack epidemic of the 1980s, which ravaged the poorer communities of America, resulting in the ongoing marginalization of Black and Brown people trapped by the US prison and healthcare systems.
Launching January 14 on Topic, IDA Documentary Award nominee Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa, directed by Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater and Mike Attie, takes viewers to the Philadelphia abortion helpline, where counselors arrive each morning to the nonstop ring of calls from women and teens who are seeking to end a pregnancy but can’t afford to. This short documentary exposes the economic stigma and cruel legislation that determine who in America has access to abortion.
Premiering January 15 through IFC Films, MLK/FBI, the three-time IDA Documentary Award nominee, directed by IDA Career Achievement Award honoree Sam Pollard, lays out a detailed account of the FBI surveillance that dogged Martin Luther King’s activism throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, fueled by the racist and red-baiting paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover. In crafting a rich archival tapestry, featuring some revelatory restored footage of King, Pollard urges us to remember that true American progress is always hard-won.
An evening discussion with Lynne Sachs and guests during her MoMI retrospective
We are very pleased to announce that we are co-presenting a live discussion with filmmaker Lynne Sachs, her brother Ira Sachs Jr. (Little Men, Love Is Strange), and filmmaker Kirsten Johnson (Dick Johnson Is Dead, Cameraperson) on January 19, 7pm ET. The live online event is organized by Museum of Moving Image and introduced by Eric Hynes, MoMI Curator of Film.
This conversation focuses on Lynne Sachs’s new documentary Film About a Father Who, a film where she revisits the life of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah. Lynne Sachs is an old friend of The Flaherty film community. She had her first seminar experience back in 1984, when at a very young age she got to participate as a fellow. “With hindsight in my pocket, I can see that meeting the artists and scholars that programmer D. Marie Grieco convened that summer was one of my life’s most influential experiences.”
We are very honored to be part of Lynne’s process and education as a filmmaker as with many of our past fellows, guest artists and attendees that consider The Flaherty Seminar a key moment for their carriers. We are also very happy to be witnesses of her retrospective at MoMI available online starting January 13 through the end of month.
See all links for the event below.
Film About a Father Who Discussion with the Sachs Family and a retrospective of Lynne Sachs’ work
Live conversation featuring Lynne Sachs, Ira Sachs Jr., and Kirsten Johnson. Introduced by Eric Hynes, MoMI Curator of Film.
For more than thirty years, artist Lynne Sachs (1984 Flaherty Fellow, 1989 Flaherty Guest Artist) has constructed short, bold mid-length, and feature films incorporating elements of the essay film, collage, performance, and observational documentary. On the occasion of her latest feature, Film About a Father Who the Museum of Moving Image is pleased to present a career-ranging survey of Sachs’s work from January 13 to 31 in their virtual theater. On January 19 at 7 pm, the Museum of Moving Image will host a unique family conversation around Lynne’s new film. In this live online discussion, Lynne Sachs will be joined by her brother, filmmaker Ira Sachs (Little Men, Love Is Strange), and filmmaker Kirsten Johnson (Dick Johnson Is Dead, Cameraperson), who is also connected to Lynne and Ira as co-parent of Ira’s children. The program will be introduced by MoMI’s Curator of Film, Eric Hynes.
This program is co-presented by The Flaherty Film Seminar, where Lynne Sachs has served variously as a Fellow, an Artist, and a presenter.
RSVP here. An email invitation with a link to join the conversation will be sent no later than one hour before the event.
And here is the complete list of links to all Lynne Sachs related live events, screenings and film retrospective at the Museum of Moving Image this month:
This past January 19, we had the opportunity to co-present a live discussion with filmmaker Lynne Sachs, her brother Ira Sachs Jr. (Little Men, Love Is Strange), and filmmaker Kirsten Johnson (Dick Johnson Is Dead, Cameraperson). The online event, organized by Museum of Moving Image (runs through February 7) and introduced by Eric Hynes, MoMI Curator of Film, was shown live via the museum’s YouTube channel and had the participation of a very lively audience.
The conversation focused on the making of Film About A Father Who and Lynne’s production process, but it also included questions from Ira and Lynne to Kirsten Johnson about Dick Johnson is Dead, and her own personal experiences integrated to the creative process of filmmaking. At the beginning of the conversation, Johnson who is also part of the Sachs family as a co-parent with Ira, mentioned how much she wanted to go to the Flaherty Seminar: “I just want to say, I’m always delighted to be in the house with Eric Hynes and the Museum of Moving Image and that I’ve never been to the Flaherty Seminar. It has been a life long dream of mine, so I got festive at the idea of finally making it into the Flaherty family in a certain kind of way.” Maybe in the near future, post pandemic world, we’ll be able to see Kirsten Johnson and all the Flaherty community gathering in person again!
We were very fortunate to be part of this conversation and we want to thank the panelists for being so open to share their family stories with us and the audience. We also realized how great of an interviewer and panel moderator Ira Sachs is, some of his questions helped connect Lynne Sachs’s film and Kirsten Johnson’s and the idea of “imprint”, which speaks to the influence fathers have had in the lives and works of the filmmakers and their families. Ira also added how both of “the works reveal pain, and pain is not a discussion so much in family.” This comment helped us spectators put into context how much these filmmakers have become so vulnerable by opening their personal inner world through their work, and how these themes can speak to many in a universal language of moving images.
Lynne Sachs focused the discussion back to Ira Sachs. To him she says “you made the first and second film of dad and I made the third.” It is interesting to watch the work of Lynne and Ira and see the different perspectives that they have chosen to speak about coming from a similar experience, as well as how they have become such different and unique filmmakers being part of the same family.
Another very interesting theme touched by Lynne Sachs is when she talks about “obstacles” that come up in every film project. As a conclusion to this idea and with her long time experience making films she passionately states: “We realize that the very biggest obstacle to making the film is actually what makes it the most interesting. And we have to keep trying. To me the hardest part was (in Film About a Father Who) what was my point of view?”
To close this dispatch, we want to leave you with the kind words that Lynne Sachs shared about the Flaherty Seminar during the discussion: “People wanted to ask about the Flaherty. The Flaherty is this fantastic gathering of film people who are very-very-very committed to the documentary practice. It is named for Robert Flaherty (and Frances), he was an early documentarian and he worked in the real… the idea of working with the real! and I think it has been extremely important to me. I saw my first experimental films at the Flaherty, I saw the work of Maya Deren there, I saw Bruce Connor (both in 1984), but then jump ahead, I went to a Flaherty where George Stoney was (he showed work back in 1955 and later in 1982, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2002, 2004 and 2011), where Tran T Kim-Trang was (in 2000), you know where people were doing really-really outlandish, and wonderful, and risk taking things with their work. Les Blank was there one year (he showed work at the Flaherty in 1972, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1990 and 2011), people who lived and breathe documentary, and it mattered to them. I think the fact that I saw the Flaherty work and experienced it at age 24 left another kind of imprint in me.”
You can read more about Lynne Sachs’ impressions of the seminar in her website also published by Patricia Zimmerman in VOICES FROM THE FLAHERTY FILM SEMINAR on August, 2018.
On this show, we are joined by the experimental filmmaker, feminist and poet Lynne Sachs whose new autobiographical film, “Film About a Father Who” – 26 years in the making – will premiere on January 15 as part of a 20-film retrospective, “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression,” presented by The Museum of the Moving Image.
Lynne Sachs grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and discovered her love of filmmaking while living in San Francisco where she worked closely with such artists as Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Ernie Gehr, Barbara Hammer, Gunvor Nelson, and Trinh T. Min-ha. Her moving image work ranges from short experimental films, to essay films to hybrid live performances. She has made 37 films, retrospectives of which have been presented at The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, Festival International Nuevo Cine in Havana, China Women’s Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/ Fest. In 2014, Lynne received a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts and, in 2019, Tender Buttons Press published her first book Year by Year Poems. Currently, Lynne lives in Brooklyn with her husband, filmmaker Mark Street, and their two daughters.
Links to 1) “Film About A Father Who” film page with streaming information: http://www.cinemaguild.com/theatrical/filmaboutafatherwho.html;
2)Museum of the Moving Image retrospective Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression – which runs from January 13-31: http://www.movingimage.us/lynnesachs;
3) for more on Lynne Sachs’ work in general: http://www.lynnesachs.com/
Throughout, Lynne Sachs undercuts the image of the past as simpler or more stable than the present.
Though the title of Lynne Sachs’s Film About a Father Who is inspired by Yvonne Rainer’s 1974 avant-garde feature Film About a Woman Who, a deconstruction of the “ideal” domestic unit, this long-gestating documentary takes a more personal and certainly less abstract look at a less-than-stable family life. Composed largely of conversations with her family that Sachs has captured over the last few decades, the film often feels like the coherent story everyone wishes they could assemble out of the neglected boxes of old home video tapes in the garage. But Sachs goes places that most amateur moviemakers avoid, undercutting the image of the past as simpler or more stable than the present.
Sachs’s father is outwardly easygoing, a self-styled “hippie businessman.” In most of the time periods covered in the documentary, Ira Sachs Sr. sports a handlebar mustache and a stringy mop of unkempt hair. Film About a Father opens with an early-‘90s conversation with him that comes off like some kind of early promotion for cellphones: While the wealthy real estate developer talks about how much he enjoys the mobility that cellular technology allows in his business dealings, we see him skiing and relaxing, hanging around in his trademark Hawaiian shirts. Methodically but not without affection, the film undermines this projected image of the ambitious yet insistently casual, essentially harmless man.
At first, it’s easy enough to believe that Ira, whom Sachs describes at the outset of the documentary as a loving father, has committed crimes with few victims other than a resentful lover or two and his morally scandalized mother, Rose, known as Maw-maw, who appears occasionally in older footage to gripe about her son’s behavior, which she colorfully describes as a kind of sexual handicap. But it becomes clear that not all of the women who Ira has been with were equal players in his lifelong game of libertinism. As a decades-old tearful conversation with his second wife, Bali native Diana, makes evident, the man leveraged his largesse to maintain a privileged position in all of his relationships, one that kept him shielded from dealing with the emotional distress that his actions were spreading.
For her part, Sachs approaches the looming but seemingly unassuming figure of her father with a frankness that, if not quite unsparing, couldn’t have been easy for her. She structures Film About a Father as an ongoing investigation of his character, with the existence of two offspring he kept hidden from his other children coming as a late-film reveal. Sachs’s interrogation of her emotionally reticent father repeatedly brings her back to fuzzy home videos captured in her childhood or young adulthood, seeking in them some explanation for his behavior, or at least signs of the stories she wouldn’t be able to assemble until later. “How can you look for something you don’t even know is lost?” she ponders over early-‘90s footage of her younger half-brothers playing in the woods, referring to two additional secret half-sisters who were growing up at the same time, unbeknownst to the other Sachs children.
Given the nature of its construction, Film About a Father can feel insular to a fault, but Sachs nonetheless finds her most affecting imagery in her old snippets of home video, with its indistinct lines, color distortions, and instances of “snow.” Part of this comes from the metaphorical redeployment of her footage—like the glimpses we get of the small mountain located on a property that Ira was developing in the ‘90s. Early in the film, the large, grassy mound symbolizes the serenity and ease of his personal and professional life, but footage later depicts the dynamiting of that mountain, just as the Sachs family’s sense of their past is upended. There’s also something specific about analog home video that Sachs exploits here. It’s much hazier and harder to interpret than the crisper present-day digital footage, or the warm 16mm she used to interview her Maw-maw before the latter passed; it speaks much more to the instability of memory, the faultiness of the images we keep with us from the past.
Only implicitly connecting the Sachs family’s problems to the distribution of privileges and indignities under patriarchy, the film lays emphasis on the personal side of “the personal is political.” Beyond attempting to come to terms with Ira the philanderer and the ways his laissez-faire approach to relationships with women has shaped her life and those of her siblings, Film About a Father Who also explores the relationship between recording and remembering, the way past and present inform each other as the stored memories of film and video footage are brought together into a coherent shape. It’s an evocative distillation of some truth from the sprawling mess of documents that a family always leaves in its wake.
Film About a Father Who examines a problematic relationship.
Among the most important, complex relationships are those with our parents, relationships often painful to probe. And yet, in Film About a Father Who, here’s documentarian Lynne Sachs courageously exploring thirty-five complicated, problematic years of interaction with her father Ira. In addition to archival 8- and 16-millimeter footage, she interrogates Ira, grandmother Maw-maw, brothers, sisters, an ex-wife, and Ira’s girlfriends.
And what she learns in her incredibly honest profile is deeply disturbing. For Ira was, though cheerful, emotionally detached and an unrepentant womanizer. His mother, Maw-maw, describes him as a cripple, handicapped, since he had a wife, a mistress, and, as much as he could, multiple women. Director Lynne, his daughter, explicitly asks Ira about his life and behavior, to which Ira repeatedly replies, “I don’t remember.” In her investigation, Lynne discovers two previously unknown siblings (Ira had nine children), Ira’s traumatic childhood, fueled by Maw-maw abandoning Ira to lead her own life, and his real name.
None of these details suggest the truly captivating appeal of Film About a Father Who. That resides in Lynne’s pursuit of an ever-elusive understanding of Ira, of his essence. In her quest, Lynne and her brother Adam describe Ira having “his own language and we were expected to speak it.” They concur that they loved him so much that they agreed “to his syntax, his set of rules,” though they always felt there was a dark hole somewhere in his youth. Significantly, Lynne and a sister also acknowledge a shared rage they couldn’t name for the man called the Hugh Hefner of Park City, Utah.
Film About a Father Who is an emotionally wrenching scrutiny of another person, much less a parent. In voiceover narration, Lynne defines her grappling with her father best when she says, “This is not a portrait. This is not a self-portrait. This is my reckoning with the conundrum of our asymmetry, a story both protracted and compressed.” That she worked on this film for decades acknowledges the critical role her parents, and probably most of ours, play in our lives, their impact inestimable. It may raise the question, “Can we ever really understand another person?” Whatever the answer, Lynne Sachs shows her effort results in a powerful, haunting film.
Film About a Father Who is available on the Cinema Guild website.
GoIndieNow Presents is an occasional column featuring the third Plotaholics, Joe Compton. In these columns, Joe will discuss that state of indie film and offer suggestions for worthwhile media to consume in that market. This iteration of GoIndieNow Presents is a three-part exploration of 2020’s indie film landscape.
Hello, Plotaholics faithful. Joe Compton (the third Plotaholic) here.
Let’s be honest: 2020 sucked. Who knows what all of it means as far as 2021 goes, especially when it comes to Independent Film, which is something I cover over at Go Indie Now. But as for now, I am here to continue discussing the best in indie film from 2020.
Today, we kick off my Top 10 list with entries 10-6.
10. FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO – DOCUMENTARY (USA)
SYNOPSIS: From 1984 to 2019, filmmaker Lynne Sachs shot film, videotape and digital images with her father, Ira Sachs, a bohemian businessman from Park City. This film is her attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to eight siblings, some of whom she has known all of her life, others she only recently discovered. With a nod to the Cubist renderings of a face, her film offers sometimes contradictory views of one seemingly unknowable man who is always there, public, in the center of the frame, yet somehow ensconced in secrets.
WHAT THIS FILM DOES WELL: Lynne is a legend, and her style and abilities are at the top of the list in terms of Documentarians and their storytelling styles, but this one is so different. It is almost by nature that this has to be presented as it is, but it serves as a triumph and not a crutch or gimmick. There is no avoiding the fact that not every shot was composed and lit or mic’ ed properly. Yet, in true Lynne Sachs form, she weaves such an intricate and intimate narrative that twists and turns with the best of them. You almost expect there might have been some prior planned composition to those “home movie” shots.
It is also striking because the one being most affected in and throughout is her and her family. So, in a weird and interesting way, this film that starts looking into a family patriarch becomes a character-driven, dilemma story that interweaves the documenter with the subject matter and creates a mystery cloaked in a soap opera-type drama. The fun aspects are the ratio and framing of a lot of raw footage that gets shot over time on many different devices and how it enhances the experiences of the narrative–a skill set that editor Rebecca Shapass clearly possesses in spades.
Documentaries are often that idea that what you see is not what you will get in the end, and in a way because of the brave way in which Lynne chooses to put herself out there, comfortable or not, we really see a 4th wall crash that presents such a compelling and shocking result. In talking to her, I know this was a choice that was not easy to make. Yet this film has very few moments of bleakness and never are they overt–another display of the skill set that Lynne possesses as a proven Documentarian. Instead it chooses naturally to highlight and enhance the positive aspects of the reveals, which makes you wish your family or life was half as interesting as this one.