Tribute to Lynne Sachs Memorial work with Winnie the Pooh
by Jan-Philipp Kohlmann
The Oberhausen International Short Film Festival honors the feminist filmmaker and poet Lynne Sachs whose work questions the relationship between the body and the environment.
In 1998, the experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer spends lonesome weeks in a dune shack in Cape Cod, a picturesque peninsula in southern Massachusetts. She keeps a diary and shoots playful 16mm footage of insects, grass and plastic bags in the wind – sometimes with a color filter, sometimes with the shower head running in front of the camera.
Twenty years later, when Hammer was sorting her estate, she left the material to her friend Lynne Sachs for the short film “A Month of Single Frames”. The film reflects the former filmmaker‘s attempts to inscribe her own presence with the camera onto the images of the landscape. As part of the Lynne Sachs retrospective at the 69th Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, this film now seems like a perfect introduction to her work: “A Month of Single Frames” is a homage to the influential colleague, who died in 2019 when the film was released, and at the same time sums up Sachs’s collaborative approach to filmmaking in a nutshell.
“Body of the Body, Body of the Mind”
“We’re not striving for perfection, and we will never replicate reality,” says Sachs about her own and Barbara Hammer’s cinematic ideas in an interview, shortly before she heads to the airport on her way to Germany for the festival. “Instead, we’re constantly looking for a way to present a subjectivity in relationship to reality.”
“A Month of Single Frames” won the Grand Prix of the City of Oberhausen in 2020, when the festival was one of the first to take place online due to the pandemic. This year, twelve intelligent and idiosyncratic short films by Sachs, created between 1986 and 2021, can be discovered in the Oberhausen program “Body of the Body, Body of the Mind”, curated by Cíntia Gil. The retrospective includes Sachs’s early feminist experimental films, several documentary essays from the series “I Am Not a War Photographer” and more recent works that deal with the problem of translation, among other things.
Found Footage Films and Fragmentary Essays
The latter include “The Task of the Translator” (2010), inspired by Walter Benjamin, as well as “Starfish Aorta Colossus” (2015), a film adaptation of a poem by the Filipino-American writer Paolo Javier. In addition, Sachs’s latest film “Swerve”, also a collaboration with Javier, is screened in the festival’s International Competition.
The Brooklyn-based director and poet, born in 1961 in Memphis, Tennessee, willingly references the influence of other artists on her work and relies on close collaborations. Rather than claiming individualist authorship, in our interview, Sachs mentions numerous people from her student years in San Francisco who influenced, trained, or worked with her, thus shaping her own aesthetics.
Her mentions include two especially formative figures in experimental filmmaking: the conceptual artist Bruce Conner, who introduced Sachs to working with found footage in an essayistic fashion; and the filmmaker and cultural studies scholar Trinh T. Minh-ha. With Minh-ha, Sachs shares the conviction of making one’s own position visible, most notably in documentary films set in different communities or cultural environments.
A specific technical aspect adapted from Minh-ha, Sachs explains, is to not use zoom lenses when shooting, making sure she has to approach the people in front of the camera and introduce herself. A film like “Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam” from 1994, for example, is therefore not an ethnographic travelogue, but a fragmentary sketch in which poetic impressions of everyday life, Vietnamese idioms and her own memories of US television reports on the Vietnam War stand side by side.
Another essay film, “The House of Science: a museum of false facts” can be regarded as the feminist core of the Oberhausen program. Sachs first presented the film in 1991, at her first trip to Oberhausen, and it’s only fitting that the retrospective’s title features a quote from it. A collage of patriarchal attributions about women’s bodies, “The House of Science” re-contextualizes educational films about menstruation, scenes from feature films, historical writings about the body features of sex workers and Sachs’s own diary entries about a consultation hour at a male doctor’s office.
Created under the impression of the theoretical writings on écriture féminine, this found footage masterpiece is much more than a document of early 1990s feminist zeitgeist. Sachs herself is convinced that contemporary feminist debates can tie in with “The House of Science”: “The film isn’t exclusively relevant for what we now call cis women, but it’s about inhabiting the feminine. I think it speaks about femininity in a more fluid sense.”
A Commemoration With Winnie the Pooh
For Sachs, personal documents – diary entries, home movies – are often the starting point for a cinematic search for clues. “The Last Happy Day” is the best and at the same time most curious example of this approach: when her younger brother, the fiction film director Ira Sachs (who presented “Passages” at this year’s Berlinale), appeared as Winnie the Pooh in a children’s play in the late 1970s, the Sachs siblings learned of the existence of a distant relative named Sándor Lénárd.
Sachs’s 2009 film chronicles the life of the Budapest-born Jewish doctor and writer, who escaped from Nazi persecution in Austria, worked for the US Army in Italy, and eventually completed a stunningly successful Latin translation of “Winnie the Pooh” in Brazil. With her own children and their friends as “Winnie the Pooh” performers in front of the camera, Sachs brings the unknown relative back into the family, adapting her collective approach not only to filmmaking, but also to a moving work of remembrance.
Lynne Sachs in Oberhausen
The 69th Oberhausen International Short Film Festival dedicates the three-part retrospective “Body of the Body, Body of the Mind” with a total of 12 films to the US director Lynne Sachs. The programs run on April 30th in the Gloria Cinema and on May 1st in the Lichtburg Cinema. In addition, her current short film ”Swerve” is presented in the International Competition of the festival. Twelve films by Lynne Sachs are available online on the platform of Doc Alliance (dafilms.com), the network of seven European documentary film festivals (1.50 to 2.50 euros per streaming).
BODY OF THE BODY, BODY OF THE MIND Lynne Sachs Artist Profile
69th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen Curator: Cíntia Gil
Program notes by Cíntia Gil:
The title of this retrospective quotes Lynne Sachs in her 1991 film “The House of Science: a museum of false facts”. It speaks of a zone of experimentation that crosses Sachs’ work and grounds filmmaking as a practice of dislocating words, gestures and modes of being into open ontologies. What can be a woman, a word, a color, a shade, a line, a rule or an object? The negotiation between the body of the body and the body of the mind is another way of saying that things exist both as affections and as processes of meaning, and that filmmaking is the art of not choosing sides in that equation. That is why Sachs’ work is inseparable from the events of life, while being resolutely non-biographical. It is a circular, dynamic practice of translation and reconnection of what appears to be separated.
There are many ways of approaching Lynne Sachs’ full body of work, and many different programmes would have been possible for this retrospective. Films resonate among each other. Like threads, themes link different times. Repetition and transformation are a constant obsession in the way images, places, people and ideas are revisited. While looking for an angle for this programme, I tried to look at some of the threads that seem to me the most constant, even if sometimes subterraneous, throughout the films. The three programmes are not systematically bound by themes or built around typologies. There are three different doors to the same arena where body (and the ‘in-between’ bodies) is the main ‘topos’: translation, collaboration, and inseparability of the affective and the political. Yet, none of these terms seems to truly speak of what’s at stake here.
Lynne Sachs knows about the disequilibrium that happens between words and concepts, and about the difference between the synchronicity of life and the linearity of discourse. She also knows that words can be both symptoms and demiurgic actors. That is maybe why she writes poems, and why this programme was inspired by her book, “Year By Year Poems”.
1975 [girls with fast lane dreams]
Teachers push us to the precipice –
trick us with conundrums we mistake for algorithms
catch us in a maelstrom of dizzying numbers.
Searching for the exit door
I discover quick methods for finding north –
solace in the gravitational pull of geography
and head for the first opening from a school
with too many ambitions
and girls with fast-lane dreams.
Talking about the making of “Which Way is East”, Lynne Sachs said: “the most interesting films are the ones that ask us to think about perception, that don’t just introduce new material.”. Both Lynne Sachs and her sister Dana, a writer, lived the Vietnam War through television – a middle-class childhood sometimes haunted by images of that war that seemed both far away and fundamental to their generation. When Dana moved to Vietnam in the early 1990s, Lynne visited for a month, and they made a film. The film begins with a sequence of movement shots, colors, fleeting forms, interrupted by a popular Vietnamese saying about a frog and the horizon. Three layers come together, predicting one of the strongest traits of Lynne’s work: the world seen through the rhythm of a moving body, and the dialogue between different modes of feeling and thinking. [Lynne’s childhood Vietnam War images were black and white, upside down; the Vietnam landscape in 1991 is crossed on a motorbike, and nature is motion and strangeness; “a frog sitting on the bottom of a well, thinks the whole sky is only as big as the lid of a pot”.]
A travelog in Vietnam became a dialogue of perceptive discoveries, glimpses of meaning and, most importantly, of the many ways of being just here and now, together, facing abysses that should not eat us alive. How to not be eaten alive by life’s infinite and sublime abysses?
Girls with fast-lane dreams is another way of referring to an impulse for joy.
Girls looking at girls, girls playing with girls, Lynne Sachs and Barbara Hammer collaborating on an impossible film. How to work on beauty, without monumentalizing it? How to work on death without freezing the life within? A kid once told me: “you have to pass it through the inside, and let it out through your smart eye”. Is that translation? Isn’t “A Month of Single Frames” the translation of a place and a body, the conditions of light seen through embodied solitude?
There is some kind of radical positioning of Lynne Sachs’ gaze (gaze is a pace and a gesture, and that is its politics): allowing things to unfold as they are, knowing that it is the very act of filming them that constitutes their becoming. Noa becomes play with light. Maya becomes time and unsurmountable individuality. Central Park becomes a porous membrane for the circulation between a musical movement and the event of an emotional form.
1997 [Another baby girl drops down]
(for my daughter, Noa)
Again, nine full moons leave bare
the dust against the sky.
Air fills up with brightness.
Another baby girl drops down.
Dice on a betting table
or rich, ripe fruit atop worn grass.
The political comes forward when things are dislocated from their assigned places, becoming eloquent. When a field of possibilities is problematized by different temporalities, different meanings attach to the same words. New symptoms (not symbols) emerge from the same myths. To the territorialization of body, Lynne Sachs responds with the unspeakable layers of desire, underpinning the history of the body. To the typification of identity, cinema responds with the history of gesture.
Feminism in Lynne Sachs’ work comes from an obsession with ontological fluidity – women as possibilities, bringing with them the memory of what has not been captured by politics, the promise of kinder political places. Such invention requires the deconstruction of the gaze, the transformation of language through the power of a thinking (collective) body. Collective as in-between, in circulation, in transition with others: the Lilliths who may or not become mothers in “A Biography of Lillith”, the enfolding body in “Drawn and Quartered”, the collage that renders old measures useless in “The House of Science: a museum of false facts”.
Materiality is a key aspect in this cinema, it sustains the emergence of a filmic gesture. The presence of things in their most concrete form, be it a birth, a hand helping to translate an idea, a splash of light on a face, the astonishment of a baby in front of a camera. Things occupy a certain space, move in a certain way, and their sensuality is never sublimated or forced into metaphors. It is their material presence that saves them from their assigned roles and chains of meaning, revealing their vitality as a principle for a political imagination.
Translation comes, then, as a movement between transmitted memory, embodied experience, affective vocabulary and the never-accomplished labor of form. Nothing stays determined within a field of possibilities, but the field itself is in a constant motion, resignifying every aspect, reconnecting every moment in time, every glimpse of an image. The work done around Sandor Lenard, a distant cousin, seems key to consider her full body of work. “The Task of the Translator”, presents three movements, three ways of looking for the body. It starts with the reassemblage of bones of dead American soldiers during WWII by Sandor Lenard, in a sequence that will come back in “The Last Happy Days”. Here, translation is both an effort to make sense of the materiality of time and history, and a question about the translatability of such. Like in “Which Way is East”, how can history be translated through the gestures of the present, of the living? Is the way the past escapes linearity and expresses its vitality?
The second movement in “The Task” shows a group of scholars translating an article on Iraqi burial rituals into Latin. Tentative words and articulations around a table, hands helping meaning through gestures. Is Latin a dead language? Sandor Lenard, after moving to Brazil, translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin. What paradox lies in the gesture of translating a children’s story into a dead language? Translation is a game of materiality, of dislocating the world into another regime of forms and movements. Allowing language to pass through the materiality of the present time. In “The Last Happy Day”, children tell the story of Sandor Lenard while rehearsing Winnie the Pooh. Translatability through bodies and gestures, vitality: one does not simply look at the past, but rather invents a dialogue of embodied time. In “The Task of the Translator”, suddenly the camera leaves the scholars and focuses on the drops of rain on a foggy window, and on the gestures of a hand, before we start hearing radio news about human remains after an attack.
Translation keeps all things alive at the same time – even the matter of death.
Born in Portugal, Cíntia Gil studied at the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema (Lisbon Theatre and Film School) and holds a degree in Philosophy from the Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto (Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Porto). From 2012 to 2019, Cíntia Gil served as co-director and then director of Doclisboa – International Film Festival. From 2019 to 2021 she has directed Sheffield DocFest in England. In 2022, Cíntia started the programme of screenings and study groups “Artistic Differences”, at UnionDocs (NY), as a co-curator together with Jenny Miller and Christopher Allen. She is part of the programming team of Cannes Directors Fortnight.
Gil has curated a variety of contemporary and historical film series, retrospectives and exhibitions, besides publishing articles in various publications. In addition, she has taught seminars, lectures and workshop in different institutions (Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica in Mexico, EICTV in Cuba, HGK Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design in Germany among others), and she is a project tutor for the Master on Creative Documentary at the Pompeu Fabra University . She has also served on juries in international film festivals, such as Berlinale, Cairo Film Festival, Mar del Plata, Jerusalem Film Festival, Torino Film Festival, London Film Festival, IDFA, Taipei IDF, FidMarseille, Seville European Film Festival, DokuFest, Ficunam, DocsNYC, Guadalajara, among many others. She has been a member of the executive Board of Apordoc – Associação pelo Documentário, the Portuguese documentary film association since 2015.
 Lynne Sachs, “Year by Year Poems”, Tender Buttons Press, NY, 2019
 “Observe and Subvert”, interview by Inney Prakash for Metrograph, December 2021
 In “The House of Science: a museum of false facts”.
Artistic Differences: BODY OF THE BODY, BODY OF THE MIND
This program is part of Artistic Differences with Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen
ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES is back with Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen this April to present BODY OF THE BODY, BODY OF THE MIND.
Co-curator Cíntia Gil has assembled a mini-retrospective at this year’s festival on one of our longtime collaborators, the beloved and brilliant Lynne Sachs. We’re delighted to focus on one of these three programs for an upcoming Study Group on April 15th from noon-2:30PM Est.
The title of this retrospective and program quotes Lynne Sachs in her 1991 film The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts. It speaks of a zone of experimentation that crosses Sachs’ work and grounds filmmaking as a practice of dislocating words, gestures and modes of being into open ontologies. What can be a woman, a word, a color, a shade, a line, a rule or an object? The negotiation between the body of the body and the body of the mind is another way of saying that things exist both as affections and as processes of meaning, and that filmmaking is the art of not choosing sides in that equation. That is why Sachs’ work is inseparable from the events of life, while being resolutely non-biographical. It is a circular, dynamic practice of translation and reconnection of what appears to be separated.
There are many ways of approaching Lynne Sachs’ full body of work, and many different programmes would have been possible for this retrospective. Films resonate among each other. Like threads, themes link different times. Repetition and transformation are a constant obsession in the way images, places, people and ideas are revisited. While looking for an angle for this programme, we tried to look at some of the lines that seem to us the most constant, even if sometimes subterraneous, throughout the films. The three programmes are not systematically bounding themes and building typologies. They are three different doors to the same arena where body (and the ‘in-between’ bodies) is the main ‘topos’: translation, collaboration, and inseparability of the affective and the political. Yet, none of these terms seems to truly speak of what’s at stake here.
Lynne Sachs knows about the impotency problem of words and concepts, about the difference between the synchronicity of life and the linearity of discourse. She also knows that words can be both symptoms and demiurgic actors. That is maybe why she wrote poems, and that is why this programme was inspired by her book, “Year By Year Poems”.
Sign up for the Study Group to join this dialogue and ever-growing international community!
The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts by Lynne Sachs 30 min | 16mm | Color | 1991 Combining home movies, personal remembrances, staged scenes and found footage into an intricate visual and aural collage, the film explores the representation of women and the construction of the feminine otherness. A girl’s sometimes difficult coming of age rituals are recast into a potent web for affirmation and growth.
Drawn and Quartered by Lynne Sachs 4 min | 16mm | Color | Silent | 1986 Optically printed images of a man and a woman fragmented by a film frame that is divided into four distinct sections. An experiment in form/content relationships that are peculiar to the medium. A declaration of desire of and through cinema.
Maya at 24 by Lynne Sachs 4 min | 16mm to Digital Transfer | B&W | 2021 “My daughterʼs name is Maya. Iʼve been told that the word maya means illusion in Hindu philosophy. I realized that her childhood was not something I could grasp but rather – like the wind – something I could feel tenderly brushing across my cheek.” Lynne filmed Maya at ages 6, 16 and 24, running around her, in a circle – as if propelling herself in the same direction as time, forward.
A Biography of Lilith by Lynne Sachs 35 min | 16mm | Color | 1997 Off-beat narrative, collage and memoir, updating the creation myth by telling the story of the first woman. Lilith’s betrayal by Adam in Eden and subsequent vow of revenge is recast as a modern tale. Interweaving mystical texts from Jewish folklore with interviews, music and poetry, Sachs reclaims this cabalistic parable to frame her own role as a mother.
STUDY GROUP — ONLINE – APR 15
We’re thrilled to come together for a Study Group Session structured around these incredible films! Like a kind of grassroots book club, but for documentary art, it’s all about sparking discussion and deeper investigation, through reading, listening and responding in small, self-organized groups that together form a larger collective experience.
You will get access to the film program through our Membership Hub a few days in advance. Sign up now and stay tuned in your inbox for further instructions!
PUBLIC DIALOGUE – AT THE FESTIVAL – APR 30 – MAY 1
If you’re interested in hearing from the filmmakers & artists themselves as well as the ideas generated in collaboration with our Study Group be sure to catch our regular public dialogues for each film program on the UNDO Member’s Hub. These conversations sample from the festival dialogues, the study group and an in-depth interview hosted by Artistic Differences with the featured artists. Sign Up to receive a note when it’s released.
A Reality Between Words and Images: Films by Lynne Sachs
At the center of Lynne Sachs’s short film Task of the Translator (2010), a group of classics scholars are translating a contemporary New York Times article about Iraqi burial rituals into Latin. Sachs’s intimate camera probes the faces and scribbling hands of the instructor and her students as they wring the right words out of each other (cadaver for dead body, vestigia for footsteps, but aegritudo for grief? Maybe luctus instead.). Sachs uses sound poignantly—fading and layering the scholars’ suggestions, affirmations, and nervous laughter so that the exercise feels arduous and drawn out. As form changes, can meaning remain? It’s a question for translators and experimental filmmakers.
Task of the Translator is one of six films in “A Reality Between Words and Images: Films by Lynne Sachs,” a program screening at e-flux Screening Room. Though not explicitly about translation, a number of the other films in the program deal with how meaning is communicated and what can stand in the way of its conveyance. In The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts (1991), Sachs explores the representation of women in science and art through a collage of home movies, original narration, and found footage and audio. Detailing misconceptions, humiliations, private rituals, and even a bit of wry humor, the film showcases how the changing female body is willfully denied understanding in a patriarchal society.
Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994) is a diaristic travel film that switches between the perspective of Sachs, a brief visitor to Vietnam, and that of her sister Dana, who has been in the country for a year. Sachs layers gorgeous footage she shot on a northward trek from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi with poetic narration and subtitled conversations with Vietnamese strangers and friends. Sachs initially tries to make sense of Vietnam through an understanding of the war. But as the film and her trip wears on, and Dana’s more nuanced observations take over the narration (including a moving anecdote about the region’s seasonal fruit cycle), Sachs develops a meaningful account of experiencing a place as it is.
In Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor (2018), Sachs visits a trio of filmmakers in their own spaces: Carolee Schneeman in her 18th-century farmhouse, Barbara Hammer in her New York studio, and Gunvor Nelson in her childhood village in Sweden. Through these brief portraits, Sachs communicates something essential about these artists (Hammer’s boundless energy, for instance) and how their personalities influence the language of their cameras.
In contrast to much of the other work in the program, Window Work (2000) feels purely experiential. Shot on video, a woman sits near her window, drinking tea, reading the paper, cleaning. Passages of time elapse in idleness without narration; instead the sounds of running water, a child playing, and a passing jet drone on. Two boxes dot the video image, hurling abstracted images onto the screen—taken from celluloid home movies. Though Window Work features two distinct film languages, it resists translating between them; it doesn’t attempt to parse out a mode of communication. Daylight beats on the window, and its glass becomes a mirror. In its iridescent reflection, the viewer understands solitude, reminiscence, the heat of the sun she’s felt before wherever she is.
“A Reality Between Words and Images: Films by Lynne Sachs” screens tonight, October 27, at e-flux Screening Room as part of the series “Revisiting Feminist Moving Image.” Filmmaker Lynne Sachs and her collaborators Kristine Leschper and Kim Wilberforce will be in attendance for a conversation.
Lynne Sachs’ film output is prolific and varied, encompassing documentaries, essay films, non-narrative experiments, and installations. Like many feminist filmmakers, a theme running through her work is the insistence that the personal is important. Whether one’s own body, private moments in a doctor’s office, or one’s sense of family and home, our personal lives are saturated with socio-political meaning. Many meanings are imposed upon us by culture (such as how we experience gender in the world); some meanings we create ourselves (what we choose to value in the face of our acculturation); and some meanings are a rebellion, an attempt to press against the harmful constrictions within culture (reformulating a fluid experience of gender).
Sachs has explored this theme of the personal in different ways across her career, sometimes reflecting inward and sometimes turning the gaze of her camera outward. In The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991) and A Biography of Lilith (1997), Sachs turns her attention to the complicated relationship cis women have with the maternal.
The House of Science begins with an anecdote of a woman attempting to prevent pregnancy. The narrator tells us about visiting a male gynecologist to request a birth control device. Onscreen we see a mid-century image of a man in a lab coat putting a woman in a cage, and the voiceover tells us about asking this male authority figure for permission to have sex, to have sex while still controlling whether to have a child. He grants her this permission, giving her a diaphragm, but doesn’t tell her how to use it, deflating her power over her own body.
Thirty-one years later, this anecdote should feel like a relic of a previous era when male doctors adjudicated under what circumstances women were allowed to control when they have children. However, the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe and Indiana’s own abortion ban that went into effect this past week expose the fragility of all rights and the enduring power of patriarchal authority over our bodies. The salience of The House of Science persists.
A Biography of Lilith uses the mythological Judaic figure of the first woman as synecdoche for misogynistic ideas that continue to plague Western culture. At the same time, the film offers a counternarrative, celebrating birth and the enjoyment one can experience by the feeling of their own body. It’s a contradiction of freedom and constriction.
In her contribution to Essays on the Essay Film (2017), Sachs describes Lilith as “exploring the ruptures that both women and men must confront when transitioning from being autonomous individuals to being parents with responsibilities.”
The film contains footage from the birth of her second daughter. It’s not a birth film, per se, but Lilith exists in conversation with the home birth films of Stan Brakhage and Gunvor Nelson. In a 2007 Camera Obscura article, Sachs reflects on the impact Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving (1959) has had on her film practice. In some ways, her interests mirror Brakhage: “Shooting my own material and engaging with the detritus of popular culture in found footage, I, too, am exploring the intimate, often problematic relationship that exists between the camera and the body.”
However, the gaze of the person experiencing childbirth and pregnancy is not the same as the partner watching from a distance removed. The embodiment that Sachs has experienced and her feminist values cause her to reflect, “…I watch this film with great ambivalence, wondering how Jane might have felt there, sprawled out before her husband’s camera, and later across thousands of movie screens. Is she painfully vulnerable, or is she the essence of strength and courage?”
Perhaps both. Lynne Sachs’ films remind us that we move through life carrying this contradiction — bodies vulnerable, but strong.
Laura Ivins loves stop motion, home movies, imperfect films, nature hikes, and Stephen Crane’s poetry. She has a PhD from Indiana University and an MFA from Boston University. In addition to watching and writing about movies, sometimes she also makes them.
pair of films from singular filmmaker Lynne Sachs investigating the connection
between the body, the camera, and the materiality of film itself.
A Biography of Lilith:
Sachs explores the possibilities of a new creation myth in A Biography
of Lilith through a mixture of collage, mythology, cabalistic parable,
folklore, interviews, and memoir to provide a narrative of the first woman and,
perhaps, the first feminist. Situated on the margins of both documentary and
experimental narrative, the film spans Lilith’s betrayal by Adam in Eden to her
revenge story in the present-day, as a mother who gives up her baby for
adoption and works as a bar dancer. Featuring music by Pamela Z and Charming
Hostess. [35 mins; documentary; English]
Sachs | 1991 | USA | Not rated | 16mm
The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts:
The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts inspects and interrupts representations of women in the house, the museum, and in science, bridging between public, private, and idealized spaces to generate a new, dual image of women, of “a ‘me’ that is two—the body of the body and the body of the mind.” Through a lively assemblage of home movies, personal reminiscences, staged scenes, found footage, and voice, Sachs’ feminized film form reclaims the body divided among these spaces: “We look at ourselves from within, collect our own data, create our own science, begin to define.” [30 mins; documentary; English]
may seem old hat to say an experimental filmmaker’s career defies easy
classification, but in the case of Lynne Sachs, it’s necessary. Sachs has
produced over 40 films in as many years, as well as web projects, multimedia,
and live performances. Additionally, she has written original fiction and
poetry which appears in her films. Sachs has worked closely with filmmakers
like Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Barbara Hammer, Chris Marker, Gunvor Nelson,
Carolee Schneemann, and Trinh T. Min-ha. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Sachs’
recent work includes five films with sound artist Stephen Vitiello, a
collection of site-specific live performances featuring two years of research
with NYC laundry workers, and a poetry collection, Year by Year Poems,
published in 2019 by Tender Buttons Press.
wide ranging the works of Sachs may be, there are common themes and concerns.
Her films frequently expose intimate and private details—often with personal
memories—and explore the problem of translation, not only between one text and
another but between text and image as well. Her predilection for collage,
mixed- media, and hybridized form is intrinsic to the themes she explores,
which often traverse public and private experiences. There is an ever- present
connection to be found between the concept and the material, the form and the
late 1980s and early 90s marks a period in Sachs’ career when her biggest
concern as a woman and an artist were the political and personal themes of
gender, the body, sexuality, and language. Like many of the “downtown”
avant-garde filmmakers working in NYC at this time, Sachs was inspired by
feminist literature, finding herself in a reading group with fellow filmmakers
such as Peggy Ahwesh and Lynn Kirby that engaged with the challenging ideas of
Irigery (Speculum of Other Woman) and Hélène Cixous (The Newly Born
Woman). In Sachs’ words, this was “some of the most powerful, eye-opening
literature I had ever experienced. For each of us, the discovery of the
expansive, rigorous and playful essays of [these authors] completely changed
our sense of language and the body.”
impact that this had on her perspective as a filmmaker can be directly sensed
in the narration in The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts (1991,
30 min., 16mm), not simply through an abstract, intellectual stance, but also
through a visceral, lived experience:
A speculum before me, I hold the mirror just inches away and learn to
look—sometimes shyly, occasionally detached, and now, more often than not,
bravely. I touch myself with knowledge. I trace a path across my chest,
searching for surprises I’d rather not find, knots in the fabric.
voice from the movie: Look!!!
Undressed, we read our bodies like a history. Scars, muscles, curves of the
spine. We look at ourselves from within, collect our own data, create our own
science, begin to define.”
is through the form of the film itself that Sachs seeks to define not just
women’s experience but her own personal experience of fragmentation she felt
throughout adolescence. Narration here is not an overdetermined explanation of
events, but one among many types of media ranging from home movies, staged
scenes, found footage, and even Sachs’ own body, as the film explores the
fragmented divide between what it names “the body of the body” and “the body of
the mind.” This split is not just between the body and the mind but between
what is felt and experienced in the body versus what is said and shown in
private and public spaces from the home to the museum to the clinic, unable to
be fully defined in any of them. The House of Science is a means of not
only detailing these stories but of reclaiming authorship of one’s own body.
A Biography of Lilith (1997, 35 min. 16mm), Sachs expounds on this
theme, this time exploring the broader cultural narratives that define the
experience of gender and identity. A mixture of narrative, collage, and memoir,
the film reimagines the creation myth of the first woman as a modern tale of
revenge following Lilith’s betrayal by Adam in Eden. Sachs juxtaposes high-art and
mundane images of Lilith: in haunting silver, in Medieval Hebrew protection
amulets, Baroque paintings, Mesopotamian ceramics, in Jean Seberg’s portrayal
of the crazed Lilith in a mental hospital, in the TV-sitcom “Cheers.”
in the critical examination of sources in House of Science, here in
Lilith Sachs plays text against image in an attempt to rewrite these received
narratives: “I’m learning to read all over again, / a face, this time,
connected to a body. / At first, I feel your story from within– / Nose rubs
against belly, elbow prods groin. / Your silent cough becomes / a confusing dip
and bulge. / You speak and I struggle to translate.”
in many of her films, Sachs’ personal life and struggles are deeply connected
with the themes she presents. In this case, it was her first child that raised
the issue of the historical roots of our social definitions of motherhood for
her: “I was captivated by this story and all of the folklore that came with it,
especially since new mothers were historically told to be afraid of Lilith. She
was too willful and aware of her sexuality, which was exactly what attracted
me. I discovered Lilith when I was pregnant with my first daughter and finished
the film right after I gave birth to my second. My film Biography of Lilith is
a reflection of all the awe, fear, frustration, and excitement that was part of
artist who continues to inspire and innovate, Lynne Sachs’ films have been
presented at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), Tate Modern, Image Forum Tokyo,
Wexner Center for the Arts, and festivals such as New York Film Festival, Oberhausen
International Short Film Festival, Punto de Vista, Sundance, Vancouver IFF,
Viennale and Doclisboa, among many others. In 2021, she received awards for her
lifetime achievements in experimental and documentary fields from the Edison Film Festival and Prismatic
Ground Film Festival. A Biography of Lilith received prizes at NY Film
Expo; Black Maria; New York Women’s Film Festival and The House of Science has
received numerous prizes at national and international film festivals and
venues. As part of the IU Underground Film Series at the IU Cinema, The
House of Science: A Museum of False Facts and Biography of Lilith will be
shown on Saturday, September 24 at 7pm. The event is free but ticketed—visit
cinema.indiana.edu to reserve tickets.
The Underground Film Series, curated by IU graduate students, explores the artistic and subversive possibilities of film through the unique vision of noncommercial or otherwise marginalized filmmakers. The series encompasses modes of filmmaking from full-length feature films to documentaries, to short films, to video art. The Underground Film Series works to bring unconventional films that are not easily accessible by other means to the attention of the IU and Bloomington communities. By screening avant-garde and experimental films, the Underground Film Series brings audiences to films in danger of being lost or forgotten.
– The retrospective category has been dedicated to the American filmmaker and poet Lynne Sachs –
Displaying independent films from 37 countries and in 15 different languages, the tenth edition of the Costa Rica International Film Festival begins on Thursday.
According to the Ministry of Culture, the festival will take place in two parts. First from June 9 to 18 and then from June 29 to Aug. 26.
The categories of the festival include retrospective films, panorama, young people and pioneers of cinema, among others.
The retrospective category has been dedicated to the American filmmaker and poet Lynne Sachs, who has made 37 films, some of which have won awards or have been included in retrospectives at major festivals.
Sachs’s 2019 film, “A Month of Single Frames,” made with and for Barbara Hammer, won the Grand Prize at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen in 2020.
In 2021, both the Edison Film Festival and the Prismatic Ground Film Festival at the Maysles Documentary Center awarded Sachs for her body of work in the experimental and documentary fields.
Last year the Festival displayed “Film About a Father Who” (2020), directed by Sachs, which is defined as “a poignant and moving film,” by Fernando Chaves-Espinach, director of the festival. “(Sachs) mixes fiction, documentary, experimental film, performance among others,” he said.
“Sachs demonstrates the energy of contemporary cinema and the multiple forms that this art takes, from an intimate and reflective perspective that dialogues with certain forms of filmmaking in our context,” Chaves said.
The festival will be held in several movie theaters in San José, as well as in different communities of the country in rural areas so that more people can enjoy the event, the ministry said.
In San José, the films will be shown at Cine Magaly, the Film Center of the Ministry of Culture and the French Alliance of the France Embassy in Costa Rica.
In rural areas, the festival will be presented at the CCM movie theaters, located in San Ramón and San Carlos in Alajuela Province, in Jacó Beach in Puntarenas Province.
Also, CitiCinemas movie theaters in rural areas will present the festival in Grecia in Alajuela Province, Limón City in Limón Province and Paso Canoas in Puntarenas Province.
In addition, the festival will be presented at Multiplexes in Liberia, Guanacaste Province.
The jury is made up of directors, producers and people of the film industry from Costa Rica and other places such as Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, Colombia, the Basque Country, Germany and Hungary.
The festival will award three mail films for their formal quality and content. In addition, the winning films will receive about $11,000 in prizes in the categories such as Best National Short; Best Costa Rican Feature Film, Best Central American and Caribbean Feature Film, among others.
The tenth edition of the CRFIC is celebrated from June 9 to 18, in its first stage, and from June 29 to August 26, in a second itinerant stage, in communities outside the GAM.
The public will be able to enjoy 87 films in competition and screening, from 37 countries and in 15 different languages.
69% of the films in programming are directed or co-directed by women.
With the presence in the country of the American filmmaker Lynne Sachs, the CRFIC10 pays tribute to her career.
RETROSPECTIVE DEDICATED TO LYNNE SACHS
The CRFIC Retrospective section is dedicated to the renowned American filmmaker and poet Lynne Sachs (1961), who has 37 films to her credit, including short films and feature films, some of which have won awards or have been included in retrospectives at major festivals. .
Regarding the Retrospective, the artistic director of CRFIC10, Fernando Chaves, mentioned that last year the Festival showed Film About a Father Who , a poignant and moving film.
“In this tenth edition of the CRFIC we have the honor of having its director, Lynne Sachs, as a guest of our retrospective,” continued Chaves, “whom we are excited to present for her mixture of fiction, documentary, experimental cinema, performance and other media. ”
According to Chaves, with this solid filmography, Sachs demonstrates the energy of contemporary cinema and the multiple forms that this art takes, from an intimate and reflective perspective that dialogues with certain ways of making cinema in our context.
To close with a flourish, Sachs will hold a workshop where he will experiment with national artists.
Program includes: • Film About a Father Who • Con viento en el pelo • Tip of My Tongue • A Month of Single Frames • Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor • Epistolary: Letter to Jean Vigo • Drawn & Quartered • Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning • Maya at 24 • Same Stream Twice • Photograph of Wind • Still Life with Woman and Four Objects • House of Science: a museum of false facts • Cuadro por cuadro
San José, Costa Rica, May 20, 2022- With a program of outstanding independent films from 37 countries and in 15 different languages, the tenth edition of the Costa Rica International Film Festival (CRFIC10) is held from May 9 to June 18, in a first stage, and from June 29 to August 26 in a second itinerant stage.
The CRFIC10 will be held in person in downtown San José, as well as in different communities in the country outside the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM), with the aim of reaching larger audiences that can enjoy the alternative audiovisual experience proposed by the festival program of the Costa Rican Center for Film Production (Cinema Center).
The artistic director of the 10CRFIC, Fernando Chaves Espinach, stated that “the Festival brings us the opportunity to confront ourselves with the most challenging, innovative and inspiring cinema that is being made today, with different languages and approaches, from very different countries. We have chosen winning films at renowned festivals such as Sundance, San Sebastián and Locarno, films nominated for Oscars and winners at other competitions, but we have also rescued titles that otherwise would not reach our theaters, true discoveries that show us the effervescence of contemporary cinema and its ability to shake us” .
The venues of the Festival will be located in the Magaly Cinema (the Main Hall and La Salita), the Gómez Miralles Hall of the Cinema Center, the French Alliance (in Barrio Amón) and the CCM San Ramón, CCM San Carlos, CCM Jacó rooms. , CitiCinemas Grecia, CitiCinemas Limón, Paso Canoas and Multiplexes Liberia.
In the itinerant stage, it will take place in the communities of Matambuguito, Shiroles, Boruca, Térraba, Sarapiquí and Grano de Oro.
The 10CRFIC program is made up of a careful selection of 87 international, regional and national films directed and co-directed, 69% by women, with varied content for audiences of all ages.
“We are proud to present a diverse programming in gender and geographical origin, which shows that cinema has never been monolithic in its language or in its origin; this programming allows us to articulate a defense of cinema as a diverse, complex art whose permanence as a vehicle of artistic expression requires spaces for debate and enjoyment such as festivals” , commented Chaves.
OPENING WITH UTAMA FEATURE FILM For the inauguration of the 10CRFIC, the curatorial team chose the feature film Utama (2022), by Bolivian director Alejandro Loayza Grisi.
The feature film is a co-production between Bolivia, Uruguay and France and is set in the arid Bolivian highlands, where an elderly Quechua couple have lived the same daily life for years.
In the middle of a drought, Virginio (80 years old) gets sick and aware of his imminent death, he lives his last days hiding the illness from Sisa (81 years old).
Loayza Grisi (1985) began her career in still photography and later entered the world of cinema through film photography.
As director of photography, he worked on the documentary series Planeta Bolivia, and on multiple short films such as Aicha, Dochera and Polvo.
Attracted by the stories that can be told through moving images, he ventured into writing and directing his first feature film titled Utama.
The competitive categories of the programming for this tenth edition are the following: Central American and Caribbean Feature Film Competition, with films from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and the Dominican Republic; and the National Short Film Competition, with eleven Costa Rican productions.
The 10CRFIC will award a statuette to three films that stand out for their formal quality and content, as well as 8 million colones (approximately US$11K at the exchange rate) in total in incentives and support to the filmmakers selected as winners of the Competitive categories: a 1 million colones prize for Best National Short Film, a 3 million colones prize for Best Costa Rican Feature Film, and a 3 million colones prize for Best Central American and Caribbean Feature Film, as well as two 500,000 colones prizes for special mention Jury Mention in Feature Films and Jury Mention in Short Films, respectively.
The other sections of the program are: Panorama, Radar, Approach, Last batch, Young people, Memory, Pioneers of cinema and Retrospective.
COMPETITION JURIES The jury for the Central American and Caribbean Feature Film Competition is made up of Peter Taylor (Northern Ireland), programmer and curator, and currently director of the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival; Christina Newland (United Kingdom), journalist for Vice, Sight & Sound, BBC, Mubi and Empire, on topics such as cinema, pop culture and boxing; and Pablo Hernández Hernández, (Costa Rica), professor at the University of Costa Rica with a doctorate in Philosophy from the Universität Potsdam and specialist in Aesthetics, philosophy of art and culture.
The jury of the National Short Film Competition is Alexandra Latishev (Costa Rica), a filmmaker who graduated from the New Film and Television School of the Véritas University; Juan Soto (Colombia), editor, director and archivist, who currently works at the Filmoteca de Catalunya as Film Preservation Project Manager; and Vanesa Fernández (Basque Country), director of the Zinebi Festival and coordinator of the Degree in Audiovisual Communication at the University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea (UPV/EHU).
For their part, the CRFIC Industry juries are Gudula Meinzolt (Germany), with training and experience in cultural management and cinema in areas such as research, promotion, organization of festivals, distribution, exhibition and co-production; Karolina Hernández (Costa Rica), founder and general producer of Dos Sentidos SA and coordinator of the Audiovisual Production area of the Office of Communication and Marketing of the Tecnológico de Costa Rica and professor at the University of Costa Rica; and Zsuzsi Bankuti (Hungary), who since 2020 directs the Cutting Edge Talent Camp, since 2022 is the interim director of Open Doors, and also works as an international strategy consultant for the Doha Film Institute, the Torino Film Lab and Cinemart.
Figuring out the unique grammar of your life can be difficult. People, situations, can give us question marks with no answers and ellipses that lead to nothing. Lynne Sachs, a Memphis-born experimental filmmaker, attempted to answer some of these questions in her own life with the 2020 documentary, Film About a Father Who. She offers an in-depth look at her father and titular character.
Ira Sachs Sr. is an enigmatic hotelier out of Park City, Utah, with an unmissable mustache and a penchant for colorful button-ups. His approach to love parallels in eccentricity. He despises loving like a “swan,” the idea of mating with a single soulmate for life. Sachs Sr. chose instead to surround himself with a steady flow of young women and went on to marry—and divorce—a number of them. Many of Lynne Sachs’ childhood peers were enamored by the bravado and Hefner-esque life her father led. But this way of life caused tension at times with those closest to him, to say the absolute least.
Beginning in 1984, Lynne Sachs chronicled moments in Sachs Sr.’s life for thirty-five years and those in his mother’s, ex-wives’, children’s, and others close to him. Her mission was to elucidate his tucked-away interior life, not just to an audience but to herself. Two years after the release of the film and two years younger than when Sachs began this project, I got to speak with her about it and her greater body of work. Sachs gave a lecture at Sarah Lawrence in the fall of 2021—for those who took Tanya Goldman’s “Experimental Documentary”course. I sat in my apartment in upstate New York and called Sachs, who was in a hotel room in Paris. She’d left her Brooklyn home for a few weeks to attend a screening of her work. In our hours of conversation, what stuck with me the most was what she said about the image above. Sachs stated that it is “the most important in all of Film About a Father Who.” A scene that wasn’t even filmed by Sachs, instead by her father. It’s a tranquil look at three of her siblings as children playing in a creek. For a film that follows a bon vivant and his unorthodox lifestyle, I was taken aback that this scene was the most important.
The scene occurs once in each of the three acts, all different segments of the same shot. Why? Well, it’s part of what makes this film, like each of her films, have a unique “feeling”—or “grammar”—to them. “Grammar,” as a metaphor, is illustrated in another wonderful scene in act one. I told her,
I really loved that scene in Film About A Father Who.
In it, Sachs, her brother, and her sister sit on her childhood bed talking
about how [your father] doesn’t have a grammar and your mother does when you’re living with each of them. Do you feel that your work as a filmmaker has some sort of grammar behind it? Or is it just question marks when you go into each project?
I think that what really, really distinguishes an experimental film from a more conventional film, whether you’re talking about a documentary or a narrative or any other form, is a refusal to embrace a formula around grammar or a template—the grammar of cinema. Because people say things like, “well, a great documentary is character-driven,” or they say “you can’t break the 180-degree rule when you’re shooting,” or you must have the exposition sort of identified and articulated in a narrative film by fifteen minutes in.
There’s all these rules about the shape of things. The way shot-reverse-shot insinuates that two people are in the same room and doing things simultaneously. If you know about making films, you know that they’re probably not, but it relies on an assumption on the part of the audience that the grammar of the film will be accessible and key to that—key is familiar.
So then you jump over to something that is more playful, experimental, distinctive in terms of each work, having its own cosmos. And you think that the audience at first might be a little disoriented because the audience doesn’t understand its distinctive grammar, but through the shaping, evolution of the film, the audience starts to register how meaning is constructed. And I think that’s really exciting. And I think that is an opportunity to constantly reinvent how you work with the medium of film. When I hear about someone who says, “well, I bought this software that helps you to write your screenplays, it comes with a template.”
I think, okay, if it comes with a template, then you are going to construct time in a certain kind of way. You’re going to create your characters in a, probably, formulaic way. So I’m scared of that kind of stuff. I think it’s problematic. So, then you asked that in relationship to Film About a Father Who, and I think that every family has its own grammar as well and that the grammar is significant because it guides you in terms of how you relate to people of different generations or new members of your family. It has to do with how transparent you are. What it means to do something like tell a lie, or what is a white lie? How many different people in your family do you tell white lies to, to protect them?
What does a white lie really mean? People either withhold information or you shift information because you think the truth is going to be complicated or intimidating or painful. So you were asking about the punctuation marks—are my films question marks? I do actually like when people leave my films, asking questions of themselves or questions of society or questions more ontologically about how we construct meaning. I like that. I think that’s an opportunity for being changed by a work of art. Or perhaps being just slightly shifted by it.
There was kind of a shift at the end of the film when you bring in your sister—the one that had been removed from you for so long. A lot of stories about your father- there’s some sort of way you and your other siblings in your minds might have justified them a lot of times, but in that one, there’s no justification for what happened.
Sachs’ half-sister went on a pre-college trip with a best friend from high school, staying in a ski lodge with Sachs Sr. At the end of the vacation, her best friend announced that she had fallen for and would continue to live with her father.
I felt like that really changed the perception of the film.
Sometimes we do that with things that upset us. We create justification in order to move forward, but then it keeps gnawing at us. So if we finally come to terms with our own anguish with the recognition that the reality is not what we want it to be, but it is there and that we can’t make any more excuses for it. Then I think it’s like a cathartic experience, even if it is difficult.
Also what I loved about that film is I felt you’re really comfortable not only behind the camera but also in front. Your  short film, Drawn and Quartered, you talked about how you at first edited out your face because you were so embarrassed [to show yourself nude], but then you ultimately decided to put it back in. And I felt like that was a moment of growth?
In English, we say, “oh, don’t you feel exposed.” We the word exposed on a physical level, and we use it on a psychological level.
So at that point, I was not very secure with showing my body, and I felt vulnerable and I felt too observed. But then later I made a film called the The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts, and I take my clothes off a little, other people do too—it’s a lot about the body.
But what was more of an exposed feeling was the writing. The idea of that you write about things that go on in your body and the grit of it all, the pus, the urine, and all those things. But the thing is, by exposing that, you’re actually saying I’m just like everybody else.I’m a woman. My body’s like all the other women; we’re just shaped a little different. It’s when you open up and expose the narrative of your life and all the compromises that come with that–that’s even more revealing. So there’s all these layers of what it means to be exposed.
As you’ve made films throughout your career, have you felt you’ve been able to be more comfortable [in front of the camera], or was this something from the beginning you felt—
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, definitely not. Sometimes I go back — not that I do this very much — and look at my progress reports from elementary school. And my teachers would say, “Lynne is a good student, but she’s so shy.” I wasn’t a very forthright child. I wasn’t the first person to raise their hand, you know, in those situations. But I think it’s come to me, and I think part of it is, let’s say, making a film like Film About a Father Who. I was so profoundly nervous about making this film.
It’s not just because I was exposing myself to you or to anyone else in the audience, but I was exposing myself, my life to myself. Does that make sense? I’ve never explored this word in this way. You are really making me think! Like I was saying, “Hey, this is really how it is,” because you can get very wrapped up in the day-to-day activities of your life and not really allow yourself to think in an analytical way, an emotional way about how, how you’ve lived your life. And so the film gave me that chance. I realized as I was making Film About a Father Who that two things happen when you’re interviewing and when you’re trying to write.
If I’m talking to one of my siblings and I’m asking them to tell me about how they feel about something, they’re looking to me, and I’m saying, “yes, yes,” and I’m nodding, and I’m affirming as if that’ll fit perfectly into my edit, you know, [like] that’s exactly what I needed. So I found that if we went together into a very dark place, like a closet, there wasn’t that constant affirmation and perhaps, manipulation. So that’s one thing. But then the other thing had to do with the writing and the construction of a voiceover or narration was that I kept censoring myself. So I used a method that has really proven to be super helpful. That was to just record my thoughts in this kind of unfiltered way and then to send it to a transcription service. And then you come back, and you have 20 pages of text. That was how I did it since I kept writing in my moleskin diary and scratching it all out.
I know you got your start with feminist filmmaking.Seeing Film About a Father Who, I wondered was there any sort of [internal] conflict?
I was actually editing Film About a Father Who during the Me Too movement. So I was cognizant of the fact that I was talking about a man who led a life, well, he’s still alive, in which he had a certain kind of power over different women in his life. Maybe not in the workplace, but you know, in his personal life. And I knew that there were contradictions, but I felt that I was not only making it as a feminist but also as a daughter. You look at your parents as role models, but you also look at your parents for ways to be completely different.
They’re your first models of how to exist in the world and for how to define what their sexuality is—how they define the meaning of their gender. And so either you adhere to that, or you move away. And for example, in Film About a Father Who, I think my brothers were all positioning themselves in very different ways in terms of their own identity as men. I think that they were confronting those things in just as complicated ways as we as daughters were. I mean, my brother Ira said he thinks the gist of the whole movie is a kind of search for a new or refined definition for masculinity in the 2020s.
So I was trying to deal with that all the time to move between my rage at my dad, but also my attempt to forgive him or to recognize his flaws.
I also found it interesting that from the beginning of your career, you started filming people in a unique way, compared to traditional documentarians that do shot-reverse-shot and have them look at a certain place. Whereas I feel like a lot of people that you film will look right at the camera or look right at you. How did you even think to do that? Break that rule.
Oh, you really picked up on something. That happened particularly in a film called Investigation of a Flame
(a 2001 documentary by Sachs that illuminates the story of the Catonsville Nine, who were Catholic activists in 1968 who peacefully yet poignantly burned draft files to protest the Vietnam War.)
When I was shooting that film, most of it, not all of it, I shot by myself. I was shooting it, but I was also using it as an opportunity to get to know these incredible anti-war activists, people who had been fighting the fight—the good fight. And even breaking the law in an absolutely nonviolent way as a statement against the Vietnam war. So I was on my way to interviewing someone near Boston. And a friend of mine who worked for National Geographic [said to me], “How are you going to shoot that by yourself? Because where will they look?” But that’s part of a grammar, that conceit, that idea that you have to look like three-quarters off. I think it was Errol Morris, the documentary filmmaker, who came up with a camera which he reconfigured so that people could simultaneously look at him while he was shooting and appear to be looking off at something. He invented some form of refraction to kind of work against that formula for setting up a relationship that isn’t about that the director controlling—[even though] we know the director is controlling. I mean, one of my very favorite places to do interviews is in the car because I think when people look off at a horizon line, even if the car isn’t moving, they become very introspective. Have you ever noticed all the deep conversations you might’ve had in a car?
Yeah. No, I never thought about that. There must be something with like the horizon—
The horizon, the sort of hermetic solitude—removed from the rest of the world but not really. You’re not in a silent chamber. You’re actually watching the world go by. But people become very— what’s the word? Meditative.
I definitely remember you having a couple of interviews where a person is looking out a window, looking outside.
I’ve been criticized for that. Oh my God. I had an interview in Investigation of a Flame where I’m interviewing this man. And then I look out the window— the camera looks out the window. And a lot of people were surprised that I kept that. They said, “why didn’t you just put in ‘B-roll’?” But I actually hate the term B-roll. I can’t stand it. It’s so disrespectful of the image, but also, I wanted the shot to convey that I was listening to him. I mean, I thought it was honest. I was listening to this man so intensely that I needed to not look at him. I needed to take in what he was saying.
I think that’s so interesting that you hate that term “B-roll.” Because I definitely feel like for a lot of your films, what makes them so good is that you have like an eye for beauty in all moments. No moment is B-roll.
I think that I said it was “disrespectful to the image,” but it actually doesn’t allow for the dialogue or the voiceover to have multiple layers of meaning. It just provides a little bit of distraction. I mean, I would say if the idea of B-roll, as in filler, is all you can do, just put in black.
The attention to dialogue is evident in each of Sachs’ films. Her 2013 documentary, Your Day is My Night, documents the lives of Chinese immigrants living in Manhattan’s Chinatown. In a scene where a middle-aged man gives another a back massage, he apologizes for bringing trashed mattresses into their shared living space. He likes to clean them and give them back to people in need. Sachs cut back and forth from a close-up of his hands gingerly rubbing the other’s back to a close-up of his face as he speaks, the window reflecting in his glasses. The audible rhythm of the massage combined with the focus on the scene presented—no, B-roll—makes it feel immersive. It made me linger on every word, every sound.
Sachs cares greatly about the spoken word but also the written. Many of her films intersect both of these mediums. Her 2020 abstract short film, Girl is Presence, silently follows her daughter arranging items from shark teeth to film strips while a poem is recited as a voiceover. For this short, she collaborated with poet Anne Lesley Selcer. I thought it was intriguing that Sachs, being a documentarian who tend to concern themselves with prose-oriented storytelling, has such a strong interest in poetry. Though, it is not surprising because Sachs herself is a poet. In 2019, her first book was published, Year by Year Poems (Tender Buttons Press) which inspired her 2017 documentary Tip of My Tongue.
I know you write poetry as well.
Yeah, I think there’s an interesting intersection between film and poetry that isn’t just about two different disciplines coming together, but it’s a way of listening. So poetry is like a confrontation with or a disruption of more conventional ways of constructing meaning, of organizing sentences. Poetry asks you to think in more associative ways and in speculative ways and redefines words you thought you knew. It asks you to listen in this kind of super-engaged way. And I also like that poetry thinks about the words in collision with each other and overlapping each other like the songs of words and even the fact that we break lines based on sound and based on rhythm, which is not how prose works. And that’s also how I like to edit, for example, dialogue in my films. I like to think about the ways that things are iterated, not just a cause and effect. Like I say this, and then you say that, and then I say this back to you. So I think poetry pushes you to engage with the oral experience in really revealing ways. I have recently, like in the last four or five years, integrated poetry more and more into my own film work, like with “Tip of My Tongue.” Then I made quite a few films in collaboration with other poets, like Bernadette Mayer or Paolo Javier.
Watching your films, I felt like there was a unique flow to the dialogue a lot of times.
One thing that’s been helpful over the years is I often shoot images separate from recording sound. So when you shoot what we call video image or digital, it’s like the sound and the picture usually, as they say, it sounds so terrible, [are] “married.” So you get the image, and you get the sound, and people tend to privilege the hearing of clear, clean sound in order to convey information. But if you let that go, you can allow dialogue to transform into sound effect. Like in conventional filmmaking, you have a track which is dialogue, a track which is effects, and a track which is music. But if you think of it all as an opportunity for dialogue to become music or for a sound effect to register almost like voice, then you start to get surprises that I think are super interesting.
That just reminded me of like- I love that opening of The Washing Society, where it was cutting to different [exteriors of] laundromats [around New York City]. I just remember watching that, and, you know, I had the volume turned up. And I felt like each laundromat, each area, had its unique sounds to it and really flowed into each one quite nicely, but then became distinct.
Thank you for saying that. In that film and about five others, I’ve worked really closely with Stephen Vitiello, who’s a wonderful sound artist and performer. We started working together on Your Day is My Night in 2013. Then he worked with me on Tip of My Tongue , Drift and Bow and Film About a Father Who. I’ll send him sounds from laundromats, then he’ll send me back musical pieces, and they’re usually much longer than the image. So then I have to find more image. And so it’s really like a back and forth the whole time. It’s never simply that he just creates the music track.
That’s the main methodology [for] him making music for your films? You’ll send him soundbites, and he’ll send you music?
Sort of. A lot of times, I’ll send him an image, and then he’ll come up with something, or he’ll say, “listen, [I] sent you all these sounds I made.” He also uses instruments. Sometimes he’ll hire a clarinet player, and then they’ll make these longer pieces, and then I love the piece so much that I think I have to meet him with more image. For me, the places where we have his music are very evocative and also places for thinking so that my films aren’t too much dialogue. I call them a sound vessels so that you can be in this place of resonance without exposition or information or anything like that, listening in a more relational way.
So, sometimes he’ll send you music, and you’ll actually respond by filming more?
Yeah. Yeah, sometimes.
I think that’s awesome.
It’s a lot of pressure, but I try to rise to the occasion.
I think in that way it makes the films breathe a little more, you know, so that you have some kind of scene where you have all this activity and energy and conversation, and then you have, a time that’s more sort of more cerebral. It’s not like a rest time. In fact, I think the audience has to kind of work with what they’ve just experienced in the previous scenes. That’s what I think happens in those sections.
Also, I see that you’re very interested in the ephemeral with a lot of your work. I’m wondering, for something as permanent a medium as film is, what is your interest in that?
Hmm, that’s really a lovely question. So, I guess I explored that most… I’m going to think about a couple of films, but I don’t know if you’ve seen them. Did you see Maya at 24?
Maya at 24 is a four-minute short film she released in 2021, which captures her daughter, Maya, at ages 6, 16, and the titular, 24. It’s comprised almost entirely of three paralleled scenes of Maya running in circles around a camera at each of those ages. Sachs shot it in black and white film on her 16mm Bolex.
So I was thinking about this while my daughter was spinning around me and then later as I was watching those moments on film. There on the screen are aspects of her that are no more—like I can’t touch anymore, that I can’t access anymore. But film itself can remind me; it’s almost like saying film is the antidote to the ephemeral? It’s sort of saying, “well, nothing is ephemeral because we can contain it and put it in our computer or put it in a can,” but yet it is also constantly reminding us that it no longer is. Did you see a Month of Single Frames?
No, but that’s the one about Barbara Hammer?
Yeah. You know, Barbara Hammer’s work?
A little bit. I’m not too knowledgeable of her, though.
Well, she was definitely a mentor of mine and a dear friend—she was never a teacher—but I admired her. She was exactly the same age as my mom is, and she was a powerhouse, “lesbian, experimental filmmaker,” that’s what she called herself. And when she was dying, a year before that, she asked me and some other people to make films with materials she had never been able to finish. And so the film that we made, which is a Month of Single Frames, or that I made in homage to her, is also about the ephemeral because it’s a recognition of the mortal coil as well as the changing landscape that you’ll see in the film. The landscape is- has- will always change. So it’s only there to hold onto and to touch in that exact moment. It’s like the Heraclitus, you know, “you can’t step in the same [stream] twice.” And so, it is always passing us by. I’m working on a new film now called Every Contact Leaves a Trace. It’s about people who’ve left imprints on me, but that expression comes from a forensic study. That if you come into my home or space and you take something from me, you leave something of yourself, a residue. So I’m interested in that. What happens when a tangible, touch-based experience is investigated, which is sort of like, how do we confront the ephemeral?
So for that film, Every Contact Leaves a Trace. Are you trying to take like a neutral stance and pull in people that have had any sort of contact with you—negative or positive?
I actually only have a pool of 550 people.
That’s a lot, though.
But I’m not using all of them. No, I’m not. They are people who, at one point, gave me a card. We had a haptic intersection. It could be a doctor. It could be someone from like a hardware store. I have both of those types of people. I met a man on the border between the United States and Mexico, right in Tijuana. We met for about an hour. He gave me his card. So, I’m actually constructing scenarios in my mind about those. Yeah, it’s kind of similar; you said “ephemeral.” It’s like a passing in the night. That man left something with me. Maybe I left something with him. I don’t know. That happened in 2014, but I have these cards going back all the way to the ’90s. I’m interested in not so much the trajectory of their lives but in the detritus of the moment. I might do kind of playful reenactments. I’m not quite sure.
Like Lynne Sachs’ use of business cards to recall moments with strangers, near the end of the interview, I brought out stills from her films to recall scenes. The image I brought for Film About a Father Whowas one of my favorites, but the one I had the most trouble understanding. It’s the image you have seen twice thus far—Sachs’ siblings playing in a creek. I was first drawn to it by the use of color and light. Then, when I noticed she repeated it across the film it made me believe it had to hold more significance than I understood. Though, I was not prepared for how important. I said to her,
I noticed that you repeated this image in Film About a Father Who.
Oh, thank you. Okay. I love that you brought that up. What happens in Film About a Father Who is that I have a seven-minute shot that my dad recorded with his own camera. So it’s the world and his children perceived by him. In many films that one makes, you talk to people, and they tell you exactly how they feel about things. But that was really a challenge for me with my father. So, to see the world through his lens, through his eyes, was such an opportunity for me to think about the positive things that he brought to his children. I had that material, and at first, I absolutely dismissed it because it had been completely degraded by time, by the weather, by the fact that the material had been in a garage for decades. Then I looked at it again, and I realized it was the most important image in all of Film About a Father Who. Because it has this compassion, but also as an image, it’s like the classical golden triangle. It’s constructed graphically like what you’re taught in design school or in drawing class—to create this perpetual motion inward towards the center through a triangle. And so, I was interested in using that as a marker three times in the film, but it’s not exactly the same shot. It’s different parts of the same seven-minute shot. Each time you, as the viewer, have a different level of engagement. The first time the children are sort of archetypal children playing in the water. The second time you know that they’ve grown up and you’ve seen them in other places, and you’re able to have a kind of comprehensive understanding of life live; they have become thinking, engaged adults. The third time that you see it, you bring a kind of gravitas. Like these people have been through some pain. They have wisdom; they have interesting and complex interactions. So I’m interested personally in how you change as viewer because each time you see that frame, you are slightly more knowing. By the end, you’re almost omniscient, but in the beginning, you’re just engaging with it as material image.
That was so profound. I absolutely love that explanation.
It was really a reversal because I was so dismissive of that shot, and then I was so enthralled by it. There’s one other shot in Film About a Father Who that’s kind of like that. At the very end, there’s this static-y black and white shot where you only see the silhouette of my father, and he’s going off towards the horizon line. It probably was at the end of a tape and was damaged in some way. But I liked that it was pared down to these high contrasts blacks and whites, and that was it. It is my father, but it could become your father or anyone in your life you’re trying to hold onto.
You can find many of Lynne Sachs’s films on the Criterion Channel, Fandor, DAFilms and Ovid: