Tag Archives: I am Not a War Photographer

I am Not a War Photographer by Lynne Sachs

I  AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER  by Lynne Sachs

Published on Otherzine:   http://www.othercinema.com/otherzine/index.php?issueid=18&article_id=56

It all started with atheism.  I’ve always been troubled by the idea that a person would need to define her entire spiritual world view by relying on beliefs and experiences that were not her own.  I do not believe in God therefore I am an atheist.

So, alas, I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER is what I’ve decided to call a group of five films I’ve made over the last thirteen years.  After breathlessly watching Christian Freil’s “War Photographer” (2001), the utterly transformative documentary on the life of James Nachtway, print journalism’s quintessential career war photographer, I knew that Nachtway’s remarkable credo —

“Every minute I was there, I wanted to flee.  I did not want to see this.  Would I cut and run, or would I deal with the responsibility of being there with a camera?”
(James Nachtway)

— was not my own.

From Vietnam to Bosnia to the Middle East today, the making of my experimental documentary films has taken me to parts of the world I had never expected to see in my life as an artist.   Using abstract and reality based imagery, each new film has forced me to search for precise visual strategies to work with these fraught and divisive locales and themes. Often opting for a painterly rather than a photographic articulation of conflict, I struggle with each project to find a new language of images and sounds I can use to look at these volatile moments in history.  My films and a recent web project expose what I see as the limits of a conventional documentary representation of both the past and the present. Infusions of colored “brush strokes” catapult a viewer into contemporary Vietnam. Floating drinking glasses moving across a Muslim cemetery in Sarajevo evoke a wartime without water. Pulsing, geometric mattes suspended in cinematic space block news footage of a bombing in Tel Aviv.   With each project, I have had to search for a visual approach to looking at trauma, painful memory, and conflict. By using abstraction I am not avoiding the graphic realism that Nachtway so bravely captures but rather unpeeling the outer, more familiar layer, hoping to reveal something new about perception and engagement in cinema.

Poet Adrienne Rich once wrote “A place on the map is also a place in history.”   This intersection of vertical space (i.e. the globe, a continent, a country, a city, a home, a kitchen table) with horizontal time (war, birthdays, holidays, hurricanes) perfectly encapsulates the fascinating paradoxes that are revealed when one travels with a camera.

In 1992, my sister Dana Sachs (author of The House on Dream Street: Memoirs of an American Woman in Vietnam and the novel If You Lived Here) was living and writing in Hanoi for the first of her many years in that Northern, colonial capital so haunted by the French and American wars. Communication between our two countries was still unbelievably difficult — no phone calls, no faxes and of course no email.  This was the first year in which Americans were allowed visas to travel to Vietnam. With my 16mm Bolex packed deep inside a backpack and no particular cinematic agenda, I got on a plane from San Francisco and flew west to see “the East.”

In retrospect, I think I was trying to grapple with a particular view of history inspired by Hayden White’s brilliantly inventive Metahistory, an analysis of our western historical imagination, the ways that we tell stories and order time.   In my mind, there were two opposing views of the timeline of what we call the Vietnam War and what the Vietnamese call the American War (1959 – 1975).  As a history major in the early 1980s, I was already questioning Lyndon Johnson’s problematic role in the escalation of the US assault on Indochina.  While my liberal parents had depicted Johnson as a hero, at least on the domestic front, his model reputation was shattered by my realization that he was also a culpable player in the game of war on the other side of the globe.  Simply put, I wanted to find out how Vietnamese people felt about Americans – from a 1960s president to actress-celeb Jane Fonda, who became a Lefty phenome when she visited  Hanoi in 1972.  The Pacific Ocean was a topographical manifestation of this temporal line of history’s ebbs and flows, its moments of crisis, collapse and calm.  I wanted to see it from the other side, to understand the most pivotal events – from the Tet Offensive to the fall of Saigon —  as well as the small personal epiphanies from a Vietnamese perspective.

In my film WHICH WAY IS EAST: NOTEBOOKS FROM VIETNAM, I make it clear right from the start that my1960s childhood experience of listening to Walter Cronkite every evening had a strange, albeit well-informed influence on my understanding of these volatile times.

“When I was six years old, I would lie on the living room couch, hang my head over the edge, let my hair swing against the floor and watch the evening news upside-down.”

Perhaps even more influential were the ‘70s war movies like “Apocalypse Now”, “The Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home” my father took his three children to see in lieu of the more typical (and perhaps equally “powerful”) Disney kids fare. We had one family friend who had been a soldier in the war.  OJ was a “frogman”, an underwater diver, for the US Army.  He died about 10 years ago from a cancer we all assumed was a result of the occupational hazards of working with Agent Orange. I talk about OJ in the last lines of the film.

Back to my production story.  The early 1990s was a time when documentary makers were embracing video hook, line and sinker.  The ease with which you could shoot sound and picture simultaneously made it almost impossible to resist.  And yet, I felt that I thought more clearly about the properties of images when I collected them separately.  So, I decided to carry my trusty 16mm Bolex with a 28 second shot limit and a small tape recorder.  There would be no synchronous sound and no on-camera interviews.  In exchange for this inability to capture the gestalt of my touristic reality with the push of one button, I would have discrete sensory experiences of light and sound. In addition, I would abstain from using  the zoom lens.  Vietnamese filmmaker and writer Trinh T. Minh-ha was a teacher of mine in graduate school in the Film Department at San Francisco State.  Her disdain for the telephoto as a tool that enables us to shoot from a distance from our subject imposed a strict discipline on my own relationship to the camera.  The sheer physicality of making an image became critical to my process. I had to move my body to find the frame I wanted.

May 15, my third day in Vietnam. Driving through the Mekong Delta, a name that carries so much weight.  My mind is full of war, and my eyes are on a scavenger hunt for leftovers. Dana told me that those ponds full of bright green rice seedlings are actually craters, the inverted ghosts of bombed out fields.

More often than I’d like to admit, what I saw with my eyes was often not at all what was really there.  On so many levels, looking at the footage from the “field work” I did abroad eventually revealed to me the superficiality of my understanding of the place.  Only after spending two years working with new Vietnamese immigrants in the Bay Area did I begin to grasp the resonating affects of the conflict I too now think of as the American War.

With INVESTIGATION OF A FLAME (2001), I returned to this same period in Vietnamese/American history, only this time from the opposite perspective.  With two young children and a full time teaching position, overseas travel for a production was prohibitive.    I was living in Catonsville, Maryland in 1998 when I first came across the story of the Catonsville Nine, a radical band of Catholic anti-war activists who broke into a draft board office in 1968 and destroyed hundreds of files with homemade Napalm.  I spent the next three years making a film on this extraordinary act of civil disobedience – a performance piece with political dimensions that resonated from coast to coast.  I followed renowned priest Philip Berrigan in and out of federal prison, met Marjorie Melville on a sand dune near Tijuana and interviewed Tom Lewis in the woods the day he was released from a recent stint in prison for knocking a fighter plane with a hammer.

With WHICH WAY IS EAST, I wanted to rely on our shared mental archive of the Vietnam war, to allow that documentation to flow on a charged yet invisible “memory screen” my audience would bring to the theater. This time, however, I desperately needed to find the lost roll of film that a local TV reporter had shot of the action.  With this new project, I became an obsessed detective in search of the proof of a very lofty crime.  Once I found the reporter and convinced him to give me the material, the 400’ of 16mm reversal sound film became sacred contraband I would keep under lock and key.  For the previous ten years of my life, I’d followed the post-modern credo of my fellow experimental filmmakers:  any piece of film was one worth critiquing, parodying or destroying.   Now, I’d met my match.  I would treat this sliver of historical detritus like a family heirloom.

Making films about wars certainly makes the exhibition and distribution process very dynamic.  I began FLAME before September 11th, when any fascination with the long lost art of anti-war protests was considered purely nostalgic.  I showed my movie to a group of San Franciscans in October of 2001 and many of the viewers in the theater expressed horror at the actions of the Catonsville Nine because the very act of breaking the law in the name of one’s god was just a degree away from violence.  Not a question of kind but of degree.  When I showed the film a year after the US invasion of Iraq, people were giddy to remember that there was once a brave, vocal, engaged anti-war movement in this country.

In 2001, I went to Sarajevo with videomaker Jeanne Finley on a fellowship to create a collaborative work with eight Bosnian artists. One year later, we completed the website WWW.HOUSE-OF-DRAFTS.ORG, a virtual apartment building inhabited by nine imaginary characters who have chosen to stay in Sarajevo after the war in the Balkans. From a performance artist who moonlights as a de-miner to a cinematographer who uses his camera to turn a decaying Sarajevo into a bustling Bangkok to a traveler caught by the inferno of a burning library  — the website represents our ruminations on a city and its inhabitants during and after a period of war.  In the process of making this work, I discovered that giving people the license to explore their own histories through fiction was profoundly liberating and creatively regenerative.  Rather than asking our collaborators to speak about the harrowing past they had somehow managed to live through, we encouraged them to create funny, irreverent personas who could speak brazenly “untrue” things, tell jokes, even lie in the most haunting and revealing ways.  Our tendency toward the use of abstracted imagery pushed the questions of authenticity even further away from the burden of fact.

On a November morning in 2002, I sat down to read the New York Times.  To my shock, I came across the story of Revital Ohayon, an Israeli filmmaker and teacher who was killed along with her two sons in a terrorist act on a kibbutz near the West Bank.  In so many ways, her work paralleled my own. I immediately contacted a young Israeli who had been a film student of mine, explaining to him that I wanted to make a movie about this woman but that I was not in a position to fly to the Middle East to shoot the project.  My reasons were two-fold.  First of all, I was disturbed by Israeli political actions in the West Bank and wanted to follow the exigencies of French feminist Helene Cixous “I am on the side of Moses, the one who does not enter…. ‘Next year, in Jerusalem’ makes me flee.”   Secondly, having lived in New York City through September 11, I still felt too unsettled to travel to another place on the globe where violence seemed to run so rampant.  Quite honestly, I was scared. So I convinced myself that I could understand this volatile place by reading novels and ancient texts and looking at Revital’s movies.  STATES OF UNBELONGING was ultimately an effort at making an anti-documentary. Unlike everyone else in the field, I didn’t want to see, hear or smell for myself. I wanted to rely on my imagination, and this intellectual struggle became extremely interesting as a challenge. Ultimately, however, I capitulated to the sensory-deprived documentarian in me and in 2005 I flew to Tel Aviv with my camera.

I have recently finished THE LAST HAPPY DAY, the fifth and final piece in my I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER project.  During WWII, the US Army Graves Registration Service hired my Hungarian cousin, Dr. Sandor Lenard, to reconstruct the bones — small and large — of dead American soldiers.   I am intertwining a silent movie-style narrative, interviews shot in Brazil and Germany and an impressionistic children’s play as part of the production for this elliptical work that once again will resonate as an anti-war meditation.

Lynne Sachs lives in Brooklyn, New York with her partner Mark Street and their daughters Maya and Noa.  She recently finished a collaboration with Chris Marker on a new version of his 1972 essay film “Three Cheers for the Whale”.

Lynne’s films are distributed by www.microcinema.com, First Run Icarus Film (www.frif.com), New Day Films (www.newday.com), Canyon Cinema and the Filmmakers Cooperative.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS:

Dispatches by Michael Herr;  “Ear Before Eye” from Framer Framed by Trinh T.Minh-ha;  “Notes on Travel and Theory” by James Clifford; In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster; Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag; “My Algerience” from Stigmata by Helene Cixous;  Don’t Call it Night by Amos Oz; The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald; The Things We Used to Say by Natalia Ginzburg

REVIEWS:

I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER REVIEW IN BALTIMORE EXAMINER
http://www.examiner.com/a-514942%7EArtful_activism.html

I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER REVIEW ON FLAVORPILL
http://nyc.flavorpill.net/78614

“A reverie of war-torn terrains floats silently across an editing screen, accompanied by long-distance calls between an American journalist and a beleaguered Israeli. Children play in front of a television rolling out images of oddly abstracted battlegrounds. Herein lies the world of director Lynne Sachs, whose films splinter the typical structure of social-issue documentaries, applying an avant-garde sensibility to harsh realities that usually inspire stultifying over-earnestness. In this three-night series of screenings and talks about Sachs’ decade-long appraisal of war, what emerges most is that rare political filmmaker whose forms prove as worthy as her function.” – FLAVORPILL.COM

“Committed Poetics”: Review of I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER
in Gay City News by Ioannis Mookas

http://www.gaycitynews.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=17766832&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=569331&rfi=6

“Across three intimate evenings Brooklyn-based avant-documentarian Lynne Sachs presents her lapidary meditations on modern history, political strife, and moral engagement.”

Review by George Robinson of I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER in The Jewish Week, scroll to Jan. 19, 2007.
http://cine-journal.blogspot.com/

Review by Stuart Klawasns  in the Nation
http://news.yahoo.com/s/thenation/20070130/cm_thenation/20070212klawans

“I Am Not a War Photographer,” focuses on Sachs’ meditative, essayistic films about armed conflict: in Israel and Palestine, in the former Yugoslavia and in Vietnam. Among the works to be shown are States of Unbelonging an uneasy exchange of video-letters about murder, mourning and filmmaking on the edge of the West Bank; Which Way Is East, an expressively beautiful diary of a trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi; and Investigation of a Flame, a montage that gives density and weight to contemporary recollections of 1968 and the Catonsville Nine protest.”

“I Am Not A War Photographer” Reviews

Flavorpill Network Issue #346

Flavorpill is a weekly email magazine covering a hand-picked selection of cultural events.

I Am Not a War Photographer: Films of Lynne Sachs

REVIEW

I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER
http://nyc.flavorpill.net/mailer/issue346/index.html#warphotog

Fri 1.26 – Sun 1.28 (7:30pm)

where: Anthology Film Archives (32 2nd Ave, 212.505.5181)

A reverie of war-torn terrains floats silently across an editing screen, accompanied by long-distance calls between an American journalist and a beleaguered Israeli. Children play in front of a television rolling out images of oddly abstracted battlegrounds. Herein lies the world of director Lynne Sachs, whose films splinter the typical structure of social-issue documentaries, applying an avant-garde sensibility to harsh realities that usually inspire stultifying over-earnestness. In this three-night series of screenings and talks about Sachs’ decade-long appraisal of war, what emerges most is that rare political filmmaker whose forms prove as worthy as her function.   – LR

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GAY CITY NEWS
01/25/2007

“Committed Poetics”

By: IOANNIS MOOKAS

For those who aren’t heading to the anti-war march in D.C. this weekend, Anthology Film Archives wouldn’t a bad place to pool some progressive bonhomie. Across three intimate evenings Brooklyn-based avant-documentarian Lynne Sachs presents her lapidary meditations on modern history, political strife, and moral engagement.

A staple of Gotham’s experimental scene, Sachs in recent months has been touring a set of featurettes plus shorts to numerous venues under the rubric “I Am Not a War Photographer,” besides helping organize the “For Life, Against the War” film happening at Collective Unconscious and shepherding a scholarly project charting the intersections of documentary and avant-garde film. Part of Sachs’ appeal as an artist is her collaborative orientation, co-authoring films with family or former students, and mobilizing teams of cultural activists for ad hoc initiatives.

Anthology’s series opens with a double bill of “Which Way Is East,” recording a journey to Viet Nam, with “Investigation of a Flame,” a remembrance of the Catonsville Nine, a group of American Catholics who memorably protested the U.S. war on Viet Nam. Impressionistic and at times diffuse, “Which Way Is East” is a minor work valuable autobiographically for considering the influence of Sachs’ former mentor Trinh T. Minh-Ha, but also for a possible submerged link with “The Delta,” the first feature by Sachs’ brother Ira, made close to the same time and involving a tormented half-Vietnamese character.

“Which Way Is East” gains from its pairing with “Investigation of a Flame,” a more cogent work that shows the filmmaker’s subject and her artistic approach to good effect. In the world-rocking month of May 1968, the seven men and two women who comprised the Catonsville Nine barged into a Maryland draft board office, seized scores of draft records, and on the lawn outside, incinerated the heap with homemade napalm, mixed from the army’s own manuals. As cameramen shot the black-and-white footage Sachs weaves into her film, the dignified radicals shared words of resistance and simply waited for the fuzz to show up.

Sachs takes this performative civil disobedience and refracts it through present-day interviews, not only with the Nine but also the indignant government secretary whose office they rifled and ordinary Catonsville townsfolk of varied sympathies. Gently the film broaches the price for this act of defiance-months in federal prison for most, and for one, years spent underground, evading her sentence. But for Daniel and Philip Berrigan, among other survivors, that flame still dances even in their winter years. The film succeeds in making the group’s valor palpable, and their example genuinely stirring.

The final program on Sunday presents “States of UnBelonging,” Sachs’ most recent long work, and perhaps her best to date. Like Capote called to Kansas by a chance item in the Times, Sachs discovers her subject reading the newspaper, when she notices a November 2002 report on Revital Ohayon, a young mother slain with her two sons by a Palestinian assailant on a kibbutz in northern Israel. Without delay, Sachs is emailing and phoning her former student Nir Zats, an Israeli citizen, recruiting him as proxy and assigning him to learn everything about Ohayon, her family, and circumstances of the murders.

Like Sachs, Ohayon was a filmmaker, a mother of two, a wife, middle class, Ashkenazi, independent of mind, liberal of outlook, and in the flower of life at the moment of her killing. Yet Sachs quickly pushes beyond facile recognition, interrogating her own desire to see, to know, with questions about the responsibility of undertaking to reconstruct Ohayon’s life and of attempting to address its social contexts from half a world away. At length Ohayon’s husband, brother, and mother enter the film, adding complex and surprisingly unsentimental shadings. Her mother tells how Revital deplored the Palestinians’ dispossession; her brother implies her move to the kibbutz, hard by the Green Line, expressed a willful, imprudent idealism.

After much vacillating, Sachs books her first-ever trip to Israel and meets Ohayon’s widower Avi in person. Well before that point, however, Sachs brings the war back home, pasting unsettling images onto the TV screen in her Brooklyn living room, where her daughters play. Once tuned in, the conflict won’t be tuned out-they can channel-surf for days, but the palimpsest of “other” families destroyed by war haunts the bohemian sanctuary. We come to realize that, in a sense, these images and their corresponding realities have been there all along, waiting to be perceived.

©GayCityNews 2007

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Jan. 19, 2007
“The Reluctant War Photographer”

Review of I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER  by George Robinson in The Jewish Week

http://cine-journal.blogspot.com/

The documentary can trace its history back to the very beginning of cinema, and its more than a century of existence has taken many forms. In the past 25 years there has been a very fruitful intersection between documentary and the diary film favored by many experimental filmmakers. Although Ross McElwee is probably the best-known practitioner of this hybrid, he’s far from the only director working this field. Lynne Sachs, whose recent works are on display at Anthology Film Archives January 26-28, is one of the most capable of these filmmakers, although even less of a household name than McElwee.

Sachs’s name may be familiar to Jewish Week readers. The DVD containing her “A Biography of Lilith” was reviewed here a couple of years ago and her most recent film, “States of UnBelonging” was one of the most overlooked films of 2006. That film, a powerful rumination on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the final film in the Anthology series.

Ravital Ohayon was a promising young filmmaker and mother of two, living in a kibbutz on the border of the West Bank. One night a single terrorist came into her home and, while her husband listened in horror on the other end of the phone, shot all three. That incident is the jumping-off point for “States of UnBelonging,” an unconventional meditation on terror, family, Israel’s security barrier and the Middle East. Structured as a dialogue between Sachs (in Brooklyn) and Nir Zats, an Israeli filmmaker and former student of hers, this haunting hour-long film traces the aftermath of Ohayon’s death, the reactions of her husband, brother and mother, and the developments in Israeli politics in the three years since.

“It’s a film about being caught in the vortex of war,” Sachs said last fall. “It’s my fourth film about the connection between war and the creative process. I didn’t intend to make four of these but it happens.” Unfortunately, war happens, so the subject keeps coming back. But creation happens too and, as Sachs notes, “States” is also about “what is it to be a mother and an artist and a teacher.” The result is surprisingly beautiful, like the embattled countryside it depicts.

Not surprisingly, the title of the Anthology series, “I Am Not a War Photographer,” addresses Sachs’s ambivalence quite directly. The other films in the series take us to contemporary Vietnam and revisit the anti-war movement and offer a grim look at the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Perhaps the most interesting work in the program is a series of short studies for Sachs’s next major project, retelling the story of her Hungarian cousin, Sandor Lenard, who survived the Second World War, served as an anthropologist with the US Army’s Graves Registry unit and finally fled to the jungles of Brazil.

War, creativity, beauty — it’s a depressingly frequent concatenation, but Sachs makes it sing without glorifying death, and that is what makes her films so compelling.

“I Am Not a War Photographer: Films of Lynne Sachs” will be presented at Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Avenue at 2nd St.) Friday, January 26 – Sunday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. Sachs will present all three nights to introduce and discuss the films. For information, phone 212-505-5181 or go to www.anthologyfilmarchives.org .

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Stuart Klawans Review in The Nation of I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER

The Sachs series, titled “I Am Not a War Photographer,” runs January 26-28 and focuses on her meditative, essayistic films about armed conflict: in Israel and Palestine, in the former Yugoslavia and in Vietnam. Among the works to be shown are States of Unbelonging (made in collaboration with Nir Zats), an uneasy exchange of video-letters about murder, mourning and filmmaking on the edge of the

West Bank; Which Way Is East (made in collaboration with Dana Sachs), an expressively beautiful diary of a trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi; and Investigation of a Flame, a montage of interviews, archival footage and symbolic imagery that gives density and weight to contemporary recollections of 1968 and the Catonsville Nine protest, in which antiwar activists seized and burned Selective Service records.

“Living with War” Review of I Am Not a War Photographer screening & talk

masthead

Arts & Entertainment
Living With War
Lynne Sachs explores humanity in wartime
The Cornell Sun

March 2, 2007 – 12:00am

By Julie Block

I’ve never been much of a documentary watcher. When I go to see films, I prefer a personal narrative amidst the social commentary. I feel that quite often, documentaries lose site of the individual in their search for overarching truth. However, I was fortunate enough to have my earlier prejudice corrected after I saw a unique view into humanity by Lynne Sachs at her presentation, “I am Not a War Photographer.”

Co-hosted by Cornell Council for the Arts and the Program of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the program took place this past Tuesday night at the Film Forum in the Schwartz Center. Sachs, a veteran documentarian with a taste for experimental filmmaking presented a series of clips from an earlier set of films that focused on how human narratives and cultures gets lost within war.

After screening much of her oeuvre, Sachs screened her most recent film, States of Unbelonging. Between these segments she answered questions and introduced the following piece. While the films were all beautifully made, it was the insights into Sachs herself that made the night unique and inspiring.

The first film, Which Way is East, is a travel diary that follows Sachs and her sister Dana through Vietnam. From Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, Lynne and Dana spoke with different Vietnamese to get a sense of their culture, traditions and stories outside of the war. At the same time they literally reveal the gruesome underbelly of the war’s impact, going so far as to search in old hidden underground passages and foxholes. The shots in the film are a mix of confused, slow motion abstractions of Vietnam and slow, focused images of objects, scenery and people, lending an understated elegance to this cinematic record of a culture that is almost always perceived in our culture through the lens of a decades-past war.

The second film Sachs showed, Investigation of a Flame: The Catsonville Nine is the basis of her connection to Cornell. The film tells the history of the Catsonville Nine, a group of priests, nurses, and artists who, on May 17, 1968 chose to burn selective service records stolen from a draft office in Maryland. The unviolent protest was led by Father Daniel Berrigan, a former Chaplain of Cornell, and his brother Philip. During the trial, hundreds of Cornell students came down to Baltimore to protest in his defense. It was Sachs’s connection to him through her film that began her relationship with Cornell. The film, according to Sachs, was a look into not only this remarkable group, but also where the line between civil disobedience and a dangerous rebellion lies.

Sachs went on to show Tornado, a three-minute video made in the aftermath of 9/11. In a compelling twist, Sachs chooses not to focus on the faces of her subjects, but instead brings her camera to bear on their bodies and her own hands as she takes charred bits of paper, resumes, calendars and other detritus left over from the twin towers and repeatedly flips them over in her hands. This obsessive twirling gives character to these papers and, in a way, allows them to become silent memorials to the dead.

The last two films that Sachs showed were States of Unbelonging, a profound meditation on the terrorist murder of Israeli Revital Ohayon and her two sons, as well as a clip from The Small Ones, Sachs’s upcoming work. It focuses on her cousin Sandor, and his job reconstructing bones of dead American soldiers from the second World War (For a full review of States of Unbelonging, read Mark Rice’s column on Monday, February 23).

Each film presented was a special look into a time period and culture fractured by war. But instead of taking the traditional route and filming the obvious fractures, Sachs finds the undercurrents and reveals them through voice-over interviews, quotes from poems and images of life rather than death. There’s an intuitive sense to her work, as if she didn’t know what she was looking for but rather followed her instinct through each film.

As she explains it, rather than laying out each work in a linear fashion, she “start[s] from the center and works out” building layer upon layer until that eureka moment comes, after which she knows the movie is complete.

By not charting a direct course, Sachs has the ability to delve into the lives of her subjects and actually explore the struggles and problematic questions that arise from each war. She manages to make every film an organic, breathing entity. Her intense personal connection with her subjects is transmitted in every shot, still and shadow as well as through the narration. Taking her audience with her in her search for answers Lynne Sachs demonstrates that applying the term “war photographer” to her is truly doing her a disservice. In truth, she is a gatherer of worn photographic portraits of people brought together in a mosaic of tragedy, truth and human frailty.

For more information on Lynne Sachs or to see clips from her films, go to www.lynnesachs.com.