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Otherzine Interview w/ L. Sachs by Molly Hankwitz

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Between Women: The Filmworks of Lynne Sachs
an interview published by OTHERZINE

by Molly Hankwitz Cox

11 Sep 2010

In my twenty year relationship as audience to Lynne Sachs’ filmworks, I have always admired her amazing ability to connect the very personal, physical relationship of ‘selfhood’ to film and film history and to collage a variety of complex themes into one complete film, often with challenging ambiguity and open endedness.

I first heard of Sachs as part of an active cadre of “downtown” avant-garde feminist filmmakers working in New York City, who were –in the late eighties–reading the new radically feminist theory of Helene Cixious, Luce Iriguay, and Julia Kristeva and who had strong links to San Francisco’s experimeantl feminist film scene. These women were busily exploring the great personal and political themes of, the ‘then’, feminist culture: gender, body, sexuality and language–how to develop womens’ language. Later, I had the good fortune to meet Sachs in person at Other Cinema.

The recent West Coast retrospective of Lynne’s work demonstrated just how far-reaching, intimate, and astute her work can be and given my personal connection to that past, radicalized period of feminist culture, and the admiration I have for Lynne and her work, I decided to ask her about some of the influences, opinions and practices she’s formed over a nearly thirty year career.

Molly Hankwitz Cox: Drawn and Quartered (1987) and House of Science (1991) revolve around your own body. House of Science also radically investigated the male dominance in consciousness of the female body, as it enshrouds personal understanding of female selfhood and the incompleteness of this picture. You may say that it was about your own preparation for becoming a mother or exploration of self, but I’ve often wondered if you anticipated how meaningful that film would be – has been – to your audience?

Lynne Sachs: In the late 1980s and early 90s, my deepest concerns as a woman and an artist revolved around issues of gender and sexuality. I was in a reading group with a group of very intellectual and creative women – including Kathy Geritz ( film curator at the Pacific Film Archive) and Peggy Ahwesh, Nina Fonoroff, Jennifer Montgomery, Lynn Kirby and Crosby McCloy (all filmmakers) – and we were reading 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 French writers Luce Irigeray (Speculum of the Other Woman) and Hélène Cixous (The Newly Born Woman) completely changed our sense of language and the body.

Both my films Drawn and Quartered and The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts were informed by these radical texts and the discussions we had as we sat in one another’s apartments drinking tea and eating. I think these films express my own reckoning with the sense of fragmentation I felt throughout my adolescence, my desire to be removed psychically from the me that was a body. I appear naked, briefly, in both of these movies as well as in the later Which Way is East (1994). For a girl who hated to go bra shopping because she would have to undress in public, these movies were minor watersheds, I guess. Now that I have lived through two childbirths, my daughters Maya and Noa claim I am too comfortable taking my clothes off wherever I feel like getting undressed.

MH: Ha. (Smiles) Feminist filmmaking unmasked the camera as spectator and the power that gave us to explore our collective disavowal of physicality was huge. But times have changed since then and discourse on spectatorship is less pronounced or fresh. In Wind in Your Hair /Con viento en el pelo (2010) you expand your vision well beyond your own camera and/or any use of archival footage. You’ve enlisted a number of super8 filmmakers/students from Buenos Aires and Sofia Gallísa in New York, for example. Are you simply casting your net wider by being more inclusive — developing more of an international and global film community in your work?

LS: Ever since I first started making films, I have resisted the traditional pyramid-shaped production hierarchy of a director and her crew as well as the model of the director and her obedient cast of actors. On both fronts, I wanted to develop a more porous relationship in which we would all listen and learn from each other. Watching Yvonne Rainer’s Lives of Performers really rocked my world; she included these frank interior dialogues in a piece that ostensibly looked like a dance documentary. The levels of perception that she created were astounding.

MH: It’s true. Yvonne’s films are so complex in that way. Just great. She deconstructs without pretension.

LS: When I made the short film Still Life With Woman and Four Objects (1986), I asked my actress to bring a prop (one of the four objects) that would reveal something about her thinking and shake things up a bit. She brought a black and white photo of the revolutionary feminist Emma Goldman and things were never the same again. More recently, one of the key participants in my film was an Argentine psychoanalyst who came to our set during the nightmare scenes to help us infuse this dream with another psychological dimension I didn’t think I had access to. Her training was critical to the shaping of the mise-en-scene. Then there was the bilingual aspect of (Con viento en el pelo). I didn’t speak a word of Spanish until I started showing my films in Argentina in 2007 and a year later decided to spend two months in the city making the film. Integrating a language I was just beginning to speak, read and understand problematized the whole process in such interesting and dynamic ways. I often had to release the presumed power I had as director, and these moments were the times when I learned the most from the children and from the members of my crew. These kinds of fragile collaborations are vital to my way of making films.

MH: In other dialogues, you have sometimes defined two types of film–YES films, which include putting everything into the mix, allowing the maker to invent and intuit, arriving at a different place than where one began, and NO films which are “Think of a topic and carry it through” works. This categorization includes, arguably, the sensibilities of many film works, regardless of genre, and also separates modes of imagining and creating, from the end result. You suggested to Kathy Geritz that is a NO film, but when the young “actresses” invent freely (choose costumes daily, create dialogue, choose locations) in their “kingdom” isn’t this a YES dimension?

LS: It’s interesting that you bring up this Yes/No dichotomy that occurred to me about ten years ago, when I realized that there was a pattern emerging in my work, a rhythm between films that were open to changes brought by the times and films that followed a very clearly defined vision or concept. For both you and me, as mothers, we have spent the last few years of our lives using these terms as a way to define the liberties our children could have, what was allowed or at least not dangerous, and what was out of bounds. But in my artistic practice, I sometimes feel that I am too distracted, too lenient on myself and not capable of working in a more pared down, essential way. So a NO work is one that implies a discipline of the mind. , which is essentially my first narrative film, grew out of a short story by Julio Cortázar about three preadolescent girls performing by a train track. I thought it was a NO film and that I would adhere to the author’s vision rather closely. Instead, I took liberties by integrating the inner thoughts of my “actresses” and by engaging head on with the social unrest that was whirling around us in Buenos Aires during our production. Maybe the most important rules to break are the ones you impose upon yourself.

MH: touches upon the delicate transition from childhood to adolescence taking place in girls when they begin to navigate the real world. The film bears the marks of a parent’s sensitivity to this period when children learn judgment in caring for themselves, hence, personal independence and the need to protect themselves. Their fears and dreams sometimes disclose unconscious concerns with detaching from what is familiar into that which is unknown. On some level, you have expressed the primordial, parental need to fix their play to architecture, building in both your own concern, and their immature need, still, for protection. Can you comment?

LS: I really love the way you talk about a parent who wants to fix – even transform – her child’s play into architecture. If Gertrude Stein – the experimental poet and grand-dame of the mid 20th century avant-garde – had been a mother I wonder if she would have succumbed to this desire to reign in the amorphous spirit of a child. What I so love about her writing is its resistance to conventional syntax and prescribed meaning. In the language of the semiotician, she wanted to create provocative ruptures between the sign and the signified, between the way we are taught to speak (to communicate) and the way we ultimately choose to express ourselves (art). We experimental filmmakers are trying to do the same thing, not only with words, but also with images and sounds. So if you and I believe with all our hearts in the paradigm of the avant-garde, where does that lead us in terms of bringing up our children in a society with a whole set of explicit and implicit rules and expectations? Does a piece of architecture need four walls, a window and a door? Does a story need a conflict and a resolution? In my short film Atalanta: 32 Years Later (2006), I played with two different versions of the myth of Atalanta. The story is a retelling of the age-old fairy tale of the beautiful princess in search of the perfect prince. In 1974, Marlo Thomas’ hip, liberal celebrity gang created a feminist version of the children’s parable for mainstream TV’s Free To Be You and Me. Clearly, this is a classic tale with a conflict between a daughter and her father and between a young woman and the society at large. For the first time in my life, I embraced the tale in its entirety and remained true to the original structure. Let me tell you, this is not my style. My 2006 twist on the myth’s storyline was to give it an explicitly lesbian conclusion and to split the screen in two in order to show the 1974 version forwards and backwards simultaneously. While the essence of the “architecture” is still there, I celebrate “play” to its fullest. I dedicated this film to filmmaker Barbara Hammer.


MH: You always enjoy trying out new ideas, new experiences and places, and meeting people with unique stories?

LS: I remember hearing Stan Brakhage say once that maintaining an element of play in the filmmaking process was at the very foundation of his practice. In my mind, what he was saying was that the exploration had to remain constant. I have tried to do that all of my life, and this can sometimes slow down the process because you end up letting the materials speak back to you, telling you how to make the work, sending you in directions where you feel awkward and out of your element. This way of working, however, comes out of the traditions of painting and sculpture much more than story-based moviemaking. When I find kindred spirits who want to work with the medium of film or video in this way, I naturally gravitate toward them!

MH: What drew you to Argentina? You and Mark Street, curated an Argentine experimental film program and screening. Is this how it all happened?

LS: In 2007, I took my daughter Maya to a mini-retrospective of my films in Buenos Aires, met some Argentine filmmakers and was immediately convinced that I wanted to return not only to shoot a film but also to begin learning Spanish. While Mark and I were in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay with our two daughters during July and August of 2008 and then again in 2009, we each collaborated with experimental makers in those cities to make new artwork. I made Wind in Our Hair / Con viento en el pelo with a Leandro Listorti and Pablo Marin, two Super 8 aficionados who probably know more about American avant-garde film than most artists in the States. They love the whole history of experimental filmmaking – Man Ray, Carolee Schneemann, Bruce Conner, Ken Jacobs, Jem Cohen, Marie Losier and more – and watch it whenever or wherever they can. In Uruguay, Mark and I introduced a group of artists to the wonders of “hand-made” film. We taught them how to make their own movies with found footage, dyes, q-tips and razors. The two of us then made a film about this workshop experience which we call Cuadro por cuadro/ Frame by Frame (2009). It’s a film about our sharing of our love of experimental filmmaking and our students’ discovery of its wonders.

MH: Other Cinema screened that film last year and I couldn’t believe I was seeing yet another Lynne Sachs film; this one such an adventure in handmade film and working with people. It was great. There are such a variety of motivations in all of your works. I’ve always admired that relaxed, almost lackadaisical editing style you have in many of your films. Its like you are offering something luscious to the audience, for us to take in, like the hostess for the experience–an invitation to participate in the way you think. You make filmmaking seem effortless. You’ve described editing yourself out of Drawn and Quartered, shot on 8mm as trying to ‘erase’ yourself, and then? re-purposing the outtakes and putting yourself back in. In Wind in Our Hair, you have a larger group collaborating and editing as you go. Could you talk about these processes, in hindsight, and how you see them having changed or not?

LS: You have such an astute way of thinking about the plasticity, shape, surface and structure of film. I really appreciate this approach to your questions because it gets me thinking about the dialog between material and concept. I actually made Drawn and Quartered with an old boyfriend, John Baker, and so the dance of images between the man and the woman and between the camera and the performers (the two of us) is a visual love poem that articulates our intimacy as well as our problems as a couple. While we are on the screen together, we are never actually in the same frame. As they say “Appearances can be deceiving.” I was still so uncomfortable with my body at the time that I initially took out my face from the movie and then, with pressure from some feminist-minded girl friends, put it right back. Since the film is made on regular 8mm film, these “cuts” (yes, this is a double entendre) show. Now, many years later I am still fascinated by how the series of images were actually photographed in a particular order; and, I am sad to see the way digital technologies obliterate the spirit of the initial chronology of shots. So you are somewhat right when you speak about and the way that it was edited. My co-editor, Sofia Gallisa, and I tried to keep the physicality of the small gauge film materials in as close to the original order as we could. In this way, it felt truer to the moment in time in which it first breathed. In my other recent film The Last Happy Day (2009) I videotaped a rather conventional headshot interview with an 85 year old woman sitting in a chair. I adored they way she talked about the past, and her candor in regards to her inability to recount something that happened long, long ago with any accuracy. She told me she could no longer distinguish between her own reality and fantasy. I tried to celebrate this poignant awareness of memory by leaving black spaces between cuts in her monolog. This formal fissure in the diagetic space upsets some people because it is a bit ugly and raw, but I think it is critical.

MH: Slight change of subject…Some of your work is about war. Instead of explaining it as a political event in an obvious way, you explain it instead from the perspective of how humanity responds to the ongoing crisis. In The Last Happy Day, a man, a distant relative, I believe, whose job it is to sort the remains of the dead is the central character. I know you were in Brooklyn –because we contacted you–during the events of September 11th. You described the ash in the sky falling near your home in Brooklyn. Is your interest in the process by which we absorb war’s atrocities, a means through which to articulate your own feelings about that horrific event? Is there a conscious connection for you there?

LS: I remember you and David contacting me from Australia soon after that day, and it meant so much to hear from you from so far away and with such compassion. A group of Bosnian artists actually wrote to me the afternoon of September 11, 2001. I, along with SF artist Jeanne Finley, had recently returned from working with these artists during a two week fellowship in Sarajevo. We were collaborating over the internet on a web art project we called The House of Drafts, 2001. Since, they had lived through the mid-1990s bombings of the Balkan wars, they were keen to convey to me that they knew how it felt to be attacked from the air. As you said earlier, this kind of international collaboration is critical to my practice – on both an artistic and an emotional level.

MH: The beauty of the Internet.

LS: In terms of The Last Happy Day, I think you are the first to see the connection between my interests in war and the human body. Even back in 1994 when I made Which Way is East: Notebooks from Vietnam, I was aware of this exchange between the physical self and the social self. As I was traveling through the Mekong Delta, just a few months after they opened Vietnam to American travelers, I wrote “I am a bone collector who knows nothing about anatomy” in my journal. Whether I am rummaging through the Twin Towers ashes that floated into our neighborhood playground (Tornado, 2001) or listening to stories about my distant relative who worked for the US Army reconstructing the bodies of American soldiers, these issues keep coming back to haunt me.

MH: Thank you so much, Lynne. I hope we can talk again soon and in more depth.

Find more on Lynne Sachs’ work at: www.lynnesachs.com

Stills from House of Science, Wind in Our Hair , and The Last Happy Day, respectively, and courtesy of Lynne Sachs.


Opening Doors in the Red Light District: Making Films in Buenos Aires by Lynne Sachs

Filmthreat.com review of THE LAST HAPPY DAY (Sept. 2010)

Essay by Susan Gerhard for Lynne Sachs Retrospective

Film Comment Review of Abecedarium:NYC an interactive website by Lynne Sachs (june 2010)

Last Address: an elegy for a generation of NYC artists who died of AIDS by Ira Sachs, Lynne Sachs and Bernard Blythe

“Between Yes and No: An Interview with Lynne Sachs” by Kathy Geritz


Published in San Francisco Cinematheque’s monograph Lynne Sachs Retrospective 1986 – 2010

Between Yes and No: An Interview with Lynne Sachs by Kathy Geritz

Lynne Sachs and I were graduate students in San Francisco State University’s Cinema Department in the mid-eighties. We met as TAs for a huge undergraduate cinema history class, and became friends as we scrambled to stay two—or at least one—steps ahead of the students. New to teaching, we discussed ideas for films to show in our sections and also shared strategies to get discussions going. One disadvantage we faced was that neither of us had actually taken the film history course; instead, we had fulfilled this requirement through an independent study that entailed viewing films at Pacific Film Archive, where I worked. Together, we watched films religiously every week in a small screening room; but rather than the classics, we were drawn to experimental films, cinematic essays and offbeat narratives that fueled our enthusiasm for our field while providing an idiosyncratic survey of film history. Our friendship deepened during our wide-ranging conversations that continue to this day.

I spoke with Lynne about her film practice by telephone in January 2010. She was at her home in Brooklyn. — Kathy Geritz

What initially drew you to working with film?

All my life I’ve been working in the arts. I drew, took pictures and wrote poetry a lot as a kid. Later, when I was a teenager, I got very excited and disturbed by a number of issues—particularly the reinstatement of the draft and abortion rights. I realized, “There’s this part of me that cares about social and political situations; but, I’ll still need to keep this other part that is about my more private self, the part that wants to play with images and words, exploring the everyday.”

It was 1981, the year I went to live in Paris, when I started going to film programs, and I discovered the films of Marguerite Duras and Chantal Akerman. I also saw classic films like Marcel Carne’s Children of Paradise (1945) at these sweet revival house theaters. I didn’t know terms like “avant-garde” or “experimental film.” I just knew that this kind of cinema was not about plot or movie stars, but about the expression of ideas or what it was to be a woman in the world, which seemed much more visceral and intellectual.

When I returned to the U.S., I didn’t yet think “I want to be a filmmaker;” I was just thrilled by this medium that I had discovered. I finished Brown University with a history degree, and thought I’d like to get into film, so I started to look for jobs in New York. In between desperately looking for paid work, I spent some time hanging out at what I later realized were some very important, even revolutionary, places. One was Downtown Community Television in Chinatown. The other was Global Village in Soho, which was a renegade community of people who had been followers of Marshal McLuhan and were committed to teaching young people about media. In 1984, I had a job answering the telephone and hanging film trims at documentary filmmaker Robert Richter’s office. He said to me, “You’re interested in documentary.You’re just out of college.  Maybe you should go to the Flaherty Seminar.” I applied for a scholarship to go in the summer of ‘85. It was by far the most experimentally oriented year they had ever had. VéVé Clark was there to talk about Maya Deren. They showed a film that Meredith Monk had made on Ellis Island. I had never seen a documentary that used dance to create such a fluid access to space. Plus Bruce Conner was there! I said, “This is what documentary can be? Found footage films by Bruce Conner?” It was eye opening for me.

I applied to graduate school at both San Francisco State and San Francisco Art Institute. I had not really completed a film yet, so I wasn’t accepted at SFAI, but I got into State. Eventually I went to both. I’m glad that I went to State first, otherwise I wouldn’t know about film history, film theory or have worked with Trinh T. Minh-Ha. The documentary impulse was a tableau where I thought I would feel comfortable and enthralled. Documentary also allowed me to knock on people’s doors and ask questions, and be the nosy person I thought I already was. But the first four films I made were strictly experimental. I felt that I could only work out my initial investigations of the medium this way. I also had the chance to intern with Bruce Conner in his basement, helping to organize his archive and talking about art for hours. It was, to say the least, a transformational time for me.

Looking back at that time, I think the films of Jean-Luc Godard—particularly Vivre sa vie (1962) and France/tour/détour/deux/enfants (1978)—were major influences on me. …deux/enfants was so fragmented and yet it left you with a philosophy of childhood that we lose as we become adults. Then I saw Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1982) and I knew from then on, I wanted to make experimental documentaries, although I probably didn’t yet use those words. I was already drawn to things that were political but when I saw Vivre sa vie I realized that political work could be more nuanced and more about form. Honestly, I didn’t understand that at all until I got to San Francisco and saw Craig Baldwin’s RocketKitKongoKit (1986) which was so confrontational and engaged. It made me think about culture, knowledge and historiography in an entirely different way.

A distinctive aspect of your films is your capacity to make connections and associations. Sometimes the resonances are immediate and poetic, and other times the associations build over time, which becomes a way of opening up a film.

I feel a closeness with writers, poets and painters, much more than with traditional film “directors.” We share a love of collage. In the kinds of films I make, there are fissures in terms of how something leads to something else. Relationships and associations aren’t fixed. I always learn from an audience, about whether or not the convergence of two images is actually expressing an idea. I hope it’s doing one thing, but I might learn that it is doing something completely different. In this way the films are kind of porous; they are open to interpretation. One thing I realized recently is that I have this rhythm when I make films—ABABAB or yesnoyesnoyesno. For example, I call House of Science a “yes film” because any idea that came into my head, pretty much made its way into the movie. The yes films are full of associations—some of them are resolved and some of them are adolescent; they’re still trying to figure out who they are. Other films are “no films.” Window Work is a single eight-minute image of me sitting in front of a window. It’s very spare and kind of performative. I felt like it had to be done in one shot. “No, you can’t bring in any clutter.” Sometimes I try to make films that don’t have clutter; other times I make films that are full of it.

You have always made both short and long films. Do they offer different things to you?

I love making both. My longer films are almost like diary films. It usually takes me three to four years to make them. In the case of The Last Happy Day you could say eighteen years, at least in terms of the thinking in my head. The short films have to do with an impulse or an idea that might come to me when I’m taking a shower or eating dinner. Or maybe I read something that sparks me, and I think I’m going to try that out. I’m very envious of photographers, particularly ones who still use darkrooms. They walk into a room with a blank piece of paper and walk out with a thing. It’s that kind of coveting of a thing that often drives me to make short films because I like that they have a relationship to a moment.

Some of your films take the form of a letter, others include notes and observations, others aphorisms. Will you talk about the role of writing in your films?

Writing has always been a vital part of my creative process. In House of Science, I tried to look at all the manifestations of writing. I wanted to include the gesture of journal writing and how that is an extension from your mind to your fingers to the page. I included the sounds of pencil on paper and I even included the sounds of things you might do before you write, as in the sounds of a woman sitting on a toilet and urinating. Some of my best writing has been done on airplanes because I am concentrating and there is nowhere to go. Other times I might be in a subway or walking down the street where I don’t have access to the utensils but I have access to the plodding, pleasurable aspect of putting words in order and expressing an idea.

In Which Way is East, I tried to think about the nature of translation in relation to text as a series of visible icons. I was interested in writing as an articulation of a thinking process but also as an indication of cultural identity. I was exploring the experience of being an outsider or a tourist. I like for my viewer to come to see any language as an opportunity for an awakening outside your most familiar universe. In Which Way is East sometimes you see the unfamiliar lettering of the Vietnamese language while hearing it in English. Other times you hear a parable told in Vietnamese but you see it in English. There are shifts between what is given to you and what’s not given to you. You have to think “How does something that is so familiar in one culture, move to another, and how does it shift in meaning?”

You asked about letters, and yes, this aspect of the creative process has been vital to the way I have written for several films, in particular States of UnBelonging. For two years, I exchanged emails with my former student Nir Zats, an Israeli writer and filmmaker. He was in Tel Aviv and I was in Brooklyn. We struggled during a time of intense Middle East violence to make a film about a woman neither of us had ever known. It took me a year before I realized that our back and forth “conversation” was actually the foundation for the whole film.

Does your working method differ when you begin with another writer’s work as source material?

The seeds of Wind in Your Hair were the stories “Final del Juego” and “Casa Tomada” by Julio Cortázar. I played with his original texts, hoping they would speak to the four “actresses” (including my two daughters) who performed the roles of girls who were just about to reach adolescence. I shot the entire film in Buenos Aires, with a group of Argentine super 8 filmmakers. For both the adults who were making the film and the children who were in it, these stories quickly entered our consciousness. The text gave us a shared experience which in turn allowed us to jump into an extremely playful and engaging dialogue (in Spanish and a little English).

In A Biography in Lilith, I wrote a lot of poetry and then turned it into song with a cellist, a Talmudic scholar, and the wonderful performer Pamela Z. Music enlivened the writing. The poetry was inspired by my having read the Midrash—stories from Jewish folklore and mysticism. It all happened between my becoming pregnant with my first child and giving birth to my second, from 1994 to ‘97. The film reflects that time of my life, when I was keeping journals and was interested in observing the changes in my body, grappling with the oppositions between motherhood and my own sexual identity.

When I was working on The Last Happy Day, the part of the Sandor Lenard story that held me up for the longest time was the Winnie the Pooh part. I knew that this incredibly fascinating distant relative of mine had become famous for translating the Pooh story into Latin, but I couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would do such a thing. In this country, Winnie the Pooh has been trivialized to the basest form of Disney. When a child grows up, he or she grows out of Winnie the Pooh. I have learned that Europeans think Winnie the Pooh has a kind of philosophy to offer children—it represents a child’s first introduction to thinking about the ephemeral, the unattainable. This isn’t necessarily how we see the book. I had to keep doing research so I could excavate Pooh in a way that had meaning for me outside his American identity. I kept rereading the book but it didn’t click. I couldn’t find a way to like him enough to make this movie. Sometimes you come upon a kernel of an idea, and it doesn’t speak to anybody but you. In this case, it was speaking to lots of people but not me. Part of it was that I had the idea to make the film before I had kids, then I had kids, and I started reading the book to them. Once I could bring it alive to children, I knew how to make it into a movie. I hope that all of this “process” does in a sense become revealed in the film.

I’ve heard you refer to your longer works as experimental documentaries or essays, and just now you said they are like diary films. Do these terms mean different things to you?

The key to the whole question of the kind of film I make has to do with how I see process. This goes back to why San Francisco was important to me. I felt like in that city, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we were so driven by process; we had a commitment to innovation during each and every phase of our production. For me, the film essay isn’t simply a series of questions that are asked about the act of making a film. We often say that the film essay is self-reflexive, that it opens up the maker’s tactics. The difference between process and tactic is that tactic is procedure but process is continual exploration. Process remains unclosed. I’ve always said that an interesting film is never a work-in-progress but rather a work-in-process. That’s where the experimental comes into play, because the maker is continually trying-out strategies, and willing to fail. My measures of success aren’t necessarily that a film is entertaining or that it conveys a sense of authority, but that it takes the medium to a new level of public consciousness. I want the film to struggle to create a new kind of visual expression, moving me and in turn my audience to think in new ways.

Kathy Geritz is Film Curator at Pacific Film Archive and co-editor of Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000, to be published in Fall 2010.

Lynne Sachs Retrospective in San Francisco and Berkeley April 10-14, 2010


States of Belonging: A Lynne Sachs Retrospective

Working since the mid-1980s, variously on lyrical formal shorts and long form experimental documentary, Lynne Sachs’ body of film and video work has explored the relationships between individual memory and experience in the context of large historical forces. Foregrounding personal history and autobiography, Sachs exalts the intimate gesture as perhaps the most heroic of poetic and political acts. With a keen grasp on cultural theory and media history, Sachs’s films avoid academicism in their celebration of life and mindful political engagement, presenting complex pictures of the world with lyrical grace and even joy.

Lynne Sachs: States of Belonging is a four-part retrospective of the filmmaker’s work, presented as a collaboration between San Francisco Cinematheque, Pacific Film Archive, ATA’s Other Cinema and Oddball Film + Video. The series in accompanied by a limited-edition monograph—available at screenings—featuring original writings by Susan Gerhardt, Kathy Geritz, Lucas Hilderbrand and Bill Nichols.

States of Belonging, program one
Saturday, April 10 at 8:30 pm
Other Cinema at Artist Television Access
992 Valencia St., San Francisco


Curated by Craig Baldwin

Inspired by the stories of Argentine writer Julio Cortazar, yet blended with the realities of contemporary Latin America, here’s the world debut of Wind in Our Hair, Lynne Sachs’ experimental narrative about four girls discovering themselves through a fascination with the trains that pass by their house. A story of early-teen anticipation and disappointment, the 42-min. lyric is circumscribed by a period of profound Argentine sociopolitical unrest. Shot with 16mm, Super 8mm, and Regular 8mm film and video, the rites of passage proceed from train tracks to sidewalks, into costume stores, kitchens, and into backyards in the heart of today’s Buenos Aires. PLUS: In her House of Science: a museum of false facts, Sachs suggests that the mind/body split so characteristic of Western thought is particularly troubling for women, who may feel themselves moving between the territories of the film’s title—private, public, and idealized space—without wholly inhabiting any of them. The film explores society’s conceptions of woman through home movies, personal reminiscences, staged scenes, found-footage and voice-over. ALSO Lynne’s Atalanta: 32 Years Later; Noa, Noa; and Photograph of Wind.
Wind in Our Hair (Con viento en el pelo) (2010); Atalanta: 32 Years Later (2006); Noa, Noa (2006, with Noa Street-Sachs); Photograph of Wind (2001); The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991)

States of Belonging, program two
Sunday, April 11 at  8:00pm
Oddball Films
275 Capp St.  San Francisco


“10 Short Films by Lynne Sachs (1986 -2010)”
Curated by Stephen Parr

Lynne Sachs short works reverberate with the distilled quality of  poetic moments. From her early work in 16mm film in the 1980s through her later works utilizing the immediacy of videotape, the texture of 8mm film and expanded pallet of digital editing techniques, Sachs’ works celebrate the ordinary and the profound, mapping and defining unmined territories of the human psyche.  Elegantly fusing her varied influences of  literature, painting  and collage into a inviting yet deep and personal space these shorts bristle with the feeling of newly discovered modes of perception and expressions of movement in time. (Stephen Parr)

Still Life With Woman and Four Objects (1986); Drawn and Quartered (1986) Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning (1987); Window Work ( 2001); The Small Ones (. 2006); Atalanta (2006); Georgic for a Forgotten Planet (2008); Cuadro por Cuardo en Montevideo (with Mark Street, 2009); XY Chromosome Project (2006-2009); Task of the Translator (2010)

States of Belonging, program three
Tuesday, April 13 at 7:30 pm
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft Way
Between College and Telegraph, Berkeley

“Dotted Lines: Women Filmmakers Connect the Past and the Present”
Curated by Kathy Geritz

Lynne Sachs has been making films for twenty-five years, shifting between short, lyrical works and longer experimental documentaries, all distinguished by her beautiful camerawork and poetic associations. Her most recent film, The Last Happy Day, is a portrait of a distant cousin, Sandor Lenard, whose life was shaped by war and marked by his unusual pursuits. A Jewish doctor living in Hungary, he fled the Nazis in 1938, relocating to Italy. After he later moved to Brazil, he translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin. His story is revealed through letters and interviews, punctuated by scenes from Winnie the Pooh acted out by Sachs’s children and their friends. Which Way Is East, made fifteen years earlier, chronicles Sachs’s trip to Vietnam to visit her sister Dana; the pair traveled together from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Impressionistic yet keenly observed, the film reveals details of life during and after the Vietnam War, interspersed with Vietnamese proverbs and voice-over remarks by both Lynne and Dana as well as Vietnamese friends. Both films are part of a larger series, I Am Not a War Photographer, and along with the short cine-poem Tornado, they provide unique perspectives on the personal impact of war.(Kathy Gertiz)

Which Way is East (1994);  The Last Happy Day (2009);  Tornado (2001)

States of Belonging, program four
Wednesday, April 14 at 7:30 pm
SF Cinematheque at California College of the Arts
1111 Eighth Street (near 16th), San Francisco

The Last Happy Day  and Investigations of a Flame
Curated by Steve Polta

A frequent theme in Sachs’ work is the aftermath of war and its lingering effects on multi-generational families. Investigation of a Flame is a work of poetic investigative journalism which explores a 1968 Vietnam War protest in suburban Baltimore. Blending archival footage of the event, period reportage and contemporary interviews with participants Daniel and Philip Berrigan, the film examines the resonances of the act over the succeeding decades. A more personal work, 2009’s The Last Happy Day portrays a distant cousin of Sachs, Sandor Lenard. A Jewish writer and doctor, Lenard fled the Nazis and, post-war, worked with the US Army to identify human remains. Later, while living in self-imposed exile in the Brazilian jungle, Lenard achieved brief fame for translating Winnie the Pooh into Latin. Incorporating excerpts from Lenard’s later letters to his estranged family, and on-screen performances by her own children, the film stands as a moving tribute to quiet heroism. Also screening: Sachs’ 2007 “collaborative update” of Chris Marker’s 1972 short Three Cheers for the Whale. (Steve Polta)

The Last Happy Day (16mm  on video, 38 min. 2009); Investigation of a Flame (45 min. color and B&W, 2001); Three Cheers for the Whale
by Chris Mark in collaboration with Lynne Sachs (17 minutes / color, english version, 2007)