Director: Lynne Sachs, ENG + ENG subtitles Lynne Sachs is an American filmmaker and poet who focuses on documentary and short experimental films, film essays and live performances. Her work often pushes on the boundaries of genre, relying on a feminist approach and an introspective form to explore the complex relationship between personal observation and universal historical experience. She is interested in the implicit connection between body, camera and the materiality of film. She has produced a body of more than 40 films, several installations and hybrid performances. Our selection will feature the short film A Month of Single Frames (2020), which Sachs has made for legendary American experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer and which earned the main prize at last year’s International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, as well as her piece Maya at 24, screened for the ‘Fascinations’ section at Ji.hlava IDFF 2021.
Films screened Following the Object to its Logical Beginning The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts Carolee, Barbara and Gunvor Month of Single Frames Maya at 24 Window Work
About us A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture is an independent cultural centre focusing on contemporary forms of professional theatre, dance, music, film, visual art and new media. Established in 2004 as a result of a joint effort between several civic cultural organisations, it became one of the first cultural centres in Slovakia founded by a bottom-up initiative. Since its beginning, A4 has been a vivid and active location on the Central European cultural scene, an open field for creative experimentation as well as a home for fresh and unique experiences. Besides presenting innovative contemporary art, it actively supports the new creative activities and education. A4 engages in public debate on important social issues, and attempts to foster conditions for non-commercial cultural activities, culturing of public space, urban development, etc.
Preamble kicks off June with screenings of the Lynne Sachs Retrospective
Preamble kicks off June with the presentation of the Lynne Sachs Retrospective as a preview of the American filmmaker’s visit to the Costa Rica International Film Festival to be held June 9-18.
To kick off the billboard on Thursday, June 2, starting at 7:00 pm, an exhibition of Film About a Father Who (United States, 2020) .
From 1984 to 2019, Lynne Sachs filmed her father, a lively and innovative businessman. This documentary is the filmmaker’s attempt to understand the networks that connect a girl with her father and a woman with her brothers. The show is for ages 12 and up.
On Friday June 3 starting at 7:00 pm screening of short films. A selection of short films by Lynne Sachs that shows her aesthetic and thematic searches and the experimentation that characterizes a good part of her creations.
The program includes the works: DRAWN AND QUARTERED, STILL LIFE WITH WOMAN AND FOUR OBJECTS, FOLLOWING THE OBJECT TO ITS LOGICAL BEGINNING, THE HOUSE OF SCIENCE: A MUSEUM OF FALSE FACTS, PHOTOGRAPH OF WIND, SAME STREAM TWICE, 2012, CUADRO BY CUADRO , CAROLEE, BARBARA AND GUNVOR, A MONTH OF SINGLE FRAMES, E•PIS•TO•LAR•Y: LETTER TO JEAN VIGO and MAYA AT 24.
For Saturday, June 4, at 7:00 pm presentation of the documentary Tip of my Tongue . To celebrate her 50th birthday, filmmaker Lynne Sachs brings together other people, men and women, who have lived the exact same years but hail from places like Iran, Cuba, Australia, or the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but not Memphis, Tennessee, where Sachs grew up.
The documentary takes place with all these people discussing the most remarkable, strange and revealing moments of their lives, in a brazen and self-reflective examination of the way events outside our own domestic universe impact who we are.
Costa Rica Festival Internacional de Cine que se realizará del 9 al 18 de junio.
Para dar inicio a la cartelera el jueves 2 de junio a partir de las 7:00 p.m exhibición de Film About a Father Who (Estados Unidos, 2020).
Desde 1984 hasta 2019, Lynne Sachs filmó a su padre, un animado e innovador hombre de negocios. Este documental es el intento de la cineasta por entender las redes que conectan a una niña con su padre y a una mujer con sus hermanos. La función es para mayores de 12 años.
El viernes 3 de junio a partir de las 7:00 p.m. proyección de cortometrajes. Una selección de cortos de Lynne Sachs que muestra sus búsquedas estéticas, temáticas y la experimentación que caracteriza buena parte de sus creaciones.
La programación incluye las obras: DRAWN AND QUARTERED, STILL LIFE WITH WOMAN AND FOUR OBJECTS, FOLLOWING THE OBJECT TO ITS LOGICAL BEGINNING, THE HOUSE OF SCIENCE: A MUSEUM OF FALSE FACTS, PHOTOGRAPH OF WIND, SAME STREAM TWICE, 2012, CUADRO POR CUADRO, CAROLEE, BARBARA AND GUNVOR, A MONTH OF SINGLE FRAMES, E•PIS•TO•LAR•Y: LETTER TO JEAN VIGO y MAYA AT 24.
Para el sábado 4 de junio en función de 7:00 p.m. presentación del documental Tip of my Tongue . Para celebrar su cumpleaños 50, la cineasta Lynne Sachs reúne a otras personas, hombres y mujeres, que han vivido exactamente los mismos años pero que provienen de lugares como Irán, Cuba, Australia o el Lower East Side de Manhattan, pero no de Memphis, Tennessee, lugar donde creció Sachs.
El documental transcurre con todas estas personas discutiendo sobre los momentos más destacados, extraños y reveladores de sus vidas, en un examen descarado y autorreflexivo de la forma en que los eventos fuera de nuestro propio universo doméstico impactan quiénes somos.
– 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 American filmmaker and poet Lynne Sachs will be the dedicatee of the tenth edition of the Costa Rica International Film Festival (CRFIC10), which will take place from June 9 to 18.
Sachs will visit the country during the festival, as he will be honored in the Retrospective section with a sample of 14 films of his authorship , characterized by a poetic, intimate, experimental and reflective tone with very personal themes.
The Sachs retrospective is made up of the films Epistolary: Letter to Jean Vigo (2021), Maya at 24 (2021); Film About a Father Who (2020) , Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor (2018), Tip of my Tongue (2017), Same Stream Twice (2012), With the Wind in Her Hair (2010), Frame by Frame (2009), Photograph of The Wind (2001), The House of Silence: A Museum of False Facts (1991), Drawn and Quartered (1987), Following the Object to It’s Logical Beginning (1987), and Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986).
According to the artistic director of the festival, Fernando Chaves Espinach , “We are interested in Lynne Sachs’s visit because with her films, made with few resources, she tells us about a very particular form of expression that seems relevant to our context. We are proud to present different ways of making cinema and, above all, to share it in a workshop with filmmakers and visual artists who can learn from his methodology and his approaches to cinematographic art”.
In addition to the presentation of his works, the festival has scheduled that Sachs give a face-to-face tutorial to a group of people linked to Costa Rican cinematography.
The main venue for the 10CRFIC will be the Cine Magaly and it will have three more screening rooms in the capital of San José and five outside the Greater Metropolitan Area: San Ramón, San Carlos, Jacó, Grecia, Limón and Paso Canoas.
Costa Rica Festival Internacional de Cine rinde homenaje a la cineasta Lynne Sachs
La cineasta y poeta estadounidense Lynne Sachs será la dedicada de la décima edición del Costa Rica Festival Internacional de Cine (CRFIC10), que se llevará a cabo del 9 al 18 de junio.
Sachs visitará el país durante el festival, pues se le rendirá homenaje en la sección Retrospectiva con una muestra de 14 películas de su autoría, caracterizadas por un tono poético, intimista, experimental y reflexivo con temáticas muy personales.
La retrospectiva a Sachs está constituida por los filmes Epistolary: Letter to Jean Vigo (2021), Maya at 24 (2021); Film About a Father Who (2020), Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor (2018), Tip of my Tongue (2017), Same Stream Twice (2012), Con el viento en el pelo (2010), Cuadro por cuadro (2009), Photograph of The Wind (2001), The House of Silence: A Museum of False Facts (1991), Drawn and Quartered (1987), Following the Object to It’s Logical Beginning (1987) y Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986).
De acuerdo con el director artístico del festival, Fernando Chaves Espinach,“Nos interesa la visita de Lynne Sachs porque con su cine, hecho con pocos recursos, nos habla de una forma de expresión muy particular que nos parece relevante para nuestro contexto. Nos enorgullece presentar distintas maneras de hacer cine y, sobre todo, compartirlo en un taller con cineastas y artistas visuales que pueden aprender de su metodología y sus acercamientos al arte cinematográfico”.
Además de la presentación de sus obras, el festival ha programado que Sachs imparta una tutoría presencial a un grupo de personas vinculadas con la cinematografía costarricense.
La sede principal del 10CRFIC será el Cine Magaly y contará con tres salas de proyección más en la capital de San José y cinco fuera de la Gran Área Metropolitana: San Ramón, San Carlos, Jacó, Grecia, Limón y Paso Canoas.
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:
The American experimental filmmaker and poet participates in the discussion that takes place after the screening of a selection of some of her films, which explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences within the family framework. In addition, she teaches the course Opening the family album .
Lynne Sachs has created genre-defying cinematic works through the use of hybrid forms and interdisciplinary collaboration, incorporating elements of essay film, collage , performance, documentary, and poetry. With each project of hers, Ella Lynne investigates the implicit connection between the body, the camera and the materiality of the film itself.
Girl Is Presence . USA, 4 min. 2020 In this collaborative work, Lynne Sachs and her daughter Noa make a visual poem in response to a poem by Anne Lesley Selcer. Girl Is Presence has traces of the fragmented language of George Bataille, the source of Selcer’s concept poem that reworks, undoes and recalls its rhythms. Made in the deepest isolation of the pandemic, as the words build in tension, the scene begins to feel occult, ritualistic, and alchemical.
Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam . USA, 33 min. 1994. When two American sisters travel north from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, conversations with strangers and Vietnamese friends reveal the other side of a shared story.
Wind in Our Hair . Argentina / USA, 40 min. 2010. Inspired by stories by writer Julio Cortázar and shot in contemporary Argentina, the film is based on an experimental narrative where four girls discover themselves through their fascination with the trains that pass by their house. As a story of anticipation and disappointment in early adolescence, Con viento en el pelo is set in a period of deep political and social unrest in Argentina.
Maya at 24 . USA / Spain, 5 min. 2021. Lynne Sachs films her daughter Maya in black and white and on 16mm. at 6, 16 and 24 years. In each recording, Maya runs in circles, clockwise, as if she is propelling herself in the same direction as time, forward. Aware of the strange simultaneous temporal landscape that only cinema can convey, this work shows Maya in motion at her different ages.
An autobiographical family portrait as a starting point for the construction of a film.
A workshop in which we will explore the ways in which images of our mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, grandfather, aunt or uncle can become material for the making of a personal film. Each participant will attend the first day with a single photograph that they want to examine.
Next, you’ll create a cinematic representation for this image by incorporating narration and interpretation. In the process, we will discuss and question the notions of expressing the truth and the language necessary for it.
This workshop is inspired by the work Family Lexicon by the Italian novelist Natalia Ginzburg, whose writing explores family relationships during fascism in Italy, World War II and the postwar period. Ginzburg was a perceptive artist who unified the usual distinctions between fiction and nonfiction: “Whenever I have found myself inventing something according to my old habits as a novelist, I have felt compelled to destroy it immediately. The places, events and people are all real.”
Lynne Sachs has created genre-defying cinematic works through the use of hybrid forms and interdisciplinary collaboration, incorporating elements of essay film, collage, performance, documentary, and poetry. Her highly self-reflective films explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and larger historical experiences. With each project of hers, Ella Lynne investigates the implicit connection between the body, the camera and the materiality of the film itself.
Lynne’s recent work combines fiction, nonfiction, and experimental modes. She has made more than 25 films that have been screened at the New York Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Toronto Images Festival, among others. They have also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts, and other national and international institutions. The Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (BAFICI), the New Cinema International Festival in Havana, and the China Women’s Film Festival have presented retrospectives of her films. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York and is a part-time professor in the Art department at Princeton University.
The workshop will be given in English and Spanish, an adequate level of the language is recommended
Students will have free access to the screening of the Monograph of the filmmaker Lynne Sachs, on Wednesday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Maya at 24 – Lynne Sachs’ short uses the simple image of her daughter Maya running in front of the camera to offer kinetic snapshots of how our children change physically and emotionally over the years.
For this writing filmgoer, 2021 offered the first tentative steps back to pre-pandemic filmgoing. Film festivals adjusted in various ways to using both online streaming and in-person events to reach their audiences. The reopening of film theaters in San Francisco allowed proper enjoyment of such big screen must-see films as “Summer Of Soul,” “Dune,” and “Shang-Chi And The Legend Of Ten Rings.” On the other hand, the least worrisome in-theater viewing was had at the Roxie, which required ID and proof of vaccination before a viewer could even get a ticket.
Because there’s no category here for episodic TV screened at film festivals, special note needs to be made of Maria Belen Poncio and Rosario Perazolo Masjoan’s Argentine TV mini-series “Four Feet High.” The Sundance Film Festival presented this touching and funny story of wheelchair-bound teen Juana, who’s just transferred to a new high school. Her struggle for personal independence gets intertwined with her desire to get laid. In addition, she’s helping some fellow queer students’ efforts to get a real sex education course at their school. Its greatest asset is giving viewers a chance to see through Juana’s eyes what life is like as a disabled person. Where else will you get to hear Juana’s riposte to a woman who patronizingly wants to put Juana on a pedestal: “Your life must be awful if I’m setting the example.”
Of the actual feature films seen by this writer this year, here are some lesser known films which deserve a little more than a title-only honorable mention:
“The Show” comes from director Mitch Jenkins, who worked off a script by comics legend Alan Moore. The film begins with a familiar fictional trope: A man whose name is supposedly Steve Lipman comes to Northampton on a quest. But by the time “Lipman”’s true name and intentions are revealed, the viewer discovers Northampton teems with such ongoing surprises as a superhero investigator, a supposedly dead comedian/mage (played by Moore), and a burned down men’s club that’s still thriving in dreams. Call the Moore-scripted film one unburdened by the diktat of genre storytelling. The film is available via Shout! Home Video.
2021 saw two films titled “Swan Song” hit theater screens. Todd Stephens’ version stars perpetual character actor Udo Kier in his first lead role. He plays a gay beautician reluctantly escaping retirement for one last job. Kier makes the most of “Swan Song”’s hilariously bitchy dialogue (e.g. “Let her be buried with bad hair”) and showing how his “Mr. Pat” remains fabulous even in reduced circumstances (e.g. the candelabra “wig”).
A different sort of swan song is offered by the Benny Chan action film “Raging Fire.” It might very well be a bullet- and blood-soaked farewell to the Hong Kong popular cinema brand of balls-to-the-wall action thanks to the mainland Chinese government’s draconian use of its “National Security Law,” The antagonists are tough but righteous Bong (Donnie Yen) and Bong’s now disgraced former protege Kong (Nicholas Tse). Kong’s determined to have his revenge on the people he blames for ruining his career, no matter how powerful they may be. The mainland Chinese government generally frowns on films with corrupt government officials as villains, which is why viewers might be unlikely to see future “Raging Fire”-style films.
Now on to the main Best Of lists.
Part I: Features
The Power Of The Dog–The year’s best feature film brings deep and memorable shades of gray to a genre notorious for its characteristic stark black and white morality. Director Jane Campion’s anti-Western challenges the genre’s exaltation of straight maleness. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil magnetically dominates the screen as one of two 1920s Montana ranch owners. Even when his character despicably emotionally abuses Kirsten Dunst’s modest Rose, it never feels as if his behavior plays into cultural stereotypes. Yet the film’s biggest sting comes from the viewer’s eventual realization of why the film’s title is perfect for its story.
Drive My Car–On paper, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s 3-hour movie may sound as if it’s greatly padding Haruki Murakami’s 30-page original short story. Yet Hamaguchi treats Murakami’s original as a starter kit for his own take, one which begins by filling in characters’ backstories only hinted at in the original. Theater director/actor Yusuke Kafuku and his young chauffeur Misaki Watari turn out to be kindred souls in finding time has not been a balm for personal grief. Producing Kafuku’s multilingual version of the Chekhov classic “Uncle Vanya” turns out to be key in different ways to helping these two characters’ grieving processes move to their conclusions.
Titane–With an abandon matched by driving a car at top speed on urban streets, Julia Ducournau’s entertainingly demented French feminist body horror tale gleefully runs over bourgeois aesthetics. Neither objectification nor sentimentality is allowed to soften car dancing lead character Alexia’s serial killer nature. Unconstrained describes both her killing methods and her means of sexual satisfaction. Even when Alexia goes to ground by scamming her way into a rural fire chief’s life, Ducornau’s lead character remains defiant in a different way courtesy of a public deliberately sexy dance and a fantastically strong Ace bandage body wrap able to conceal her increasing pregnancy.
Judas And The Black Messiah–The title of Shaka Khan’s electrifying film refers to Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and undercover FBI informant William O’Neal. Daniel Kaluuya masterfully brought to life Hampton’s personal charisma and his incredible political skills at unifying politically opposed Chicago subcultures. But the film’s also a painful lesson on the limits of Hampton’s personal charisma. In O’Neal, actor LaKeith Stanfield memorably created a man for whom it was unclear whether he’d turn on his FBI puppet masters or he was continually conning his fellow Black Panthers. “Anti-white” scolds of the film can soak their heads given it’s a fair description borne out by history to say white law enforcement officials’ willingness to permanently neutralize Chairman Fred went into “by any means necessary” territory.
There Is No Evil–Admittedly, this 70th Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear winner is not an easy film to sit through. But Mohammad Rasoulof’s film demonstrates once again why real art skillfully disturbs its viewer. Its four stories about administering the death penalty in Iran questions individual responsibility in a brutal system. How does a person deal with the reality of being compelled to take another person’s life at the government’s order? As the viewer learns the motivations and consequences that affect a character’s obedience to the kill order, they wind up considering their own boundaries if they were placed in a similar situation.
The Lost Daughter–Maggie Gyllenhaal’s wonderfully thorny debut feature shows the consequences of culturally assuming that women are inherently maternal creatures. Her adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s titular novel teases out the emotional similarities between comparative literature professor Leda (Olivia Colman) and young semi-irresponsible mother Nina (Dakota Jackson) during a Greek summer vacation. Jessie Buckley, who plays the younger version of Leda, ably handles the crucial task of showing how Leda’s marriage to her job and her valuing of personal independence frequently overrides her responsibilities as a mother. If Gyllenhaal’s film liberates one woman from resignation to motherhood, it will have succeeded.
Riders Of Justice–Director Anders Thomas Jensen’s revenge tale carries within its frames the seeds of its darkly comic deconstruction of the retribution genre. Eccentric mathematician Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his friends may have common cause with military man Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) thanks to a train “accident” that claims the lives of both a key criminal trial witness and Markus’ wife. But Jensen shows how healing the strained relationship between Markus and his teen daughter Mathilde deserves as much importance as avoiding the film’s lethal flying bullets.
Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy–In this unusual year of 2021, Ryusuke Hamaguchi manages to put a second film on the year’s best of list. This one is a triptych of short stories about love forgotten or rejected. In each story, a woman who’s failed at finding love in the past is given the opportunity to either change or repeat their earlier mistakes. This film may appear visually simple, yet its stories roil with deep and complicated emotions.
Night Of The Kings–A forest-bound Ivory Coast prison run by its inmates happens to be the setting for Philippe Lacote’s always hypnotic tale of the power of storytelling. As new prisoner Roman tries to stay alive until morning by telling tales of the life of notorious outlaw Zama King, the viewer is swept up in the recreations and dramatizations of such moments as the betrayal that ended Zama’s life and magical battles between African rulers. Yet equally fascinating are the efforts of dying prison kingpin Blackbeard to avoid being deposed and ambitious rival Lass’ efforts to push Blackbeard out of the top seat.
Zola–The greatest stripper saga ever Tweeted gets an entertaining dramatization in Janicza Bravo’s hands. Its tale of a money-making road trip to Florida that goes south in a non-geographic way works via the contrast between Taylour Paige’s Black commonsensical stripper title character and Riley Keough’s blaccented white trash deceptive fellow stripper Stefani. The crazier events Zola recounts still feel way more truthful than Stefani’s account of Zola’s rocking garbage bag couture.
Dune Part 1–Big screen science fiction adaptations often create the temptation of letting the spectacle of its imagined worlds overwhelm the human story that’s supposed to be a film’s core. After literal decades of attempts to bring Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic to the silver screen, “Arrival” director Denis Villeneuve finally succeeds. By breaking this adaptation into (potentially) two parts, Villeneuve gives the viewer breathing room to inhabit the arid magnificence of Arrakis and to follow and understand the destiny awaiting Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet). Props to the director for gambling that audiences would make this first half profitable enough that he can show how Atreides’ story ends.
Honorable Mentions: The Show, In The Heights, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, The Green Knight, Language Lessons, The Souvenir Part II, Pebbles, Raging Fire, Swan Song, Passing, I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking), Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes
Summer Of Soul—Thinking of Questlove’s debut feature documentary as just a powerful concert film sells his cinematic achievement short. 2021’s best documentary is also a thrilling piece of cinematic cultural archeology. It both resurrects footage of the unjustly forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and rebukes the cultural gatekeepers who ignored the festival in favor of the (predominantly white) Woodstock Music Festival. This film is a treasure chest of period performances by such seminal Black artists as Gladys Knight and the Pips, B.B. King, and Nina Simone. But equally fascinating are the reminiscences from both sides of the Cultural Festival stage.
The Velvet Underground–Director Todd Haynes’ outstanding first documentary feature captures the life and times of the Lou Reed years of the legendary art rock band and the cultural milieu the Velvet Underground emerged from. Andy Warhol’s portrait studies of the individual VU members and VU founding member John Cale’s reminiscences are just two of the powerful primary sources Haynes draws upon to make the film come alive. The original iteration of the VU may have produced a limited discography. But the impact of that music on sparking future musical talents demonstrates once again the virtue of quality over quantity.
The First Wave–It is not “too soon” for the appearance of Matthew Heineman’s emotionally intense chronicle of a beleaguered New York City-based medical facility during the first wave of COVID infections. It’s a snapshot of the chaos and desperation of those months when even vaccines for COVID weren’t available. Seeing the stress on medical personnel who are regularly confronted by their inability to save lives from the disease makes those who deny the seriousness of COVID appear even more selfish and short-sighted than ever.
499–Rodrigo Reyes’ incredible hybrid documentary surveys contemporary Mexican life to show why the country’s conquest by Spain nearly 500 years ago was not the boon touted by advocates of such conquest. An unnamed 16th century Spanish conquistador becomes a mostly silent guide through modern day Mexico as he shows how MS-13 gangsters and the desperate migrants hopping a ride on The Beast aren’t that far removed from the conquistador’s contemporaries.
Procession—Robert Greene may be the name director in this film following half a dozen victims of clerical child abuse using drama therapy to find emotional closure. But these victims break down the subject/director barrier by using the therapeutic recreations or confrontations they commit to film to empower themselves. The legal system may have repeatedly failed these recipients of clerical abuse. But the audience is privileged to see the men using this film they made together to take back their lives.
The Neutral Ground–The years-long struggle to remove four statues honoring the Confederacy from New Orleans’ public land provides an entry point for director CJ Hunt to examine the history of America’s toxic romance with the Antebellum South and the evil it represented. Hunt’s non-confrontational approach does allow advocates for “Southern culture” space to appear as more than just ignorant stereotypes. But the film ultimately argues that America’s long-standing romance with the so-called Lost Cause is one that preserves and strengthens the worst aspects of America’s soul.
Dear Mr. Brody–Keith Maitland found the right angle to recount the tale of self-styled hippie millionaire Michael Brody, Jr.’s publicly announced plan to give away his entire $25 million fortune (up to $172 million in 2021 dollars) to “anyone in need.” Instead of centering on the enigmatic young man making this public offer, the director finds the tale’s heart in the stories of some of Brody’s would-be supplicants and a couple of people in his inner circle. That smart decision shows the real lesson of Brody’s offer comes not from seeing human avarice on display but in learning the often touching dreams and desperation that compels people to seek Brody’s aid.
Who We Are: A Chronicle Of Racism In America–Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler’s documentary captures ACLU’s deputy legal director Jeffery Robinson explaining the intertwining of American greatness and the country’s long racist history. It’s shocking to see how present day innocuous places (e.g. NYC’s Wall Street, New Orleans’ The French Quarter) have strong ties to the slave trade. Contrary to the whitewashed racism behind opposition to “critical race theory,” the Kunstlers’ film powerfully argues that only through asking questions and confronting its shameful bigoted legacy can America truly move forward racially.
A Sexplanation–Local filmmaker Alex Liu skillfully uses humor and curiosity to undermine viewers’ prurience around sex. His ultimate goal is to show viewers the inadequacies of current sex education, as seen in a cringeworthy sequence of random adults in S.F.’s Dolores Park being unable to identify human genitalia. The director’s search for better ways to learn about sex sends him on a cross-country journey to such places as the Kinsey Institute and even a class that teaches age-appropriate sex education. What other documentary this year allows its director the opportunity to masturbate for science?
Morgana–One of the year’s more intriguing documentary subjects is the titular Morgana Muses. This divorced middle-aged Australian housewife re-invented and re-discovered herself making woman-oriented erotic videos. This funny and frequently heartbreaking film follows her over several years as she tries to live her best personal and artistic life while fending off mental illness.
Honorable Mentions: A Glitch In The Matrix, Burning, Landfall, Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street, Ricochet, North By Current, Lily Topples The World, A Kaddish For Bernie Madoff, Ascension, Writing With Fire
Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Mama–Topaz Jones’ update of the 1970s’ “Black ABCs” flashcards offers a wonderful snapshot of modern-day Black American culture by bringing in everything from the concept of code switching to the joys of eating sour candy. Simply the year’s best short film.
What You’ll Remember–Erika Cohn’s heartfelt locally-based short is an expression of love from a mother for the resilience of her children as their working poor family all weathered houselessness in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Maya At 24–Lynne Sachs’ short uses the simple image of her daughter Maya running in front of the camera to offer kinetic snapshots of how our children change physically and emotionally over the years.
Exquisite Shorts Volume 1–Applying the Exquisite Corpse game to filmmaking, Ben Fee and 18 other filmmakers or duos made short films inspired by a pair of unrelated words. One word begins the film while the other ends it. Otherwise, anything goes. The entertaining results include a flying saucer abduction, a back porch conversation, and a “Survivor” style game where unlucky contestants turn into ooze.
Opera–Erick Oh’s breathtaking animated film takes viewers through the various levels of a fictional hierarchical society. The exquisitely detailed animation is such that several viewings and a good screen will be needed to truly appreciate Oh’s work.
Honorable Mentions: ASMR For White Liberals, 24,483 Dreams Of Death, Nuevo Rico, Koto: The Last Service, The Leaf, Luv U Cuz, A Ship From Guantanamo, Mission: Hebron, Almost Famous: The Queen Of Basketball
The film will be featured in the Fascinations program and will screen on Thursday, October 28, 2021 at 10PM.
Fascinations is a prestigious section for experimental documentaries from all around the world, with the prize for the Best Experimental Documentary Film.
Maya at 24
director: Lynne Sachs original title: Maya at 24 country: United States year: 2021running time: 4 min.
The spellbinding time-lapse follows the director’s daughter in a circularly minimalist depiction of the cycle of changes in her face from childhood to adulthood.
American artist Lynne Sachs (1961) started making films during her studies in San Francisco, where she collaborated with artists like e.g. Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner and others. In her work, she uses various forms of film, combinations of elements of essay, collage, performance, documentary and poetry. Her self-reflective films explore links between personal observations and a wider historic perspective.