A conversation between Sachs and Edo Choi (Assistant Curator at the Museum of the Moving Image) accompanying the Roxie’s Bay Area premiere of “Film About a Father Who.” The premiere was programmed alongside two shorts programs curated by filmmaker Craig Baldwin.
The cast of TIP OF MY TONGUE discusses how their lives have changed since the completion of the film in 2017. Created in conjunction with Lynne Sachs Retrospective at Museum of the Moving Image Feb. 2021. With Adam Schartoff (host), Accra Shepp, Eric Schurink, Lynne Sachs, Sue Simon, Andrea Kanapell, Shoei Dalai, Jim Supanick, and George Sanchez.
Join us for a virtual panel discussion on the films of FMC member Lynne Sachs.
In celebration of the Museum of the Moving Image’s online Lynne Sachs retrospective, The Film-Makers’ Coop is proud to present a Q&A Discussion of Sachs’ nonfiction filmography, including her new feature, Film About a Father Who. The panel consists of Sachs, Bradley Eros, M.M Serra, and Jack Waters.
“This will be a dynamic quartet. Let’s call us ‘The Quartz Quartet’ ~ ’cause we’re all such gems! (rock-solid underground treasures. . ha!). I’ll bring the bloody marys…” writes Bradley Eros about this gathering of friends and long-term members of the FMC board of directors.
Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression Museum of the Moving Image, NYC ONLINE RETROSPECTIVE Jan. 13 – 31, 2021
Lynne Sachs For more than thirty years, artist Lynne Sachs has constructed short, bold mid-length, and feature films incorporating elements of the essay film, collage, performance, and observational documentary. Her highly self-reflexive films have variously explored the relations between the body, camera, and the materiality of film itself; histories of personal, social, and political trauma; marginalized communities and their labor; and her own family life, slipping seamlessly between modes, from documentary essays to diaristic shorts. On the occasion of her latest feature, Film About a Father Who, a kaleidoscopic portrait of the artist’s maddeningly mercurial father. From Jan. 13-31 the Museum of the Moving Image is presenting a career-ranging survey of Sachs’s work, including new HD presentations of Drawn and Quartered, The House of Science: a museum of false facts, and Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam, as well as the premiere of Maya at 24, the third edition of Sachs’ temporal portrait of her daughter.
Bradley Eros Bradley Eros is an artist, experimental filmmaker, mediamystic, maverick curator, sound collage, photographer, expanded cinema,performance, writer & poet, nomadic teacher and private investigator—initiating, exhibiting, & curating at a multitude of ephemeral spaces and long-lasting venues, from micro-cinemas & storefronts to galleries & museums. His work includes intimate collaborations with Aline Mare (Erotic Psyche), Jeanne Liotta (Mediamystics), the Alchemical Theatre, Circle X, and kinoSonik.; intense research with Jeanne Liotta on the films of Joseph Cornell. He has created dozens of ‘zines, posters, soundtracks, unique artist’s books, and film performances in the unfixed universe of ephemeral cinema.
M.M. Serra MM Serra is an experimental filmmaker, curator, author, educator and the Executive Director of Film-Makers’ Cooperative, the world’s oldest and largest archive of independent media. Her first five films (NYC, 1985, Nightfall, 1984, Framed, 1984, PPI, 1986, Turner, 1987) were preserved and digitized by Anthology Film Archives Preservation series Re-Visions: American Experimental Film 1975-1990. The series “spotlights…the generation of experimental film artists who emerged after the final formation in 1975 of AFA’s Essential Cinema repertory screening cycle.” Anthology describes Serra’s five films as a “DIY Lower East Side spirit, but introduces a distinctive lyrical eroticism.” In 2015, Serra was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts for Enduring Ornament and in 2016 Serra received a New York Council on the Arts for a new film titled Mary Magdalene that was exhibited at the NY Media Center in August 2017. In 2018 MM Serra gave the 9th Annual Experimental Lecture at NYU Cinema Studies, entitled Art(Core): The Films of MM Serra, and in 2019 her lecture was published by Frameworks Journal.
Serra presented a lecture and screening at the Louvre auditorium in Paris, France on December 1st, 2019. It was held as the Petit Galerie in the Louvre as part of their cycling exhibitions highlighting Renaissance artists such as DaVinci and Michelangelo. The exposition, “Figure d’artiste,” focused on the cinematographic self portrait found in documentary, experimental, and avant-garde film. Serra’s emphasis in the lecture,Visionaries: Self-portraits by experimental filmmakers Marie Menken, Storm de Hirsch, Carolee Schneemann and MM Serra, was on women, literature, and self-portraits in the avant-garde pantheon. Filmmakers and speakers included Raymond Bellour, Pip Chodorov, Ross McElwee, Boris Lehman, and Agnes Varda.
The Museum of the Moving Image is hosting a retrospective of Sachs’s work, including the virtual cinema debut of her latest work, “Film About a Father Who”.
About a year after Sheffield Doc/Fest paid tribute to her films, veteran documentarian Lynne Sachs is now being similarly honored by the Museum of the Moving Image. The program Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression collects 30 years of shorts and features from the director, showing off her unusual blending of personal materials with both observational and essayistic film techniques. This includes her latest feature, Film About a Father Who, in which she reviews home movies and talks to her family members about their contrasting perspectives on her father, who led a highly colorful life.
Individual program tickets cost $5. (Tickets for Film About a Father Who are $12 — $10 for MoMI members.) An all-series pass (including Film About a Father Who) can be purchased for $30 ($24 for members).
With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options—not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves–each week we highlight the noteworthy titles that have recently hit platforms. Check out this week’s selections below and past round-ups here.
Film About a Father Who (Lynne Sachs)
While director Lynne Sachs admits her latest documentary Film About a Father Who could be superficially construed as a portrait (the title alludes to and the content revolves around her father Ira), she labels it a reckoning instead. With thirty-five years of footage shot across varied formats and devices to cull through and piece together, the result becomes less about providing a clear picture of who this man is and more about understanding the cost of his actions. Whether it began that way or not, however, it surely didn’t take long to realize how deep a drop the rabbit hole of his life would prove. Sachs jumped in to discover truths surrounding her childhood only to fall through numerous false bottoms that revealed truths she couldn’t even imagine. – Jared M. (full review)
When encountering the societal and economic structures of everyday life, it’s not a rare dream for many to wonder what life may look like off the grid and out of the hands of a bureaucratic entity that doesn’t have your best interests in mind. For one family living in the vast water reservoir of the Bucharest Delta, they have made this their reality for the last eighteen years. The Enache family and their nine children call this abandoned area their home, sleeping in their homemade hut, fishing for food, and taking gentle care of this slice of nature directly outside the hectic Romanian capital. As outside interest in their homeland grows, Acasă, My Home director Radu Ciorniciuc captures the forces of civilization that cause an upheaval of their lives with a well-rounded eye, painting an empathetic, complex portrait of the costs of independence. – Jordan R. (full review)
Though in many respects unpolished, late Chinese director Hu Bo’s first–and only–feature is a cry into the void so raw and resounding it shakes you out of a stupor you never even realized. The breathlessly long set pieces build up a sense of suffocation in real time, while the subtle music and camerawork evoke the constant, unspoken despair of a billion nobodies. This is the work of a keenly observant storyteller who bared his last outrage on screen and who probably proved too perceptive for the moral bankruptcy of this world. – Zhuo-Ning Su
Tyler Taormina’s singularly woozy debut about a group of teens making their way toward some cryptic rite of passage spins the high-school genre like a top. Purposefully devoid of clarifying exposition, it builds narrative mythology out of the dual uncertainty and excitement felt by young people making their initial crossing into adulthood. The result is a mysterious mash of sinister possibilities and forlorn melancholy that lingers like the smoky air so prominent in its central celebratory sequence inside a portal-like sandwich shop. – Glenn H.
One of Hong Sangsoo’s greatest works, Hill of Freedom is a showcase par excellence in how the director adds complexity to a structure that seems simple on the surface: a woman reads a man’s letters about his adventures in Japan, only to have them fall on the ground, and thus his story is now told out of order. The playful conceit of the 67-minute film finds ample room to explore comedy, heartache, cultural identity, and more. Like most Hong films, it plays as a breath of fresh air, and even moreso during this time of immense unease. – Jordan R.
With his hands on the steering wheel driving down the highway, Scott (Pete Davidson) closes his eyes, ready to crash into what lies ahead and explode into flames. This is the opening of Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island, a quasi-comedy that is less interested in finding the funniest punchline for every situation and more curious about the search for the scattered, missing pieces of one’s soul. It’s the director’s most emotionally attuned and narrowly focused work, a film in which our attention is not pulled along by heavy dramatic shifts or distracted by a mountain of subplots, but rather how trauma can form a life of complacency and it’s only slivers of progress that hint at a more promising future. – Jordan R. (full review)
From The Bourne Identity to Mr. & Mrs. Smith to Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman’s scale has come a long way since his smaller-scale breakouts Swingers and Go. With Locked Down, the director’s filmmaking style is pared down once again, focused on a couple quarreling during the COVID-19 lockdown in London. Reminding us he’s more than just an action or franchise director, Liman’s latest finds him going back to his roots, drawing eyeballs with a stacked cast led by Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and supported by Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling, Ben Stiller, Dulé Hill, and Lucy Boynton. – Michael F. (full review)
MLK/FBI shows the lengths J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI went to “neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader,” according to a bureau memo from 1963. Sam Pollard’s concise new documentary wrestles with King’s legacy as a Black Christian-pacifict freedom fighter and philanderer. If the last noun makes you tense up, the documentary is doing its job. The FBI’s ruthless campaign to discredit MLK Jr. with dirt on his affairs is at the center of Pollard’s story. It poses two questions: do King’s affairs discredit his legacy? And was J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI acting outside the bounds of the law, or as an apparatus of the political order? Using research from David J. Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Dr. King, testimonials from King’s inner circle, and recently declassified FBI documents, MLK/FBI shows––despite the FBI’s best efforts––the substance of King’s legacy is not his affairs, but his righteous cause for equality. – Josh E. (full review)
My Little Sister (Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond)
Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger, two of Germany’s preeminent acting talents, play twins coming to terms with a diagnosis of terminal illness in My Little Sister, the second narrative film by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond. It’s a film that carries emotional power more in its moments of natural reflexiveness than the weepie genre’s more conventional emotional beats, anchored by two focused lead performances that thankfully don’t succumb to melodrama. – Ed F. (full review)
When things get tough, I’ve always turned to the Western for clarity and reassurance. Maybe it’s because most of these films are about finding solace during uncertain times, pursuing peace where none has existed before. Though central themes of sacrifice and redemption are certainty well-trodden in the genre, filmmakers from Budd Boetticher to Kelly Reichardt remind us why they can be infinitely tweaked and subverted to reveal something new within the familiar. Watching Paul Greengrass’ sturdy new saddle opera News of the World in the late stages of 2020 felt thoroughly cleansing in this regard. – Glenn H. (full review)
The power behind Regina King‘s directorial debut One Night in Miami … is epitomized by an exchange about halfway through that ultimately lands on the topic of personal duty within the civil rights movement. Malcolm X saw his friends as leaders armed with the voices and platforms to shift its tide—a fact emboldening playwright Kemp Powers to hypothesize the breadth of socially- and politically-charged conversations Malcolm and friends Jim Brown, Cassius Clay, and Sam Cooke may have shared. With four impeccable performances bringing these men to life with boldness both in their ability to impersonate physically and embody spiritually, King lets her cast carry the drama by providing them the room to scream when necessary and cry when there’s nothing left to give. – Jared M. (full review)
Unafraid of putting off audiences, Emerald Fennell’s feature debut is the rare movie that understands rage. It knows the feeling of welcoming scorched earth; it sees the inability of truly moving past trauma. Carey Mulligan does stellar work and the bubblegum costume design makes for an addictive viewing, but it’s so much more than that. It’s cynical and hopeless—just as it should be—and its looks at the aftershocks of rape ring cathartic and exhausting in equal measure. – Matt C.
The draws of living inside The Villages, the largest over-55 retirement community in the country, are readily apparent. For the nearly 115,000 veterans planted within the insulated Floridian suburban sprawl, there is no reason to be bored with life. Its complex contains golf courses and pickleball courts, swimming pools and volleyball beaches, acting and dance classes and plenty of tricked out golf carts. The sherbert sunset backdrops each night suggest this place is paradise. – Jake K. (full review)
This is the third film from director Justine Triet, whose last feature In Bed with Victoria, while markedly more comic in tone, also featured a headstrong, successful woman dealing with a complicated personal life. It’s clearly something Triet prioritizes, and she gets strong performances from her two female leads, especially Efira, whose character’s poise and confidence slowly breaks down as she loses grip of her personal and professional responsibilities. There’s also a small, funny role for Sandra Hüller as an exasperated director of the chaotic film shoot that brings together Margot and Igor. – Ed F. (full review)
Legend has it that when Laika died on November 3, 1957, following a 5-hour journey that turned the dog into the first living creature to orbit the Earth, her spirit returned to Moscow, roaming the streets where Soviet scientists had plucked her. Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter’s entrancing Space Dogs begins where the legend ends, and hangs in that same mystic region all through its hour and a half. It’s an odyssey that keeps seesawing between the terrestrial and the astral, trailing behind a couple of Muscovite mongrels to connect their earthly meanderings with a larger question about the ways in which humans have colonized space, and recruited other species as martyrs in the pursuit. – Leonardo G. (full review)
When two paramedic best friends in New Orleans discovered the first unexplainable injury on their route, they didn’t really think much about it. The second? Well, it was a body. They shouldn’t have even been called. What about the third, though? A snake bite in a hotel room without a snake alongside a disappeared boyfriend? That’s when you start looking for the connective tissue holding everything together besides Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) having the bad luck to catch them all. That’s when the label of a designer drug comes into focus. The name? Synchronic. Rather than a reference to “meaningful coincidences” (since coincidence was ruled out), directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead lean towards Carl Jung’s “togetherness” definition. They’ve simply defined the cause along with the meaning. – Jared M. (full review)
Jordan Raup is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Film Stage and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic. Track his obsessive film-watching on Letterboxd.
They say the bond between fathers and daughters is quite special. Just ask Brooklyn-based artist Lynne Sachs, who was so determined to find out what made her enigmatic dad tick, she created an observational documentary about him.
The feminist filmmaker/director seems to view life through the lens of a painter/poet: a winning combo that has resulted in a series of artistic experimental and avant-garde works that draw the audience into Sachs’ private world. Her newest boundary-crushing offering, titled “Film About a Father Who,” has been 30 years in the making. And now, she’s sharing this fascinating, family-focused doc with viewers across the country.
In Queens, the acclaimed film — a Cinema Guild release — will debut Friday, Jan. 14, in the Museum of the Moving Image’s Virtual Cinema. The feature is part of a 20-film online retrospective of the artist’s celebrated body of work, which spans more than three decades. You can experience “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression,” now through Jan. 31. To learn more about the artist’s films and how to watch them, click here.
“Over a 30-plus-year career, Lynne Sachs has charted a formal path defying conventional categorization. Each of her films is a self-reflexive meditation into the psychic origins and intellectual process of its own making, issuing from a space between thought and expression,” said Edo Choi, MoMI’s assistant curator of film, who organized the retrospective.
“This is true of her work as early as ‘The House of Science’ and as recent as her latest and most personal film so far, ‘Film About a Father Who.’”
During a recent interview, Sachs spilled about her papa’s escapades.
“He has a spirt of adventure, refuses to follow any rules, relishes seeing his children grow up, and seems to be very capable of keeping a lot of secrets,” she told QNS.
When asked to complete this sentence: “This film is about a father who,” she offered, “… is a different man for everyone who knows him, whether you have eaten dinner with him, hiked with him or only met him on the movie screen. He adds another dimension to the word complicated.”
“My film tries to understand one father through the eyes of nine children. We each have our own experiences, memories and interpretations of his place in our lives,” Sachs added. “For me, my father was continuously supportive of me as a woman, an artist and a mother. He always treated me with respect. Unfortunately, this was not true for all of my siblings. This is often the case in families, and it’s the job of the sisters and brothers in the family to find a terrain on which they can love each other on their own terms.”
The art of filmmaking is really about how well you tell a story, and Sachs injects a dose of nostalgia, family dynamics and a sprinkling of psychology into her film. She paints an interesting, semi-revealing portrait of a secretive bon vivant from Park City, Utah, as seen through the eyes of his children, grandchildren, ex-girlfriends, ex-wives and especially his own mother.
The film features Ira Sr., who back in the day, made a modest living as a hippie entrepreneur, and eventually became a proud father of nine (now aged 25 to 59). Also featured in the film are the artist, her brother Ira Sachs Jr., who is also a filmmaker, and their immediate family (including their mom and grandma), as well as many half brothers and sisters.
For this 74-minute work, developed between 1984 and 2019, the artist — who had been experimenting with different filmmaking modes — shot 8mm and 16mm film, videotape and digital images. “I feel most comfortable with 16mm because I need to shoot with this kind of camera without sound. My eyes are always more observant with this camera,” she said. “Furthermore, I have had the same $400 wind-up, non-electric Bolex camera since 1987, so it’s an extension of my soul.”
Judy Garland once said, “I can live without money, but I cannot live without love.” When asked why her dad was always searching for amoré, Sachs explained, “It took me a long time to realize that his traumatic childhood, which included being separated from his mother for 13 years, left an indelible mark. In the film, he also claims that ‘I am not like a swan. I don’t stay with one partner my whole life.’ So, maybe long-term romantic love was never really his goal.”
Sachs explores not only the qualities she loves most about her father, but also the challenging aspects of their relationship.
“My father has boundless compassion, but he compartmentalizes his life so much that you have to share this love with so many people you will soon lose count,” Sachs shared. “I love that he is an iconoclast, that he only likes to hike on mountains that have not yet been tamed and that he lets his hair and life become tangled. Since he always did what he wanted when he wanted, many people got hurt along the way … even me, and this continues to leave a wake of pain.”
Describing her family members’ reactions to her latest project, Sachs told QNS, “My sisters and brothers have really rallied behind the film and it has in a way brought us closer. My father cried the first time he saw it. He told me he hoped to ‘do better in the future.’ I also think he got a kick out of seeing a feature-length film all about the life he led, all the unusual paths he followed. Most of us will never have this chance.”
She added: “I actually completed making the film after my grandmother’s death, which ultimately was an opening to my discovering my two ‘hidden’ sisters.”
Sachs believes that her film has changed some people’s perceptions of her now-84-year-old father.
“Many people who thought they knew Ira Sachs Sr. very well announced to me that my film provided more layers to his life than they could ever have imagined. Everyone knew a part of him, but none of us did or even now do know the whole story. It is important to me to recognize that he is not a ‘character’; therefore, like all of us, he maintains some parts of him that are his and his alone.”
Three of Sachs’ key early works – “Drawn and Quartered” (1987), “The House of Science: a museum of false facts” (1991), and “Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam” (1994) – will also be presented.
Along with the screenings, the museum will present a new recorded dialogue between Sachs and Choi, covering the breadth of Sachs’ career. This exclusive video will be available to those who purchase tickets to any of the screenings.
We revisit our conversation with the remarkable and highly acclaimed feminist, experimental filmmaker and poet, Lynne Sachs on the occasion of her upcoming retrospective curated by Edo Choi at the Museum of Moving Image in New York.
In this episode, we discuss ideas present in Sachs’ work, including feminist film theory, experimental filmmaking, and her collaborative approach. We also discuss her previous films, THE HOUSE OF SCIENCE, TIP OF MY TONGUE, and FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO which are available through the Museum of Moving Image Virtual Cinema until January 31st. FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO opens January 15th in virtual cinemas nationwide via distributor Cinema Guild.
Lynne Sachs is a Memphis-born, Brooklyn-based artist who has made over 35 films. Her work explores the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together text, collage, painting, politics and layered sound design. Strongly committed to a dialogue between cinematic theory and practice, she searches for a rigorous play between image and sound, pushing the visual and aural textures in her work with every new project.
Sachs films have been screened all over the world, including New York Film Festival, Sundance, Oberhausen, Viennale, BAMCinemaFest, Vancouver Film Festival, DocLisboa and many others. Her work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts and other venues, including retrospectives in Argentina, Cuba, and China.
She received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts. In 2019, Tender Buttons Press published Lynne’s first collection of poetry, Year by Year Poems.
Someone introduced themselves to me at a film festival where one of Lynne Sachs’s films was screening. I introduced myself in return, and their eyes lit up. “Are you Lynne Sachs?” they asked, having apparently heard only my last name.
No, I am not Lynne Sachs (obviously), nor am I related to her. But I enjoy relaying this anecdote, in part because it’s so flattering to have been momentarily mistaken for the experimental filmmaker, writer, and artist whose work I greatly admire. While I have no direct connection to Sachs, after recently watching so many of her films in such a brief period of time—on the occasion of the Museum of the Moving Image’s inspired retrospective, “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression,” organized by assistant curator Edo Choi and available to stream online here between January 13 – 31, 2021—I do feel as though I know her.
At the center of Sachs’s work is often Sachs herself: her body, her voice, her words. And with those come the subjects that preoccupy her: family, feminism, language, place, and being. Over 30 years of making films, collage and installation art, writing prose and poetry, and orchestrating performances, often in conjunction with her moving-image work, Sachs has centered herself insomuch as she’s looking out at the world that encircles her, viewing it thoughtfully yet from a studied distance.
Throughout the retrospective’s five programs (as well as in her latest, Film About a Father Who, a documentary about her charmingly lubricious father that’s been decades in the making and is also available to rent through MoMI), Sachs never seems to intimate that her perspective is universal but, rather, that having a perspective is.
Program 1: Early Dissections
Sachs’s first three films reflect her distinctly feminist viewpoint, conveyed through cerebral experimentations with form; she employs such avant-garde structures to impart a female perspective, thereby challenging the omniscient male gaze. In Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986), Sachs assays the daily goings-on and considerations of a woman by positing her as a character in the de facto narrative. The foundation of Sachs’s practice is established here as she melds different filmic modes and intersects the representational and the confessional; poetry and narrative; and fiction and history, the latter through her inclusion of an image of anarchist Emma Goldman and a woman in voiceover reading and reflecting on Goldman’s letters. Sachs’s second film, Drawn and Quartered (1987), literally separates the female image from that of the male. Shot using her uncle’s Regular 8 Filmo camera, it presents four frames, two on each side of the screen. On the left is Sachs’s then-boyfriend, nude; on the right, Sachs herself, also nude—figurative delineations of separation between the sexes rendered literal. She notes in an essay on the making of the film that she originally extracted all images of her face from it, later splicing them back in as a way of claiming what’s being shown. Another recondite evocation of the cinematic gaze, Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning (1987) connects an unseen female protagonist’s observation of a man to Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of movement. The dispassionate examination implicitly calls into question the reverse—the more typical obsession with the female figure by men. The trajectory of Sachs’s first three works culminates in The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991), in which the director begins to merge a collage-like technique with essayistic qualities, resulting in a willful sort-of disparateness that considers womanhood as chastened by men (specifically doctors and scientists) and as experienced by women.
Program 2: Family Travels
Sachs’s family plays a central role in her work; one need only watch the end credits of any of her films to see that her siblings, spouse (filmmaker Mark Street), and their children are often listed as crew members or thanked for their involvement. In collaboration with her younger sister, writer Dana Sachs, she made the artfully evocative Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994), in which she and Dana, who’d then been living in Vietnam, take a trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Cinematic brushstrokes—blurry images of the country’s verdant landscape—punctuate this uncommon travelogue, throughout which both sisters relay their experiences in the country. In one sequence Dana remarks on a photograph of an elderly Vietnamese woman, revealed to be the irascible grandmother of one of her friends: “Once the photo lost its anonymity, it lost its meaning,” she says. “It wasn’t the long-suffering face of Vietnam anymore, the trophy face a tourist loves to capture. It was just [my friend’s] crabby grandmother.” Here the sisters contend with the legacy of the Vietnam war, a scrim against the backdrop of their childhood memories. Exploring similar themes, The Last Happy Day (2009) is about Sachs’s distant cousin, Sandor Lenard, a Hungarian doctor who was hired by the U.S. Army to reconstruct the bones of dead soldiers and who would later translate A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh into Latin. Sachs combines Lenard’s personal correspondence, interviews with his family, and guileless interpretations of Lenard’s story by her two daughters and their friends to construct a personal reckoning with the effects of war. Both short documentaries explore this theme—in Sachs’s life and in the world at large—each utilizing cryptic proverbs to make sense of difficult truths. Included in this program is The Small Ones (2007), described by Sachs as being a “short anti-war cine-poem” that originates the concept more fully explored in The Last Happy Day.
Program 3: Time Passes
One feels the weight of time, from seconds to decades, in Sachs’s output as each work seems to represent a culmination of the director’s life to date. Composed of films made over 20 years—and mostly shot on either super 8mm or 16mm, and largely silent—this program elucidates a prominent motif in Sachs’s oeuvre, that of fleeting moments crystallized through the creative process. Three works especially exhibit this: Photograph of Wind (2001), Same Stream Twice (2012), and Maya at 24 (2021), which feature Sachs’s daughter Maya at ages 6, 16, and 24, respectively. In each, Sachs records her running in a circle, thereby capturing the illusion of apogees in time. Along these lines, Noa, Noa (2006) depicts Sachs’s younger daughter, Noa, over three years between ages 5 to 8, a period of resourcefulness and ingenuity. Likewise, Viva and Felix Growing Up (2015) features her niece and nephew (the children of her brother, filmmaker Ira Sachs); Day Residue (2016) was shot during some time spent with her mother and stepfather in her childhood home in Memphis, Tennessee. Place figures most prominently in Georgic for a Forgotten Planet (2008), which is less a love letter to New York City (where Sachs currently resides) and more a poem about its natural and not-so-natural wonders, somewhat in line with the work that inspired it, Virgil’s Georgics. Tornado (2002) and And Then We Marched (2017) center on events—September 11 and the Women’s March in D.C., respectively—the former an appropriately melancholy commemoration and the latter a rousing paean. Collectively these films and videos create a portrait of an artist and emblematize the passing of time.
Above: Your Day Is My Night (2013)
Program 4: Your Day Is My Night
With this expressive 2013 non-fiction hybrid, Sachs melds her interests in documentary and performance art with her penchant for prose and poetry; all four modes combine into a beguiling narrative around the phenomena of shift-bed housing, the practice of multiple people sharing the same bed, in New York City’s Chinatown. Having first learned about “hot-bed” houses from her uncle—and expanding her knowledge on the subject by way of 19th-century photographer Jacob Riis’s book How the Other Half Lives—Sachs worked with several older Chinese immigrants who were intimately familiar with the custom, meeting with them on a weekly basis for a year and a half to flesh out their stories. What might seem like a relatively straightforward documentary is actually a blend of fact (the participants’ stories about life in China and the United States) and fiction (the quasi-dramatization of conversations and scenarios in which these experiences are conveyed). Throughout Sachs deploys stylized footage of the participants appearing in abstract live performances that involve beds; if that seems an overly simplistic description, it’s because the concept, the bed as a stage, “as an extension of the earth,” as Sachs has said, is so metaphorically apt. The cinematography in these sections is breathtaking—close-ups add further visual texture to the performers and the unlikely setting for their displays. Sachs and her collaborators also staged performances around New York City while making the film; this tactic extends the film outside of itself and back into the physical realm in which it originated.
Program 5: Tip of My Tongue
On the occasion of turning 50, Sachs gathered a dozen similarly aged friends and acquaintances, then spent a weekend making this documentary, in which participants recount memories and experiences from the five-plus decades they’ve been alive. (In conjunction with this effort, Sachs wrote fifty poems, one for each year of her life, and published them in the 2019 collection Year By Year.) The film is, like life itself, an amalgam of methods that aid in the processing and contextualizing of one’s experience of it. One woman tells the story of how she swam around Manhattan Island while she sits in a bathtub; a man, standing agape in the middle of a room, describes what it was like to realize that Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead. Some reminiscences are personal, while others broach sociopolitical events that defined their eras, from the aforementioned assassination to the moon landing, as experienced by many of those involved in the film from their respective locations around the world (Iran, Cuba, and Australia, among others). Some of the remembrances are even more location-specific, as when a woman from Iran talks about being a child during the Revolution of 1979 and a man from the U.S. talks about his family prospering under Reagan. Sachs intersperses nimbly assembled archival footage and audio clips between the recollections, adding further weight to the participants’ memories. Her artful scribbling (present also in Year By Year) often adorns the images, and Sachs and the participants write on various objects the years between 1961 (when Sachs was born) to 2011 (when she turned 50). Tip of my Tongue is an ideal synthesis of Sachs’s preferred modes: documentary, performance, essay, and poetry. The brilliant sound design adds additional layers to the material—subtle footnotes to the cinematic treatise. She notes in Year By Year that she was inspired by this line from Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet: “Everything that surrounds us becomes part of us.” Again, at the root of Sachs’s practice is a beguiling simplicity, which feels organic but reveals itself to be methodical under analysis. Her latest, Film About a Father Who, is a natural continuation of all this. “It seeps into us with every experience of the flesh and of life and…,” Pessoa continues, “binds us subtly to what is near, ensnares us in a fragile cradle of slow death, where we lie rocking in the wind.”
A conversation between Lynne Sachs and assistant curator Edo Choi will be available along with the retrospective programs. Additionally, Sachs, her brother Ira, and cinematographer and filmmaker Kirsten Johnson will participate in a live online event on Tuesday, January 19, at 7 PM.
Lynne Sachs’ documentary “Film About a Father Who” circles around a hole. Her father Ira is now 84, and she’s old enough to be the mother of an adult daughter. But one can tell that she still doesn’t fully understand him. That’s the reason why she made this film, which follows the messiness of a man whose idea of freedom consisted of running from one short-term fling to the next with no regard for the fact that he kept fathering children.
“Film About a Father Who” incorporates footage newly shot by Sachs for the documentary, as well as home movies dating back as early as 1965 and material shot by her father and her brother, the accomplished, out gay director Ira Sachs, Jr. Almost every possible video format is credited, as well as 8mm and 16mm film. The result is a hodgepodge of textures and styles. To add to the mélange, Sachs often plays audio of people whose voices we can’t place on top of unrelated images. While the film begins with promotional video made by Ira Sr. in Park City, Utah in 1992, it spans his entire adult life. Ira, Jr. fictionalized aspects of his father’s life in his 2005 film “Forty Shades of Blue.” Lynne nursed this project for 30 years, then decided to complete it by recording a voice-over in January 2019.
Sachs refuses to pass judgment on a man who was neglectful and selfish. The film’s spectators probably won’t be so reluctant. Ira, Sr. never should’ve had children or agreed to participate in a monogamous relationship, although his lifestyle as “the Hugh Hefner of Park City” probably made the former inevitable. (Without using the word “vasectomy,” his mother tells him he should get one.) But while his appearances on screen don’t lead to any epiphanies about the sources of his behavior, Sachs is equally interested in the experiences of her siblings, who are better equipped to explain their lives.
She brings the whole family together to film a discussion on this subject. The class and racial differences of her siblings are apparent. While she’s white and Jewish, some of her siblings are of different races. In the end, he fathered nine children by six women, but concealed two because his mother threatened to cut him out of her will if he kept having kids. One woman contrasts her life of hunger and poverty with the middle class lives of Lynne and Ira, Jr.
While she doesn’t emphasize this part of her father’s personality or her own work, she’s best known for the anti-war films she made in the 2000s. She may have been influenced by Ira, Sr.’s “life-long interest in doing good in the world,” as she describes it in the press kit. Very early on, “Film About A Father Who” describes him as a “hippie businessman, using other people’s money to develop hotels named after flowers,” and mentions his resistance to defining himself by his job. But Ira, Sr. remains bound to a ‘60s idea of masculinity – he even looks like David Crosby today – that viewed women and children as impediments to his freedom.
Sachs is also receiving a five-program retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image starting Jan. 13th. It’s not complete, focusing on her family-themed work rather than her more political fare. But obviously that makes a fitting context for “Film About a Father Who.” She films children with a tenderness that seems to have been lacking from her own youth. She’s made three shorts reworking the same images of her daughter, Maya, as well as a depiction of her niece and nephew in the 2015 “Viva and Felix Growing Up.”
In Sachs’ most recent film, the four-minute short “Maya at 24,” she edits together film of her daughter at 6, 16, and 24. “Maya at 24” suggests that change is the only constant in life. It’s based around the image of Maya running in a clockwise circle as Sachs pans the camera to keep up with her. “Maya at 24” also uses superimposition to place earlier versions of the woman inside her head. While not exactly a subtle film, it suggests something real about the way we carry our pasts inside us as we race towards an uncertain future. “Film About a Father Who” expands that notion on a grander scale, with a nagging sense that Sachs is searching for emotions she never received as a child and her entire family wants answers from Ira Sr. while he’s still alive. They don’t seem likely to be forthcoming.
FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO | Directed by Lynne Sachs | The Cinema Guild | Starts streaming through the Museum of the Moving Image Jan. 15
Twenty of the more than three dozen films Lynne Sachs has made since the mid-1980s have been selected for a virtual retrospective currently running at the Museum of the Moving Image through the end of the month. Even before she completed her first formalist experiments in 1986, Still Life with Woman and Four Objects and Drawn and Quartered, Sachs began shooting footage on 8 mm and 16 mm, and eventually, analog and digital video that she and editor Rebecca Shapass would shape into the centerpiece of the program. Film About a Father Who, which opened last year’s Slamdance, is a “brisk, prismatic, and richly psychodramatic family portrait” that “finds Sachs assessing her relationship with her father, Ira Sachs Sr., described at one point as the ‘Hugh Hefner of Park City,’” writes Ben Kenigsberg in the New York Times.
As Ira himself has put it, he’s a man with “one wife and many friends.” He’s fathered nine children over the years, and some of them have only recently become aware of the existence of others. Lynne grew up in Memphis with her sister, the writer Dana Sachs, with whom Lynne collaborated on the 1994 film Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam, and their brother, filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr. Talking to Conor Williams at Screen Slate, Lynne notes that the Memphis-based music producer played by Rip Torn in Ira’s 2005 film Forty Shades of Blue could be said to be loosely based on their father.
The younger Ira Sachs and his husband, the painter Boris Torres, coparent twins with Kirsten Johnson, who of course, has just made her own film about her father, Dick Johnson Is Dead. “It’s funny,” Lynne tells Williams, “I was going through my photos on my computer and I found four or five of them with my dad and Dick together. They’re holding hands up in the air, just last year.” Talking to Chris Shields at Reverse Shot, she explains why one sequence in Film About a Father Who is crucial. Ira Sachs Sr. himself shot the footage of three of his young children splashing in a stream. “In documentary work, it’s not just about seeing someone,” she says, “it’s how they see that can tell you just as much about them.”
The title echoes Film About a Woman Who, the 1974 film by Yvonne Rainer, one of the many influences Lynne Sachs is eager to cite, including Stan Brakhage, Bruce Conner, and Gertrude Stein. “Discovering ‘Lifting Belly,’ Gertrude Stein’s ever so physical, ecstatic belching of all things female, is critical to my work as an artist and poet,” she told Paolo Javier in Bomb Magazine in 2014. As a writer who would go on to stage multimedia performances, Sachs first discovered her love of filmmaking while studying in San Francisco, where she worked alongside Craig Baldwin, Ernie Gehr, Barbara Hammer, Gunvor Nelson, and Trinh T. Min-ha. In 2007, she helped Chris Marker create an English-language version of his 1972 short film, Three Cheers for the Whale.
For the best film-by-film guide to the retrospective, turn to Kat Sachs in the Notebook. No relation, by the way. “At the center of Sachs’s work is often Sachs herself: her body, her voice, her words,” writes Kat Sachs. “And with those come the subjects that preoccupy her: family, feminism, language, place, and being . . . Sachs never seems to intimate that her perspective is universal but, rather, that having a perspective is.”
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