Kino Rebelde has created a retrospective that traces a delicate line connecting intimacy, power relations, violence, memory, migration, desire, love, and war in Lynne’s films. By looking at each of these works, we can see a director facing her own fears and contradictions, as well as her sense of friendship and motherhood. Moving from idea to emotion and back again, our retrospective takes us on a journey through Sachs’ life as a filmmaker, beginning in 1986 and moving all the way to the present.
With the intention of allowing her work to cross boundaries, to interpret and to inquire into her distinctive mode of engaging with the camera as an apparatus for expression, we are delighted to present 37 films that comprise the complete filmmography, so far, of Lynne Sachs as visual artist and filmmaker. Regardless of the passage of time, these works continue to be extremely contemporary, coherent and radical in their artistic conception.
About Kino Rebelde
Kino Rebelde is a Sales and Festival Distribution Agency created by María Vera in early 2017. Its exclusively dedicated to promotion of non-fiction cinema, hybrid narratives and experimental.
Based on the creative distribution of few titles by year, Kino Rebelde established itself as a “boutique agency”, working on a specialized strategy for each film, within its own characteristics, market potential, niches and formal and alternative windows.
This company supports short, medium and long feature films, from any country, with linear or non-linear narratives. They can be in development or WIP, preferably in the editing stage.
The focus: author point of view, pulse of stories, chaos, risk, more questions, less answers, aesthetic and politic transgression, empathy, identities, desires and memory.
Kino Rebelde was born in Madrid, but as its films, this is a nomadic project. In the last years María has been living in Lisbon, Belgrade and Hanoi and she’ll keep moving around.
About María Vera
Festival Distributor and Sales Agent born in Argentina. Founder of Kino Rebelde, a company focused on creative distribution of non-fiction, experimental and hybrid narratives.
Her films have been selected and awarded in festivals as Berlinale, IFFR Rotterdam, IDFA, Visions Du Réel, New York FF, Hot Docs, Jeonju IFF, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Sarajevo FF, Doclisboa and Viennale, among others.
María has a background as producer of socio-political and human rights contents as well as a film curator.Envelope
Lynne Sachs (1961) is an American filmmaker and poet living in Brooklyn, New York. Her moving image work ranges from documentaries, to essay films, to experimental shorts, to hybrid live performances.
Working from a feminist perspective, Lynne weaves together social criticism with personal subjectivity. Her films embrace a radical use of archives, performance and intricate sound work. Between 2013 and 2020, she collaborated with renowned musician and sound artist Stephen Vitiello on five films.
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 each new project.
Between 1994 and 2009, Lynne directed five essay films that took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany – sites affected by international war – where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own perception.
Over the course of her career, she has worked closely with film artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Ernie Gehr, Barbara Hammer, Chris Marker, Gunvor Nelson, and Trinh T. Min-ha.
Live Q&A with Lynne Sachs on Friday, February 19, 7:00 pm PST (10:00 pm EST) by Zoom
Conversation with Lynne Sachs and Stephen Vitiello moderated by musician and music critic Sasha Frere-Jones on Sunday February 21, 5:00 pm PST (8:00 pm EST) by Zoom
Online via Los Angeles Filmforum
Filmforum is delighted to kick off 2021 by welcoming back our friend Lynne Sachs with her new film and several past works, all of which include original music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello.
“In collaborating on the soundtracks for my films, Stephen Vitiello somehow recognizes the interior sounds of objects and releases them for us to hear. Together his music and his sound designs push audiences toward a new way of experiencing cinema.” – Lynne Sachs
In these two programs, Los Angeles Filmforum explores the seven-year collaborative relationship between filmmaker Lynne Sachs and sound artist Stephen Vitiello.
Admission will include receiving links to both Zoom conversations!
Four films are covered by this admission, which is on a sliding scale, and which takes you to a screening room set up by Canyon Cinema. You also get a free link to the live Q&A with Lynne on Friday February 19 and the tripartite conversation on Sunday Feb 21.!
Ticketing for Four Films: Sliding Scale, $0 for members, $5 for students, $8, $12, $20
Special Thanks to Brett Kashmere, Canyon Cinema, Tom Sveen, Cinema Guild.
Films by Lynne Sachs with music and sound design by Stephen Vitiello
2013 – 2020
Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker and a poet born in Memphis, Tennessee but living in Brooklyn, New York. 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. Her work ranges from the very personal, as in her early experiments that are reminiscent of Bruce Connor’s found footage films and Chris Marker’s essay films, to documentary, as in her film on the Catonsville Nine’s antiwar-activism in Investigation of a Flame. Lynne discovered her love of filmmaking while living in San Francisco where she worked closely with film artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Barbara Hammer, George Kuchar, and Trinh T. Min-ha. Between 1994 and 2006, she produced five essay films that took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany — sites affected by international war — where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own subjective perceptions.
Sachs has made 37 films, which have screened at the New York Film Festival, Sundance, Oberhausen, Viennale, BAMCinemaFest, Vancouver Film Festival, DocLisboa and many others nationally and internationally. They have 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. The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, Festival International Nuevo Cine in Havana, China Women’s Film Festival and Sheffield Documentary Festival have all presented retrospectives of Lynne’s films. 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. Lynne lives in Brooklyn with filmmaker Mark Street. Together, they have two daughters, Maya and Noa Street-Sachs. www.lynnesachs.com
Stephen Vitiello is an electronic musician and sound artist who transforms incidental atmospheric noises into mesmerizing soundscapes that alter our perception of the surrounding environment. He has composed music for independent films, experimental video projects and art installations, collaborating with such artists as Nam June Paik, Tony Oursler and Dara Birnbaum. Solo and group exhibitions include MASS MoCA, The High Line, NYC, and the Museum of Modern Art. https://www.stephenvitiello.com/
Solo exhibitions include All Those Vanished Engines, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2011-(ongoing)); A Bell For Every Minute, The High Line, NYC (2010-2011); More Songs About Buildings and Bells, Museum 52, New York (2011); and Stephen Vitiello, The Project, New York (2006). He has participated in such group exhibitions as Soundings: A Contemporary Score, Museum of Modern Art, NY (2013); Sound Objects: Leah Beeferman and Stephen Vitiello, Fridman Gallery, New York (2014); September 11, PS 1/MoMA, LIC, NY (2011-2012); the 15th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2006); Yanomami: Spirit of the Forest at the Cartier Foundation, Paris; and the 2002 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2002). Vitiello has performed nationally and internationally, at locations such as the Tate Modern, London; the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival; The Kitchen, New York; and the Cartier Foundation, Paris. In 2011, ABC-TV, Australia produced the documentary Stephen Vitiello: Listening With Intent. Awards include Creative Capital (2006) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2011-2012). Vitiello is a professor of Kinetic Imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University. He lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.
Sasha Frere-Jones is a writer and musician from New York.
Los Angeles Filmforum screenings are supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture, the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, the Wilhelm Family Foundation, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. We also depend on our members, ticket buyers, and individual donors.
The Washing Society Directed by Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker 2018, color, sound, 44 min. When you drop off a bag of dirty laundry, who’s doing the washing and folding? The Washing Society brings us into New York City laundromats and the experiences of the people who work there by observing these disappearing neighborhood spaces and the continual, intimate labor that happens there. The juxtaposition of narrative and documentary elements in THE WASHING SOCIETY creates a dream-like, yet hyper-real portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, both past and present.
“The legacy of domestic work, the issues surrounding power, and the exchange of money for services are all potent themes which rise to the surface and bubble over in dramatic, thrilling escalations of the everyday.” – Brooklyn Rail
“Spotlights the often-invisible workers who fold the clothes, maintain the machines and know your secrets.” – In These Times
Featuring: Jasmine Holloway, Veraalba Santa, and Ching Valdes-Aran Cinematography: Sean Hanley, Editiing: Amanda Katz
“Drift and Bough” 2014, Super 8mm on Digital, B&W, sound, 6 min. Sachs spends a winter morning in Central Park shooting film in the snow. Holding her Super 8mm camera, she takes note of graphic explosions of dark and light and an occasional skyscraper. The stark black lines of the trees against the whiteness create the sensation of a painterʼs chiaroscuro. Woven into this cinematic landscape, we hear sound artist Stephen Vitielloʼs delicate yet soaring musical track which seems to wind its way across the frozen ground, up the tree trunks to the sky.
Tip of My Tongue 2017, color, sound, 80 min. “To mark her 50th birthday, filmmaker Lynne Sachs gathers a group of her contemporaries—all New Yorkers but originally hailing from all corners of the globe—for a weekend of recollection and reflection on the most life-altering personal, local, and international events of the past half-century, creating what Sachs calls ‘a collective distillation of our times.’ Interspersed with poetry and flashes of archival footage, this poignant reverie reveals how far beyond our control life is, and how far we can go despite this.” — Kathy Brew, Museum of Modern Art
“A mesmerizing ride through time, a dreamscape full of reflection, filled with inspired use of archival footage, poetry, beautiful cinematography and music. Raises the question of how deeply events affect us, while granting us enough room to crash into our own thoughts, or float on by, rejoicing in the company of our newfound friends.” — Screen Slate, Sonya Redi
“A beautiful, poetic collage of memory, history, poetry, and lived experience, in all its joys, sorrows, fears, hopes, triumphs, and tragedies … rendered in exquisite visual terms, creating an artful collective chronicle of history.” Christopher Bourne, Screen Anarchy
Featuring: Dominga Alvarado, Mark Cohen, Sholeh Dalai, Andrea Kannapell, Sarah Markgraf, Shira Nayman, George Sanchez, Adam Schartoff, Erik Schurink, Accra Shepp, Sue Simon, Jim Supanick
Cinematography: Sean Hanley
Editing: Amanda Katz
Your Day is My Night 2013, HD video and live performance, color, sound, 64 min. Immigrant residents of a “shift-bed” apartment in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown share their stories of personal and political upheaval. As the bed transforms into a stage, the film reveals the collective history of the Chinese in the United States through conversations, autobiographical monologues, and theatrical movement pieces. Shot in the kitchens, bedrooms, wedding halls, cafés, and mahjong parlors of Chinatown, this provocative hybrid documentary addresses issues of privacy, intimacy, and urban life.
“A strikingly handsome, meditative work: a mixture of reportage, dreams, memories and playacting, which immerses you in an entire world that you might unknowingly pass on the corner of Hester Street, unable to guess what’s behind the fifth-floor windows.” -The Nation
In Chinese, English & Spanish with English Subtitles.
Featuring: Yi Chun Cao, Linda Y.H. Chan, Chung Qing Che, Ellen Ho, Yun Xiu Huang, Sheut Hing Lee, Kam Yin Tsui, & Veraalba Santa.
Camera by Sean Hanley and Ethan Mass
Winner, Best Feature Documentary, San Diego Asian Film Festival, 2013 * Winner, Best Feature Film, Workers Unite! Film Festival, 2013 * Winner, Best Experimental Film, Traverse City Film Festival, 2013
Fresh from her early 2021 retrospective at New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image, filmmaker Lynne Sachs returns to San Francisco where she lived and went to school (SFSU & SFAI) between 1985 and ‘95. It was here that Lynne really immersed herself in our city’s experimental and documentary community, working closely with local artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Barbara Hammer, Gunvor Nelson and Trinh T. Minh-ha and spending time at the Film Arts Foundation (RIP), Canyon Cinema, SF Cinematheque, and Other Cinema.
“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 conflict; marginalized communities and their labor; and her own family life, slipping seamlessly between modes, from documentary essays to diaristic shorts.” – Edo Choi, Assistant Curator of Film, Museum of the Moving Image.
Accompanying our Bay Area premiere of Sachs’s Film About a Father Who, the Roxie offers two accompanying shorts sidebars programmed by filmmaker and Other Cinema curator Craig Baldwin.
Over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, filmmaker Lynne Sachs shot 8 and 16mm film, videotape and digital images of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah. Film About a Father Who is her attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to her siblings. With a nod to the Cubist renderings of a face, Sachs’ cinematic exploration of her father offers simultaneous, sometimes contradictory, views of one seemingly unknowable man who is publicly the uninhibited center of the frame yet privately ensconced in secrets. In the process, Sachs allows herself and her audience inside to see beyond the surface of the skin, the projected reality. As the startling facts mount, Sachs as a daughter discovers more about her father than she had ever hoped to reveal. (74 min., 2020, A Cinema Guild Release)
Critic’s Pick! “[A] brisk, prismatic and richly psychodramatic family portrait.” – Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times
“Sachs achieves a poetic resignation about unknowability inside families, and the hidden roots never explained from looking at a family tree.” – Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times
“Formidable in its candor and ambition.” – Jonathan Romney, Screen International
Tickets for FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO will be available on February 12
SACHS SHORTS SIDEBARS
Sidebar 1: INQUIRIES INTO SELF AND OTHER
Still from “The House of Science: a museum of false facts”
Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (4 min., 1986) Sermons and Sacred Pictures (29 min., 1989) The House of Science: a museum of false facts (30 min., 1991) Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (made with Dana Sachs) (33 min., 1994)
“As sidebar to her fresh Father feature, here is the first of two shorts programs, showcasing the astonishing cinematic artistry of Lynne Sachs…all made during her san fran years and recently digitally restored. Her ‘89 Sermons offers an early glimmer of her sensitivity to both marginalized communities and their archives, as she gracefully threads ultra-rare ‘30s & ’40s footage from Rev. LO Taylor into a tapestry of visibility and respect for Memphis’ Black community. Her facility for celluloid extrapolation is demonstrated in even more creative ways in House of Science, a personal essay on female identity, told through found footage, poetic text, and playful experimental technique. Which Way is East raises its eyes to engagements in international waters, and to insightful exchanges with her expat sister Dana, towards new understandings of and in the oh-so-historically charged Republic of Vietnam. Opening is Lynne’s first ever 16mm, Still Life.” – CB
TRT: 96 min.
Tickets for Sidebar 1: INQUIRIES INTO SELF AND OTHER will be available on February 12
Sidebar 2: PROFILES IN COURAGE
A Month of Single Frames (for Barbara Hammer) (14 min., 2019) Investigation of a Flame (45 min., 2001) And Then We Marched (4 min., 2017) The Washing Society (co-directed with Lizzie Olesker) (44 min., 2018)
“Characteristically, Sachs speaks in first person to cultural difference and dissent, here particularly valorizing acts of resistance and struggles for justice. Her collaboration with the recently deceased lesbian maker Barbara Hammer keynotes this ‘Solidarity’ set, with Lynne literally framing/finishing her mentor’s last project. Younger allies are also acknowledged in Sachs’ inspiring 2017 celebration of women’s political power on contested Washington, DC turf. The 2001 Investigation is a tribute to the courage and conscience of the epochal Berrigan-led burning of Baltimore draft records, made while Sachs was teaching in that town. And the local debut of The Washing Society, produced with playwright Lizzie Olesker, stakes their support of NYC’s low-paid laundry workers—mostly women of color—in even another radiant illumination of the little-seen truths of contemporary race/class inequity.” – CB
TRT: 107 min.
Tickets for Sidebar 2: PROFILES IN COURAGE will be available on February 12
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Try about the encounter. This year’s Sheffield Doc / Fest, which took place exclusively online due to the pandemic, dedicated a carefully curated retrospective to the filmmaker Lynne Sachs. This shows the community-creating moment of Sachs’ films, which are often the result of close collaborations – whether with family members, migrant communities or artistic companions like Barbara Hammer or Carolee Schneemann – especially under the restrictions of the pandemic: like the film critic Esther Buss argues, these films are always evidence of the ambivalence between ‘lonely’ art production on the one hand and shared experience on the other.
Lynne Sachs’ films usually begin with a tactile approach: touches with surfaces and textures of bodies, landscapes and fabrics – touches that always include or even affect the materiality of the image. Her most recent work, Film About A Father Who (2020) – the title refers to Yvonne Rainer’s 1974 film About a Woman Who… – begins with a close-up of two hands untangling the tangled white hair in a head of hair . Lynne Sachs cuts the hair of Ira Sachs, her father, who is over 80, the main character in the film and the center of gravity in a complex network of family relationships. From this concrete and symbolically legible entrance image, a fragmentary narrative unfolds that spans 35 years.
Between 1984 and 2019, Sachs repeatedly filmed his own father: a man who is still difficult to decipher for his family members to this day. A promiscuous hippie businessman who had the reputation of being “Hugh Hefner of Park City”, Ira Sachs, father of nine children from different women, is entirely a product of the 1960s. Sachs is only marginally concerned with the finding of a patriarchal order that was carried forward in a break with existing moral and sexual norms. The film About A Father Who is rather an attempt to decenter the enigmatic figure of the father in the form of a polyphonic, sometimes contradicting essay and to let it merge into a horizontal narrative of family connections. With every new memory, every new face, another mesh is woven in the fabric of the Sachs family, which has grown steadily over the course of the film. The result is a collage of different perspectives and voices, which also remains fragile on the level of the material. Grainy 8 and 16 mm images and muddy VHS line up with high-definition digital material, old and new recordings for interviews and home movies – a significant part of which was shot by Ira Sachs and Ira Sachs Jr., Lynne Sachs’ younger brother and filmmaker too. 
As part of Sheffield Doc / Fest, the film About A Father Who was shown to an international audience for the first time in early October. The documentary film festival, which took place exclusively online this year, also dedicated a carefully curated program of five films from 1994 to 2018 to Sachs. The selection focused on the term “translation”, with which Sachs is sometimes more, sometimes less explicit in her work (the first in The Task of the Translator, 2010, a film that answers Walter Benjamin’s essay of the same name with three body studies). What was meant was not just translating from spoken to visual language or transferring from a source to a target language.  The thematic bracket here was, in general, translation as a practice of encounter and communication and, connected to it, as an awareness of difference. There is a vivid picture of this in the film About A Father Who: The mother had mastered grammar, Sachs said in an interview with her siblings Dana and Ira. Everything was transparent, linear and in the right place, there were commas and points. The punctuation marks with the father, on the other hand, are exclamation marks and question marks.
The work of Lynne Sachs, born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1961 and trained at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she a. a. collaborated with artists such as Bruce Conner and Trinh T. Minh-Ha are hybrid structures. Since her first films, Drawn and Quartered and Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (both from 1987), which are strongly determined by Laura Mulvey’s feminist essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), she has made more than 30 mostly short and medium-length films. The aforementioned “encounter” is essential for Sachs’ artistic practice. Her films are often the result of close collaborations: for example with close or distant family members, migrant communities or artistic companions such as Barbara Hammer, Carolee Schneemann or Gunvor Nelson – she dedicated the film Carolee, Barbara and Gunvor to them in 2018.
As an experimental documentary filmmaker, Sachs always seeks the permeability of authorial authority and filmic subject. In relation to the concept of “fly on the wall” – the most invisible observer – that is decisive for US American direct cinema, she programmatically distanced itself: “As a documentary filmmaker, I am always reckoning with what it means to shoot ‘from the outside in ‘, using my camera to peer into the lives of people from other places, cultures, or communities. Honestly, it’s the foundation of the documentary paradigm that most disturbs me, “said the artist in an interview with the documentary film magazine Modern Times Review.  Sachs is always present in her films: as a body, as an off-voice, as a text. There are also fictional and performative elements.
Your Day is My Night (2013) and the film The Washing Society (2018), made in collaboration with playwright and director Lizzie Olesker, both provide insights into the undocumented cultural microcosms of New York, which has been Sachs ’hometown for many years. The subject of Your Day is My Night is a so-called shift-bed apartment in Chinatown – an apartment in which Chinese immigrants from the working class share a bed in layers (i.e. in coordination with their respective day and night jobs), sometimes over many years. With a precise and poetic eye for the economy of the rooms, Sachs portrays a household with seven residents, or rather ‘characters’, on the corner of Hester Street. In the form of autobiographical monologues and re-enacted conversations, these provide information about political upheavals and family separations, talk about exhausting journeys, fears and longings. In an abstract setting that looks like a theater room, the beds become a stage for a stylized body game. The camera touches lying, sleeping and stretching bodies in haptic movements.
The Washing Society is a document of the invisible work that has increasingly come into the public eye with the outbreak of Covid-19 ‘. The setting is in the laundromats that are increasingly being displaced by large laundries in urban areas. With a mixed cast of actresses and real laundresses, Sachs observes the repetitive gestures of reproductive work and gives a voice to the experiences of the predominantly African-American and Hispanic workers. The laundromat is increasingly contouring itself as a space in which underpaid work, racism and classicism become just as evident as solidarity and community. The historical anchor of the film is the eponymous “Washing Society”, an organization founded in 1881 by 20 African-American laundresses that fought for better working conditions. Looking at the remains of the washing process – the camera keeps pointing at an abject mixture of dust and hair – and the omnipresence of touch, Sachs also defines a moment of physical intimacy – “… there are still two hands … washing your skirt, your shirt, your socks, almost touching you, almost connecting with your skin. Another layer ”, it says from the off at the end.
A completely different touch takes place in A Month of Single Frames (2019), a 14-minute short film “made with and for Barbara Hammer”. Sachs processed the 8 and 16 mm film material that the pioneer of lesbian avant-garde cinema, who died in 2019, shot in the late 1990s during a month-long residency in a lonely hut with no electricity or running water on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. When Hammer began to organize her estate because of her progressive cancer, she handed the recordings over to her younger colleague with the invitation to make a film out of them. Sachs assembles tape recordings that she made in her studio shortly before the death of her mentor and on which she had them read from her Duneshack journal with Hammer’s pictures: recordings of insects, the barren vegetation in the dunes, of light reflections, shadow play and weather changes as well of banal everyday things that transform into lyrical objects when the camera looks at them. “I am overwhelmed by simplicity”, one hears Hammer say to the image of a shred of plastic film blowing in the wind. Another time she looks fascinated at a fly, in which she recognizes a miniature of the army helicopters patrolling the coast. Despite all the amazement, A Month of Single Frames is far from an essentialist view of nature. “Why is it I can’t see nature whole and pure without artifice?” Hammer wonders once. She experimented extensively with the possibilities of camera technology: for example, by slowing down the flow of film material to the point of taking individual images and playing with colored foils that throw colored lights in the sand or immerse the landscape in shimmering magenta. The most striking sign of the posthumous treatment by Sachs are the inserted text panels in which she addresses her girlfriend, who is both present and absent.
The ambivalence of isolation and, lonely ‘art production on the one hand, and shared experience on the other, could seldom be experienced as physically as in this film. A Month of Single Frames is a contemplation of nature, an homage to analog cinema and a testimony to a friendship between women without any claim to exclusivity, quite the opposite. The you in the film is always directed towards a counterpart who is invited to join together to form a community across social and geographical distances.  “You are alone” – “I am here with you in this film” – “There are others here with us” – “We are all together”.
Some of Lynne Sachs ‘films can be seen on her website: https://www.lynnesachs.com. A Film About A Father Who will soon be showing at various festivals, including Indie Memphis. The restrictions caused by the pandemic make online viewing possible.
Esther Buss works as a freelance film critic in Berlin. She writes u. a. for kolik.film, Jungle World, Der Tagesspiegel and Cargo. Last publication in: A story of its own: Women Film Austria since 1999, ed. by Isabella Reicher, Vienna 2020.
The seemingly seamless transition from the ‘other’ to one’s own language is repeatedly questioned by Sachs. In her Travelogue Which Way is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994) there are decidedly untranslated passages that make one aware of the linguistic difference. In this film, Sachs also works with Vietnamese parables, the translations of which remain puzzling.
When A Month of Single Frames was presented as part of the digital edition of the 66th Oberhausen Short Film Festival during the lockdown, its community-promoting message took on a larger dimension. The jury awarded the film the main prize.
One of the special focus strands of the Sheffield Doc/Fest online programme in 2020 was the experimental documentary filmmaker Lynne Sachs, who has an extensive body of work across a number of different documentary interests. I watched two of her films out of the handful made available (some of the rest are still online for festival attendees, so I am determined to catch up with them), and present reviews below — or, maybe I should say, more impressionistic observances as I cannot claim they are as deeply considered as I would like.
The Washing Society (2018) This isn’t a long film, clocking in at about 45 minutes, but it’s a curious blend of documentary and staged fiction. It films a number of New York laundromats, showing their working environments and including some comments by a number of the workers. However, it starts with a Black woman speaking an historical text and then places her in the space of a laundromat opening for the day, and throughout the film her presence functions as a sort of historical commentary making clear the racialised nature of this work, which is somehow so intangible and invisible to so many people. As the film progresses, the testimonies start to become more like monologues, rather more clearly delivered by actors, itself eventually seguing into a musical performance piece on the machines themselves.
CREDITS Directors/Writers Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker; Cinematographer Sean Hanley; Length 44 minutes.
Seen at home (Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects streaming), London, Saturday 4 July 2020.
The Last Happy Day (2009) I find it sometimes very easy to criticize documentaries for following a standard talking heads format, but of course Lynne Sachs doesn’t even approach anything resembling the clichés of the form. This medium-length piece does, however, use occasional on-screen captions to contextualize her story of a distant relative, the Hungarian Jew Sandor Lenard (aka Alexander Lenard), who fled shortly before the outbreak of World War II and eventually found himself in Brazil, where he undertook Latin translations, including of Winnie the Pooh (sorry, Winnie Ille Pu). That said, her experimental practice means that it’s difficult to pick out everything that’s going on here, and I imagine wider viewing of her oeuvre would help more in that respect, but there seems to be an idea of the painful ruptures of war and exile being healed at least somewhat by language, or perhaps the idea of translation (given that the language in question is hardly a widely shared one). It’s a family story, too, so children in Sachs’ own family appear on screen to read Lenard’s letters or comment on them (very eloquently, given their age). These are ideas that come out, not inaccessibly, but in a dense mixture of text and image and voice.
CREDITS Director Lynne Sachs; Cinematographers Sachs and Ethan Mass; Length 38 minutes.
Seen at home (Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects streaming), London, Tuesday 21 July 2020.
Lynne Sachs is an extraordinary filmmaker with a distinct and unique approach to documentary filmmaking. Each one of her films is an exploration into a secret hidden world as well as an experiment with the medium of visual storytelling. Currently, the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival is running a ‘Directors in Focus’ showcase of Sachs’ work where you can catch pieces like “Your Day is My Night”, “The Washing Society” and her latest film “Film About a Father Who”.
It’s been a real delight to explore Sachs’ work as part of the festival and when the opportunity arose to speak to Lynne personally, I jumped at the chance. Here’s our interview where we discuss how she approaches documentary filmmaking, her friendship with Barbara Hammer and the art of editing.
Bianca: Hello Lynne, lovely to chat to talk. I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed exploring your work as part of the Sheffield Doc Fest “Directors in Focus”, you have such an unique approach to filmmaking. I find it to be this unusual blend of traditional documentary style filmmaking meets the avant-garde artistic style of filmmaking of allowing imagery and sound to tell the stories. How did you develop this approach and style of filmmaking, and what was it about documentary filmmaking that appealed to you as a filmmaker?
Lynne: I’ll guess I’ll start by admitting that I don’t even know if I would be able to make a traditional documentary, that might be because of when I invest myself into an investigation or a story I take such a deep dive and I am always looking for a visual or an oral method by which I can comment on that particular theme in a way that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes it’s the topic that guides me.
The more conventional approach would be to have a template or a formula or maybe even a time-limit like 58 minutes so you would have time for the commercial breaks, then you would take your subject and frame it by those expectations. However, that approach never really interested me and I wonder whether I have the skill or the commitment to do that style of filmmaking.
My desire to work in the documentary realm came from a convergence of the love of art and the love of politics. My background was as an undergraduate in history, I never expected to be an academic historian but it feeds my way of thinking. I wanted my creative juices to fly but the limitations of being a historian weren’t appealing to me.
Bianca: Did you always strive to have a personal connection with the people and the subjects you film?
Lynne:It’s very important to me to have a complex relationship with the people in my film, just like the one I would have normally with a friend. It takes work, and often in the field of filmmaking there’s the sense of jumping in as quickly as possible then leaving. You actually leave with this gift: the interaction you had with the people you filmed. You then own that gift, but those people don’t have that anymore. I think the whole process has to take a whole circle where you work to find the right participants for your film, you work on that film and then you come back to them after completion and during distribution.
With “Your Day is my Night” we worked on that film for a couple of years and it became a live performance and I was bringing the people from Chinatown, to places in New York City where they hadn’t been before. I was organising cars for them as they were older people and we couldn’t expect them to travel via Subway. I wanted them to experience that pleasure, and two years after we had finished shooting we took the film and the live performance to a public library in Chinatown where we had an afternoon matinee where all of their friends came.
It was actually quite a sad moment because one of the participants in the film had died since we made the film, so when his face came up in the film everyone in the audience started crying. So, it was a memorial for him in a way. There are ways films can function outside the function of building your career or taking you to film festivals. I really feel committed about the idea of having movies been shown on all different kinds of screens.
Bianca: People often overlook the importance of sound and audio infilmmaking because film is a visual medium. What I find fascinating about your films is that often the audio doesn’t always match up to what’s being depicted on-screen. I think this is brilliantly showcased in your latest film “Film About a Father Who” where we see one version of your father being shown but the narration is discussing a different aspect of his character.
Lynne:I just want to touch on something I hadn’t thought about, the formal connection between the way you understand a human being and the way that film works, and how you process what you see and what you later discover. I think that’s very particular to this medium. We have this notion that the visual and the sound should be married but we all know that marriage is just an agreement that can fall apart. It’s through that use of ‘falling apart’ where we begin to see that what something appears like isn’t actually what it is in reality, and we build in doubt.
I think doubt should be a part of any filmmaking experience, whether you’re talking about fiction or non-fiction, do we believe the ideology that is intact. If you’re a doubtful viewer in any way then you start to engage with it in a deeper way, you start to question everything and as a result you become more intellectually engaged. What I wanted to say about “Film About a Father Who” that there were times where maybe I was uncomfortable in a situation where I did have doubts, but I wanted to believe that things were more acceptable than they actually were and worked with how I thought a father should be.
If you think about the foundations of who we think we are as children and the notions of how we fit into that micro community it’s usually pretty transparent. However, maybe that’s no longer the case today. I used to think my family was very atypical, but now that I’ve screened the film quite a lot of people have either come up to me or written to me to share their own experiences. I think our notions of family are now more evolved than how it was when I was a kid.
Since making the film I’ve been able to have some really profound conversations with those who have watched it. Whether or not it’s your mother or father who have secrets it’s their way of protecting themselves, but it also leaves an imprint on us and we’re left with a sense of confusion about how we’re supposed to process this new information and emotions.
Bianca: The impression I got from your film was that this was not only a self-discovery for you but also a self-discovery of who your father is. It was a self discovery of a family too.
Lynne: It took me a year of going through all the videos and super-8 films and I realise I had a lot of content about my father. The traditional approach to documentary filmmaking is that you take all the footage and make a character so people leave the movie thinking they really know that person. I thought about whether that was what I really wanted to do, as what I was really interested in was the interrelationships between people and the way we yearn for a part of our parents in ourselves and how we are always looking for stability. I know I have very distinct relationships with my parents and I value that in its own way.
Bianca: What’s something you want the viewer to take away from “Film About a Father Who”?
Lynne: I’m very interested portraying the layers of expression especially in terms of being a woman, that include your anger and your rage as well as your ability to integrate forgiveness because I think it’s very hard to go on living your life if you hold onto the pain of your own rage. Forgiveness isn’t about saying that something didn’t happen, there are parts in my film where I realise that I’ve become very good at training myself to have forced amnesia. If you can find forgiveness and realize that the person who hurt you or made mistakes, made those mistakes because of the things they went through themselves that can help you move forward.
I am also interested in showing my family’s story so others can investigate their own stories. I showed the film to a group of fifteen men in their 80s who were in a fraternity with my father and all idolised him. After the film, they said to me that they wished their daughters had made a film about them which surprised me. I think it was because the film elevated my dad to a full person and his entire life was told. He came to the premiere in New York and he was happy with the film. And he’s told me that he wants to do better in the future.
Bianca: Another recent film of yours is “A Month of Single Frames”, a beautiful collaboration with the late filmmaker Barbara Hammer. How did that film come around?
Lynne: I met Barbara in the late ‘80s as we were both in San Francisco during that time. At that time and well into the 1990s, San Francisco was a mecca for experimental filmmakers. I think that’s the place where my style really evolved as it’s not a commercial film centre like New York or Los Angeles. There was a place called the Film Arts Foundation where you could go and learn different skills or edit your films on a 16mm flatbed and Barbara was there teaching a class. I took a weekend class with her and we hit it off! We became friends and both ended up moving to New York City.
Twelve years ago, Barbara found out she had ovarian cancer. She was going through chemotherapy and we would take meals to her and talk to her. She actually lived a lot longer than she thought she would. During that time we became deep friends, and I think she appreciated that me and my husband (Mark Street) were not intimidated by the word ‘cancer’. She asked Mark and me to make a film with the material she gave us when she saw her life coming to an end.
When she gave me the footage she hadn’t told me she’d also kept a journal. Her health was declining but she was quite active in terms of filmmaking in her last year, so I had to squeeze in my visits with her between chemotherapy and her trips to the Berlin Film Festival for a premiere of a film she made. And, when she went to Berlin in 2018 she lost one of her vocal chords so when we were recording her narration for the film we had to use an amplifier. What’s amazing about making a film is that it’s a sustained experience and a gift with that person you’re collaborating with. It was also a gift in the sense that we could share all that time together.
Barbara passed away in March 2019, and I’d hadn’t yet written the text you see in the film. I really wanted a way so you could dive into the film on a personal level, and on a level where I could be talking to her, the audience, the Earth, to the future and to anyone who could be watching the movie. What’s so specific about film, that it can transport you back in history but can also propel you forward in time too. I wanted there to be an active presence which is why I talk to the audience.
Bianca: That’s what is so special about “A Month of Single Frames” is that feeling of conversation between you, the audience and Barbara. In the way it felt like therapy and a precious way of capturing someone’s memory.
Lynne: We think of film as a closed system where you enter it but you don’t affect it although it may affect you in a psychological way. I wanted that system to be more open, the screen is no longer a closed system.
Bianca: Do you think we’ve lost something special about the art of shooting on film compared to how we now seem to shoot everything on digital, especially in terms of the craft of editing?
Lynne: It’s funny that you mention editing because it made me recall Dziga Vertov’s “The Man With a Movie Camera” because many people believe that the director’s wife (Yelizaveta Ignatevna Svilova) really made the film, I believe her work helped give the film it’s rhythm. There’s an image of her in the film where she’s sat at the editing table and she looks like she’s sewing. This image reminds us that analogue film was constructed in a method that was very identified with women. There has been a revived interest in the materialistic qualities of the medium and the fact you can go from something three-dimensional to something two-dimensional.
In terms of my own filmmaking, “Which Way is East” was shot all on film and so was “A Month of Single Frames” and “The Last Happy Day” was digital and film. It’s a real mix. In terms of the images I shoot on Super-8 and 16mm, well I just like them better. Digital can be so pristine. There’s a sense of physicality to analogue film. Sometimes you see a strand of hair or dust, and that’s part of the real world that we’ve left behind like a fossil.
“Film About a Father Who” is to be screened in Sheffield in Autumn, and online on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects in parallel. The Filmmaker Focus- retrospective films are streaming now in the UK and their accessibility has been extended through August 31st.
Sheffield Doc/Fest Director, Cíntia Gil is joined by director, Lynne Sachs to discuss her films and to take questions from the audience for a live Q&A.
Filmmaker Lynne Sachs, in conversation with Festival Director Cíntia Gil, discuss 5 films that form her Director’s Focus within the Ghosts & Apparitions strand and her upcoming international premiere of Film About A Father Who which screens as part of Doc/Fest in October. Lynne Sachs’ films explore the notion of translation as a poetic and political tool for widening the world. Together with the focus, Doc/Fest presents Sachs’ video lecture My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World, a fascinating journey through her themes and work.
Her films are currently available to watch on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects and Doc/Player through August 31, 2020:
The Last Happy Day, 2009, 37’ Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam in collaboration with Dana Sachs, 1994, 33’ Your Day Is My Night, 2013, 64’ The Washing Society, co-directed by Lizzie Olesker, 2018, 44’ A Month of Single Frames, made with and for Barbara Hammer, 2019, 14’
Premiering Lynne Sachs’ latest feature, A Film About A Father Who, Doc/Fest 2020 has taken the opportunity to curate a few of the director’s most intriguing films. Spanning over decades of empathetic, experimental filmmaking, Festival Director Cintia Gil mentions that the overarching theme of these works is “translation”. Sachs elaborates that while her films often feature other countries and languages, the experience isn’t meant to feel seamless, but instead explore the sense of dépaysement, of being out of your own comfort zone, and revelling in that unfamiliarity and curiosity.
Which Way is East (1994) In which Lynne joins her sister Dana in Vietnam, and documents their travels north. Primarily she is connecting with the country: eating copious amounts of fruit, bonding with friends and strangers alike, examining the damage left behind from the war. There are layers beyond the direct translation of Vietnamese as peppered throughout are proverbs, which connect with the discussions and reveal how cultures perceive life differently. On another level she’s reconnecting and collaborating with a sister who she’s been separated from, and building a bridge between her own fictional, creative inclinations as a filmmaker and her sister’s political, non-fiction perceptions as a journalist. At 33 minutes, it feels like a whirlwind, footage zooming past on the roads, but one that really feels shared by all who feature in it.
The Last Happy Day (2009) This title is a quote from letters received by Sachs’ uncle referring to the day before the outbreak of WWI, marking a shattering of naïvité and the start of a century of disillusionment. In an incredibly liminal and fascinating piece of exploration, Sachs’ children tell the story of Sandor Lenard, a distant Hungarian cousin who fled a small town in Germany in 1938.
Surrounded by death as he worked for the US to identify the broken bones of soldiers, his later project is intriguingly different: the translation of Winnie the Pooh into Latin. A so-called dead language, that he said best expressed dread, was applied to the philosophical exploits of children’s characters. Having watched many young men become soldiers, seeing Sachs’ kids interpret his letters and his translation brings out a deeper meaning within them. It’s a patchy portrait of a mysterious man that brings about a sense of existential crisis and a permanent exile from security.
Your Day Is My Night (2013) My personal favourite, a window into the world of Chinese immigrants in New York City, who rent “shift-beds” in order to afford to live and work there. It’s a carefully orchestrated blend of performance art to highlight the nocturnal, upside-down lifestyle and monologues perfected to best tell the stories of each inhabitant. One stand out is Huang, a wedding singer who lives with his father, who shares his unique passions and fears. It is a tactile, emotional approach with many dimensions that helps the viewer begin to comprehend these experiences, and brings this hidden side of the city to light.
The Washing Society (2018) Co-directed with playwright Lizzie Olesker, this team effort is the culmination of a performance piece named ‘Every Fold Matters’, detailing and valuing the efforts of laundry workers. This film is named after the original Atlanta Washing Society of 1881, where thousands of African American laundresses unionised and demanded better pay and agency over clients. This revolutionary spirit is carried on, as the film juxtaposes three actresses with three workers, folding and carrying thousands of garments a day, unappreciated and undervalued. Through the combination of conversation and performances, the intimacy and volume of their work is brought to light.
A Month In Single Frames (For Barbara Hammer) (2018) As filmmaker Barbara Hammer was undergoing chemotherapy, she gave certain filmmakers free reign with her unpublished work. In this case, Sachs plays with the footage taken on Hammer’s month long residency at Cape Cod. Particularly hypnotic are past Barbara’s meticulous and beautiful attempts to capture new colours in the sun, the sea and the sand, and the spontaneous originality with which she saw the same cabin and its surroundings. Here the translation is very much inter-generational, as Hammer reads from her journal at the time, and we overhear discussions between the two. Sachs revisits this time of creativity in an organic way and carefully scrapbooks it into a philosophical homage.
Note: this particular film makes a beautiful double bill with Lynne Ramsay’s Brigitte which will be out on Doc/Fest Selects in the autumn. She profiles a prolific portrait photographer, trying to see what Brigitte sees in her subjects, and turns that mirror towards her own life and approach to art.
Full film available as part of Doc/Fest Selects here.
Throughout all these works, the partnership between Sachs and her subjects shines. Often she remains in contact with them, continuing to campaign alongside them. The collection boasts celebrating “translation as a political and poetic tool” and through this glimpse into her career, it is clear that the bridges she builds last. By the end of her films, it feels like both an honour and a necessity to inhabit these spaces and listen to these stories.
From launderettes to abortion, Ania Ostrowska compiles a nuanced selection of documentaries from women filmmakers
It is that time of the year again: The F Word reports from Sheffield Doc/Fest, the UK’s biggest international documentary film festival.
Since 2013 we have managed to send one, sometimes two, journalists to Sheffield to watch films and interview filmmakers (and party!). This year, like so many other film festivals, Sheffield Doc/Fest moved almost entirely online with some screenings tentatively planned for cinemas in the autumn, like British director Lynne Ramsay’s portrait of photographer Brigitte Lacombe. As I can stop and rewind the films as I please (but also just abandon them half-way…) and as all Q&As and sessions take place on Zoom, this year’s experience is very different from the exciting festival buzz.
The opening good news is that two women filmmakers are subject of special focus this year. First, the festival pays tribute to Sarah Maldoror, pioneering filmmaker from French West Indies who died on 13 April of Covid-19 at the age of 90. One of the first women to direct a feature film in Africa, she went on to make more than forty films, mainly documentaries. Seeing cinema as a tool of revolution, in her work she sought to encourage radical changes in society. Maldoror’s anticolonial short Monangambée (1969) will be hopefully shown on the big screen in the autumn.
Secondly, the festival presents a selection of five films by American experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs (from 1994 to 2018), mostly involving creative collaboration with others. I watched The Washing Society (2018), co-directed with Lizzie Olesker, which peeks behind the scenes of some of Atlanta’s surviving downtown launderettes, highlighting invisible and often unacknowledged labour of launderette attendants through performance and re-enactment. With its title a tribute to the 1881 manifesto by an organization of African-American laundresses, the film also looks into the future, documenting the disappearing world of laundrettes as large facilities on the outskirts of the city take over.
Albeit set in very different contexts, the films draw attention to the ongoing struggles contemporary women face, and not just in the countries depicted.
There is no such thing as unskilled labour—only unseen, or unappreciated. Inspired by the Atlanta Washing Society of 1881, where African American laundresses united for better pay and agency, The Washing Society inspects modern laundromats, haunted by ghosts of past and present, toiling unobserved.
Margarita, having worked in laundry for four years, now suffers from a herniated disc, and when she does the maths this is hardly surprising. Thousands of pieces a day, tens of pounds gently arranged and carried—the enormity of this load is pressed upon the viewer. Nonetheless, the intimacy is still there; a stranger’s washing is very telling, a one-way window into a life, where the other side is usually in shadow.
Having performed this material in laundromats and venues in New York City under the title Every Fold Matters, Olesker and Sachs now adapt it for the screen. Centring on three laundresses and three actresses, the delicacy of these repetitive movements is mirrored by the preciseness of interpretive dance. The soundscape combines bells and chimes, fast-paced and constant, with the sliding of quarters, the sloshing of machines and the otherwise imperceptible sounds of folding.
Over several generations, these women have been poorly paid and fighting for recognition. From Jasmine Holloway’s performance as the spirit of the original 1881 movement, to her real-life matriarch Lulu who talks of striking in 1968, a thread of solidarity binds the piece together. It crosses language barriers too, through monologues in English, Chinese and Spanish, all echoing the same complaints.
Like Your Day is My Night, Sachs once again uses domesticity as an entry point into the life of New York City’s immigrant working class. Running like clockwork, the hands hidden from the customer are given centre stage in a beautiful translation of lived experience.
INFORMATION DIRECTORS: Lynne Sachs, Lizzie Olesker SYNOPSIS: An investigation into the history, unpaid work, immigration, and the sheer math of doing laundry, weaving together observations, interviews and performances.