Tag Archives: Tip of My Tongue

“On Writing the Film Essay” by Lynne Sachs

 “On Writing the Film Essay” by Lynne Sachs
Published in Essays on the Essay Film, edited by Nora M. Alter and Tim Corrigan
Columbia University Press, 2017

Note: All of the films I discuss in this essay can be found on www.lynnesachs.com

Essays on the Essay FilmI feel a closeness to writers, poets and painters, much more than to traditional film directors. For one thing, we ciné experimenters are not bound by the plot-driven mechanics of cause and effect that, for me, often bring the transcendent experience of watching a movie to a grinding halt. The kinds of films I make give the space for mysterious – at least initially — sequences that don’t simply illustrate why one event or scene leads to another. More like an artist than a traditional documentary maker, I am interested in a kind of meaning that is open to interpretation.  Once a film is complete, I often learn things about it from my audience — how the convergence of two images actually expresses an idea or how a non-diegetic sound expands the meaning of spoken phrase. I hope it’s doing one thing, but I might discover that it’s doing something completely different. In this way, the films are kind of porous and flexible; they are open to interpretation. My essay films, in particular, are full of association. Some are resolved and some are adolescent; they’re still trying to figure out who they are.   Through the making of the film, I learn about myself in the context of learning about the world.   My job is not to educate but rather to spark a curiosity in my viewer that moves from the inside out.   The texts for these films come to me in both public and private spaces:  on a long train ride, during a layover in a strange city, at a café, in a hotel room, on the toilet.

Throughout the 1990s, I gravitated toward the simultaneously visceral and cerebral French feminist theory of Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray. As a moving image artist searching for a new discourse that spoke to radical issues with an equally radical form, I embraced this kind of writing as it led me toward the non-narrative, unconventional grammar of experimental film as well as the self-reflexivity of the essay.  My first essay film was “The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts” (1991), a personal rumination on the relationship between a woman’s body and the often-opposing institutions of art and science.  While I was shooting this film, I was also keeping a diary:

“My memory of being a girl includes a “me” that is two. I am two bodies – the body of the body and the body of the mind.  The body of the body was flaccid and forgotten.  This was the body that was wet with dirty liquids, holes that wouldn’t close, full of smells and curdled milk.  Of course there was the skeleton.  This was assumed and only reconsidered upon my very rare attempts at jumping farther than far enough, clearing the ditch, lifting the heave-ho. But the body of the body was not the bones.  This body wrapped and encircled the bones, a protective cover of flesh, just on the other side of the wall I call skin.”

I will never forget a cross-country plane ride I took near the end of editing this film. Throughout the time I was in the air, as I flew across the Mississippi, the Great Plains, and the Rockies, I was searching frantically for the hidden skeletal structure of the film. I’d committed to a premiere at the Los Angeles Film Forum, and I only had a couple of months until my screening date.  (Stupid me. I’ll never do that again!) Midway into the flight, I realized it was all laid out before me in the form of the poetry journal I carried in my backpack.  The writing had been with me all along; I simply hadn’t realized that this text was more than a dispensable traveling partner in the “journey” that was the production of the movie. Over the next few weeks, my poems began to guide my editing of the images and sounds,.  Ever since that early period in my filmmaking career, I’ve kept a handwritten journal during the making of my films. In addition to contributing an often times essential narrative element, this kind of writing can also be the critical link to the “naïve” yet curious person I may no longer really “know,” the person I was when I embarked on the intellectual and artistic adventure that is the creation of a film.

In my 1994 essay film “Which Way is East: Notebooks from Vietnam” (1994), I built a voice-over narration out of two surprisingly oppositional perspectives on post-war Vietnam. My sister Dana Sachs, one of the first American journalists to live for an extended period of time in Vietnam, offered expansive, highly informed insights on Vietnamese daily life.  In contrast, my writing traced my own transformation from earnest, war-obsessed American tourist to more keenly observant traveler:

“Driving through the Mekong Delta, a name that carries so much weight. My mind is full of war, and my eyes are on a scavenger hunt for leftovers. Dana told me that those ponds full of bright green rice seedlings are actually craters, the inverted ghosts of bombed out fields.  At Cu Chi, we pay three U.S. dollars so that a tour guide will lead us through a section of this well-known 200-kilometer tunnel complex. This is the engineering masterpiece of the Viet Cong, a matrix of underground kitchens and living rooms and army headquarters. As I slide through the narrow, dusty passageway, my head fills up with those old war movies Dad took us to in the ’70′s. My body is way too big for these tunnels. I can hardly breathe. After five minutes, I come out gasping.  We decide not to spend the extra ten dollars it costs to shoot a rifle.”

Only by reconnecting to the developing stages of my awareness through my journal could I provide an opening to my American audience.  The narrative trajectory of this half-hour film follows our evolving understanding of the landscape and the people of Vietnam. Honestly, my sister Dana and I fought all the through the shaping of the film’s voice over.  If she hadn’t been my sister, I probably would have fired her as a collaborator!  The fundamental tension between the two of us grew out of several distinct differences between our points of view.  While she had very much completed her own reckoning with the destruction of the war between Vietnam and the United States, I, like most tourists, was still dealing with the war’s echoes and the guilt that came with that psychic burden.  While she wanted to follow the order of events to the letter, I felt free to articulate our experiences by distilling our stories into anecdotes that could function like parables. By recognizing the inherent tension between my position as a non-narrative experimental filmmaker and my sister’s commitment to a more transparent commentary, we were able to find a rhetorical strategy that mirrors the most fundamental conflicts around discourse and truth facing an essayist in any format.   In several quintessentially self-reflexive moments, my sister expresses exasperation with almost every aspect of my production process:

“Lynne can stand for an hour finding the perfect frame for her shot. It’s as if she can understand Vietnam better when she looks at it through the lens of her camera. I hate the camera. The world feels too wide for the lens, and if I try to frame it, I only cut it up.”

In 1997, I completed “Biography of Lilith” (1997), a film exploring the ruptures both women and men must confront when transitioning from being autonomous individuals to parents with responsibilities.  I began making this film when I discovered I was pregnant with my first daughter and by the time I finished three years later I was able to punctuate the final sound mix with the cries of my second child. Inspired by the theoretical texts of Julia Kristeva and Antonin Artaud, in particular, this film celebrates my most intimate and abject concerns about the changes in my body and my place in the world as a woman. My film on Lilith, Adam’s first mate, is also a portrait of a female archetype who boldly wanted to be on top during sex. The film matches a non-authoritative exposition of Lilith in a multiplicity of cultures – both ancient and contemporary – with my own pre and post-partum writing. In this way, I juxtaposed two years of historical and cultural research and interviews with intimate ruminations on my own sexuality and motherhood.

“I’m learning to read all over again. A face, this time, connected to a body.  At first, I feel your story from within.  Nose rubs against belly, elbow prods groin. Your silent cough becomes a confusing dip and bulge.  You speak and I struggle to translate.  I lie on my side, talk to myself, rub my fingers across my skin, from left to right.  I read out loud, and I hope you can hear me.  I’m learning to read all over again, but this time I have a teacher.”

In “States of UnBelonging” (2005), my fourth film in a five-film body of work I call “I Am Not a War Photographer”, I turned to Terence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” and to the “Hell” section of Jean Luc Godard’s “Notre Musique” for lessons from makers who were capable of articulating the horror of war. I constructed this film around an epistolary friendship I had with an Israeli student who moved back to Tel Aviv during an extremely volatile period in Israel-Palestine.  A meditation on war as well as land, the Bible, and filmmaking, this essay film is built from over three years of emails.  With enormous hesitation and intimidation, we reveal our anguish and bewilderment in the film’s soundtrack as well as on the screen as text. With an awareness of my own position in this charged political landscape, I start the film with a kind of meta-historical lamentation on the way that human beings organize time:

“Do you ever have the feeling that the history you are experiencing has no shape?

Even as a teenager I was obsessed with history’s shifts and ruptures. Wars helped us order time. A war established beginnings and endings. There is “before.” There is “during.” There is “after.”

I am currently working on “Tip of My Tongue”, a film on memory that began with 50 autobiographical poems I wrote about each year from my birth in 1961 to my 50th birthday.  Unlike my previous films, in which the research and shooting themselves prompted the text, this project grew directly from my poetry.   Without the slightest concern for how the poems would eventually shimmy their way into one of my movies, in 2012 I gave myself the unencumbered freedom to write about my own life.  In each poem, I looked at the relationship between a large public event and my own insignificant, yet somehow personally memorable, connection to that situation.  Now, three years later, I am working with a cast of eleven people from almost every continent, each of whom was born around the year 1961. Together we are creating an inverted history of our collective half-century through a series of spoken story distillations that place the grand in the shadow of the intimate.  From glimpsing a drunken Winston Churchill on the streets of London to watching the Moon landing from a playground in Melbourne to washing dishes during the Iranian Revolution to feeling destitute during the Recession, we are working collaboratively to construct our own recipe for a performative sound-image essay film.

Excerpt from Review by Tanya Goldman in Cinema Journal:

“There is often a poetic dialogue extending between sections when a voice of the past rhymes with the present. In 1948, Alexandre Astruc wrote of a cinema that should function as “the seismograph of our hearts, a disorderly pendulum inscribing on film the tense dialectics of our ideas.” This quality is echoed in Lynne Sachs’s 2016 reflections on her own practice through which she feels a stronger sense of kinship with writers, poets, and painters than film directors. She states that her job “is not to educate but rather to spark curiosity in my viewer that moves from the inside out.” Observations such as these bestow the essay film with a distinct emotive quality much at odds with classical documentary’s association with sobriety.”

Tanya Goldman
Cinema Journal, Volume 57, Number 4, Summer 2018, pp. 161-166 (Review)
Published by University of Texas Press
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/cj.2018.0064

 

 

 

 

Tip of My Tongue

Tip of My Tongue (80 min. 2017)
a film by Lynne Sachs

To celebrate her 50th birthday, filmmaker Lynne Sachs gathers together other people, men and women who have lived through precisely the same years but come from places like Iran or Cuba or Australia or the Lower East Side, not Memphis, Tennessee where Sachs grew up. She invites 12 fellow New Yorkers – born across several continents in the 1960s – to spend a weekend with her making a movie. Together they discuss some of the most salient, strange, and revealing moments of their lives in a brash, self-reflexive examination of the way in which uncontrollable events outside our own domestic universe impact who we are. As director and participant, Sachs, who wrote her own series of 50 poems for every year of her life, guides her collaborators across the landscape of their memories. They move from the Vietnam War protests to the Anita Hill hearings to the Columbine Shootings to Occupy Wall Street. Using the backdrop of the horizon as it meets the water in each of NYC’s five boroughs as well as abstracted archival material, TIP OF MY TONGUE becomes an activator in the resurrection of complex, sometimes paradoxical reflections. Traditional timelines are replaced by a multi-layered, cinematic architecture that both speaks to and visualizes the nature of historical expression. (Anthology Film Archives Calendar)

RECENT PRESS

“Tip of My Tongue is entrancing. As someone who was born in the mid ’90s, I am distantly removed from many of the events mentioned in the film. To hear personal accounts of the Iranian revolution or Nixon’s resignation was surreal for me, offering me a glimpse into a past I never experienced. I can only imagine the memories Tip of My Tongue would unearth for those who have lived through those same events. This film offers viewers a brilliant visual representation of what it means to remember. The metaphor one participant uses to describe the nature of political change can easily be applied to the human brain: ‘It’s like the paradigm of being part of an organism rather than part of a machine.’ It’s hardly simple, or even logical, but isn’t the complexity what makes it so interesting?” (Agnes Films, http://agnesfilms.com/reviews/review-of-tip-of-my-tongue-directed-by-lynne-sachs/)

“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 https://www.screenslate.com/features/366)

“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,
http://screenanarchy.com/2017/02/nyc-weekend-picks-feb-24-26-jordan-peele-curates-oscar-nominated-shorts-and-best-picture-winners-doc-gallery.htm
)

An examination of one generation’s complex and diverse navigation between public and private experience.” (“Tip of My Tongue: Film Scratches: Public Stories, Private Memories” review in Film International) http://filmint.nu/?p=20232

“The past is unearthed, turned over and reconsidered in new and astonishing ways by three filmmakers marking their return to Doc Fortnight …. 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 a collective distillation of their 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.” (The Museum of Modern Art)

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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

Music – Stephen Vitiello; Camera – Sean Hanley, Ethan Mass, Lynne Sachs; Editing – Amanda Katz; Archival Research – Craig Baldwin; Sound Mix – Damian Volpe

Selected Screenings:

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Supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts and a MacDowell Colony Residency

Tip of My Tongue at Athens International Film and Video Festival

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http://athensfilmfest.org/tip-of-my-tongue/

Tip of my Tongue
Director: Lynne Sachs
Documentary
80 min
USA

Competition Feature
Thursday, April 6, 3:00 PM

Twelve New Yorkers born in the early 1960s across several continents “visit” every year of their lives in a brash, self-reflexive experiment about what it’s meant to live in America over the last half century. Director and participant Lynne Sachs, who wrote her own series of 50 poems for every year of her life, guides her collaborators across the landscape of their memories. She gives each person the same historical timeline as a catalyst for an exploration of the relationship between their personal lives and the times in which they have lived. Initially strangers with nothing in common but their age, the group works together writing, performing and filming.

Screen Slate Review of Tip of My Tongue

Screen Slate logo

 

 

 

Tip of My Tongue
by Sonya Redi
Featured February 25th 2017

https://www.screenslate.com/features/366

Most moments have a terrible tendency to surround us, enveloping us and swallowing us whole, before we have time to understand or process them. Much like waves, they pass through us, sometimes violently, taking our whole body for a spin and leaving us with nothing except an intense sensation and vivid memory. Lynne Sachs‘ latest film, Tip of My Tongue , grants us the impossible gift of trying to change that—letting us comfortably, over the course of a weekend, try to process those moments which impacted us so profoundly in the last half century. Sachs’ brilliant body of work has often focused on the curious dance between histories, the personal and global, so it is no surprise that her latest film moves across a myriad of topics with skill and grace.

Though singular in scope, the film’s premise is delightfully simple. In honor of her fiftieth birthday, Sachs gathers a group of New Yorkers from around the world, whose only common trait is that they were born around the same time. Together they spend the weekend conversing and sharing their personal memories from these turbulent years, reflecting on topics ranging from the assassination of JFK to Occupy Wall Street. Through this sharing of intimate fragments we are able to feel instantly connected, as if along for the journey. Sachs creates a magical, safe space for us to get lost in conversation, as well as take a step back and unfold on our own memories, however big or small.

It’s a mesmerizing ride through time, a dreamscape full of reflection and wonder, filled with inspired use of archival footage, poetry, beautiful cinematography and music. The film flows seamlessly across the years like one of the elusive waves it is trying to catch. It 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.

© Jon Dieringer 2010-2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Agnes Films Review of Tip of My Tongue

Agnes Films logo

Review of Lynne Sachs’s Tip of My Tongue

http://agnesfilms.com/reviews/review-of-tip-of-my-tongue-directed-by-lynne-sachs/


Developmental Editing by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Editing and Posting by Elena Cronick

Tip of My Tongue (2016). 80 minutes. Directed by Lynne Sachs. 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.

Still from Tip of My Tongue

There is history, and then there is memory. Though both are hardly objective, memory is impossible to remove from personal experience. Often, what we remember from a historical moment is a strong emotion, an intimate moment, the people and objects who surrounded us when the event took place. In Tip of My Tongue, director Lynne Sachs explores the dynamism of memory through poetry, archival footage, and personal interviews; her artful collage of moments intelligently portrays the beauty that often lies hidden in the minds of those around us.

In her film, Sachs brings together twelve New Yorkers born in the early 1960s. Though strangers, together they explore their memories of the past five decades in the intimacy of Sachs’s home. From countries as wide-ranging as Australia, Iran, and the Dominican Republic, participants relive JFK’s assassination, the AIDS epidemic, Occupy Wall Street, and more. As Sachs describes in her narration, “Together we construct a collective distillation of our times, building an inverted history of deep breaths, illness we don’t understand, assaults, the death of a princess, a struggle of a president, a lost envelope, terror. … And so we begin our memory game.”

To my delight, Sachs isn’t afraid to experiment. Her film begins with flashes of color illuminating handwritten notes. Dates accompanied by lines of poetry, some crossed out, appear too quickly to read while archival footage plays in the background. Our eyes only catch a few words here and there: Bob Dylan, Russian spies, the Vietnam War. The montage reminds us of how memories often live in our minds as fragmented, half-remembered pieces sprinkled with bursts of emotion. Throughout the film, Sachs uses close-up shots to confront viewers with the faces of those who remember. We hear them recite their stories in their own words, the intimacy of which reflects the individuality of each of their experiences. Audio is faded in and out to represent the fragility of those memories. In one scene, two participants lie in opposite directions with their heads next to each other, eyes closed. Viewers can see one participant speaking but hear the other’s voice. Like so many elements of Sachs’s film, this scene has layers of meaning. When two people think about the year 1978, two completely different moments come to mind, offering a diverse experience of history.

Tip of My Tongue is entrancing. As someone who was born in the mid ’90s, I am distantly removed from many of the events mentioned in the film. To hear personal accounts of the Iranian revolution or Nixon’s resignation was surreal for me, offering me a glimpse into a past I never experienced. I can only imagine the memories Tip of My Tongue would unearth for those who have lived through those same events. This film offers viewers a brilliant visual representation of what it means to remember. The metaphor one participant uses to describe the nature of political change can easily be applied to the human brain: “It’s like the paradigm of being part of an organism rather than part of a machine.” It’s hardly simple, or even logical, but isn’t the complexity what makes it so interesting?

The world premiere of Tip of My Tongue will include two screenings of the film at the Museum of Modern Art as a part of Doc Fortnight 2017: MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media.

The screenings will be 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 25, and 5 p.m. Sunday, February 26 in Theater 1 in the Museum of Modern Art.

View the trailer for Tip of My Tongue and click here to visit Katie Grimes’s profile.

Screen Anarchy’s Christopher Bourne Reviews Tip of My Tongue

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Doc Fortnight 2017 at The Museum of Modern Art
by Christopher Bourne

http://screenanarchy.com/2017/02/nyc-weekend-picks-feb-24-26-jordan-peele-curates-oscar-nominated-shorts-and-best-picture-winners-doc-gallery.html

This consistently rewarding survey of some of the world’s most innovative nonfiction filmmaking wraps up this weekend. Two of its best entries are by great filmmakers who have screened films before at this festival.

Lynne Sachs’ latest film Tip of My Tongue, which has its world premiere as the festival’s closing night selection, is a beautiful, poetic collage of memory, history, poetry, and lived experience, in all its joys, sorrows, fears, hopes, triumphs, and tragedies.

Sachs has previously made such experimental, hybrid documentaries as Your Day is My Night (2013) and Every Fold Matters (2016), which incorporate documentary material, live and filmed performance, personal storytelling, and aural and visual collage to explore experiences of shared private and public spaces.

In Tip of My Tongue, to mark her 50th birthday, Sachs gathers together 12 people – all fellow New Yorkers, some friends, some relative strangers – born in the 60’s and thus around her age. The film uses archival and original footage, written text, Sachs’ own poetry, and first-person narratives of memories and experiences to explore how personal, political, cultural, and social histories intersect and affect individuals in unique ways. The cultural upheavals of the 1960’s, the Vietnam War, Nixon and Reagan, the start of the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Occupy Wall Street, and other events figure greatly in the stories told by the people gathered here. The years covered here – the numbers of which are written on various surfaces throughout the film – are rendered in exquisite visual terms, creating an artful collective chronicle of history.

 

Tip of My Tongue premieres at Museum of Modern Art

“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 a collective distillation of their 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.” (Documentary Fortnight Festival of Non-Fiction Films, Museum of Modern Art,  2017)

Tip of My Tongue
World Premiere
Documentary Fortnight: An International Festival of Nonfiction
Film

Museum of Modern Art
11 W 53rd St., New York City
Saturday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, Feb. 26 at 5:00 pm

Directed by Lynne Sachs
Cinematography by Sean Hanley and Ethan Mass
Editing by Amanda Katz
Music and Sound Design by Stephen Vitiello

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

Supported by a Guggenheim Fellow in the Arts and a McDowell Colony Residency.

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