This week’s memo is kind of wild – there was a lot going on. Some of the highlights include various conversations around truth and the ethics of documentary filmmaking, discussions about the lack of online screenings for fall film festivals this year, award announcements from BlackStar, Locarno and DokuFest, and an excellent piece from Isabel Ochoa Gold on cinema and its relationship to cat videos. There is much to dig through, so buckle up and enjoy!
– Jordan M. Smith
Octet Of Lynne Sachs Documentaries Coming to Criterion Channel Matthew Carey reports at Deadline: “A collection of documentaries from acclaimed filmmaker Lynne Sachs is coming to the Criterion Channel in October. The streaming platform will showcase seven Sachs films beginning October 1, ranging from the 1994 short Which Way Is East to her most recent work, including E•pis•to•lar•y: Letter to Jean Vigo, an exploration of the French director’s classic 1933 film Zero for Conduct (Zéro de Conduite). On October 13, the Criterion Channel will exclusively stream her latest feature documentary, Film About a Father Who, which examines Sachs’ relationship with her unorthodox father, Ira Sachs Sr, whose children include Lynne and fellow filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr.”
The streaming platform will showcase seven Sachs films beginning October 1, ranging from the 1994 short Which Way Is East to her most recent work, including E•pis•to•lar•y: Letter to Jean Vigo, an exploration of the French director’s classic 1933 film Zero for Conduct (Zéro de Conduite).
On October 13, the Criterion Channel will exclusively stream her latest feature documentary, Film About a Father Who, which examines Sachs’ relationship with her unorthodox father, Ira Sachs Sr, whose children include Lynne and fellow filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr.
“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,” the director has written. “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.”
Penelope Bartlett, director of programming at the Criterion Channel, commented, “The Criterion Channel is thrilled to present the exclusive streaming premiere of Lynne Sachs’ Film About a Father Who this October. This raw and deeply personal excavation of the filmmaker’s complex family history will be accompanied by a number of Sachs’ experimental shorts, many of which also focus on exploring familial dynamics and family histories.”
Sachs’ work was the subject of a career retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image this year and at Sheffield Doc/Fest last year. Sachs has been the recipient of support from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Jerome Foundation.
“Since the 1980s, Lynne Sachs has created cinematic works that defy genre through the use of hybrid forms and cross-disciplinary collaboration, incorporating elements of the essay film, collage, performance, documentary and poetry,” according to the director’s website. “Her highly self-reflexive films explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences. With each project, Lynne investigates the implicit connection between the body, the camera, and the materiality of film itself.”
The Criterion Channel programming will include a newly-recorded interview with Sachs discussing her work. Complete details on the Sachs’ documentaries coming to the platform:
Debuting on the Criterion Channel Oct. 13:
FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO (2020) 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 is her attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to her siblings.
Debuting on the Criterion Channel Oct. 1: E•PIS•TO•LAR•Y: LETTER TO JEAN VIGO (2021)
In a cinema letter to French director Jean Vigo, Lynne Sachs ponders the delicate resonances of his 1933 classic Zero for Conduct in which a group of school boys wages an anarchist rebellion against their authoritarian teachers.
MAYA AT 24 (2021) Conscious of the strange simultaneous temporal landscape that only film can convey, we watch Maya in motion at each distinct age.
GIRL IS PRESENCE (2020) During the 2020 global pandemic, filmmaker Lynne Sachs and her daughter Noa collaborated with Anne Lesley Selcer to create Girl is Presence. Against the uncertain and anxious pandemic atmosphere, inside domestic space, the ‘girl’ arranges and rearranges a collection of small and mysterious things.
THE WASHING SOCIETY (2018) Collaborating together for the first time, filmmaker Lynne Sachs and playwright Lizzie Olesker observe the disappearing public space of the neighborhood laundromat and the continual, intimate labor that happens there. With a title inspired by the 1881 organization of African-American laundresses, The Washing Society investigates the intersection of history, underpaid work, immigration, and the sheer math of doing laundry.
WIND IN OUR HAIR (2010) Inspired by the stories of Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, yet blended with the realities of contemporary Argentina, Wind in Our Hair is an experimental narrative about four girls discovering themselves through a fascination with the trains that pass by their house. A story of early-teen anticipation and disappointment, Wind in Our Hair is circumscribed by a period of profound Argentine political and social unrest.
THE LAST HAPPY DAY (2009) During WWII, the US Army hired Sachs’ Hungarian cousin, Dr. Sandor Lenard, to reconstruct the bones of dead American soldiers. Sachs’ portrait of Lenard, who is best known for his translation of Winnie the Pooh into Latin, resonates as an anti-war meditation composed of letters, abstracted war imagery, home movies of children, and interviews.
WHICH WAY IS EAST (1994) When two American sisters travel north from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, conversations with Vietnamese strangers and friends reveal to them the flip side of a shared history. Lynne and Dana Sachs’ travel diary of their trip to Vietnam is a collection of tourism, city life, culture clash, and historic inquiry that’s put together with the warmth of a quilt.
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.
When Lynne Sachs agreed to meet me on Skype, I was equally excited and nervous: excited, because I had just seen several of her movies, which left me feeling like I had entered a whole new world of visual and verbal language. Nervous, because her knowledge and experience in experimental/essay/documentary cinema were vast compared to mine. Nevertheless, we agreed on a meeting and it was one of the most honest and inspiring conversations I have had on film. I began the conversation by briefly introducing myself. I am a PhD student in a biology lab, where I often conduct experiments. Perhaps that is why I’m so drawn to experimental film, especially Lynne’s work.
Lynne Sachs: What you do in your lab – which is to dive into the unknown by using materials you understand, without knowing what will happen when they come together, without a script for what the results will be – shares something with experimental filmmaking. Although, as you might already know, Jonas Mekas didn’t like the term experimental. It is kind of like saying you’re an atheist, meaning you define yourself by what you’re not, so I understand, he just says: “I make films”.
Tijana Perović: Do you feel ok with the term experimental?
I personally do. I think it turns the noun into a verb because it says that the entity itself is devolving and can’t be made from a template. I like it and I think it’s liberating.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I definitely didn’t grow up watching personal art films, made by women. I hardly knew that women were making movies. But I always have written poetry and I always did a lot of art. In university, I pursued something that you might call more academic. I was a history major, but I did a lot of studio art. So in that time, when I was at university, I took a year, I went to Paris and I discovered Chantal Akerman and Marguerite Duras. This changed me. I realized that you can make films from this place of experience, or you can bring your attention to the small things in life. You could also bring in some politics or a change for women, etc.
In a sense, I got a chance to see that a film could be a vessel and that you could throw whatever you want into it and make your own recipe or idea. That was really exciting to me and a revelation. After college, I moved to New York and I started taking classes in Super 8 and video. I ended up going to graduate school in San Francisco. That was such a transformative experience, because there were so many people there.
You know Gunvor Nelson’s films? Gunvor was a teacher of mine. In fact, Carolee Schneeman, Gunvor Nelson and Barbara Hammer were all living in San Francisco at the time. Such powerful women. Powerful in a poetic way. Do you know George Kuchar’s films? They are very rowdy and irreverent. Craig Baldwin was also there. He is a filmmaker, quite renowned, almost all of his work is made from found footage. But he also has a small, still existent, screening space, called Other Cinema. It is just like a store front. And I spent almost every Saturday there, from 1987 to 1994, and that’s actually where my husband Mark Street and I met. It was a scene and that’s how I educated myself on film. I was not the kind of person who stayed up watching all the famous fiction films on TV until midnight. I hadn’t even seen Citizen Kane until I was in my mid-twenties. Now I am interested in all of film history, but that is not what brought me to this kind of filmmaking.
Funny that you mention that, because I just watched Jeanne Dielman 10 days ago.
I actually was thinking about Chantal Akerman, two days ago, because of our quarantine. Have you seen her film Là-bas (2006)? She went to Tel Aviv, to do some teaching there. It was during a very heightened period of violence, in Israel/Palestine, so she made the whole film from her window. To me, it’s very timely to think about the window as a frame in its relationship to the film frame. The thing about long films like Jeanne Dielman is their stature. You need to spend almost four hours with her film. But think about a book. When you read a book, you need to spend two weeks with it! Four hours really shouldn’t be a big thing.
What is really interesting for me in your movies is that in each one of them there is an idea, but it flowers, it grows. In your experience, how does this idea change during the process of actual moviemaking and in editing?
Sometimes when I make a film, it starts with the material. Is there any particular film on your mind?
Then I’ll talk about The House of Science. That actually started with the collages which are in the movie. It started with the idea that I felt alienated from my own body. And I probably felt that way for most of my life, maybe until I had a baby. I wanted to move through the world almost invisibly. I don’t think that if I were 30 today, I’d make the same film. But in 1991, I felt frustrated with how my culture was constructing me. Not with the feminism, 1st wave, 2nd wave – rather as I moved through the culture and I felt this alienation from the world of science. But then it became an equal distaste for art, while I was making it. So, that was a film where I said, any idea that comes to my head will go into the film. I called it a yes film. That film is a film essay. What defines a film essay is that you are at ease with including your doubt.
So you have this idea, and it is kind of a manifesto, but it isn’t really a manifesto because you are always second guessing yourself. In a sense, you have to have more confidence in what you say by including your doubt. If you didn’t, then it would be dogma or didactic. That film really came out of an idea. Did you see And Then We Marched? It is a super short film I made after the women’s march. I didn’t have a particular idea. I had collected Super 8 film from the 2017 Women’s March, and I wanted to do something with it. I didn’t want to just document it because I thought a lot of people are already doing that. I thought I needed to shake up my understanding of what that march was, and the only way I could do that was to talk to a child. That’s been common in a lot of my work. I struggled to make The Last Happy Day for years and years, until I started to work with some children.
Also Wind in Our Hair, the film I made in Argentina. Sometimes working with kids doesn’t infantalize the situation, but it allows you to experiment more and listen to the materials more and to be surprised. Maybe it’s because I had two daughters and I brought them along. But I am also very intrigued by what children bring to it perceptually. So to take something as large as the Women’s March of 2017, and to think about it from that perspective was very invigorating and turned it into something more immediate. In the end, the Women’s March sadly did not have that much impact. It was like a plaintiff call, so it did connect all of us, but it didn’t bring structural change. It brought bonding amongst kindred spirits. When I’m making a film, I often have to figure out how can an idea that I had years ago can resonate today.
Last night, at 3:30 in the morning, I woke up. We’re not as active these days during the quarantine so sleeping is strange. I got up and I took a bath. But then I had this idea for a film I have been working on for many years. It is called The Company We Keep. It comes from an English expression, often you are judged by the people your are around, “the company that you keep.” Some people use this expression in a rather judgemental way. Over many years, I’ve collected business cards, so I have about 500 of them. I’ve scanned most of them. I want to make this film kind of like an animated film where we go through them. The purpose of a business (calling) card is to be a mnemonic device. Surprisingly, I can remember a little bit about almost all of those people. I am playing with the idea of how these cards trigger something, not just what I remember, but how I understand myself in relationship to them. When you look at the cards, you remember who you were when you connected with that person, but also something about them.
Last night, I wrote myself a note. Most of the people whose business cards I have kept are in a group of people I will probably never know. But in the present, there is another group of people I will never know. These are the people whom I’m hearing about who died from the coronavirus. Recently, a friend of my daughter’s told us about two African American men in her neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were quite old, already retired. For years, they would sit on the stairs (what we call here the stoop) and talk to everybody on the block. Both of them died. Then another man I know lost a brother who was autistic. As you hear those stories, you imagine those people, you imagine them almost like a cut-out, paper-doll. You imagine their shape but they are gone. I wanted to weave that into this short film, because it makes it more vital to me now.
What is your definition of feminist filmmaking?
Many years ago, when I was in grad school, we would take turns shooting each other’s movies. A woman asked me to shoot her film, which I was excited about. We were on her set but I didn’t think that what she was espousing my concept of feminism. Even though I was very honored to be her cinematographer, I could not accept the imagery that she was creating and wanted me to co-create. I have been hesitant to shoot other people’s films ever since. This was the time when I realized that we talk about feminism in terms of holding the camera in addition to how the images of women’s bodies are constructed. I don’t cheer just because a woman gets an Academy Award. I am not actually even necessarily happy that Joe Biden has already announced that he will choose a woman. I feel like he did that as a political ploy. I am happy that he is going to choose a woman, but is that why he chose this woman? I think that a feminist approach to filmmaking takes the responsibility for the representation of women, but for me it must be broader than that. It has sensitivity to other categories of identification, whether you are talking about gender identity, etc.
I loved your talk for the Ann Arbor Festival. I especially agreed when you said that Godard has challenged the film world in many ways, but never in terms of the representation of women. So, who were your favorite feminist filmmakers and your inspirations?
Definitely all three of the women in my film Carolee, Barbara, Gunvor. Each one for different reasons. I would say that they run the gamut of different approaches within the sector of personal filmmaking. I think Barbara Hammer and Carolee Schneemann were particularly at ease with their own bodies. Carolee challenged feminism in a profound way, because she was interested in sensuality, too. I think that’s very current, but she was criticized in other periods of feminism; for showing her own body, for exuding a kind of sensuality/sexuality. Barbara also showed her own body, but in a different way: it was more about strength, strength in the bareness and nudity. Gunvor Nelson made this film called Schmeerguntz. It is so wild, and it’s about motherhood, having babies, all the mess, the shit, the body, letting it all hang out. That’s kind of her take on it. They really run – to me – the gamut. I mentioned Chantal Akerman and loving her work, and her study of women’s bodies. But it’s not just about bodies, of course.
Have you heard about the Bechdel Test? Yes.
I think it’s pretty interesting for mainstream filmmaking. It’s a handy rubric for deciding what the presence of – let’s talk about narrative film – what the presence of a protagonist does or whether a character is able to speak. I think those are interesting things. They’re not the kind of films I’m making, but I do watch them, and I think that plenty of women who make it very high up in the industry, instead of trying to change that structure, actually think that the best way to get into the business is to replicate what already exists, and that’s a shame.
We had two movies at Berlinale this year that were pretty mainstream and feminist – The Assistant –
Oh I saw that! I really liked it. It’s controversial.
At her press conference, the director said that it was hard for her to get funding because she was criticizing the industry. Sometimes these norms are really hard to break. The other one was Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
I wanted to see that. It came out, and then [lockdown happened]. Now it’s online. The other movie that came out in the mainstream, like The Assistant, on the same topic – workplace dynamics – was a film called Bombshell. Did you see that?
No, but I heard about it.
Well…I did not like that movie at all. One of the reasons was, they were talking about the abusive power in the workplace, by men who had financial or other kinds of control in the workplace. But the people who were playing the women actually were bombshells. Do you know this expression? It’s old fashioned. A bombshell is an incredibly beautiful woman.
The movie’s called Bombshell because it’s about these women who are television anchors on broadcast news, who have to be bombshells to get those jobs, but then the story is that they also have to sleep with the boss. But the film, in its texture and representation, never breaks the mould. The women who play the parts are always presenting themselves with the best bodies and make-up, etc. Whereas in The Assistant, everything becomes much more austere and cerebral, and you think about the protagonist – who she is at her desk. I thought it was much more effective.
Another filmmaker who has had a very big influence on me is the Argentine director Lucretia Martel. I study her films, to help me figure out things, around editing. I’ve really been affected by her work.
Did you have a plan for your career? How did you find your direction?
The lucky part was that I found this way of working, and relationship to the media, that I loved. I think that’s been a setback for plenty of good friends of mine: they didn’t necessarily find something they were passionate about doing. I just continue to be excited about it. I had to find ways to make that work for me. The most practical thing I did when I moved to San Francisco, was that I enrolled in a program at a public university that also had a whole cinema studies component. I had a lot to catch up on, in terms of developing a foundation for the understanding of cinema. But the degree was a Master’s degree, and then there was an art school there at the time – The San Francisco Art Institute.
They offered a Master’s of Fine Arts – which in the States is considered a terminal degree, not just the first step. I ended up doing both programs because I was thinking ‘I might want to teach’ and I have been teaching pretty consistently for all these years, but I never aspired to a tenure track job. I’ve taught at probably 15 different art schools or universities, but I wasn’t trying to raise myself up in academia. So that was the most practical thing I did. The other part was that depending on where you teach, it could be hard to have time to do your work, e.g. if they have 7 classes a year. It depends on what is expected. I have had good relationships with places where I was teaching where they gave me funding for a project. Here, we have all different kinds of grants: we have grants from the government (which are not that big), or grants from private foundations, like the Guggenheim foundation.
How did you develop your aesthetic? Did you look back at your earlier works and think ‘oh I could have done this better’ or are you happy with each step?
No, not necessarily happy. Oh my God, sometimes I look at the credits and think ‘oh why did I do that? Why did I have so many names?’ I’m actually in the midst of doing some preservation work on some of my older films. I’m doing part of it with the Museum of Modern Art, they’re working on my film Which Way Is East. It’s been interesting because I’ve had to look at it very carefully, and they are very fastidious. They said, ‘when we make a new 4K scan, you can’t push us to try to make it look like you made this in 2020, because you made it in 1994’. You think about the film stocks and things like that.
NYU has a preservation program, and they are studying the preservation of one of my very first short films, it’s called Still Life with Woman and Four Objects. We’re working on that. They just transferred it to 4K.
That movie actually made me think of Chantal Akerman a lot.
Thank you for saying that. I was also very affected by Yvonne Rainer. I had seen Akerman for sure by that time, because I’d seen her in France, but I don’t know if I’d seen Yvonne Rainer’s [work].
My newest film is called Film About a Father Who. There’s a famous film that Yvonne Rainer made, called Film About a Woman Who… – from the ’70s. I have definitely been very influenced by Yvonne Rainer, but then I would say her films are more austere than mine are.
But you asked about aesthetics. I can’t impose any one aesthetic that I might’ve discovered on the next project, because the idea is the boss. The idea drives the aesthetic, mostly. Sometimes I just shoot, and it’s like I re-find my own material. Did you see this short film I made called Starfish Aorta Colossus?
The whole film is shot with a regular 8mm camera that you wind-up. It’s collaboration between myself and poet Paolo Javier. That material I had shot over decades, and then he asked me if I would make a poem in honor of his book being published. I thought it was a good excuse to go back and look at all this old footage. It wasn’t like I created the footage for his poem, but I put it together in response to his poem.
What was it like to have Bruce Conner as your mentor?
I had kind of like a short-term boyfriend, and he introduced me to Bruce. I was just getting involved in filmmaking, so I had negative skills. But we got along well. Some people thought he was a bit of a curmudgeon, but he wasn’t to me at all. I would just go to his house – I was supposed to be helping him splice his films, but he would look at my splicing ability and think it was so terrible that he ended up doing it himself.
I went once a week and he would tell me stories the whole time. We would just talk and talk. He had a long-term kidney problem. He actually lived for twenty more years, but he would always have to take a rest so I would hang out with his wife. Over the years, when both my children were born, he gave them lovely drawings and we stayed in contact. His found-footage work is profound. The ideas that happen between every shot in A Movie are so fantastic. Nothing is about ‘the archive being precious’ – [instead] the archive is about a way of finding irreverence, or irony, or poetry or politics. He was interested in the clash, rather than the archive being an illustration of a moment in history.
Does your approach change — and if so, how — when working with digital versus celluloid?
It takes a lot more for me to be excited about images that are shot on digital.
[She shows me a work in progress, from which the following still was taken.]
I like the unpredictability of film – the fact that as she circles around, you go into these dark areas. It can happen in video too, but I like the way it works on film, especially in black and white: the background that’s black becomes one kind of canvas, versus another kind of canvas. I also like that it’s not perfectly sharp, because I think that in television there’s too much attention on the face. The less you show, the more interesting the face is. The precision of digital and its ability to replicate reality makes it less compelling to me. Sometimes I shoot digital work I really do like. But in digital, people tend to overshoot: hours and hours. With film, I only shot three minutes of my daughter [running in cirlces], so I have to work with that.
It’s interesting how the film shapes what you make. I watched the XY ChromosomeProject. [Made in collaboration with her husband Mark Street.]
That’s also the name of our – we sort of have a film company. It doesn’t really mean a company, but… you know. I’m glad you watched that.
How was it to collaborate? Did you plan it together and then shoot separately? Or did you shoot separately and then come together?
We made that during a period when our daughters, who are 23 and 25, were younger. We initially made it for this performance space here in New York that was also a restaurant, called Monkeytown. They’ve moved all over the world. There’s one person who runs it and sometimes I hear he’s in Australia, sometimes in Berlin. He had this restaurant (with delicious food), where everybody sat on the floor. They had projectors, so you could project on all four walls of the room. We thought it was Cartesian, so we had an X and a Y. But we also thought about XY as in Chromosomes, so that’s where we got the name.
We’ve made quite a few films together. More than films, we created projection evenings, and things like that. We did something at the Microscope Gallery, for example, here in Brooklyn. Anyway, in this particular case, Mark and I had each shot some of our own material, and we said we had to edit the film together: he would edit a shot, and I would come in on the same computer and edit the next one, like a Surrealist Exquisite Corpse. We constructed it that way, so it was not pre-planned.
How does language that you use mediate or affect your creative process? Language is so interesting in your movies. It’s very rare to find somebody who is so visual and lingual at the same time. Somehow people tend to choose one or the other.
That’s really true. And I think that’s one of the reasons I don’t necessarily identify with certain kinds of ‘purist’ wordless experimental films – but then I also really don’t identify with traditional documentaries that aren’t as playful with the image.
The thing is, that poetry is very close to experimental films. If you think about it, poetry breaks all the rules of grammar, a line break is like a cut between the shots. It makes sense that you don’t have to say ‘cine-poem’, but that poetry is in conversation with not just a love of a language, but a heightened love of language that would work with a heightened love of the film frame. Instead of it being one or the other. But for many people it is one or the other. I’m just excited about both.
It’s really nice. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching mostly male experimental cinema for the longest time. I suddenly switched and thought maybe it’s just because women are more verbal.
That definitely could be. It’s interesting because Barbara Hammer and Carolee Scheemann both did a lot of writing. I would say in Carolee’s films, the words weren’t that important, but she wrote many books, and she was very engaged with text.
by Gonzalo de Pedro
Ciné Dore/ Filmoteca Español Programmer and Professor of the University of Carlos III
The extensive experimental and North American film tradition, which is interwoven with the history of documentary filmmaking and deeply rooted in political struggles, is full of names to be (re)discovered, in most cases women who continue the formal, poetic and political explorations of the avant-garde film, but broadening the space of what can be filmed and rewriting, in their own way, the old school feminist moto: “the personal is political”. Lynne Sachs’ case, filmmaker, professor at Princeton University, friend and collaborator of the French filmmaker Chris Marker (she worked with him in Three Cheers for the Whale), is symptomatic of a certain kind of cinema that has been for years focusing on intimate spaces as places in which social issues can resonate. These social concerns intertwine with what is most intimate and personal, along with the physical portrayal of bodies in dialogue with spaces, memories, desires, dreams and voices.
This March session of ‘Free Radicals’, titled “ Peculiar Intimacy” and with the presence of the filmmaker, is centered around a selection of Sachs’ pieces that were created throughout more than thirty years of work. This selection is organized around several portrayals of intimate spaces, mainly feminine, in which Sachs’ camera, without abandoning formal experimentation, tries to find the precise distance to portray those spaces. In addition to what is visible, physical and audible, the director also tries to capture what people imagine, dream, or desire. As she says: “That is the key of the documentary for me. When you can work with people in your film and their imagination breaks free […]. I think that one of the keys to work with reality and people is to allow the extraordinary to seem familiar, instead of exotic.”
Sachs’ work with the protagonists of her films, in some cases they are relatives (her daughters, her parents…) or even herself, always establishes a singular dialogue that subverts the traditional categories of actor and director: “Since I started to make films, I have always resisted the production hierarchy of the traditional pyramid, of the director and her team, or the director and her obedient cast of actors. In both sides I wanted to develop a more porous relationship, in which everybody listens and learns from each other.” That relationship, based on work that is in dialogue with what’s intimate, is also the way of integrating those other spaces of the real that remain invisible to the camera: what is dreamt of, what is desired, what is imagined.
The five pieces presented in this session, are tied together by an awareness of the passing of time and a concern for the way this can be contained in the cinematographic matter. They are also a way of traveling the diverse formal and aesthetic paths of Sachs’ work: from the portrait of her filmmaker sisters, with whom Sachs establishes a legacy and homage rapport, to the spaces that her parents inhabit; to the portrait of one of her daughters which is produced in two very distant moments in time, and finishing with a medium-length film, which is created following the steps of Julio Cortázar and his short story book End of the Game, which captures the lives, real or imagined, of a group of teenagers from Buenos Aires. Cortázar wrote in A yellow flower, “It seems like a joke, but we are immortal”. We probably are, in the suspended intimacy and peculiarity of Lynne Sachs’ films.
Declarations by Lynne Sachs were extracted from the interview with Karen Rester, published in The Brooklyn Rail in 2013.
Translated by Marichi Scharron.
Written by Pablo Castellano Garcia
Translation by Ana Almeyda-Cohen and Maria Scharron
Inspired by Julio Cortázar’s short stories House Taken Over (Casa tomado, 1951) and End of the Game (Fin del juego, 1956), Lynne Sachs has created Wind in Our Hair (Con el viento en el pelo, 2010), a film that explores the everyday lives of four girls. Girls being girls, they carry themselves with the spontaneity that only joy can bring, and which probably will never come back. This easiness seems to derive from the sensation or belief that playing will never end. It is as if they are able to bug and annoy everybody around them without any major repercussion but a light smack. By revealing flashing images of contemporary Buenos Aires, Lynne Sachs presents four girls who reminded me of Gummo’s Bunny Boy (Harmony Korine, USA, 1997), but instead of cars they have trains, and instead of pure decadence these girls project pure life. All four girls dress up in order to see life pass them by. It is in this kind of irrational search for the contrast between stillness — as much physical in its statue-like pose as psychic — and the interruption of life the play entails. The adult world is suggested by the brute images and sounds of the passing trains. From the train, a boy who want to meet them observes the young girls and transforms their world.
Lynne Sachs then establishes three voyeuristic relationships given by different observers who are at different levels. The first relationship, which takes place within the narration, relates to the correspondence established between the statues—the girls understood as characters in the game that they are playing, and not as much as girls understood in the terms established by adults—and the boy who observes them daily. This relationship is mediated by idealization, love and a feeling of belonging to the same group / world. The second relationship, as I have already stated, operates on a different level, one that concerns the bond generated between the characters and the film director. This relationship, points to a common artistic end, and is also a confrontation, since there is always a camera following the girls, and one adult that interferes with what is supposed to be a private game.
In contrast, (we also saw) Same Stream Twice (USA, 2012), another piece by Lynne Sachs in which the game that the girl is playing, (the girl is Maya Street-Sachs the artist’s daughter and also protagonist of the film being reviewed), is designed in advance to show a protagonist who is not afraid to hide her true condition or artifice, that of “performing for the camera”. Therefore there is complicity and an implied pact. It is quite different in Con viento en el pelo in which the camera movement, whose flow it seems is going to crack at any moment, becomes perverse.
Third, and much more crazy and perverse is the relationship between the characters and the viewers. At this level, where there is neither desire nor inclination to produce a whole artistic piece, the union is reduced to the abandonment of the adult who, in having the possibility of feeling bored, in the case of some, or the need to desperately seek knowledge or aesthetic feeling, in the case of others, takes the option of putting their life in parenthesis to observe without being observed. In the three types of relationships mentioned, we are the only observers that the girls cannot see—unfolding ourselves in the world through the play of these girls who ignore us and whose privacy is violated without even being able to defend themselves. In the three levels of relationship described, the audience is the only subject that observes but is not observed back by the girls. We are able to watch these girls — who ignore who we are and whose intimacy is transgressed — playing and not being able to defend themselves from being observed. At this crossroad of simple elements, Lynne Sachs manages to combine the intimacy of the movie theater with that of a children’s game in the same space, and at the same time, as the only way of making a sincere reconciliation with an already disappearing childhood.
Tomando como apoyo Casa tomada (1951) y Final del juego (1956), ambos cuentos de Julio Cortázar, Lynne Sachs construye con Con viento en el pelo una obra que explora el día a día de cuatro niñas que, como niñas que son, se encuentran en ese período en el que se pueden permitir tanto desenvolverse en el mundo con la naturalidad que produce el sentimiento —que luego ya no vuelve— de felicidad que deriva de la sensación de tomar el momento del juego como eternidad, como el tocar las pelotas a todo cristo sin tener repercusión alguna más allá de la hostia light. Es así como, revelando de manera intermitente imágenes del Buenos Aires contemporáneo, Lynne Sachs nos presenta a este grupo de niñas que, como el niño-conejo de Gummo (Harmony Korine, EEUU, 1997), pero cambiando los coches por trenes e invirtiendo la decadencia de este por la aceptación pura de la vida, se disfrazan para ver la vida pasar. Es en esta especie de búsqueda irracional del contraste entre la quietud, tanto física en su pose de estatua como psíquica en esa interrupción de la vida que supone el juego, y la velocidad bruta del mundo adulto que les ofrecen la imagen y el sonido del tren que pasa, en la que las crías serán observadas por un chico que querrá entrar en su mundo, aunque sea para transformarlo.
Lynne Sachs establece entonces tres relaciones de carácter voyeurístico dadas por diferentes observadores que se encuentran en diferentes niveles y que fijan su retina en las niñas como único elemento observado. La primera de ellas, que tiene lugar dentro de la propia narración, se correspondería con la correspondencia que se establece entre las estatuas —las niñas entendidas como personajes del juego en el que participan, y no tanto como niñas en plan término medida establecido por el adulto— y el chico que las observa diariamente, quedando mediada la relación por la idealización, el amor y el sentimiento de pertenencia a un mismo grupo o mundo. La segunda relación, que como decía arriba afecta a otro nivel, atañe al vínculo que se genera entre las intérpretes y la directora. Esta relación, que tiene su base en el interés de señalar a un mismo fin artístico, supone un choque en el sentido de que ya tenemos a una cámara que las sigue en todo momento, a un adulto que se entromete en ese juego que se entiende como algo privado. A diferencia de otra obra de Lynne Sachs, Same Stream Twice (EEUU, 2012), en la que el juego de la niña —Maya Street-Sachs, hija de la artista y protagonista también de la película que aquí se reseña— está diseñado de antemano para mostrar su carrera alrededor de la cámara como producto que no quiere ocultar su condición de “ser para la cámara” y de artificio, y en el que por lo tanto hay complicidad y se presupone el pacto, el seguimiento de la cámara de Con viento en el pelo, que parece que en cualquier momento va a resquebrajar el flujo que registra, resulta perverso. En tercer lugar, y mucho más perversa y loca que la anterior, surge la relación que une a personajes y espectador. En este nivel, donde no hay ni deseo ni inclinación de producir como un todo una pieza artística, la unión queda reducida al abandono del adulto que, en su tener la posibilidad de sentir el aburrimiento, en el caso de algunos, o la necesidad de buscar a la desesperada el conocimiento o el sentimiento estético, en el caso de otros, toma la opción de poner entre paréntesis su vida para observar sin ser observado —en los tres tipos de relación enunciados, somos el único sujeto observador al que las niñas no ven— el desplegarse en el mundo mediante el juego de esas niñas que nos ignoran y cuya intimidad es vulnerada sin ni siquiera poder defenderse. Y es así como, con este cruzarse tantas cosas a partir de elementos tan sencillos, Lynne Sachs consigue juntar la intimidad de la sala de cine con la del juego infantil en un mismo espacio y en un mismo tiempo como única vía de reconciliación sincera con la infancia ya pasada.
I have found several of Lynne Sachs’s films unusually disarming. Wind in Our Hair starts by just hanging out with four barely adolescent girls and seems to drift with them to no evident purpose; one is tempted to say that the attention and impressionistic, closely shot fascination comes from a mother’s affection that a general audience has little reason to feel. By the time a narrative event starts to shape the film, we sort of know these girls, or we start to feel that we are among them by way of the film’s stylistic drifting. A non-incisive drift transforms itself into a thickening bundle of barely perceptible but compelling discourses through which one finds oneself caring about the characters, not as individualized, biographical characters, but as female beings drifting toward a world that is itself drifting toward sexual and political fission, a fission that might be disastrous or revolutionary. The energy that would feed that fission is felt in the experimental music of Juana Molina that accompanies the transcendent avant-garde film poem of the end-credits—the drifting girls have suddenly exploded into articulate girl-power and woman music, just as the drifting Lynne Sachs-made film explodes into incisive experimental film. The stirring success of the music and of the film’s coda suggest a positive future for these drifting girls, while the discourses woven finely into their lives during the entire film remain frighteningly daunting.
There is an analogously disarming feel in Drift and Bough, though it is a totally different kind of film with no character development at all. There I was disarmed by the unassuming succession of art-photo shots of snowy Central Park, shots that seemed pretty ordinary, but that again gently drifted toward a richer collection of elements, such as the graphic lines that did things like scale shifting. The lines of duck trails through the ice-pack—lines that “drew” a kind of benign insinuation into a cold world—seemed to help effect an insinuation into my affect. By the time that film ends, I have been drawn, partially consciously, into a meditative state that I wanted to resist at its beginning. The ending—with people moving about and with bicycle taxi and camera both drifting to the right—was a break in that mood, but it still maintains some of the meditative mood through the realization that a barely perceptible superimposition of nothing very distinguishable has occurred mysteriously for the first and only time in the film.
The disarming feeling in Sachs’s films is especially strong in Your Day is My Night. Again the film starts by hanging out with some ordinary people, in this case Chinese immigrants in a confined space doing ordinary things. We gradually meet these people by name and hear them interact and tell stories. I won’t try to develop how that works, but will just say that somehow this ordinariness changes into—not just the liking and caring about the characters that one can see in numerous effective documentary films such as Salesman and Fallen Champ and The Square and American Pictures, or in the ur-documentary Nanook, and even the surreal Act of Killing—the ordinariness in Sachs’s film changes into something more than those films’ liking of or sympathizing with characters, something more like loving those characters, though that seems a bit strong.
My main point is the experience across several films of this imperceptible transformation from a disarming ordinariness to something strongly opposite. The kicker for me with Your Day is My Night was that I first experienced the film as a documentary, not as a scripted film with actors performing characters via learned lines; thus, my feeling of being disarmed extended to the ontology of the represented reality. That reversal of expectation, from something like Direct Cinema to a set of carefully researched and scripted performances—including the insertion of a “fake” character, Lourdes—comes at different points in the film for different viewers, but that doesn’t really change the reception structure of the film, or the films discussed above—they have little or no character or story arc but have a reception arc that moves one from being disarmed, even being uninterested and dubious, to something stronger than caring and understanding.
Sachs’s refusal to romanticize the glimpses of hopefulness, and her ending of the film with a quotation that re-affirms the power of the world’s alienation, are important contributions to the depth that the reception-arc achieves. Though the film finally leads into territory beyond the opening close-shots of packed human flesh, beyond the later medium-shots of crowded beds within crowded rooms, and the still later long-shots within crowded apartments within a crowded neighborhood of one of the world’s most crowded cities…though the film leads us beyond this over-determined within-ness to other, less impacted parts of the city, indeed leads us to a bridge that Lourdes—the outsider—introduces to Haung, one of the Chinatown shift-bedders—though the film takes us out there to that suggestively transitional bridge, nevertheless the viewer remembers what Haung has said earlier in the film that he has no benign means to get out of this life buried deep within the world situation. He will not ever be able to go home to see his children and he will have to kill himself when he reaches retirement age, perhaps by jumping off a bridge, he says. We remember that line when we see him on the bridge with Lourdes, but we also see that Lourdes has benignly infected his alienation, and has infected the entire over-determined within-ness of the characters’ lives and of the film’s structure. The deep within-ness of the characters’ situations has been broached by the character Lourdes, and by Sachs with her bizarre idea to make a film of these unknown Chinese and the more bizarre idea to introduce a Puerto Rican immigrant deep into this pervading within-ness; Lynne Sachs herself has infected the characters’ alienation, for real, by making this strange film, and thus Sachs opens the documentary people, who play themselves, to Sachs’s world and to the film’s audience. And she opens the viewer to a well-hidden within-ness, through documentary explorations that go deeper than Direct Cinema. All this in a way that is so disarming.
The National Gallery of Art presents
American Originals Now: Lynne Sachs
Sundays, Oct. 16 & 23, 2012
The ongoing film series American Originals Now offers an opportunity for discussion with internationally recognized American filmmakers and a chance to share in their artistic practice through special screenings and conversations about their works in progress. Since the mid-1980s, Lynne Sachs has developed an impressive catalogue of essay films that draw on her interests in sound design, collage, and personal recollection. She investigates war-torn regions such as Israel, Bosnia, and Vietnam, always striving to work in the space between a community’s collective memory and her own subjective perceptions. Sachs teaches experimental film and video at New York University and her films have screened at the Museum of Modern Art and the Buenos Aires, New York, and Sundance Film Festivals. Her work was recently the subject of a major retrospective at the San Francisco Cinemathèque.
Lynne Sachs: Recent Short Films
October 16 at 4:00
East Building Concourse, Auditorium
Lynne Sachs in person
Three short films exemplify Sachs’ unique approach to nonfiction filmmaking and to the empathetic process of imagining other people’s motivations. Photograph of Wind (2001, 16 mm, 4 minutes) is a portrait of the artist’s daughter as witnessed by the eye of the storm; The Last Happy Day (2009, 37 minutes) uses personal letters, abstracted images of war, home movies, and a performance by children to understand the complex story of Sachs’ distant cousin, Sandor Lenard, a Hungarian medical doctor who fled the Nazis and reconstructed the bones of American dead; and Wind in Our Hair (2010, 42 minutes) is a bilingual narrative inspired by the stories of Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. (Total running time approximately 83 minutes)
Your Day Is My Night
October 23 at 2:00
East Building Concourse, Auditorium
Lynne Sachs in person
The Task of the Translator (2010, video, 10 minutes) and Sound of a Shadow (2011, Beta SP, 10 minutes), two recently completed shorts, precede a screening of Sachs’ current work in progress, Your Day Is My Night: “…a collective of Chinese and Puerto Rican performers living in New York explores the history and meaning of ‘shiftbeds’ through verité conversations, character-driven fictions, and integrated movement pieces. A shiftbed is shared by people who are neither in the same family nor in a relationship. Looking at issues of privacy, intimacy, privilege, and ownership in relationship to this familiar item of furniture…I have conducted numerous performance workshops centered around the bed—experienced, remembered, and imagined from profoundly different viewpoints.”—Lynne Sachs. (Total running time approximately 60 minutes)
The National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden are at all times free to the public. They are located on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW.
Inspirada en los cuentos cortos de Julio Cortázar, aunque combinada con las realidades contemporáneas de Argentina, Con viento en el pelo (Wind in Our Hair) es una narrativa experimental sobre cuatro niñas que se descubren a través de una fascinación con los trenes que pasan por su casa. Filmado en formatos de 16mm, Súper 8mm, 8mm Regular y video, el cortometraje sigue a las niñas por las vías del tren, en la cocina, por las aceras, entre disfraces y dentro de patios en el corazón de Buenos Aires, además de a las afueras de la ciudad. Es una historia de expectativa y decepción preadolescente, y Final del Juego está circunscrito por un periodo de profunda inestabilidad sociopolítica en Argentina. Sachs y sus colaboradores Argentinos se mueven por Buenos Aires con sus cámaras atestiguando los juegos de las cuatro niñas mientras ellas recorren una ciudad presa de un debate sobre el rol del comercio agrícola, los recursos alimenticios y los impuestos. Con una ambientación sonora bilingüe y complejamente construida, Sachs y su co-editora, la cineasta Puertorriqueña Sofía Gallisá, articulan esta atmósfera agitada de caos urbano que rodea las vidas de las jóvenes protagonistas. Con viento en el pelo además incluye la música atrevida y etérea de la cantante Argentina Juana Molina.
“Inspired by the short stories of Julio Cortázar, Lynne Sachs creates an experimental narrative about a group of girls on the verge of adolescence. While their lives are blissful and full of play, the political and social unrest of contemporary Argentina begins to invade their idyllic existence. Sachs’ brilliant mixture of film formats complements the shifts in mood from innocent amusement to protest. ” – Dean Otto, Film and Video Curator, Walker Art Center
“Inspired by the writings of Julio Cortázar, whose work not only influenced a generation of Latin American writers but film directors such as Antonioni and Godard, Lynne Sachs’ Wind in Our Hair/Con viento en el pelo is an experimental narrative that explores the interior and exterior worlds of four early-teens, and how through play they come to discover themselves and their world. “Freedom takes us by the hand–it seizes the whole of our bodies,” a young narrator describes as they head towards the tracks. This is their kingdom, a place where–dawning fanciful masks, feather boas, and colorful scarves — the girls pose as statues and perform for each other and for passengers speeding by. Collaborating with Argentine filmmakers Leandro Listorti, Pablo Marin and Tomas Dotta, Sachs offers us a series of magical realist vignettes (rock/piedra, paper/papel, scissors/tijera), their cameras constantly shifting over their often-frenzied bodies. A collage of small gage formats and video, the 42-min lyric is enhanced further by its sonic textures that foreground the whispers and joyful screams of the young girls with the rhythms of a city and a reoccurring chorus of farmers and student protesters. Filmed on location in Buenos Aries during a period of social turmoil and strikes, Sachs and co-editor Sofia Gallisá have constructed a bilingual work that places equal value on the intimacy of the girls’ lives and their growing awareness of those social forces encroaching on their kingdom. “ – Carolyn Tennant, Media Arts Director, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, New York
“Argentine author Julio Cortazar is the inspiration for WIND IN OUR HAIR (2009, 42 min.), which loosely interprets stories in the collection “Final de Juego” against the backdrop of social and political unrest in contemporary Argentina. In her first attempt at narrative filmmaking, Sachs still retains her associative, playful structure and documentary eye. Four young women, again played by Sach’s daughters and family friends, grow restless at home and begin to make their way through Buenos Aires in search of excitement and eventually to a fateful meeting at the train tracks near their home. The film moves from childhood’s earthbound, cloistered spaces and into the skittering beyond of adolescence, exploding with anticipation and possibility. Argentine musician Juana Molina lends her ethereal sound to compliment the wild mix of formats and styles.” – Todd Lillethun, Artistic Director, Chicago Filmmakers
“I completely felt Cortazar’s stories throughout. The fluidity in which a ludic and serious tone mix and the combined sense of lightness and deepness capture the author’s vision.” – Monika Wagenberg, Cinema Tropical
Published in THE NEW YORK TIMES September 24, 2010
Three Films by Lynne Sachs (Friday and Saturday) This review of recent work by one of the leading New York independent filmmakers includes the local premiere of “Wind in Our Hair,” a 41-minute video, made in Argentina with the collaboration of Leandro Listorti and Pablo Marin, that explores the world of four teenage girls, both as they imagine it and as it exists within the restraints of social reality. Also on the program are “The Last Happy Day,” Ms. Sachs’s 2009 portrait of a distant cousin whose itinerary took him from prewar Hungary to a remote corner of Brazil, and a brief homage to Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” (2010). Anthology Film Archives, 32-34 Second Avenue, at Second Street, East Village , (212) 505-5181, anthologyfilmarchives.org; $9. (Kehr)