A Reality Between Words and Images: Films by Lynne Sachs
At the center of Lynne Sachs’s short film Task of the Translator (2010), a group of classics scholars are translating a contemporary New York Times article about Iraqi burial rituals into Latin. Sachs’s intimate camera probes the faces and scribbling hands of the instructor and her students as they wring the right words out of each other (cadaver for dead body, vestigia for footsteps, but aegritudo for grief? Maybe luctus instead.). Sachs uses sound poignantly—fading and layering the scholars’ suggestions, affirmations, and nervous laughter so that the exercise feels arduous and drawn out. As form changes, can meaning remain? It’s a question for translators and experimental filmmakers.
Task of the Translator is one of six films in “A Reality Between Words and Images: Films by Lynne Sachs,” a program screening at e-flux Screening Room. Though not explicitly about translation, a number of the other films in the program deal with how meaning is communicated and what can stand in the way of its conveyance. In The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts (1991), Sachs explores the representation of women in science and art through a collage of home movies, original narration, and found footage and audio. Detailing misconceptions, humiliations, private rituals, and even a bit of wry humor, the film showcases how the changing female body is willfully denied understanding in a patriarchal society.
Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994) is a diaristic travel film that switches between the perspective of Sachs, a brief visitor to Vietnam, and that of her sister Dana, who has been in the country for a year. Sachs layers gorgeous footage she shot on a northward trek from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi with poetic narration and subtitled conversations with Vietnamese strangers and friends. Sachs initially tries to make sense of Vietnam through an understanding of the war. But as the film and her trip wears on, and Dana’s more nuanced observations take over the narration (including a moving anecdote about the region’s seasonal fruit cycle), Sachs develops a meaningful account of experiencing a place as it is.
In Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor (2018), Sachs visits a trio of filmmakers in their own spaces: Carolee Schneeman in her 18th-century farmhouse, Barbara Hammer in her New York studio, and Gunvor Nelson in her childhood village in Sweden. Through these brief portraits, Sachs communicates something essential about these artists (Hammer’s boundless energy, for instance) and how their personalities influence the language of their cameras.
In contrast to much of the other work in the program, Window Work (2000) feels purely experiential. Shot on video, a woman sits near her window, drinking tea, reading the paper, cleaning. Passages of time elapse in idleness without narration; instead the sounds of running water, a child playing, and a passing jet drone on. Two boxes dot the video image, hurling abstracted images onto the screen—taken from celluloid home movies. Though Window Work features two distinct film languages, it resists translating between them; it doesn’t attempt to parse out a mode of communication. Daylight beats on the window, and its glass becomes a mirror. In its iridescent reflection, the viewer understands solitude, reminiscence, the heat of the sun she’s felt before wherever she is.
“A Reality Between Words and Images: Films by Lynne Sachs” screens tonight, October 27, at e-flux Screening Room as part of the series “Revisiting Feminist Moving Image.” Filmmaker Lynne Sachs and her collaborators Kristine Leschper and Kim Wilberforce will be in attendance for a conversation.
A Reality Between Words and Images: Films by Lynne Sachs
Admission starts at $5
Date October 27, 2022, 7pm
172 Classon Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11205 USA
Please join us at e-flux Screening Room on Thursday, October 27 at 7pm for A Reality Between Words and Images,a program of selected filmsby Lynne Sachs, and a post-screening conversation with Sachs and her collaborators Kristine Leschper and Kim Wilberforce.
In this screening we invite you to watch and discuss select works by Sachs that defy genre through the use of hybrid forms and cross-disciplinary collaboration, incorporating the essay film, collage, performance, documentary, and poetry. Sachs’ self-reflexive films explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences. With each project, she investigates the implicit connection between the body, the camera, and the materiality of film itself searching for a reality between words and images.
The screening is part of Revisiting Feminist Moving Image, a series at e-flux Screening Room aimed at revisiting the origins, contexts, developments, and impact of feminist video art and experimental cinema around the world from the 1960s through today.
The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts(1991, 30 minutes) Offering a new feminized film form, The House of Science explores both art and science’s representation of women, combining home movies, personal remembrances, staged scenes and found footage into an intricate visual and aural collage. A girl’s sometimes difficult coming of age rituals are recast into a potent web for affirmation and growth.
Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam(1994, 33 minutes) 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. “The film has a combination of qualities: compassion, acute observational skills, an understanding of history’s scope, and a critical ability to discern what’s missing from the textbooks and TV news.” (SF Bay Guardian)
Window Work(2000, 9 minutes) A woman drinks tea, washes a window, reads the paper—simple tasks that somehow suggest a kind of quiet mystery within and beyond the image. “A picture window that looks over a magically realistic garden ablaze in sunlight fills the entire frame. In front, a woman reclines while secret boxes filled with desires and memories, move around her as if coming directly out of the screen.” (Tate Modern)
The Task of the Translator (2010, 10 minutes) Sachs pays homage to Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” (1923) through three studies of the human body. First, she listens to the musings of a wartime doctor grappling with the task of a kind-of cosmetic surgery for corpses. Second, she witnesses a group of Classics scholars confronted with the haunting yet whimsical task of translating a newspaper article on Iraqi burial rituals into Latin. And finally, she turns to a radio news report on human remains.
Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor(2018, 8 minutes) From 2015 to 2017, Lynne Sachs visited with Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Hammer, and Gunvor Nelson—three multi- faceted artists who have embraced the moving image throughout their lives. From Carolee’s eighteenth-century house in the woods of Upstate New York to Barbara’s West Village studio to Gunvor’s childhood village in Sweden, Lynne shoots film with each woman in the place where she finds grounding and spark.
Figure and I(2021, 2 minutes) Singer-songwriter Kristine Leschper asked Lynne to create a film in response to her song “Figure and I.” Lynne immediately recognized that Kristine’s deeply rhythmic music called for some kind of somatic imagery. She needed to move with her body and her camera. Lynne then invited her friend Kim to be in the film and to interpret the song through her vibrant wardrobe and her precise, ecstatic clapping.
Accessibility –Two flights of stairs lead up to the building’s front entrance at 172 Classon Avenue. –For elevator access, please RSVP to email@example.com. The building has a freight elevator which leads into the e-flux office space. Entrance to the elevator is nearest to 180 Classon Ave (a garage door). We have a ramp for the steps within the space. –e-flux has an ADA-compliant bathroom. There are no steps between the event space and this bathroom.
Join us on Saturday, September 24th at 6pm in the FMC Screening Room for “HOME” MOVIES: A program of avant-garde shorts exploring homes and domestic spaces from the 1940s through the 2010s. Curated by Matt McKinzie.
“The past two years have seen us retreat into our homes in
an unprecedented way. The necessity of lockdowns, quarantine periods, and
social distancing with the rise of Covid-19 (and more recently, monkeypox) have
forced us to contend with domestic spaces – our kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms –
almost constantly, unable to venture into the outside world in a totally safe
There are certain notions associated with the domestic sphere
and homes in general. Often, “home” is a “constant”: a fixed geographical space
where we retreat, eat, bathe, and sleep. Lockdowns and quarantines within the
past two years have complicated that space; home is where we do practically everything now.
The term “home movie” is defined as: “a film made at home, or without professional equipment or expertise, especially a movie featuring one’s own activities.” But a “home movie” is not necessarily a “home” movie.
After all, “home movies,” in the
traditional sense, might arbitrarily depict everything from birthdays to
holidays to family picnics to weddings to graduation ceremonies… the list goes
on. These moments, while valuable in their own ways, don’t necessarily convey
or examine the “home.”
This program, “Home”
Movies, looks at films specifically about homes and the domestic
sphere, and asks: how have filmmakers, throughout history, documented and
examined homes and domestic spaces? How have they explored and subverted the
“home,” on screen, in ways physical, personal, and/or political? What larger
patterns and trends can be discerned from the various filmic depictions of
homes and domestic spaces, depending on when a given film was made and the
identity and lived experiences of the filmmaker? And, for experimental and
avant-garde filmmakers specifically, how has one’s home — due to the
independent and low-budget nature of the job — operated as a site for work and
creativity even before “work-from-home” was commonplace?
The inspiration for this
screening also stems from my current life situation. I’m grateful to curate
this program as I permanently relocate from Connecticut to New York City —
leaving one home behind to build another home here.”
Peace O’ Mind (1983),
Directed by Mary Filippo; 16mm, B&W, sound, 8.5 minutes
An Avant-Garde Home Movie (1961),
Directed by Stan Brakhage; 16mm, color, silent, 3.5 minutes
Still Life with Woman and Four
Objects (1986), Directed by Lynne Sachs; 16mm, B&W, sound, 4 minutes
Directed by Dan Perz; 16mm, color, sound, 7 minutes
Directed by Gary Doberman; 16mm, color, silent, 9 minutes
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943),
Directed by Maya Deren; 16mm, B&W, sound, 14 minutes
Windows in the Kitchen (1983),
Directed by Elaine Summers; 16mm, color, sound, 12 minutes
Window Work (2000),
Directed by Lynne Sachs; Video, color, sound, 9 minutes
Open Eyes in Shadow Series:
Domestic Notes (2019), Directed by Rrose Present; Digital, color, sound, 4.5
RESET ME/Dirty Clothes Are
Washed At Home (2017), Directed by Rrose Present; Digital, color, sound, 2
Directed by Michael Siporin Levine; Digital, color, sound, 8 minutes
Available on DAFilms: https://americas.dafilms.com/director/7984-lynne-sachs Drawn and Quartered The House of Science: a museum of false facts Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam States of UnBelonging Same Stream Twice Your Day is My Night And Then We Marched Carolee, Barbara & Gunvor The Washing Society A Month of Single Frames Film About a Father Who
Available on Fandor:https://www.fandor.com/category-movie/297/lynne-sachs/ Still Life With Woman and Four Objects Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning The Washing Society The House of Science: a museum of false facts Investigation of a Flame Noa, Noa The Small Ones Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam Atalanta: 32 Years Later States of UnBelonging A Biography of Lilith The Task of the Translator Sound of a Shadow The Last Happy Day Georgic for a Forgotten Planet Wind in Our Hair Drawn and Quartered Your Day is My Night Widow Work Tornado Same Stream Twice
Available on Ovid:https://www.ovid.tv/lynne-sachs A Biography of Lillith Investigation of a Flame The Last Happy Day Sermons and Sacred Pictures Starfish Aorta Colossus States of Unbelonging Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam Your Day is My Night Tip of My Tongue And Then We Marched A Year of Notes and Numbers
When Pacific Film Archive curator Kathy Geritz invited me to give the 2022 Les Blank Lecture, all of my experiences, challenges, obstacles and revelations regarding what constitutes the real came tumbling into my mind. I immediately confronted and embraced the life I’ve lead in the cosmos of the cinema, and more specifically my I.O.U, my gratitude, to that real for simply providing me with so much to think about and so much to record with my camera.
Tonight, I will share with you a selection of observations I have made in the course of creating approximately 50 films, installations, live performances and web art projects. Whether a 90 second ciné poem or an 83 minute feature, I learned early-on that my process of making films must push me to engage directly with the people with whom I’m working in a fluid and attentive way. I’ve never been truly comfortable with the term “director” or the hierarchical configuration of a movie set. I am a filmmaker who looks for other committed artists who are willing to collaborate with me in an adventure. These inventive souls are not my crew. We talk. We listen to each other. I pay them for their time and expertise. And then we set off on a journey.
Of course there are the people in front of the camera, what many documentary makers refer to as their subjects. In narrative film, these are the actors or, thinking in the aggregate, the cast. Again I find both of these monolithic terms anathema, an insult to their human presence. From my very first 16mm film “Still Life with Women and Four Objects” made in 1986, I asked the woman, the star in the film, to extract herself from “the objects” in order to shake things up for me. I wanted her to shift away from simply being a living, breathing prop. I invited her to bring something from her home that meant a great deal to her to our first day of shooting. She delivered a framed black-and-white photograph of early 20th century feminist-anarchist Emma Goldman. At the time, I had no idea who Emma was. I quickly learned. I, and with my four minute film, were forever changed. I’d claim for the better. I’ve been listening and learning from all the people involved in my films ever since.
This leads me to another perhaps more intricate form of entangling myself in the creative process. Between 2011 and 2013, I worked with seven Chinese immigrants between the ages of 55 and 80 living in the so-called “Chinatown” areas of NYC. Together, we made “Your Day Is My Night”, a hybrid documentary on their immigration experience and their lives in the place each of them calls home. Hybrid is the keyword here, for it was my interaction with these participants that sparked me to find a completely new approach to my documentary practice. I started this project with the intention of discovering more about these people’s lives through a series of one-on-one audio interviews. Then, I turned each of these conversations into a monologue that I gave back to each person so that they could perform their own lives by both memorizing their lines and also improvising, all in a dramatic context that gave them the freedom to express themselves, and a release from the intimidation and vulnerability of not knowing what would happen next. According to the seven people in my film, this in turn gave them the liberty to play with their spoken words with whim and impetuousness, not to feel indebted to the limitations of their own historic realities. At my performers’ insistence, we ultimately moved the hybrid nature of the piece one step further. As a group, they pushed me to search for a story beyond their lives. They wanted me to make their job of articulating their experiences more interesting so I brought in one “wild card”, a Puerto Rican woman actor who would move into their shared, filmic apartment. Her arrival transformed the piece into a story that embraced each person’s immigration experience without being confined by it.
Over a two year period, we took our live performance with film to homeless shelters, museums, universities and small theaters throughout New York City. I then turned our collective work into a film. From this experience, I learned that even a more conventionally narrative film is simply a documentation of a group of people making something together. My integration of a traditional observational mode with a more theatrical engagement gave me the chance to reflect on the work I had done over 25 years earlier, as the sound recordist on Trinh T. Minh-ha’s “Surname Viet Given Name Nam”. This film also challenges monolithic notions of documentary truth. Some of you saw it in this very room when Minh-ha gave the 5th Annual Les Blank lecture.
I also wanted to share something about the exhibition of “Your Day is My Night” which adds another layer to our conversation around collaboration both within the film’s production structure and its exhibition. The first evening that we presented this piece to an actual audience, there was a rather typical post-screening Q and A. There I stood with all of the participants in the film. When members of the audience asked these seven Chinese immigrants to the US how they felt about working on this rather experimental film, they all became quiet, then they whispered together and a few minutes later, one spokesperson came forward to say simply “We do what Lynne tells us to do.” There was a hush in the room. No one knew what to say. Honestly, I felt embarrassed, at a loss for what to do. I put my microphone down, walked over to the group and explained that in the US it was okay for them to say whatever they wanted publicly, to express their feelings about their experiences without any punitive repercussions. At the next screening, they each energetically took the mic from me. With the help of a translator, they articulated their own interpretation of our shared creative process. Never before had they had the opportunity to talk so freely in public, in China or in the US.
The performers in “The Washing Society” which you will see tonight gave me another kind of gift in terms of their response to and expansion of my creative practice. In 2014 and ’15, playwright Lizzie Olesker and I traipsed around New York City trying to record interviews with laundry workers. Most of them were recent immigrants who did not yet speak English or have their legal documents for living in the United States. Neither their bosses nor their husbands wanted them to talk to us. Thus, they refused to be on camera. So the two us confronted this “production obstacle” head-on. We conducted a series of informal non-recorded interviews and then we wrote a play that used the stories we’d heard as source material for a live performance and film. We called it “Every Fold Matters”. We worked for over a year with four professional actors and dancers who were open to devising a strategy for making a site specific piece that would be performed in actual laundromats around the city. In the process, we borrowed from reality in order to create a new hybrid reality.
Veraalba, one of our performers, was formally trained as a dancer but also deeply influenced by the radical choreographic gestures of feminist thinker and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer. Through her physical investigations of folding laundry, the piece gained an exhilarating gestural vocabulary that gave our show and then our film its rhythm and its musicality.
Jasmine, an actor in the film with traditional theater experience, embraced our whole, inclusive process so profoundly that she transformed herself from an eager, responsive actor into a generative contributor. One day during our rehearsals, she texted me with the words “I’ve been living with my grandmother Lulabelle all of my life but she never told me she had worked in a laundry from 1968 to 1998 until I started working with you all on this show.” A few days later, we were filming with Jasmine and her grandmother while she conducted the first documentary interview of her life. She asked her grandmother about her collective actions for better wages and working conditions. The openness of our process gave her the chance to find out more about the woman with whom she’d lived all her life. In addition, this intimate cross-generational exchange between two women in a family gave a new layer to our film.
Now, I would like to take you on a journey through my aesthetic, material trajectory as an experimental documentary filmmaker. I need the word experimental here because it commits me to pursuing formal investigations of the medium. This is the only way that cinema can continually tackle, confront, even tickle my curiosity about the world. What is particular to me about cinema is its embrace of sound with, alongside, underneath and beyond image. In the late 1980s, I made my first longer format documentary “Sermons and Sacred Pictures”, a 30 minute portrait of Reverend L. O. Taylor, a Black Baptist minister who also shot 16mm film and collected sound recordings. At a certain point in the film, audiences are in total darkness while they hear the chatter of church congregants at a baptism in a river. At the time, this film was rejected for TV broadcast because the station producer assumed viewers would give up and turn off their televisions. Tonight I think about this film I made in my late 20s with a new perspective. I think at this moment about what theorist and poet Fred Moten calls “hesitant sociology”, and about the ways that we can integrate a propensity for abstraction into an endeavor to bring attention to a subject that might not have received its rightful place in history. Where do education and exposition end and aesthetic rigor begin? Do we necessarily lose the impact of the former when we give light to the later?
In “Which Way is East”, a diary film made in Vietnam in 1994, I begin with a series of richly colored Kodachrome brushstrokes juxtaposed with my own voice-over remembering what it was like to watch televised images of the war in the late 1960s. As a six year old child, I would lie on the living room couch with my head hanging upside down watching the screen, inverting the images, unintentionally abstracting them somehow. At that age, I just barely understood the dismal war statistics I was hearing. Within my film, I decided to make this oblique reference to the archival images of the Vietnam War rather than delivering actual illustrations from the time period. That was enough. I expected my audience to work hard to fill in this absence, a pointer to the horrifying collateral damage of the US involvement in Vietnam. Each viewer has to reckon with their own relationship to this history, as full or empty as it might be. At the time, I was cognizant of Belgian filmmaker Claude Lanzmann’s refusal to provide a visual proof in the form of archival footage from the concentration camps in his 1985 “Shoah”, an episodic series on the Holocaust. At that time in history, forty years after the end of World War II, he felt that that haunting power of those images would be even more searing if his audience had to rely on their internal repository. Just in the last year, I had the chance to read historian and theorist Tina M. Campt’s new book Listening to Images in which she prompts readers to look at archival footage in a way that forces us to hear what was never recorded, to bring our imaginations into the synthesis and recognition of a partial history that needs, at long last, a place in our communal consciousness. The lacunas are mended by my, your and our active modes of participation. Both Lanzmann and I resisted the inclusion of images of horror, cautious about our own complicity by including them, assuming their implicit power that comes from absence.
Two weeks ago, I went to Berlin to shoot for a new film I am making called “Every Contact Leaves a Trace”. I spent several days talking with an 80-year old German woman about many things, including the moment when she first became aware of the concentration camp atrocities that had been committed by the Nazis, the everyday men and women who lived in her own town. She had the chance to watch archival footage of systematic killings and so much more in Alan Resnais’ 1956 documentary “Night and Fog”. It all became absolutely clear. Here was the proof. When I heard this woman speak of the potency of these images, I immediately asked myself if I had failed in my own work. I’d assumed the existence of an internal archive of the horrors of the Vietnam War. In fact, it might not have been there, at least to a younger audience. Had I failed in my own obligation to manifest a history that needed examination?
In addition to a deep involvement from my compatriots in front of and behind the camera, I have come to expect a parallel engagement with my audience. In order for a multi-layered cinematic experience to happen, there must be a “synaptic” event that transpires. Only through this internal occurrence can we register meaning. My awareness of the aperture inside the camera convinces me that we must find intimacy with light to accomplish this kind of charged flow from screen to eye. I have had the same Bolex 16mm camera since 1987. I know her well and feel as if she knows me.
As we sit here together in this room, I would like to share with you just five images from my entire career as a filmmaker. They are part of my IOU to light, the only continuous collaborator who has remained with me for all of these years.
This is an image from “Still Life with Woman and Four Objects” (1986) a film falls somewhere between a painting and a prose poem. It’s a look at a woman’s daily routines and thoughts, interweaving history and fiction. This is the film I mentioned earlier with the framed photo of Emma Goldman.
In this image of an avocado pit just peeled and prepared for growth, you see a slant of sunshine coming through a skylight in the ceiling. This is the first time that I truly learned how to transform – via an awareness of aperture and f-stops – what the eye sees into something only the camera can witness.
In “Window Work” (2001) a woman drinks tea, washes a window, reads the paper– simple tasks that somehow suggest a kind of quiet mystery. I am the performer!
Here, my hermitic, domestic space is ruptured by a backlit newspaper. It glows. As cinematographer and performer, I discover how to sculpt light through silhouette.
In, “Your Day is My Night” (2013) immigrant residents of a “shift-bed” apartment in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown share their stories of personal and political upheaval.
Here light transforms Mr. Tsui’s profile into a gently sloping landscape. He fills the frame completely and in the process conveys awareness and presence.
Over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, I shot 8 and 16mm film, videotape and digital images of my dad. “Film About a Father Who” (2020) is my attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to her siblings. Here, my father has photographed three of my siblings playing in the water in the early ‘90s.
This time worn image reveals my dad’s point of view. There is no detail. Only light and color affirm a quality of compassion and observation, simply through the texture.
This is one of the last shots from “Film About a Father Who”. It’s clearly a degraded piece of old video, having lost all of its color and detail. And yet, in its starkness, this high contrast black and white image evokes a pathos. After spending 74 minutes with me in the film, viewers are able to fill in what is missing.
In each of these light-sculpted images, I explore the concept of distillation which has always been at the foundation of my work. I am an experimental filmmaker and a poet. Thus I am far more interested in the associative relationship between two things, two shots or two words than I am in their cause and effect, or their narrative symbiosis. For me, a distillation is a container for ideas and energy, a concise manifestation of a multi-valent presence that does not depend on exposition. A distillation is not a metaphor; it’s more like metonymy and synecdoche, where a part stands in for a whole, and is just enough.
I once asked a student of mine why she wanted to make documentary films. She told me that she wanted to make gifts. Just that single word helped me to better understand the ways that this kind of practice can embrace so much about life. Working with and beside reality allows us to feel relevant but also gives us the chance to share something we love with others. Through his engaged, compassionate, ingenious approach to filmmaking, Les Blank gave us approximately 50 gifts. His vision of music, food, culture, and humanity came through every frame of film.
I too have made about 50 films, web art projects, performances and installations. Like Les, each endeavor reveals my curiosity and awe for the world around me, my I.O.U to the Real.
http://www.kinorebelde.com/lynne-sachs-complete-filmography/ 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.
A Year in Notes and Numbers (2017) is a 4 minute silent digital video work by the American experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs, which consists of close-up shots of a few words from to-do lists and notes to self, mostly written on yellow ruled paper, with names, errands and artistic intentions written in various coloured inks, circled, crossed out, stained, creased, blotted: “Write Mom / to thank!”; “Vitamin D”; “FROGS”; “Make 2 shelves / Build 2 shelves”; “lightbulbs”. These lists are occasionally overlaid with medical terms and measurements: “Sodium / 138”; “Globulin / 2.6”; “eGFR / 86”. At one point a section from the production notes of what is probably one of Sachs’ other films is shown: “She observes herself / and others // learning”. The next shot: “Camera as extension of her body.” The next shot: “Fun of research.” We see the minutiae of a year in a life, the endless small tasks that demand to be completed, correspondence that needs to be written, plans and ideas for projects that might or might not be realised; we also see the medical quantification of the body which performs these tasks. There are personal reminders: “Write Barbara H” (Barbara Hammer, presumably); there are political reminders: “Get out the vote”. It ends with the word “Mom”, then the figure “125 LBS”, then a few seconds of swirling reds, yellows and greys.
A Year in Notes and Numbers relates to a strand in Sachs’ earlier work, which goes right back to one of her earliest films, Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986). These pieces are distinct from, but related to, the experimental documentaries about political history which Sachs has also made, and focus more closely on everyday life and its reproduction. In Still Life with Woman and Four Objects—a tribute to the anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman—a woman puts on a coat, peels and pits an avocado, suspends the stone above a glass of water to sprout it, eats a meal, and reads aloud a letter of Goldman’s. Food preparation, small acts of gardening, eating and anarcha-feminism all sit on the same level. This strand of Sachs’s work is perhaps best represented in a piece like Window Work (2000), a 9 minute sound video comprising of a single uninterrupted shot of a kitchen window in Baltimore, in which a women washes the windowpane, makes and drinks some tea, reads the newspaper. Two small frames within the larger image show miniature home-movies, which gesture towards personal memory and earlier media technologies: Super 8 film as the precursor to videotape. Window Work could be read as a kind of Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman, 1975) in miniature; though where Chantal Akerman shows the drudgery and tedium of housework with an unflinching clarity, in Sachs’ film the accoutrements of domesticity are shown in shadow and used to evoke a dream-like atmosphere which encourages fantasy and reverie on the viewer’s part. Jeanne Dielman tries to make housework visible, or at least questions to what extent labour can be made visible through cinema, and in doing so, demands work from the viewer, who must pay attention, sitting through its lengthy run-time and long, slow takes. Sachs’ Window Work, on the other hand, is more playful with the concept of work—does the “work” in the title refer to the work of cleaning the window, in a fairly desultory fashion, or to the artwork we are watching? Is the work of this film a dreamwork?
In contrast to these earlier explorations of the everyday and domestic in Sachs’ oeuvre, A Year in Notes and Numbers is mundane on a different level. By showing names, tasks, numbers and stray thoughts completely devoid of any context, with no date or other clue as to what they mean, a year is condensed to a flurry of seemingly meaningless activity, combined with the equally decontextualised and slightly ominous medical statistics that appear intermittently on screen. Calcium: 9.6. Is this good or bad? Sinister or reassuring? What about Bilirubin 0.7? (According to Google, both of these figures are within the average range.) By reducing the representation of a body to written memoranda and biological measurements, this recent work by Sachs is somehow both more personal and more alienating than her earlier work dealing with similar topics. The body is reduced to a quantum of figures, abstracted into data, but not at the expensive of the person who that body is, who has family and friends to write to, lightbulbs to buy, DVDs to watch, interviews to listen to, films to make.
Unending Lightning (2015–ongoing) is a six-plus hour three-channel video installation by the Spanish artist Cristina Lucas which documents every aerial bombing over civilians since the development of manned flight. It visualises a database gathered by a large number of researchers and organisations, building on research begun in 2011, on the 75th anniversary of Guernica, arguably—thanks to Picasso—the most famous aerial bombing of civilians. Manned flight was made possible in 1903. By 1909, two people could fly in one aircraft. Aerial bombing began only two years later, in the 1911 Italo-Turkish war, a war over colonial control of Libya. Unending Lightning is an ongoing work, because it will only be complete when aerial bombing over civilians, including drone strikes, is a military strategy that has been abandoned. The central screen shows a map of the world with the locations of the bombings and the number of civilian casualties marked; the left screen shows the respective military forces responsible for dropping the bomb, the type of bomb dropped, the city bombed and the known number of casualties; the right screen shows archive and documentary videos and photography from the aftermath of the bombings. I saw it at Manifesta 12 in Palermo, where it was shown in the Casa del Mutilato, a hospital for wounded soldiers designed by the Rationalist (i.e. Fascist) architect Guiseppe Spatrisano in 1936: a large temple to fascism erected in honour of the Italian annexation of Ethiopia in the same year—a conflict which saw Italy using poison gas bombs on Red Cross hospitals. As Sven Lindqvist argued in A History of Bombing, in its first years aerial bombing was seen as a convenient and exciting answer to the question of how exactly European powers could exterminate entire populations without having to get their hands quite so dirty. The origin of this technology lies in colonial violence.
Unending Lightning is a magisterial work, one requiring a collaborative team of researchers and software engineers, the accumulation and maintenance of large amounts of historical data; it is open-ended and so almost unwatchable as a single piece, with a runtime which grows with each new drone strike in Afghanistan (almost 40 per day in September 2019 alone, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism). The visual aesthetics of Unending Lightning resemble nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation: bullet-pointed information presented in Helvetica on grey-blue backgrounds, grainy historical photographs gradually improving in quality as the work moves closer to recent bombings and the video and photography technologies which captured the aftermaths develop. While watching it, the viewer sees the unceasing global conflicts which have unfolded over the last century and more. Near the beginning of the film there are a few moments where days go by in which no aerial bombings take place, but soon it is every day, all over the globe, often accompanied by the phrase “unknown numbers of civilians killed”. Even with the enormous amount of research undertaken for the work, we will never be able to truly know through quantification the amount of death unleashed on the world by the advent of bombing from the air.
What does Unending Lightning have to do with Lynne Sachs? At first glance perhaps very little. But they operate at different ends of the same recent aesthetic tendency, exploring quantification and its limitations. In Lucas’ work, we watch something unfold which feels like an unending depiction of death and destruction, mostly of women and children; what necessarily gets left out of the work, and as such is brought concertedly to mind when we view the piece, are the actual everyday lives of the people who were killed by these bombs dropped from the air. In Sachs’ recent work, on the other hand, the abstraction of a life from a record of its daily activities asks the viewer to fill in the gaps, to imagine or project something into the space that is left open between the unfinished errands and the medical figures we are presented with. In very different ways both artists are concerned with the everyday, the way that developments in technology can start to feel familiar, natural, normal, until all of a sudden they don’t, and they erupt into the sphere of domesticity, whether that’s through the collection and retention of biological data by private healthcare companies, or the firing of a missile from a remote-controlled drone.
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+ Also: I recently appeared on a podcast, PRISMS,
in Oslo, talking about the film diary, my thinking behind it, why I do it, how
I feel about it, etc. You can listen to that here if you’re interested. +
terminal usa, life in frogner, oedipus rex, mission: impossible –
fallout, vampyr, after hours
May 11. Wednesday. I have been
having stomach issues for the last few days that show no sign of abating. I’ll spare you the details,
gentle reader. I haven’t
been eating very much and I have been avoiding caffeine and alcohol, those
usual stalwarts, and I feel exhausted and run-down and fairly miserable. I
worked from home yesterday but think I need to show my face in the office
today, so I go in and have a few meetings, trying to ignore the waves of pain.
I send some emails. I look at a lot of documents. After a few hours of this I
decide I have been visible enough and I go home, where I immediately fall
asleep for an hour. I wake up feeling a little better. In the evening I have an
online safeguarding and boundaries training session, which is fine. After it’s over, Kate, Catherine and
Tara come over for Film Club. L returns from work just after they arrive. It’s my choice of viewing. Earlier
I spent some time trying to pick something but felt overwhelmed by both the
endless choice of films available and by my sense of cinematic fatigue, which
is still with me. I am not capable of watching a lengthy film this evening, so
I end up choosing Terminal USA (dir. Jon
Moritsugu, 1993).This is a
sixty minute made-for-TV schlockfest that was a focal point of one of the semi-regular
right-wing protests against taxpayer’s
money being used to fund public television in the US: conservatives were
disgusted that their constituents’
hard earned bucks were being spaffed away on garbage like this, which
was funded by PBS. In fact, when the film was submitted to PBS for
distribution, only two thirds of stations agreed to show it, because so many
programmers and audiences found it beyond the pale. Of course, all this only
adds to its allure for me, and I am delighted by Terminal
USA, which is an accomplished work of 90s slacker black humour, a
wholesale attack on the nuclear family and the idea of Asian-Americans as a
model minority. It’s
a combination of John Waters, Gregg Araki (who is thanked in the credits) and
Dennis Cooper, exploring and revelling in a wide array of social bugaboos: drug
abuse, male impotence, religious apocalypticism, teen pregnancy, pre-marital
sex, unseemly voyeurism from pimply pizza delivery boys, queer erotic fantasies
about musclar fascist skinheads stomping on your face, disrespect for the elder
generations, sexually ambiguous bleach-blond perverts dressed as vicars and
toting firearms, and the violation of the moral sanctity of cheerleaders. It is
cheap and gross and stupid and sloppily made, it looks and sounds kind of
half-assed and rushed, and the acting is so off-tempo and stoned that it feels
like everyone present inhabits their own separate universe. It unravels into a
complete shit-show, ending with the deus ex machina of a character being beamed
up to an alien spaceship. At one point some skinheads (one of whom is played by
Gregg Turkington) erect a burning cross in a family’s front yard, soundtracked by
classic DC hardcore band Void. It’s
a highly kitsch and camp punk film, which surely would have only been a source
of frustration, bafflement and disgust for the majority of people who happened
to catch it on TV in 1993. I really enjoy it. I’ve not seen anything else by
Jon Moritsugu, but I’m
very keen to check out more of his work, which includes delightful titles like Mod Fuck Explosion, Pig Death
Machine, Sleazy Rider and,
most winningly of all, Mommy Mommy Where’s
My Brain, a short which is described as half AC/DC, half Derrida. Terminal USA is a joy: totally uproarious
garbage. Well worth going out of your way to find a copy (I didn’t watch it there, but
apparently it’s now
available on the Criterion Collection, so you don’t even have to look too hard).
May 17. Tuesday. A warm day
which I mostly spend indoors. My new schedule dictates that I should normally
be at work today but, for reasons too boring to type out, I’m not. I have nothing pressing
to do, and so I spend the day mostly in a state of anxious uncertain tension,
trying to decide what to do with myself. I send some emails. I look out the window.
I don’t really
manage to concentrate on anything and feel the old muddy worry about
squandering my life start to bubble away. At midday, I walk to the bank down
the road and hand them the letter addressed to them which I found lying in the
street yesterday. My good deed done, I scurry back inside. I eat some asparagus
and a poached egg for lunch. L is marking. Mike sends me a link to the podcast about this diary that
we recorded yesterday; I’m not in the right state of mind to listen to myself
talk so I text Catherine and ask her to listen to it for me — she assures me
that I come across well in it: ‘thoughtful’. Good enough for me. I’ve been trying to avoid social
media recently because it’s
been making me depressed, or compounding my recent spell of depression, or
both, more so than usual anyway, but I sign in to share a link to the podcast,
and then I get sucked into a few more hours of dreary procrastination. It
clouds over outside and I feel a little better about being inside.
Mid-afternoon, I decide that I’ve
had enough of this state of mind and want to get on with something useful. I
watchLife in Frogner (dir. Anne
Haugsgjerd, 1986), which Mike has commissioned me to write about for PRISMS. This turns out to be perfectly suited to today’s mood of distraction and
despondency, and it makes me feel a little less isolated in my procrastination,
which is nice. It’s
a short film, 22 minutes or so, about Anne Haugsgjerd’s efforts to sit down and write
a script for a film about Frogner, the district of Oslo in which she lives. She
sits at a typewriter, drinks some coffee, smokes, gets up, tidies her desk,
sits back down, gets up again, cleans her windows, watches a woman sunbathing across
the street, watches some people walking dogs on the street, sits back down,
starts typing, stops typing, puts her head in her hands. This, I read, is
Haugsgjerd’s first film,
and I find this information very pleasing, satisfying in the familiar note of
understanding it strikes. What better way to announce your arrival as an artist
than by expressing your incapacity to create art? The doubts, the distractions,
the lack of focus and the false starts, the blinding whiteness of the blank
page, the struggle to just sit down and actually get on with it: surely the
universal experience of the artist-manqué. Obviously, I’m
sympathetic to this strategy of defeating the block by embracing the block,
partly because I used it to get my own first novel written, and it seems to
have worked well enough there. But Haugsgjerd’s exploration of her failure to move forwards in her
work also speaks to the aesthetic strategies I’ve employed in writing this
diary, and I feel gratified to have this part of myself reflected back at me. I
am always reluctant to describe things as ‘relatable’
— doing so is cheap and easy and doesn’t
say anything meaningful or interesting about the work, often merely serving to
express the critic’s
own narcissism — but I find Life in Frogner very
relatable, narcissist that I am. There are a few stylistic elements that remind
me of other films, of course — a couple of shots that make me think of Lynne
Sachs, a little hint of Varda in some of the meta-textual
humour of the film — but
the style feels very assured and clear, particularly considering it’s a debut. The tension explored
in the film between the observation of life and participation in it, the
impossibility of simply being a spectator, and the anxieties and regrets that
emerge from trying to mediate your whole life through an artistic practice: all
of these feel particularly sharp for me, and I am impressed with the openness
and vulnerability with which Haugsgjerd explores them.“Life is
everywhere, life is outside your window. Life is pulsating there as you’re trying to write about life. … You
should have lived that life instead of making film at all.” There’s a kind of wry, amusing edge
to the film, a playfulness which stops it from feeling too heavy-handed or
self-serious, which demonstrates an awareness that the writer struggling in
front of their typewriter is, ultimately, a comic figure. And this tone makes
the closing sentiment of the film, an expression of optimism in the face of
artistic doubt, even more resonant for me: “I am both shy and an
exhibitionist at the same time. That’s
the conflict in me, but I think it’s
about exposing yourself. I think if you do that you will always find someone
out there that will understand.” It’s
a risk, but there’ll
be someone who gets it. Comforting words. You can find Life
in Frogner on Vimeo. A
really lovely little film.
Afterwards, I write the above entry. L goes to Lincoln. It starts
raining. I engage in the shameful form of active time-wasting which has
recently absorbed my life: playing The Legend of
Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Switch that I’ve borrowed from Catherine.
This is partly to blame for the last week or so of my not really watching any
films, compounding the previous feeling of burnt out apathy. I haven’t played video games for a long
time, other than fairly infrequent occasional grubby bursts of Civilisation V,
which I think I’m
now well and truly done with. Immediately with Zelda I feel fully
immersed back into the atmosphere of sweaty compulsion and addiction. It is
kind of horrendous how effective it is at sucking up time: two, three hours can
pass without any sense of accomplishment or even pleasure. It’s weird and I feel very
ambivalent about it. Tonight I manage to restrain myself to playing for 90
minutes. Then I pull myself together and watch Oedipus
Rex(dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967). I’ve not seen it before and I
watch it partly out of a stirring of the completionist urge towards PPP. I feel
like this is one of the few Pasolini films which I very rarely see anyone
saying very much about. Out of his other works it’s unsurprisingly closest to Medea in terms of style, employing a similar
visual salmagundi of elements lifted from various exoticised and appropriated
national folk cultures: like Medea, Oedipus Rex takes place in a past which can
actually be located both nowhere and nowhen, which is appropriate for a
reworking of a Greek myth which sits at the foundation of Western culture. That
said, the beginning and ending of the film are very clearly located in Italy:
the film begins with the birth of a child to a bourgeois woman who is having an
affair with a soldier in 1920s fascist Italy, and it ends with the child,
Oedipus, blind and destitute, being led around the industrialised post-war
Italian landscape, with a bunch of shots that feel more like Antonioni than
anything else I can remember seeing in Pasolini. It’s the middle section, the bulk
of the film, which takes up the riot of colour and costume and various musical
borrowings from cultural ethnographies that we also see in Medea. I think I like it a fair amount but probably
not as much as I like Medea. It’s actually quite a challenging
and uneven film and I feel more ambivalence about it than I usually do with
Pasolini, who, in all honesty, I am usually pretty uncritically positive about.
I don’t know if this
is really a success or not, but it’s
still worth watching. I think of a few other films while I’m watching it, neither of which
is very similar at all to Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex, but which perhaps can help situate my
experience of the film in a kind of Venn diagram: it’s somewhere between Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert and Piavoli’s Nostos:
The Return, maybe. I’m
very interested these days in reworkings and modernisations of Greek myth,
thanks to my efforts to work on The Bacchae, and I feel like
there is a lot here I find useful for that purpose. I don’t feel entirely satisfied when
it’s over, but I
think the problems I had with it — which, to be frank, have kind of dimmed in
the few days between watching it and writing this — are actually generative in
some way. One thing I particularly enjoy is the film’s total lack of interest in
continuity: when Oedipus is still a baby he is depicted by at least four
different children, who barely look alike at all, sometimes switched half-way
through a scene. I love this. Who cares what the baby looks like, that isn’t the point of this film, a
baby is a baby is a baby, this is a story of the universal psychological
conflict which affects everyone whether they want to accept it or not. I feel
like I should have more to say about Oedipus Rex,
maybe something which takes advantage of the very ready-to-hand psychoanalytic
engagements available to me, but I’m
going to stop there. If you’ve
read Freud and then you watch this it all feels pretty familiar and clear
anyway. I’m glad to have
gotten to it, but I don’t
know if I’ll be rushing
to watch it again any time soon.
May 21. Saturday. Will is
visiting. Last night we went to the Rutland, where we met Kate, Catherine and
L, who left us to go and watch Everything Everywhere
All At Once. Will and I did not go to see it, but kept drinking and
ended up having a long conversation with one of my ex-colleagues from the care
home who I ran into by chance. Afterwards, L, Will and I stay up until 2:30
watching music videos on YouTube. Today we are not moving very quickly. We go
get some croissants and coffee and sit outside for a bit. We go to Kollective
for lunch with Kate and Catherine, and then go for a drink at the Dorothy Pax,
next to the canal. Then we walk up the canal in the sun to Attercliffe, where
we go to St Mars of the Desert; a new experience for everyone. It’s nice. The weather is
pleasant. We spend the afternoon drinking and then get a taxi home. Kate and
Catherine rejoin us after a brief hiatus, and we order pizza from Napoli Centro
and then watch Mission: Impossible – Fallout (dir.
Christophere McQuarrie, 2018). L and I saw this in the cinema when
it came out; a 10am Sunday screening at Duke’s at Komedia in Brighton with a hangover, and it was
a really excellent experience. We choose to watch this I guess partly because
we’ve all seen
Tom Cruise’s recent
comments at Cannes being shared over and over: when asked why he feels the need
to do all the stunts that he does, he replies, smugly, that nobody asked Gene
Kelly why he danced. An incredible answer. I perhaps don’t really explore the depths of
my feelings about Tom Cruise very often, but I really am starting to believe
that he’s among the
greatest actors alive. He’s
not very versatile and he’s
certainly never complex, but he has heroically embraced his limitations and
understood his skills completely, and he’s never boring to watch, never mediocre or
half-assed. Tom Cruise is always giving everything to his work, and I always
enjoy watching him. The whole Scientology is whatever; I feel like we can move
past that — we all know about it, and it’s fucked up, but he’s still a completely eccentric genius, whose
strangeness only gets more intense the more actively he pretends that he’s in any way a remotely normal
person. The Mission: Impossible franchise
is some of his greatest work, and Fallout is
a hugely entertaining piece of cinematic exuberance. Henry Cavill, who I
generally think is hugely dull and tedious to watch, is perfectly cast here as
a bland evil CIA agent who becomes Cruise’s antagonist. In the big climactic helicopter chase
with which the film ends there are some great shots of Cavill just sitting
staring blankly into space as Cruise tries to crash another chopper into him:
the lack of any spark of intelligence or engagement with the world behind
Cavill’s eyes, the
deadened glaze of an animatronic plank of wood, are some of the funniest
moments in a film which is filled with hilarity. Another great moment is right
after Tom Cruise’s
emotional reconnection with his ex-wife, when we get to see Tom sprinting away
in the background, both arms pumping at full velocity. I would prefer if Simon
Pegg wasn’t in this film
but it’s quite useful
to have such an easy target for any irritation I feel with the film: all blame
for any lack in Mission: Impossible – Fallout can
be placed at Pegg’s
feet and then be forgotten about. It’s
a riot. Everyone in the room is shrieking and yelling, we’re all having a nice time, it’s genuinely thrilling and
exciting even though we’ve
all seen it before. Tom Cruise is a genius. I think I’ve got a long-read about him
bubbling away, so if anyone wants to commission that for a publication please
let me know and I can give you 20,000 words of hagiography in less than a week.
May 22. Sunday. Will is still
here. We go get a sausage sandwich from the café in Endcliffe Park and then walk to the coffee van in Bingham Park.
Will and I eat some cannoli on a bench. We come home and L and Will play video
games for a little while. Then we walk into town and go to Showroom, where we
see Vampyr (dir. Carl Theodore Dreyer,
1932). None of us have seen it before. I’m pretty sure I’ve not seen Dreyer’s Joan
of Arc but something in the back of my mind is telling me that
I watched it in a depressive funk in either 2017 or 2018, before I started the
diary. Which would make sense, and perhaps having seen it and then forgotten
everything about it is further justification for continuing this project, so I
can keep track of what I watch in my various fugue states. Anyway, I have high
hopes for Vampyr, although perhaps with a
slight wariness: I am aware that I often find 1930s films, even the greatest
films of the period, a bit of a tiresome slog, and I prepare myself to be a
little bored. And maybe I fade in and out of attention a little but for the
most part I’m pretty absorbed
by Vampyr, which is much stranger and more
uncanny than I’d
anticipated. As Will points out afterwards, we’ve all seen the vampire myth
explored on film a bajillion times, and there isn’t a huge amount here in terms
of plot that isn’t
very familiar, but with that taken for granted the viewer can focus their
attention elsewhere: the extremely intense and odd visual style. This is a
dream film, an unpleasant and jarring nightmare where images don’t always make sense in the way
you would expect. There are a fair amount of visual effects which, despite
being 90 years old don’t
actually feel dated or overly familiar but really add to the feeling of uncanny
nausea permeating the film. There are some shots filmed outside in a very very
soft focus which are extremely grainy and quite challenging to make out any
detail of the image and, rather than feeling like a kind of technical mishap,
these feel like the kind of half-remembered half-recognised experiences that
are otherwise only experienced in dreams. The use of doubling is particularly
weird and disconcerting. The influence of these elements is absolutely
transparent, particularly in the obvious surreal filmmakers like Buñuel and Lynch. Vampyr is not scary, exactly, but it is unnerving
and confusing and unpleasant; the plot, freely adapted from a Sheridan Le Fanu
text, is really just a canvas on which Dreyer and his cinematographers can
create some very striking visual compositions. It’s an odd film. I suppose I feel
a very clear divide during it between my deep and intense aesthetic enjoyment
in the style and the cultivated boredom I feel about watching a 1930s horror
film. But it’s good to see
it, particularly in a cinema. At home I wouldn’t give it the attention it
merits. I’m a little
relieved when it’s
over, and I probably would have liked it even more if I’d have a coffee before, but it
feels like a very worthwhile experience: getting to see what horror was like
before everyone had figured out what the genre should feel like. Apparently
there was a riot when it first screened, with the audience demanding their
money back because of how impenetrable it felt: clearly a sign of its
After Vampyr we go for a
beer at the Industry Tap and then walk home. I sit down and try to rattle off
as much of this diary as I can in one hour. Then I cook an asparagus risotto.
Afterwards we watch After Hours(dir. Martin Scorsese,
1985), which is a feel-bad yuppie nightmare film about a man
having a very unpleasant evening in New York. It’s really good, in many ways a
very uncharacteristic Scorsese picture, a mixture of noir, screwball comedy,
psychosexual thriller and existential horror film. There are clear homages to
throughout and there’s
also a really excellent moment that cites Kafka’s Before
the Law, recast as a struggle to gain admittance to a nightclub
playing Bad Brains. I read in Scorsese on Scorsese that
the both the ending of After Hours, in
which our bedraggled hero just ends up back at work the next morning, and the
Kafka allusions were ideas that came directly from Michael Powell’s response to a preview
screening at which the ending was fudged and unclear, and that Powell’s account of Kafka’s work really resonated with
Scorsese because he had recently had a frustrating bureaucratic experience
trying to get funding for The Last Temptation of
Christ. Which is exactly the kind of coincidental and relatively
meaningless trivia that I love. There’s
also a great moment where the protagonist spends a while looking at some
graffiti on a bathroom wall of a shark biting a man’s erection. It’s
a film about emasculation and sexual neuroses, but it’s also a film about the intense
lengths someone might go to in the hopes of encountering some kind of
spontaneity and novelty in their drab life. Really one of the great New York
films in the interplay we see between the unending potential of the city and
the almost inevitable frustration and disappointment that results in the
majority of the encounters we watch. It also feels a bit like a cocaine-addled downtown
remake of The Exterminating Angel, another
film about members of the bourgeoisie who just can’t quite make it home. It’s a fun watch; at times it
feels as though it’s
running the risk of getting bogged down and a little tiresome, but it has
enough jubilant variety that it stays interesting and strange, equal parts
hilarious and infuriating. Griffin Dunne, who I don’t really recognise from
anything else, is a surprisingly good lead, perfect for an increasingly sweaty
and abject man at the end of his tether. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to drink a
regrettable cup of terrible filter coffee at 2am, or, at least for me, is the
kind of film that — despite the horrible time everyone seems to be having —
makes me wish I lived somewhere with multiple all-night venues and an
atmosphere of there being an endless possibility for new forms of suffering
available to nocturnal wanderers. I don’t really know why I haven’t seen this before; in many
ways it’s an outlier
in the Scorsese back catalogue, but a genuine miserable pleasure regardless.
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I feel a closeness with writers, poets and painters, much more than with traditional film “directors.” We share a love of collage. In the kinds of films I make, there are fissures in terms of how something leads to something else. Relationships and associations aren’t fixed. I always learn from an audience, about whether or not the convergence of two images is actually expressing an idea. I hope it’s doing one thing, but I might learn that it is doing something completely different. In this way the films are kind of porous; they are open to interpretation. One thing I realized recently is that I have this rhythm when I make films—ABABAB or yesnoyesnoyesno. For example, I call The House of Science a “yes film” because any idea that came into my head, pretty much made its way into the movie. The yes films are full of associations—some of them are resolved and some of them are adolescent; they’re still trying to figure out who they are. Other films are “no films.” Window Workis a single eight-minute image of me sitting in front of a window. It’s very spare and kind of performative. I felt like it had to be done in one shot. “No, you can’t bring in any clutter.” Sometimes I try to make films that don’t have clutter; other times I make films that are full of it.
Watch ‘Lynne Sachs’ Yes and No Films’ by Kevin B. Lee
Here is a list of my films in the Fandor collection. Critic Kevin B. Lee gave me the assignment to designate films that fall under the YES or NO category. Please keep in mind that these rather black-and-white distinctions do not imply a positive or negative disposition within the film. Instead, they indicate an integrated philosophical approach to the artistic rigor I brought to the creative process. I didn’t actually figure out that I was following this approach until about 2010, so I am actually imposing this nomenclature on my filmography retroactively.
Selected Films and Videos by Lynne Sachs
Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (4 min. B&W 16mm, 1986)
A film portrait that falls somewhere between a painting and a prose poem, a look at a woman’s daily routines and thoughts via an exploration of her as a “character.” By interweaving threads of history and fiction, the film is also a tribute to a real woman—Emma Goldman. (This is a YES film that was inspired by my viewing of Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie and Yvonne Rainer’s Lives of Performers. For the first time, absolutely any idea that came to my mind had to squeeze its way into my four-minute film. Sometimes big ideas were distilled into a gesture or a cut. So was born an experimental filmmaker. . . .)
Drawn and Quartered (4 min. color 16mm, 1986)
Optically printed images of a man and a woman fragmented by a film frame that is divided into four distinct sections. An experiment in form/content relationships that are peculiar to the medium. (This is a NO film. I shot a film on a roof with my boyfriend. Every frame was choreographed. Both of us took off our clothing and let the Bolex whirl and that was it. Pure and simple.)
Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning (9 min. color 16mm. 1987)
Like an animal in one of Eadweard Muybridge’s scientific photo experiments, five undramatic moments in a man’s life are observed by a woman. A study in visual obsession and a twist on the notion of the “gaze.” (Another YES film intended as a pair with Still Life with Woman and Four Objects. I tried to put way too many ideas into this film and it ultimately didn’t work very well. It was a risk, and that in and of itself I am happy about.)
Sermons and Sacred Pictures: the Life and Work of Reverend L.O. Taylor (29 minutes, 16mm, 1989)
An experimental documentary on Reverend L.O. Taylor, a Black Baptist minister from Memphis who was also an inspired filmmaker with an overwhelming interest in preserving the social and cultural fabric of his own community in the 1930s and 1940s. (A teacher of mine in graduate school said to me “Why don’t you put yourself into the movie? Make yourself visible on the screen.” I felt that my fingerprint on the film and the three-year production expressed my personal presence far better than my actually being in the film. I said NO.)
The House of Science: a Museum of False Facts (30 min., 16mm 1991)
“Offering a new feminized film form, this piece explores both art and science’s representation of women, combining home movies, personal remembrances, staged scenes and found footage into an intricate visual and aural college. A girl’s sometimes difficult coming-of-age rituals are recast into a potent web for affirmation and growth.” — SF Cinematheque (This film was the beginning of unbridled YES-ness.)
Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam(33 min., 16mm, 1994)
“A frog that sits at the bottom of a well thinks that the whole sky is only as big as the lid of a pot.” 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. “The film has a combination of qualities: compassion, acute observational skills, an understanding of history’s scope, and a critical ability to discern what’s missing from the textbooks and TV news.” —Independent Film & Video Monthly (I shot this film during a one-month visit to Vietnam. I traveled around the country with my sister and shot only forty minutes of film, as much as I was able to carry in a backpack. The post-production required absolute precision, focus and a willingness to work with the bare minimum. I learned about editing in this film because it was so self-contained. I could not return to Vietnam to shoot more and this in and of itself taught me to see. A definite NO.)
A Biography of Lilith(35 min., 16mm, 1997)
In a lively mix of off-beat narrative, collage and memoir, this film updates the creation myth by telling the story of the first woman and for some, the first feminist. Lilith’s betrayal by Adam in Eden and subsequent vow of revenge is recast as a modern tale with present-day Lilith musing on a life that has included giving up a baby for adoption and work as a bar dancer. Interweaving mystical texts from Jewish folklore with interviews, music and poetry, Sachs reclaims this cabalistic parable to frame her own role as a mother. (This film started with my first pregnancy in 1995 and ended with the birth of my second child in 1997. So many ideas came to my mind during this early period of being a mother, from superstitions, to feminism, to archeology, to my performing nude in front of the camera. I would even say this film is my first musical. It’s a YES.)
Investigation of a Flame (16mm, 45 min. 2001)
An intimate, experimental portrait of the Catonsville Nine, a disparate band of Vietnam War peace activists who chose to break the law in a defiant, poetic act of civil disobedience. Produced with Daniel and Philip Berrigan and other members of the Catonsville 9. (I lived and breathed this movie for three years but from the beginning I knew what it was about and I didn’t really deviate from that except on a metaphoric level and that doesn’t count. It’s a NO.)
Photograph of Wind(4 min., B&W and color, 16mm, 2001)
My daughter’s name is Maya. I’ve been told that the word maya means illusion in Hindu philosophy. As I watch her growing up, spinning like a top around me, I realize that her childhood is not something I can grasp but rather—like the wind—something I feel tenderly brushing across my cheek. “Sachs suspends in time a single moment of her daughter.” —Fred Camper (I kept this one very spare and I like that NO-ness about it.)
Tornado(4 min., color video 2002)
A tornado is a spinning cyclone of nature. It stampedes like an angry bull through a tranquil pasture of blue violets and upright blades of grass. A tornado kills with abandon but has no will. Lynne Sachs’ Tornado is a poetic piece shot from the perspective of Brooklyn, where much of the paper and soot from the burning towers fell on September 11. Sachs’ fingers obsessively handle these singed fragments of resumes, architectural drawings and calendars, normally banal office material that takes on a new, haunting meaning. (This film is a distillation of what I was thinking right after September, 11, 2001. It had to be a NO film. If I had added anything else, it would not express the anguish of that moment in New York City.)
States of UnBelonging(63 min. video 2006)
For two and a half years, filmmaker Lynne Sachs worked to write and visualize this moving cine-essay on the violence of the Middle East by exchanging personal letters and images with an Israeli friend. The core of her experimental meditation on war, land, the Bible, and filmmaking is a portrait of Revital Ohayon, an Israeli filmmaker and mother killed in a terrorist act on a kibbutz near the West Bank. Without taking sides or casting blame, the film embraces Revital’s story with surprising emotion, entering her life and legacy through home movies, acquired film footage, news reports, interviews and letters. (A NO movie that wanted to wander in every direction but the one where it eventually led.)
Noa, Noa (8 min., 16mm on DVD, B&W and Color, sound 2006)
Over the course of three years, Sachs collaborated with her daughter Noa (from 5 to 8 years old), criss-crossing the wooded landscapes of Brooklyn with camera and costumes in hand. Noa’s grand finale is her own rendition of the bluegrass classic “Crawdad Song.” (I followed my daughter wherever she took me, so that limitation makes it a NO film.)
Atalanta 32 Years Later (5 min. color sound, 2006, 16mm on DVD)
A retelling of the age-old fairy tale of the beautiful princess in search of the perfect prince. In 1974, Marlo Thomas’ hip, liberal celebrity gang created a feminist version of the children’s parable for mainstream TV’s “Free To Be You and Me”. Now in 2006, Sachs dreamed up this new experimental film reworking, a homage to girl/girl romance.
(This film had very strict parameters that were given to me by curator Thomas Beard so I suppose it is a NO.)
The Small Ones (3 min. color sound, 2006 DVD)
During World War II, the United States Army hired Lynne Sachs’ cousin, Sandor Lenard, to reconstruct the bones – small and large – of dead American soldiers. This short anti-war cine-poem is composed of highly abstracted battle imagery and children at a birthday party. “Profound. The soundtrack is amazing. The image at the end of the girl with the avocado seed so hopeful. Good work.” — Barbara Hammer.
(A YES film that allowed me to include an avocado and a spider in a film about war.)
Georgic for a Forgotten Planet(11 min., video, 2008)
I began reading Virgil’s Georgics, a First-Century epic agricultural poem, and knew immediately that I needed to create a visual equivalent about my own relationship to the place where I live, New York City. Culled from material I collected at Coney Island, the Lower East Side, Socrates Sculpture Garden in Queens, a Brooklyn community garden and a place on Staten Island that is so dark you can see the three moons of Jupiter. An homage to a place many people affectionately and mysteriously call the big apple. (Not sure if my catagories work for this film so I won’t commit.)
Cuadro por cuadro/ Frame by Frame( 8 min., by Lynne Sachs and Mark Street, 2009)
In Cuadro por caudro, Lynne Sachs and Mark Street put on a workshop (taller in Spanish) with a group of Uruguan media artists to create handpainted experimental films in the spirit of Stan Brakhage. Sachs and Street collaborate with their students at the Fundacion de Arte Contemporaneo by painting on 16 and 35 mm film, then bleaching it and then hanging it to dry on the roof of the artists’ collective in Montevideo in July, 2009. (I made this film with my husband Mark Street. It is one of our XY Chromosome Project collaborations so my usual rhythms don’t really apply.)
The Last Happy Day (37 min., 16mm and video, 2009)
The Last Happy Day is a half hour experimental documentary portrait of Sandor Lenard, a distant cousin of filmmaker Lynne Sachs and a Hungarian medical doctor. Lenard was a writer with a Jewish background who fled the Nazis. During the war, the US Army Graves Registration Service hired Lenard to reconstruct the bones — small and large — of dead American soldiers. Eventually Sandor found himself in remotest Brazil where he embarked on the translation of Winnie the Pooh into Latin, an eccentric task which catapulted him to brief world wide fame. Perhaps it is our culture’s emphasis on genealogy that pushes Sachs to pursue a narrative nurtured by the “ties of blood”, a portrait of a cousin. Ever since she discovered as a teenager that this branch of her family had stayed in Europe throughout WWII, she has been unable to stop wondering about Sandor’s life as an artist and an exile. Sachs’ essay film, which resonates as an anti-war meditation, is composed of excerpts of her cousin’s letters to the family, abstracted war imagery, home movies of children at a birthday party, and interviews. (I had wanted to create this film for about 20 years but could never figure out how to make it work. Only when it transformed from a NO film to an anything-goes YES film did it find its voice.)
Wind in Our Hair/ Con viento en el pelo (40 min. 16mm and Super 8 on video, 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. Shot with 16mm, Super 8mm, Regular 8mm film and video, the film follows the girls to the train tracks, into kitchens, on sidewalks, in costume stores, and into backyards in the heart of Buenos Aires as well as the outskirts of town. Sachs and her Argentine collaborators move about Buenos Aires with their cameras, witnessing the four playful girls as they wander a city embroiled in a debate about the role of agribusiness, food resources and taxes. Using an intricately constructed Spanish-English “bilingual” soundtrack, Sachs articulates this atmosphere of urban turmoil spinning about the young girls’ lives. (Again this film moved from being a NO narrative film based on a short story by an Argentine author to being a YES film that included lots of documentary material. This shift is an indication of a move toward hybrid filmmaking.)
The Task of the Translator(10 min., video 2010)
Lynne Sachs pays homage to Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator” through three studies of the human body. First, she listens to the musings of a wartime doctor grappling with the task of a kind-of cosmetic surgery for corpses. Second, she witnesses a group of Classics scholars confronted with the haunting yet whimsical task of translating a newspaper article on Iraqi burial rituals into Latin. And finally, she turns to a radio news report on human remains. (Not sure what to call this one.)
Sound of a Shadow (10 min. Super 8mm film on video, made with Mark Street, 2011)
A wabi sabi summer in Japan–observing that which is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete– produces a series of visual haiku in search of teeming street life, bodies in emotion, and leaf prints in the mud. (Another blissful NO film that recognized the integrity of keeping it simple)
Same Stream Twice (4 min. 16mm b & w and color on DVD, 2012)
My daughter’s name is Maya. I’ve been told that the word maya means illusion in Hindu philosophy. In 2001, I photographed her at six years old, spinning like a top around me. Even then, I realized that her childhood was not something I could grasp but rather—like the wind—something I could feel tenderly brushing across my cheek. Eleven years later, I pull out my 16mm Bolex camera once again and she allows me to film her—different but somehow the same. (There is an organic logic to this so I will designate it a NO.)
Your Day is My Night (HD video and live performance, 64 min., 2013)
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. (Because I brought in the performance and fiction elements to this documentary I must call it a YES film.)
Drift and Bough(Super 8mm on Digital, B&W, 6 min., 2014)
Sachs spends a morning this winter 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 painter’s chiaroscuro. Woven into this cinematic landscape, we hear sound artist Stephen Vitiello’s delicate yet soaring musical track which seems to wind its way across the frozen ground, up the tree trunks to the sky. (One very cold day in the park and some music. If there were more, it would melt. It’s a NO.)