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.
“For more than thirty years, artist Lynne Sachs has constructed short, bold mid-length, and feature films incorporating elements of the essay film, collage, performance, and observational documentary. Her highly self-reflexive films have variously explored the relations between the body, camera, and the materiality of film itself; histories of personal, social, and political trauma; marginalized communities and their labor; and her own family life, slipping seamlessly between modes, from documentary essays to diaristic shorts.” (Edo Choi, Assistant Curator of Film, Museum of the Moving Image)
Note: The following programs can be rented individually or as a package. A new video interview and between Lynne Sachs and series curator Edo Choi is also available as part of the rental fee.
For rental and pricing information, please contact: email@example.com
All films are directed by Lynne Sachs. Program notes by Edo Choi.
Program 1: Early Dissections In her first three films, Sachs performs an exuberant autopsy of the medium itself, reveling in the investigation of its formal possibilities and cultural implications: the disjunctive layering of visual and verbal phrases in Still Life with Woman and Four Objects; un-split regular 8mm film as a metaphorical body and site of intercourse in the optically printed Drawn and Quartered; the scopophilic and gendered intentions of the camera’s gaze in Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning. These experiments anticipate the range of the artist’s mature work, beginning with her first essayistic collage The House of Science: a museum of false facts. Itself an autopsy, this mid-length film exposes the anatomy of western rationalism as a framework for sexual subjugation via a finely stitched patchwork of sounds and images from artistic renderings to archival films, home movies to staged performances.
Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986, 4 mins.) –New HD transfer Drawn and Quartered (1987, 4 mins.) – new HD transfer Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning (1987, 9 mins.) The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991, 30 mins.) – new HD transfer
Program 2: Family Travels One of Lynne Sachs’s most sheerly beautiful films, Which Way Is East is a simultaneously intoxicating and politically sobering diary of encounters with the sights, sounds, and people of Vietnam, as Sachs pays a visit to her sister Dana and the two set off north from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. The film is paired here with a very different kind of family journey The Last Happy Day, recounting the life of Sachs’s distant cousin Sandor Lenard, a Jewish Hungarian doctor who survived the Second World War and was ultimately hired to reassemble the bones of dead American soldiers. Here Sachs journeys through time as opposed to space, as she assembles a typically colorful array of documentary and performative elements, including Sandor’s letters, a children’s performance, and highly abstracted war footage, to bring us closer to a man who bore witness to terrible things. This program also features The Last Happy Day’s brief predecessor, The Small Ones. Program running time: 73 mins.
Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994, 33 mins.) – new HD transfer The Small Ones (2007, 3 mins.) The Last Happy Day (2009, 37 mins.)
Program 3: Time Passes Twenty years unspool over nine short films: portraits of Lynne Sachs’s children; visits with her mother, brother, niece and nephew; a tribute to the city where she lives; and scenes of sociopolitical trauma and protest. Nearly all shot on super 8mm or 16mm, and often silent, each work is at once a preservation of a moment and a record of change, seamlessly weaving together the candid and the performed gesture, the public and the private memory, in a simultaneously objective and subjective posture toward the passing of time. Program running time: 51 mins.
Photograph of Wind (2001, 4 mins.) Tornado (2002, 4 mins.) Noa, Noa (2006, 8 mins.) Georgic for a Forgotten Planet (2008, 11 mins.) Same Stream Twice (2012, 4 mins.) Viva and Felix Growing Up (2015, 10 mins.) Day Residue (2016, 3 mins.) And Then We Marched (2017, 3 mins.) Maya at 24 (2021, 4 mins.)
Program 4: Your Day Is My Night 2013, 64 mins. “This bed doesn’t necessarily belong to any one person,” someone says early in Your Day Is My Night. It could be the metaphorical thesis of this film, perhaps Lynne Sachs’s most self-effacing and meditative work. A seamless blend of closely observed verité footage, interpretive performance, and confessional monologues and interviews, the film doesn’t document so much as create a space to accommodate the stories and experiences of seven Chinese immigrants from ages 58 to 78 who live together in a “shift-bed” apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Sachs’s quilted sense of form achieves a new level of refinement and delicacy in collaboration with her cameraman Sean Hanley and her editor Amanda Katz, as she works with the participants to exhume a collective history of migration and struggle.
Program 5: Tip of My Tongue 2017, 80 mins. Sachs’s richly generative Tip of My Tongue finds the filmmaker responding to her 50th birthday by gathering twelve members of her generational cohort—friends and peers all born between 1958 and 1964, and originating as far as Cuba, Iran, and Australia—to participate in the creation of a choral work about the convergent and divergent effects history leaves upon those who live it. From the Kennedy assassination to Occupy Wall Street, the participants reveal their memories of, and reflections upon, the transformative experiences of their lives. Set to an ecstatic, pulsing score by Stephen Vitiello, the film interweaves these personal confessions with impressionistic images of contemporary New York, obscured glimpses of archival footage, and graphically rendered fragments of text to create a radiant prism of collective memory. Preceded by Sachs’s frantic record of accumulated daily to-do lists, A Year in Notes and Numbers (2018, 4 mins.).
Live Q&A with Lynne Sachs on Friday, February 19, 7:00 pm PST (10:00 pm EST) by Zoom
Conversation with Lynne Sachs and Stephen Vitiello moderated by musician and music critic Sasha Frere-Jones on Sunday February 21, 5:00 pm PST (8:00 pm EST) by Zoom
Online via Los Angeles Filmforum
Filmforum is delighted to kick off 2021 by welcoming back our friend Lynne Sachs with her new film and several past works, all of which include original music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello.
“In collaborating on the soundtracks for my films, Stephen Vitiello somehow recognizes the interior sounds of objects and releases them for us to hear. Together his music and his sound designs push audiences toward a new way of experiencing cinema.” – Lynne Sachs
In these two programs, Los Angeles Filmforum explores the seven-year collaborative relationship between filmmaker Lynne Sachs and sound artist Stephen Vitiello.
Admission will include receiving links to both Zoom conversations!
Four films are covered by this admission, which is on a sliding scale, and which takes you to a screening room set up by Canyon Cinema. You also get a free link to the live Q&A with Lynne on Friday February 19 and the tripartite conversation on Sunday Feb 21.!
Ticketing for Four Films: Sliding Scale, $0 for members, $5 for students, $8, $12, $20
Special Thanks to Brett Kashmere, Canyon Cinema, Tom Sveen, Cinema Guild.
Films by Lynne Sachs with music and sound design by Stephen Vitiello
2013 – 2020
Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker and a poet born in Memphis, Tennessee but living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work explores the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together text, collage, painting, politics and layered sound design. Strongly committed to a dialogue between cinematic theory and practice, she searches for a rigorous play between image and sound, pushing the visual and aural textures in her work with every new project. Her work ranges from the very personal, as in her early experiments that are reminiscent of Bruce Connor’s found footage films and Chris Marker’s essay films, to documentary, as in her film on the Catonsville Nine’s antiwar-activism in Investigation of a Flame. Lynne discovered her love of filmmaking while living in San Francisco where she worked closely with film artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Barbara Hammer, George Kuchar, and Trinh T. Min-ha. Between 1994 and 2006, she produced five essay films that took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany — sites affected by international war — where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own subjective perceptions.
Sachs has made 37 films, which have screened at the New York Film Festival, Sundance, Oberhausen, Viennale, BAMCinemaFest, Vancouver Film Festival, DocLisboa and many others nationally and internationally. They have also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts and other venues. The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, Festival International Nuevo Cine in Havana, China Women’s Film Festival and Sheffield Documentary Festival have all presented retrospectives of Lynne’s films. She received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts. In 2019, Tender Buttons Press published Lynne’s first collection of poetry, Year by Year Poems. Lynne lives in Brooklyn with filmmaker Mark Street. Together, they have two daughters, Maya and Noa Street-Sachs. www.lynnesachs.com
Stephen Vitiello is an electronic musician and sound artist who transforms incidental atmospheric noises into mesmerizing soundscapes that alter our perception of the surrounding environment. He has composed music for independent films, experimental video projects and art installations, collaborating with such artists as Nam June Paik, Tony Oursler and Dara Birnbaum. Solo and group exhibitions include MASS MoCA, The High Line, NYC, and the Museum of Modern Art. https://www.stephenvitiello.com/
Solo exhibitions include All Those Vanished Engines, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2011-(ongoing)); A Bell For Every Minute, The High Line, NYC (2010-2011); More Songs About Buildings and Bells, Museum 52, New York (2011); and Stephen Vitiello, The Project, New York (2006). He has participated in such group exhibitions as Soundings: A Contemporary Score, Museum of Modern Art, NY (2013); Sound Objects: Leah Beeferman and Stephen Vitiello, Fridman Gallery, New York (2014); September 11, PS 1/MoMA, LIC, NY (2011-2012); the 15th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2006); Yanomami: Spirit of the Forest at the Cartier Foundation, Paris; and the 2002 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2002). Vitiello has performed nationally and internationally, at locations such as the Tate Modern, London; the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival; The Kitchen, New York; and the Cartier Foundation, Paris. In 2011, ABC-TV, Australia produced the documentary Stephen Vitiello: Listening With Intent. Awards include Creative Capital (2006) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2011-2012). Vitiello is a professor of Kinetic Imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University. He lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.
Sasha Frere-Jones is a writer and musician from New York.
Los Angeles Filmforum screenings are supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture, the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, the Wilhelm Family Foundation, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. We also depend on our members, ticket buyers, and individual donors.
The Washing Society Directed by Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker 2018, color, sound, 44 min. When you drop off a bag of dirty laundry, who’s doing the washing and folding? The Washing Society brings us into New York City laundromats and the experiences of the people who work there by observing these disappearing neighborhood spaces and the continual, intimate labor that happens there. The juxtaposition of narrative and documentary elements in THE WASHING SOCIETY creates a dream-like, yet hyper-real portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, both past and present.
“The legacy of domestic work, the issues surrounding power, and the exchange of money for services are all potent themes which rise to the surface and bubble over in dramatic, thrilling escalations of the everyday.” – Brooklyn Rail
“Spotlights the often-invisible workers who fold the clothes, maintain the machines and know your secrets.” – In These Times
Featuring: Jasmine Holloway, Veraalba Santa, and Ching Valdes-Aran Cinematography: Sean Hanley, Editiing: Amanda Katz
“Drift and Bough” 2014, Super 8mm on Digital, B&W, sound, 6 min. Sachs spends a winter morning in Central Park shooting film in the snow. Holding her Super 8mm camera, she takes note of graphic explosions of dark and light and an occasional skyscraper. The stark black lines of the trees against the whiteness create the sensation of a painterʼs chiaroscuro. Woven into this cinematic landscape, we hear sound artist Stephen Vitielloʼs delicate yet soaring musical track which seems to wind its way across the frozen ground, up the tree trunks to the sky.
Tip of My Tongue 2017, color, sound, 80 min. “To mark her 50th birthday, filmmaker Lynne Sachs gathers a group of her contemporaries—all New Yorkers but originally hailing from all corners of the globe—for a weekend of recollection and reflection on the most life-altering personal, local, and international events of the past half-century, creating what Sachs calls ‘a collective distillation of our times.’ Interspersed with poetry and flashes of archival footage, this poignant reverie reveals how far beyond our control life is, and how far we can go despite this.” — Kathy Brew, Museum of Modern Art
“A mesmerizing ride through time, a dreamscape full of reflection, filled with inspired use of archival footage, poetry, beautiful cinematography and music. Raises the question of how deeply events affect us, while granting us enough room to crash into our own thoughts, or float on by, rejoicing in the company of our newfound friends.” — Screen Slate, Sonya Redi
“A beautiful, poetic collage of memory, history, poetry, and lived experience, in all its joys, sorrows, fears, hopes, triumphs, and tragedies … rendered in exquisite visual terms, creating an artful collective chronicle of history.” Christopher Bourne, Screen Anarchy
Featuring: Dominga Alvarado, Mark Cohen, Sholeh Dalai, Andrea Kannapell, Sarah Markgraf, Shira Nayman, George Sanchez, Adam Schartoff, Erik Schurink, Accra Shepp, Sue Simon, Jim Supanick
Cinematography: Sean Hanley
Editing: Amanda Katz
Your Day is My Night 2013, HD video and live performance, color, sound, 64 min. Immigrant residents of a “shift-bed” apartment in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown share their stories of personal and political upheaval. As the bed transforms into a stage, the film reveals the collective history of the Chinese in the United States through conversations, autobiographical monologues, and theatrical movement pieces. Shot in the kitchens, bedrooms, wedding halls, cafés, and mahjong parlors of Chinatown, this provocative hybrid documentary addresses issues of privacy, intimacy, and urban life.
“A strikingly handsome, meditative work: a mixture of reportage, dreams, memories and playacting, which immerses you in an entire world that you might unknowingly pass on the corner of Hester Street, unable to guess what’s behind the fifth-floor windows.” -The Nation
In Chinese, English & Spanish with English Subtitles.
Featuring: Yi Chun Cao, Linda Y.H. Chan, Chung Qing Che, Ellen Ho, Yun Xiu Huang, Sheut Hing Lee, Kam Yin Tsui, & Veraalba Santa.
Camera by Sean Hanley and Ethan Mass
Winner, Best Feature Documentary, San Diego Asian Film Festival, 2013 * Winner, Best Feature Film, Workers Unite! Film Festival, 2013 * Winner, Best Experimental Film, Traverse City Film Festival, 2013
For more than three decades, experimental documentary filmmaker Lynne Sachs has been shining an intimate light on our hearts and minds in poetic works that explore who we are and our place in the world. The Memphis-born, Brooklyn-based auteur is being celebrated this month with the Museum of the Moving Image virtual festival “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression,” being held in conjunction with the release of her latest work, Film About a Father Who. From January 13 to 31, MoMI will screen nineteen of Sachs’s films, from 1986’s four-minute Still Life with Woman and Four Objects, in which a woman goes through daily routines like preparing lunch, to the world premiere of the four-minute Maya at 24, comprising scenes of Sachs’s daughter, Maya, at six, sixteen, and twenty-four.
The festival is organized into five programs: “Early Dissections,” “Family Travels,” “Time Passes,” and the feature-length Your Day Is My Night and Tips of My Tongue. Each ticket comes with access to a new interview between Sachs and assistant curator Edo Choi delving into Sachs’s career and her unique, unconventional style, which evokes such avant-garde filmmakers as Chantal Akerman, Bruce Conner, Maya Deren, Bruce Naumann, and Martha Rosler. Sachs will also participate in the live, free “Discussion with the Sachs Family” on January 19 at 7:00 with her brother, Ira Sachs Jr., and documentarian Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson, Dick Johnson Is Dead), introduced by MoMI curator Eric Hynes.
Sachs’s films invite us into her personal life as well as the life of others. Which Way Is East (1994) takes us on her trip to Vietnam with her sister Dana, who says when Lynne gives her the camera, “Lynne can stand for an hour finding the perfect frame for her shot. It’s as if she can understand Vietnam better when she looks at it through the lens of her camera. I hate the camera; the world feels too wide for the lens, and if I try to frame it, I only cut it up.” Lynne’s framing is extraordinary, unfurling in a calm, hypnotic pace that can be claustrophobic in its immediacy. In 2013’s Your Day Is My Night, Sachs documents a group of Chinese immigrants crammed into a closetlike apartment in Chinatown, where they ponder the differences between their lives in America and their native country and wonder if they made the right choice in coming here. There’s a fascinating kind of intervention when a young Puerto Rican woman moves in with them. And in 2007’s The Small Ones, Sachs shares the story of her Hungarian cousin Sandor Lenard, who during WWII in Italy was tasked with “washing, measuring, and cementing the bones of American dead.” His straightforward narration is accompanied by abstract images of war and slow-motion home movies of children at a birthday party.
In an essay Sachs wrote about the four-minute 1987 silent short Drawn and Quartered, depicting a naked man and woman divided into four frames, exploring the tacit nature of the human body, she explained how she felt at the film’s San Francisco premiere: “Within those few painful minutes, the crowd went from absolute silence, to raucous laughter, and back to an exquisite quiet. I was shaking.” That’s how you’re likely to feel as you experience Sachs’s work all these years later.
“We’re pretty candid about who Dad is, and we’ve seen him through a lot, but we’re also able to shift what we might recognize as who he really is to what we want him to be,” experimental documentarian Lynne Sachs says in Film About a Father Who, a revealing look at the patriarch of her seemingly ever-expanding family, her dad, Ira Sachs Sr. Inspired by Yvonne Rainer’s seminal 1974 work A Film About a Woman Who . . . , a cinematic collage exploring sexual conflict, and Heinrich Boll’s 1971 novel Group Portrait with Lady, Sachs’s movie consists of footage taken over a period of fifty-four years, beginning in 1965, using 8mm and 16mm film, VHS, Hi8, Mini DV, and digital images, edited by Rebecca Shapass. Now eighty-four, Ira Sachs Sr. was a sex-loving, pot-smoking minor-league hotelier, a neglectful, emotionally unavailable husband and father, both selfish and generous, carefully guarding secrets that Lynne, her sister, journalist and author Dana Sachs, and her brother, filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr., discuss with their six half-siblings, children their father had with other wives and girlfriends, some of whom they did not know about for many years.
Ira Sr.’s mother, Rose Sachs, known as Maw-maw, who left him when he was young, says of his womanizing, “I can’t stand that way of life.” His first wife, Lynne’s mother, Diane Sachs, speaks about what an easy decision divorcing him was. “Marriage was just a lot of being up at night, going to the window, wondering when he was coming home,” she explains. His second wife, Diana Lee, says through tears, “He’s a mistake.” Yet nearly all the women in his life, relatives and companions alike, profess their undying love for the long-haired, bushy-mustached man who was able to cast a spell over them despite, at least outwardly, not appearing to be a particularly eloquent Don Juan type and never remaining faithful. But there’s also more than a hint of psychological abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. “She treated me as an enemy,” he says.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the first three children of such a secretive man all went into the storytelling arts, mixing fiction and nonfiction in film and literature; Ira has won awards for such films as Forty Shades of Blue and Love Is Strange, Dana’s books include the novel If You Lived Here and the Vietnam memoir The House on Dream Street, and Lynne’s documentaries range from Investigation of a Flame and Sermons and Sacred Pictures to Your Day Is My Night and States of UnBelonging. There are numerous shots of family members filming other relatives; at one point, Lynne is filming Ira Jr. filming Ira Sr. while watching home movies on the television. A Film About a Woman Who . . . , which features music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello, is a striking portrait of an unusually dysfunctional family, a true story that has been in the making for more than a half century and even now provides only some of the answers. Perhaps you can find out more when it begins streaming January 15-31 in the Museum of the Moving Image festival “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression”; Sachs will participate in a “Discussion with the Sachs Family” on January 19 at 7:00 with her brother Ira and documentarian Kirsten Johnson, introduced by MoMI curator Eric Hynes.
All the great filmmakers have been artists of the lens. If you think about Hitchcock, Truffaut, Wilder, Kazan, Visconti, Fellini and endless more that make up our collective cinematic heritage, they constructed their work like one long sequence of aesthetics — sight and sound.
Lynne Sachs is no exception. While effortlessly flowing between documentary, experimental and narrative styles, Sachs’ films — whether 4 minutes long or full length — reward the adventurous viewer with a sense of beauty, elegance and joie de vivre. And I say “adventurous viewer” because it may have been difficult for non-urban audiences to catch the prolific artist’s work.
Until now that is. While in the past someone like me had to rely on the cool publicist devoted to Sachs and her films to point me in the direction of her next screening at a festival or inside a hip city venue, this January the Museum of the Moving Image has organized a wonderfully comprehensive retrospective of Lynne Sachs’ cinematic work. Beginning on January 13th and streaming online this proves a rare treat, since Sachs’ films are perfect for the kind of intimate viewing we are relegated to these days. Watch one, switch it off, talk about it with your family or friends, share your views online with the larger social media community — Sachs is the filmmaker of the times and how appropriate for her retrospective take place now!
Lynne Sachs photographed by Abby Lord, used with permission
So what makes Sachs’ work so unique? When I met her in person, right before our current pandemic and at the screening of her latest film at MoMA in NYC, she struck me as a rare combination of kind, unconventional and courageous. And her clothes betrayed the kind of effortless elegance that makes her films so appealing. Her voice, so often the soundtrack of her work, feels familiar even the first time you hear it, like that of a best friend who calls just to see how you’re doing. And in doing so makes the world a better place.
To me, Sachs is an artist, a visual explorer of the beauty that is hidden in cinema, for only a few to figure out. But I wonder how she views herself, as an artist or a filmmaker, or even a poet? She answers via email from NYC, kind as ever. “When you add the word “hidden” to the word “beauty”, I really start to get interested. Lately I have been thinking about certain images that, like our bodies, are growing old with the dignity of their own life span, their provenance. These are the kinds of images that reveal their journey and don’t pretend to have appeared on this earth, or more precisely on our screens, in the year 2021.” She continues, “artist and cultural theorist Hito Steyerl writes eloquently and perceptively in her essay “In Defense of the Poor Image” about the way that images from the past move into our present by carrying the baggage of time. I like seeing the dirt, rust, and wrinkles that tell a story in a purely visual way. When I see images that insist on carrying slivers of their past –- be it joyous or traumatic –- I see beauty.”
The retrospective includes some of Sachs’ earlier work, shorts and mid-length films about her children, the world around her, art, poetry, feminism — her own brand of the stuff — and science. It’s divided into five programs — Early Investigations, Family Travels, Time Passes, Your Day Is My Night and Tip of My Tongue — plus a special online screening of her latest feature ‘Film About a Father Who’ which is a personal favorite and a must-watch for anyone wanting to learn more about Sachs and her fascinating family. You can find my personal review of it here.
There is a Michael Apted feel to her work which often revolves around family, or rather those who are important in Sachs’ life, shot over a long period of time. I’m thinking of the shorts which star her daughter Maya at around 6, in her teenage years and then again at 24. What a treat they are but also a wonderful way to examine the constantly changing pattern of our lives. So I ask Sachs how she’s seen the pandemic change things, as related to her work-in-progress with Maya and she surprises me. “Now this is an intriguing way of asking me about the pandemic, through a film about my daughter Maya that I have essentially shot three times over the course of twenty years. When she was six I made ‘Photograph of Wind’, at sixteen I made ‘Same Stream Twice’ and at twenty-four I made ‘Maya at 24’. What I think you are getting at is an epistemological question about the meaning of time.” Yes, she gets me, she really gets me! She continues, “in this period of sheltering-in-place or at least quasi-isolation, many of us are wondering how to register our days. Is there going to be an end? Or are we caught in a constant, traumatizing, unending middle? We are all aging at the same rate; we register each day in the same way. In these three films (each between 3 and 4 minutes), I asked Maya to run in circles around me while I was filming her with my 16mm camera. We both stare at each other the entire time. Dizzying as it may be, we are together exploring our relationship through our eyes. Without touching, we are as intimate as a parent and child can be. During the pandemic, as I communicate with my own mother from hundreds of miles away using the virtual technology available to us, I must remember that this form of contact might not be great, but it is good enough.”
A still from ‘House of Science’ by Lynne Sachs
Elements of her feminist spirit, but not the extremist kind we see these days rather a more inclusive approach, also permeate Sachs’ work. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a woman filmmaker explore our bodies, our minds and our sexuality on screen. And what a wonderful surprise to find out that Edo Choi curated for the Museum of the Moving Image this comprehensive retrospective of Sachs’ work. As both a lover of film and a film writer, Choi makes the perfect conductor for our journey in the midst of the filmmaker’s opus. So as a final question I asked Sachs how it feels to have a retrospective of her work at MoMI, especially now.
“Scary, vulnerable and exciting,” Sachs admits, mentioning Choi right away. “Today, I was working with the Museum of the Moving Image’s marvelous, insightful, and dedicated assistant curator Edo Choi on some technical aspects of the program. You see when you are dealing with film files that were created over thirty years, they might not be compatible, on a technological, thematic or conceptual level with other films that you recently completed. I mentioned earlier what we all know –- time runs in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years. It does not change. But technology does, at least in the world of video. So, some of my files run at 29.97 frames per second, some at 23.98 fps and some at 24 fps. It all depends on when the films were born! This makes it very hard to stream them together.” What does that mean to a filmmaker? She explains, “maybe this is telling me something about myself, what was on my mind back in 1986 may be very different from what I am thinking about in 2021. To my surprise, I do see themes that connect me to who I was at 25 and who I am today at 59. When people watch the films, I hope they can find some of these threads that carry through all of the work. I am not going to say here what I see, because I am very interested in finding out what viewers discover on their own.”
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Try about the encounter. This year’s Sheffield Doc / Fest, which took place exclusively online due to the pandemic, dedicated a carefully curated retrospective to the filmmaker Lynne Sachs. This shows the community-creating moment of Sachs’ films, which are often the result of close collaborations – whether with family members, migrant communities or artistic companions like Barbara Hammer or Carolee Schneemann – especially under the restrictions of the pandemic: like the film critic Esther Buss argues, these films are always evidence of the ambivalence between ‘lonely’ art production on the one hand and shared experience on the other.
Lynne Sachs’ films usually begin with a tactile approach: touches with surfaces and textures of bodies, landscapes and fabrics – touches that always include or even affect the materiality of the image. Her most recent work, Film About A Father Who (2020) – the title refers to Yvonne Rainer’s 1974 film About a Woman Who… – begins with a close-up of two hands untangling the tangled white hair in a head of hair . Lynne Sachs cuts the hair of Ira Sachs, her father, who is over 80, the main character in the film and the center of gravity in a complex network of family relationships. From this concrete and symbolically legible entrance image, a fragmentary narrative unfolds that spans 35 years.
Between 1984 and 2019, Sachs repeatedly filmed his own father: a man who is still difficult to decipher for his family members to this day. A promiscuous hippie businessman who had the reputation of being “Hugh Hefner of Park City”, Ira Sachs, father of nine children from different women, is entirely a product of the 1960s. Sachs is only marginally concerned with the finding of a patriarchal order that was carried forward in a break with existing moral and sexual norms. The film About A Father Who is rather an attempt to decenter the enigmatic figure of the father in the form of a polyphonic, sometimes contradicting essay and to let it merge into a horizontal narrative of family connections. With every new memory, every new face, another mesh is woven in the fabric of the Sachs family, which has grown steadily over the course of the film. The result is a collage of different perspectives and voices, which also remains fragile on the level of the material. Grainy 8 and 16 mm images and muddy VHS line up with high-definition digital material, old and new recordings for interviews and home movies – a significant part of which was shot by Ira Sachs and Ira Sachs Jr., Lynne Sachs’ younger brother and filmmaker too. 
As part of Sheffield Doc / Fest, the film About A Father Who was shown to an international audience for the first time in early October. The documentary film festival, which took place exclusively online this year, also dedicated a carefully curated program of five films from 1994 to 2018 to Sachs. The selection focused on the term “translation”, with which Sachs is sometimes more, sometimes less explicit in her work (the first in The Task of the Translator, 2010, a film that answers Walter Benjamin’s essay of the same name with three body studies). What was meant was not just translating from spoken to visual language or transferring from a source to a target language.  The thematic bracket here was, in general, translation as a practice of encounter and communication and, connected to it, as an awareness of difference. There is a vivid picture of this in the film About A Father Who: The mother had mastered grammar, Sachs said in an interview with her siblings Dana and Ira. Everything was transparent, linear and in the right place, there were commas and points. The punctuation marks with the father, on the other hand, are exclamation marks and question marks.
The work of Lynne Sachs, born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1961 and trained at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she a. a. collaborated with artists such as Bruce Conner and Trinh T. Minh-Ha are hybrid structures. Since her first films, Drawn and Quartered and Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (both from 1987), which are strongly determined by Laura Mulvey’s feminist essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), she has made more than 30 mostly short and medium-length films. The aforementioned “encounter” is essential for Sachs’ artistic practice. Her films are often the result of close collaborations: for example with close or distant family members, migrant communities or artistic companions such as Barbara Hammer, Carolee Schneemann or Gunvor Nelson – she dedicated the film Carolee, Barbara and Gunvor to them in 2018.
As an experimental documentary filmmaker, Sachs always seeks the permeability of authorial authority and filmic subject. In relation to the concept of “fly on the wall” – the most invisible observer – that is decisive for US American direct cinema, she programmatically distanced itself: “As a documentary filmmaker, I am always reckoning with what it means to shoot ‘from the outside in ‘, using my camera to peer into the lives of people from other places, cultures, or communities. Honestly, it’s the foundation of the documentary paradigm that most disturbs me, “said the artist in an interview with the documentary film magazine Modern Times Review.  Sachs is always present in her films: as a body, as an off-voice, as a text. There are also fictional and performative elements.
Your Day is My Night (2013) and the film The Washing Society (2018), made in collaboration with playwright and director Lizzie Olesker, both provide insights into the undocumented cultural microcosms of New York, which has been Sachs ’hometown for many years. The subject of Your Day is My Night is a so-called shift-bed apartment in Chinatown – an apartment in which Chinese immigrants from the working class share a bed in layers (i.e. in coordination with their respective day and night jobs), sometimes over many years. With a precise and poetic eye for the economy of the rooms, Sachs portrays a household with seven residents, or rather ‘characters’, on the corner of Hester Street. In the form of autobiographical monologues and re-enacted conversations, these provide information about political upheavals and family separations, talk about exhausting journeys, fears and longings. In an abstract setting that looks like a theater room, the beds become a stage for a stylized body game. The camera touches lying, sleeping and stretching bodies in haptic movements.
The Washing Society is a document of the invisible work that has increasingly come into the public eye with the outbreak of Covid-19 ‘. The setting is in the laundromats that are increasingly being displaced by large laundries in urban areas. With a mixed cast of actresses and real laundresses, Sachs observes the repetitive gestures of reproductive work and gives a voice to the experiences of the predominantly African-American and Hispanic workers. The laundromat is increasingly contouring itself as a space in which underpaid work, racism and classicism become just as evident as solidarity and community. The historical anchor of the film is the eponymous “Washing Society”, an organization founded in 1881 by 20 African-American laundresses that fought for better working conditions. Looking at the remains of the washing process – the camera keeps pointing at an abject mixture of dust and hair – and the omnipresence of touch, Sachs also defines a moment of physical intimacy – “… there are still two hands … washing your skirt, your shirt, your socks, almost touching you, almost connecting with your skin. Another layer ”, it says from the off at the end.
A completely different touch takes place in A Month of Single Frames (2019), a 14-minute short film “made with and for Barbara Hammer”. Sachs processed the 8 and 16 mm film material that the pioneer of lesbian avant-garde cinema, who died in 2019, shot in the late 1990s during a month-long residency in a lonely hut with no electricity or running water on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. When Hammer began to organize her estate because of her progressive cancer, she handed the recordings over to her younger colleague with the invitation to make a film out of them. Sachs assembles tape recordings that she made in her studio shortly before the death of her mentor and on which she had them read from her Duneshack journal with Hammer’s pictures: recordings of insects, the barren vegetation in the dunes, of light reflections, shadow play and weather changes as well of banal everyday things that transform into lyrical objects when the camera looks at them. “I am overwhelmed by simplicity”, one hears Hammer say to the image of a shred of plastic film blowing in the wind. Another time she looks fascinated at a fly, in which she recognizes a miniature of the army helicopters patrolling the coast. Despite all the amazement, A Month of Single Frames is far from an essentialist view of nature. “Why is it I can’t see nature whole and pure without artifice?” Hammer wonders once. She experimented extensively with the possibilities of camera technology: for example, by slowing down the flow of film material to the point of taking individual images and playing with colored foils that throw colored lights in the sand or immerse the landscape in shimmering magenta. The most striking sign of the posthumous treatment by Sachs are the inserted text panels in which she addresses her girlfriend, who is both present and absent.
The ambivalence of isolation and, lonely ‘art production on the one hand, and shared experience on the other, could seldom be experienced as physically as in this film. A Month of Single Frames is a contemplation of nature, an homage to analog cinema and a testimony to a friendship between women without any claim to exclusivity, quite the opposite. The you in the film is always directed towards a counterpart who is invited to join together to form a community across social and geographical distances.  “You are alone” – “I am here with you in this film” – “There are others here with us” – “We are all together”.
Some of Lynne Sachs ‘films can be seen on her website: https://www.lynnesachs.com. A Film About A Father Who will soon be showing at various festivals, including Indie Memphis. The restrictions caused by the pandemic make online viewing possible.
Esther Buss works as a freelance film critic in Berlin. She writes u. a. for kolik.film, Jungle World, Der Tagesspiegel and Cargo. Last publication in: A story of its own: Women Film Austria since 1999, ed. by Isabella Reicher, Vienna 2020.
The seemingly seamless transition from the ‘other’ to one’s own language is repeatedly questioned by Sachs. In her Travelogue Which Way is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994) there are decidedly untranslated passages that make one aware of the linguistic difference. In this film, Sachs also works with Vietnamese parables, the translations of which remain puzzling.
When A Month of Single Frames was presented as part of the digital edition of the 66th Oberhausen Short Film Festival during the lockdown, its community-promoting message took on a larger dimension. The jury awarded the film the main prize.
Your Day is My Night (2014) was available for streaming through November 20th 2020 via the Pacific Film Archive. Preceded by two short films by Miko Revereza. https://bampfa.org/event/your-day-my-night Program curated by Kathy Geritz
Your Day Is My Night Lynne Sachs, United States, 2013 During the nineteenth century on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the working class often lived in crowded tenements; out of economic necessity, some shared beds, sleeping in shifts. Today in New York’s Chinatown, shift-bed apartments still exist, tiny rooms filled with mattresses on bunk beds and the floor. In Lynne Sachs’s hybrid documentary, the bed is the focus of both personal and political stories of seven Chinese immigrants. Autobiographical monologues—scripted from interviews—are intermixed with verité conversations and reflections on the details of daily life, awakening a unique understanding of Chinese immigration.
Disintegration 93–96 Miko Revereza, United States, 2017 The filmmaker, born in Manila, reflects on living illegally in the United States for over twenty years.
Distancing Miko Revereza, United States, 2019 As the filmmaker prepares to return to live in Manila, he recalls some of cinema’s other displaced persons.
Thursday, October 22, 7 PM PDT: Livestream conversation: Lynne Sachs and Miko Revereza
Join filmmakers Lynne Sachs and Miko Revereza for a live conversation with poet Paolo Javier. Access is included with rental of the streaming film program; you will receive an access link via email prior to the event.
48 Hills’ Dennis Harvey wrote on the program: “… More feature-oriented is Exit West: Immigration on Film, whose selections are mostly available through its entire span, though Nov. 20. They include Logbook_Serbistan, about the Middle Eastern and North African refugee waves that have washed ashore in Serbia; the similarly focused Those Who Jump, set in a Moroccan relocation camp; The Infiltrators, which pries open the well-guarded existence of undocumented immigrants held in a Florida detention center; and Lynne Sachs’ Your Day Is My Night, an impressionistic glimpse at Chinese emigres living in “shift-bed” situations (sharing their sleeping quarters on a prearranged schedule) on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.”
Sheffield Doc/Fest Director, Cíntia Gil is joined by director, Lynne Sachs to discuss her films and to take questions from the audience for a live Q&A.
Filmmaker Lynne Sachs, in conversation with Festival Director Cíntia Gil, discuss 5 films that form her Director’s Focus within the Ghosts & Apparitions strand and her upcoming international premiere of Film About A Father Who which screens as part of Doc/Fest in October. Lynne Sachs’ films explore the notion of translation as a poetic and political tool for widening the world. Together with the focus, Doc/Fest presents Sachs’ video lecture My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World, a fascinating journey through her themes and work.
Her films are currently available to watch on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects and Doc/Player through August 31, 2020:
The Last Happy Day, 2009, 37’ Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam in collaboration with Dana Sachs, 1994, 33’ Your Day Is My Night, 2013, 64’ The Washing Society, co-directed by Lizzie Olesker, 2018, 44’ A Month of Single Frames, made with and for Barbara Hammer, 2019, 14’
Lynne Sachs has always eluded easy labeling. Since her first short films in the late ’80s — the black-and-white character study Still Life With a Woman and Four Objects and the Laura-Mulvey-inspired observation on gendered bodies that is Drawn and Quartered — she’s eschewed traditional film grammar. She’s focused instead on capturing gestures, inches of skin, fragments of conversations, casual moments in time, personal memorabilia, and weaving them into unexpected patterns. This year, Sheffield Doc/Fest has celebrated Sachs with a long-overdue retrospective.
A recurring theme in Sachs’s filmography is the elliptical tension of translating spoken language into visual language. From her video travelogue of two clashing cultures in Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994) to the visual haiku of Sound of a Shadow (2010), she grounds her work in using aesthetics to decipher how people communicate. For Sachs, translation is frequently as much a vessel for encountering others as it is a tool to mold her films’ forms.
Two titles in the retrospective use this approach to give voice to the marginalized. The Washing Society (2018) documents both the contemporary and historical invisible labor in New York City laundromats, mostly performed by Black and brown women. Their repetitive gestures are performed in tempo to the words of the Atlanta black laundresses’ manifesto of 1881, and their unappreciated work is eventually exalted by artistic performances in the laundromats. Similarly, Your Day is My Night (2014) steps into the overcrowded apartments of immigrants in New York’s Chinatown. Their beds and common rooms are turned into stages on which they recount their pasts and talk about their current experiences. Sachs sublimes the personal into the theatrical.
Translation is more directly approached in Which Way Is East. Visiting her sister Dana in Vietnam, Sachs acts as both an outsider enchanted by the unfamiliar (while trying to avoid succumbing to Orientalist tropes) and a displaced explorer. She does not perceive her inability to speak Vietnamese as a barrier, even though communication would be arduous without Dana acting as an interpreter. Meanwhile, the peculiar The Last Happy Day (2009) explores the intricacies of the Sachs family genealogy. Sachs and her daughters peruse the letters of a distant cousin, Alexander Lenard, trying to piece his life together. The result is a fragmented series of floating imagery which gradually coheres into a portrait of an interesting man, a doctor who fought World War II and later translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin.
Sachs’s mentor and friend Barbara Hammer inhabits A Month of Single Frames (2019), her moving tribute to the late filmmaker’s work and inspiration. Some of Hammer’s personal materials were given to Sachs with absolute freedom regarding what form they would take in her hands. With fondness, she merges 16mm film shot by Hammer during an artist residency at Cape Cod in 1998 with a 2018 recording of Hammer reading excerpts from her journal. On-screen text sporadically appears to further dialogue with the source material, and perhaps Hammer herself as well. It is cinema as a conversation between generations, and between the living and the dead. Translation is not merely a utilitarian mediation for mutual understanding, but also a political act. Sachs embraces variegated renditions of filmic language, recording the world, digesting it, and offering it to viewers in its performative beauty.
From the cramped quarters of New York’s Chinatown where individual beds are rented, Your Day is My Night artfully brings hidden immigrants into the light. The film follows a handful of people from this close community, who each share their histories through monologues and conversations.
Though a shot of the reddish apartment with its fire escapes could have jumped out of Friends, this is a side of New York people rarely see. Here, the basic sanctuary of sleep feels claustrophobic and upside down; the title refers to the subjects’ nocturnal existences, while the opening shot shows someone sleeping, their eyes flickering against the daylight and blocking out the city.
Lynne Sachs utilises a tactile, emotive approach to best enhance the stories told. The speeches are refined to become potently poetic, but the reality still shines through in the way each voice cracks and pauses. Combining these with intimate performances of a person waking up, stretching and making their bed, one can feel the proximity of, for example, Huang, who either sleeps alone, or shares with his elderly father.
In the daylight, Huang tells of the closet he first stayed in when he arrived and of his passion for singing, performing at weddings with tunes he considers a “bridge to the homeland”. He reveals that after a bad experience he is scared of the subway, electing to remain in his small circle. As a new arrival from Puerto Rico joins the household, clumsy but endearing communication begins and phone calls in Spanish join the chorus of an already chattering kitchen.
Each person’s tale is brief but impactful, intercut with graceful set pieces and grainy footage that allows time to visualise, absorb and contemplate. Your Day is My Night is a cultural window with many dimensions, building empathy with viewers in this politically charged environment.
DIRECTOR: Lynne Sachs SYNOPSIS: “Shift-beds” are economic necessities in immigrant life. Strangers become confidants as the beds become a catalyst for storytelling, a stage for the collective experiences of Chinese immigrants.