“I Am Not A War Photographer” Reviews

Flavorpill Network Issue #346

Flavorpill is a weekly email magazine covering a hand-picked selection of cultural events.

I Am Not a War Photographer: Films of Lynne Sachs



Fri 1.26 – Sun 1.28 (7:30pm)

where: Anthology Film Archives (32 2nd Ave, 212.505.5181)

A reverie of war-torn terrains floats silently across an editing screen, accompanied by long-distance calls between an American journalist and a beleaguered Israeli. Children play in front of a television rolling out images of oddly abstracted battlegrounds. Herein lies the world of director Lynne Sachs, whose films splinter the typical structure of social-issue documentaries, applying an avant-garde sensibility to harsh realities that usually inspire stultifying over-earnestness. In this three-night series of screenings and talks about Sachs’ decade-long appraisal of war, what emerges most is that rare political filmmaker whose forms prove as worthy as her function.   – LR




“Committed Poetics”


For those who aren’t heading to the anti-war march in D.C. this weekend, Anthology Film Archives wouldn’t a bad place to pool some progressive bonhomie. Across three intimate evenings Brooklyn-based avant-documentarian Lynne Sachs presents her lapidary meditations on modern history, political strife, and moral engagement.

A staple of Gotham’s experimental scene, Sachs in recent months has been touring a set of featurettes plus shorts to numerous venues under the rubric “I Am Not a War Photographer,” besides helping organize the “For Life, Against the War” film happening at Collective Unconscious and shepherding a scholarly project charting the intersections of documentary and avant-garde film. Part of Sachs’ appeal as an artist is her collaborative orientation, co-authoring films with family or former students, and mobilizing teams of cultural activists for ad hoc initiatives.

Anthology’s series opens with a double bill of “Which Way Is East,” recording a journey to Viet Nam, with “Investigation of a Flame,” a remembrance of the Catonsville Nine, a group of American Catholics who memorably protested the U.S. war on Viet Nam. Impressionistic and at times diffuse, “Which Way Is East” is a minor work valuable autobiographically for considering the influence of Sachs’ former mentor Trinh T. Minh-Ha, but also for a possible submerged link with “The Delta,” the first feature by Sachs’ brother Ira, made close to the same time and involving a tormented half-Vietnamese character.

“Which Way Is East” gains from its pairing with “Investigation of a Flame,” a more cogent work that shows the filmmaker’s subject and her artistic approach to good effect. In the world-rocking month of May 1968, the seven men and two women who comprised the Catonsville Nine barged into a Maryland draft board office, seized scores of draft records, and on the lawn outside, incinerated the heap with homemade napalm, mixed from the army’s own manuals. As cameramen shot the black-and-white footage Sachs weaves into her film, the dignified radicals shared words of resistance and simply waited for the fuzz to show up.

Sachs takes this performative civil disobedience and refracts it through present-day interviews, not only with the Nine but also the indignant government secretary whose office they rifled and ordinary Catonsville townsfolk of varied sympathies. Gently the film broaches the price for this act of defiance-months in federal prison for most, and for one, years spent underground, evading her sentence. But for Daniel and Philip Berrigan, among other survivors, that flame still dances even in their winter years. The film succeeds in making the group’s valor palpable, and their example genuinely stirring.

The final program on Sunday presents “States of UnBelonging,” Sachs’ most recent long work, and perhaps her best to date. Like Capote called to Kansas by a chance item in the Times, Sachs discovers her subject reading the newspaper, when she notices a November 2002 report on Revital Ohayon, a young mother slain with her two sons by a Palestinian assailant on a kibbutz in northern Israel. Without delay, Sachs is emailing and phoning her former student Nir Zats, an Israeli citizen, recruiting him as proxy and assigning him to learn everything about Ohayon, her family, and circumstances of the murders.

Like Sachs, Ohayon was a filmmaker, a mother of two, a wife, middle class, Ashkenazi, independent of mind, liberal of outlook, and in the flower of life at the moment of her killing. Yet Sachs quickly pushes beyond facile recognition, interrogating her own desire to see, to know, with questions about the responsibility of undertaking to reconstruct Ohayon’s life and of attempting to address its social contexts from half a world away. At length Ohayon’s husband, brother, and mother enter the film, adding complex and surprisingly unsentimental shadings. Her mother tells how Revital deplored the Palestinians’ dispossession; her brother implies her move to the kibbutz, hard by the Green Line, expressed a willful, imprudent idealism.

After much vacillating, Sachs books her first-ever trip to Israel and meets Ohayon’s widower Avi in person. Well before that point, however, Sachs brings the war back home, pasting unsettling images onto the TV screen in her Brooklyn living room, where her daughters play. Once tuned in, the conflict won’t be tuned out-they can channel-surf for days, but the palimpsest of “other” families destroyed by war haunts the bohemian sanctuary. We come to realize that, in a sense, these images and their corresponding realities have been there all along, waiting to be perceived.

©GayCityNews 2007



Jan. 19, 2007
“The Reluctant War Photographer”

Review of I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER  by George Robinson in The Jewish Week


The documentary can trace its history back to the very beginning of cinema, and its more than a century of existence has taken many forms. In the past 25 years there has been a very fruitful intersection between documentary and the diary film favored by many experimental filmmakers. Although Ross McElwee is probably the best-known practitioner of this hybrid, he’s far from the only director working this field. Lynne Sachs, whose recent works are on display at Anthology Film Archives January 26-28, is one of the most capable of these filmmakers, although even less of a household name than McElwee.

Sachs’s name may be familiar to Jewish Week readers. The DVD containing her “A Biography of Lilith” was reviewed here a couple of years ago and her most recent film, “States of UnBelonging” was one of the most overlooked films of 2006. That film, a powerful rumination on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the final film in the Anthology series.

Ravital Ohayon was a promising young filmmaker and mother of two, living in a kibbutz on the border of the West Bank. One night a single terrorist came into her home and, while her husband listened in horror on the other end of the phone, shot all three. That incident is the jumping-off point for “States of UnBelonging,” an unconventional meditation on terror, family, Israel’s security barrier and the Middle East. Structured as a dialogue between Sachs (in Brooklyn) and Nir Zats, an Israeli filmmaker and former student of hers, this haunting hour-long film traces the aftermath of Ohayon’s death, the reactions of her husband, brother and mother, and the developments in Israeli politics in the three years since.

“It’s a film about being caught in the vortex of war,” Sachs said last fall. “It’s my fourth film about the connection between war and the creative process. I didn’t intend to make four of these but it happens.” Unfortunately, war happens, so the subject keeps coming back. But creation happens too and, as Sachs notes, “States” is also about “what is it to be a mother and an artist and a teacher.” The result is surprisingly beautiful, like the embattled countryside it depicts.

Not surprisingly, the title of the Anthology series, “I Am Not a War Photographer,” addresses Sachs’s ambivalence quite directly. The other films in the series take us to contemporary Vietnam and revisit the anti-war movement and offer a grim look at the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Perhaps the most interesting work in the program is a series of short studies for Sachs’s next major project, retelling the story of her Hungarian cousin, Sandor Lenard, who survived the Second World War, served as an anthropologist with the US Army’s Graves Registry unit and finally fled to the jungles of Brazil.

War, creativity, beauty — it’s a depressingly frequent concatenation, but Sachs makes it sing without glorifying death, and that is what makes her films so compelling.

“I Am Not a War Photographer: Films of Lynne Sachs” will be presented at Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Avenue at 2nd St.) Friday, January 26 – Sunday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. Sachs will present all three nights to introduce and discuss the films. For information, phone 212-505-5181 or go to www.anthologyfilmarchives.org .



Stuart Klawans Review in The Nation of I AM NOT A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER

The Sachs series, titled “I Am Not a War Photographer,” runs January 26-28 and focuses on her meditative, essayistic films about armed conflict: in Israel and Palestine, in the former Yugoslavia and in Vietnam. Among the works to be shown are States of Unbelonging (made in collaboration with Nir Zats), an uneasy exchange of video-letters about murder, mourning and filmmaking on the edge of the

West Bank; Which Way Is East (made in collaboration with Dana Sachs), an expressively beautiful diary of a trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi; and Investigation of a Flame, a montage of interviews, archival footage and symbolic imagery that gives density and weight to contemporary recollections of 1968 and the Catonsville Nine protest, in which antiwar activists seized and burned Selective Service records.