A Month of Single Frames – Sheffield Doc/ Fest 2020 Review

by Robert Salsbury
June 25, 2020
One Room With A View

In 2018, one year before she passed away, the influential feminist filmmaker Barbara Hammer revisited a project she had worked on 20 years prior, compiled over the course of a month while living in one of Princeton’s Dune Shacks. In this short film created in collaboration with experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs, we are immersed in Hammer’s observations from the dunes through film, writing, and photography.

The film is structured around Hammer reading from her 1998 diary while images from her month of seclusion capture the biodiversity of the sand dunes. The result is an incredibly potent study of life in all its many forms and the difficulty of facing one’s own mortality. As Hammer looks back on her younger self, layers of memory cascade over each other as the images of the sand dunes slide together to form a compelling montage of the natural world.

Sachs deliberately contrasts Hammer’s shots of the gorgeous sun-dappled ridges with her close-ups of plants and insects, setting the grand majesty of the world against its delicate minutiae to form a rich tapestry of life among the banks. Crucially, the film never feels manufactured or over-structured. Sachs successfully maintains the feeling of an off-the-cuff journal that captures Hammer’s ideas as they come to her. We hear conversations between the two filmmakers discussing the footage and the diary extracts, helping to build up the idea that the production is a spur of the moment thing.

At the beginning of the film, Hammer reads from her diary “I didn’t shoot it, I saw it,” and it is this feeling of spontaneous observation and meditation that Sachs manages to recapture so successfully here. Gorgeous timelapses of the sun rising and falling over the dunes form a soothing document of the beauty of seclusion, while Hammer’s narration makes this a touching memorial.


CAST: Barbara Hammer, Lynne Sachs
DIRECTOR: Lynne Sachs
SYNOPSIS: Barbara Hammer looks back on a project from 1998 in which she spent a month in the Princeton sand dunes observing nature and reflecting on her life.