Crucial Viewing / Cine-file by Kat Sachs

Crucial Viewing
February 17, 2023


Lynne Sachs x 2
Gene Siskel Film Center

Lynne Sachs’ FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO (US/Documentary) Review by Kat Sachs
Monday, 6pm

In Horace’s Odes, one among many texts where this sentiment endures, the Roman poet wrote, “For the sins of your fathers you, though guiltless, must suffer.” It’s hardly an esoteric dictum, but nevertheless it’s duly reflected in experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs’ wholehearted documentary portrait of her father, Ira Sachs Sr. Something of a longstanding work-in-progress, the film draws from decades of footage shot by Sachs, her father, and her filmmaker brother, Ira Sachs Jr. (whose own 2005 film FORTY SHADES OF BLUE was inspired by the same so-called “Hugh Hefner of Park City”), plus others, documenting not just the sybaritic “hippie-businessman” patriarch, but also his numerous descendants. Sachs’ knotty chronicle reveals that her father has a total of nine children with several different women, two of whom the other siblings found out about only a few years back. (The film opens with Sachs brushing her elderly father’s hair, working out a particularly unpleasant snarl. “Sorry, dad,” she says. “There’s just one part that’s very tangly.” The irony is faint and benevolent, but present even so.) Sachs considers the enveloping imbroglio from her own perspective, but also takes into account the viewpoints of her eight siblings, her father’s ex-wives (including her own mother) and girlfriends, plus Ira’s mother, a gracefully cantankerous old woman in a certain amount of denial over her son’s wanton predilections and the role she played in his dysfunction. FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO—the title an homage to Yvonne Rainer’s FILM ABOUT A WOMAN WHO…—is comprised of footage recorded between 1965 and 2019 and shot on 8mm, 16mm, VHS, Hi8, Mini DV, and digital; the fusion of all this material (by editor Rebecca Shapass) ranks among the most astounding use of personal archives that I’ve ever seen. It all exists in a state between documentary and home-movie footage, a paradigm that aptly reflects the conflict between reality and perspective, and the uncomfortable middle-ground that bisects the two. Sachs’ work often features her family, but this feels like an apotheosis of her autobiographical predisposition, likewise a question—why do the sins of the father linger?—and an answer. Among the most affecting scenes are roundtable discussions between the siblings where they consider revelations about their father and the implications of his actions. These scenes are heartrending not for their sadness, but rather for their naked honesty; it’s not just a film about a father who, but also a film about a love that defines a family. Sachs’ filmography is centered on infinite poetic quandaries (in voice over, she explores some of them here, such as when she muses on her father’s profession as a developer in Utah: “What happens when you own a horizon?”) and this feels like a logical conclusion to a lifetime of such profound impasses, though I’ve no doubt she’ll continue to probe life and its enigmas in a similarly masterful fashion. For all the suffering on display, Sachs has created an indelible work that, like those within it, perseveres by way of honesty and love. Followed by a post-screening conversation between Sachs and local filmmaker Lori Felker. (2020, 74 min, DCP Digital) [Kat Sachs]

Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker’s THE WASHING SOCIETY (US Documentary)
Thursday, 6pm

Much like filmmaker Lynne Sachs’ acclaimed 2013 documentary hybrid YOUR DAY IS MY NIGHT, THE WASHING SOCIETY, a medium-length quasi-documentary she co-directed with performer-playwright Lizzie Olesker, penetrates the hidden worlds that exist adjacent to us. Just as in YOUR DAY Sachs explored the circumstances of immigrants living in “shift-bed” apartments in New York City’s Chinatown, she and Olesker here probe the mysterious world of urban laundromats, where workers—often immigrants or those from similarly disenfranchised groups—take on a task that’s historically been outsourced, at least in some capacity—that of washing and folding peoples’ laundry. The historical evocation is literal; the film’s title and one of its recurring motifs refer to a real organization from the 1880s called the Washing Society, which started in Atlanta and was comprised of washerwomen (most of them Black) who came together to demand higher pay and opportunities for self-regulation. A young actor, Jasmine Holloway, plays one such laundress, reading from texts written by the organization and whose presence haunts the modern-day laundromats. Soon other ‘characters,’ both real and fictitious, take their places in this mysterious realm, hidden away in plain sight. Ching Valdes-Aran and Veraalba Santa (actors who, along with Holloway, impressed me tremendously) appear as contemporary laundromat workers, representing ethnicities that tend to dominate the profession. It’s unclear at first that Valdes-Aran and Santa are performing, especially as real laundromat workers begin to appear in documentary vignettes, detailing the trials and tribulations of their physically demanding job. The stories are different, yet similar, personal to the individuals but representative of a society in which workers suffer en masse, still, from the very injustices against which the Washing Society were fighting. The actors’ scenes soon veer into more performative territory, a tactic which Sachs deployed, albeit differently, in YOUR DAY IS MY NIGHT. Much like that film, the evolution of THE WASHING SOCIETY included live performances in real laundromats around New York City, some scenes of which, it would seem, are included in the film. There’s a bit of voiceover from Sachs, explaining the directors’ mission to go into many different laundromats, and from voice actors who read monologues that are tenuously connected to Valdes-Aran and Santa’s ‘characters.’ There are also visceral interludes involving accumulated lint that add another layer to the experimentation; there’s a bluntness to the filmmakers’ artistic ambitions, as with much of Sachs’ work, that makes the intentions discernible but no less effective. Sachs has previously employed egalitarian methods, such as considering the people she works with to be collaborators rather than subjects, cast, and crew. In a film about unseen labor, seeing that labor—notably in a self-referential scene toward the end in which a group of said collaborators prepare to exit a laundromat after shooting—is important. In light of what’s happening now, when so much essential labor is either coyly unseen or brazenly unacknowledged (or both), it’s crucial. Like the 1880s’ washerwoman, the victims (and, likewise, the combatants) of capitalism are ghosts that haunt us. Followed by a post-screening conversation between Sachs and Cine-File managing editor Kat Sachs. (2018, 44 min, Digital Projection) [Kat Sachs]

Screening as part of a shorts program entitled “A Collection & a Conversation,” which includes Sachs’ short films DRIFT AND BOUGH (2014, 6 min, Digital Projection); MAYA AT 24 (2021, 4 min, Digital Projection); VISIT TO BERNADETTE MAYER’S CHILDHOOD HOME (2020, 3 min, Digital Projection) and SWERVE (2022, 7 min, Digital Projection).

MANAGING EDITORS // Ben and Kat Sachs

CONTRIBUTORS // Rob Christopher, Maxwell Courtright, Steve Erickson, Marilyn Ferdinand, Raphael Jose Martinez, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Michael W. Phillips, Jr., Joe Rubin, Harrison Sherrod


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