I’ve never been much of a documentary watcher. When I go to see films, I prefer a personal narrative amidst the social commentary. I feel that quite often, documentaries lose site of the individual in their search for overarching truth. However, I was fortunate enough to have my earlier prejudice corrected after I saw a unique view into humanity by Lynne Sachs at her presentation, “I am Not a War Photographer.”
The two-and-a-half year correspondence between two friends, one based in New York and the other in Israel, makes up the bulk of Lynne Sachs’ (Investigation of a Flame, NYUFF 2002) personal documentary States of UnBelonging. Exchanging letters, emails and phone calls, Sachs and her Israeli friend Nir Zats work together to uncover and record the story of Revital Ohayon, an Israeli filmmaker and mother senselessly killed in a terrorist attack in the West Bank. With nothing much to go on but a newspaper clipping and a name, Sachs and her friend reveal the story of Ohayon’s life through footage from her own films, television news reports, and finally the amazing discovery of a home video of Ohayon’s children in preschool, just before she was killed.
Of all the literary formats, the essay, perhaps, seems the least suited to cinematic adaptation; with its intensely personal nature and often rambling paragraphs, it appears to elude the sort of tight structural discipline demanded of a coherent piece of film. All of which makes Lynne Sachs’ achievement all the more impressive: Here is a cine-essay, maintaining all the benefits of the original format while adhering to the demands of the visual. At the heart of the film is Sachs’ two-year exchange of letters and pictures with her Israeli friend Nir Zats, an exchange that begins when Revital Ohayon, an Israeli filmmaker and mother, is killed in a terrorist attack on her kibbutz near the West Bank.
In her new film, Investigation of a Flame, experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs returns to May 1968, as the U.S. under Lyndon Johnson grew increasingly embroiled in Vietnam, and sentiment about the war was decidedly split. The film opens with a volatile mix of footage showing Johnson addressing the nation, shots of American troops carrying injured soldiers, and home-movie footage of teenage boys.
She’s got the surviving protestors down on film, Philip and Daniel Berrigan among them; and she’s got other interested parties too, including the district attorney who prosecuted the Nine and one of the jurors who convicted them. The juror weeps now, out of respect for their courage.