Tag Archives: film about a father who

“Film About a Father Who” Reviews on Letterboxd

https://letterboxd.com/film/film-about-a-father-who/

An intensely personal documentary in the mode of ‘Must Read After My Death’ and ‘Stories We Tell’ — the hook here being that director Lynne Sachs has evidently been making this film for decades. That fact proves to be the secret sauce that most distinguishes ‘Film About a Father Who’ from other self-reflexive docs about a filmmaker’s own family. ‘FAAFW’ is assembled from snatches of time, way-stations on a lifelong journey to unravel a mystery in the form of a person. It’s not a straight line from nagging questions to satisfying answers, but a swirling impression of what it’s like to live in the shadow of those questions. As Garrett Bradley’s ‘Time’ demonstrated so beautifully last year, scrambling chronology can be more than a structural choice — it can reflect and enhance the feature’s themes, as it does here.

Time keeps slipping back and forth in ‘FAAFW’, which can be (perhaps glibly) described as Sachs’ attempt to vivisect her father Ira Sachs Sr.’s complicated story. Particularly his habit of settling down briefly with a woman, having a child or two, and then moving on to a new wife or girlfriend (or two). Some of these children had no inkling that the others even existed. (“Fucker’s settin’ up franchises,” Brad-Pitt-as-Tyler-Durden once snarked.)

In the end, Sachs doesn’t stumble onto any grand, penetrating conclusions about her family, her father, or about why exactly Ira Sr. has elected to live the life he has. The film’s most salient psychological observations about the elder Sachs seem to emerge organically from the director’s interviews and roundtables with her numerous half-siblings. There’s no summary statement at the end, just questions about the meaning of love and family, and about whether it’s ever possible to understand another human being — even our own parents.

Which is for the best, really. Indeed, one of the most appealing things about ‘FAAFW’ is its refusal to offer easy answers. There’s a definite sensation that the film is — and will always remain — unfinished, which feels like a bold statement in and of itself. Sachs could (and may) continue to unearth old footage and record new footage, but she might not get any closer to understanding her father. As much as anything else, she seems to have made this film to document her viewpoint and that of her extended family, to catalog the ever-expanding ripples initiated by her father’s often questionable choices. The only constant is that there seems to be no end to the revelations.

The feature’s strong sense of stasis despite the march of time is what evoked Bradley’s film for me, and it manifests in the way ‘FFAFW’ flits across thousands of miles and decades of time. While the film roughly follows the chronological birth order of Ira Sr.’s many children, it also skips around a lot, drawing from a wealth of 8mm, 16mm, video, and digital footage. It’s the 90s. No, it’s the 00s. No, it’s the 10s. There are three siblings, then five, then seven. It is then and it is now and Dad is Dad, graying and slowing but somehow unchanged and still unknowable. Perhaps, ‘FAAFW’ ponders, we are all mysteries to one another.”

– Andrew Wyatt 


Film About a Father Who, Lynne Sachs’ family self-portrait, opens with a shot of the documentarian brushing her father’s hair. Her gentle combing is then disrupted by a knot that won’t detangle. Sachs fights it, nervously laughing as she does, but refusing to give up. It’s a scene so personal, the act of grooming your own parent, but Sachs makes the audience aware that even in tenderness there is pain.

More from my Austin Chronicle review here. –

Jenny Nulf


Full Review at In Review Online

Film About A Father Who is Lynne Sachs’ latest, and evidently most personal, feat of documentation. Patched together from various conversations and intimate moments inked on 16mm film, camcorder tapes, and digital masters — cleverly staggered to disrupt any linear timeline, and, by extension, any discernible narrative sequence — the film traverses the emotional interstices passed down by an absent father who radiates a kindly, domesticated charm in our first glimpses at him. This towheaded wayfarer is Ira Sachs Sr., a self-styled refusenik liable to one-time flings that conveniently fall within his orbit — affable though he may be, but waning in physique. This impression of the man — when contrasted with preceding home movie clippings, depicting scenes of play and hiking vignettes, tinselled in noise and unnaturally variegated — seems to complicate an expected narrative of old-age sentimentalism.”

–  Nicholas Yap


A daughter explores her feelings about, the biographical landmarks and the explosion of family begotten by her father in Film About a Father Who, a free-flowing documentary whose title might lack the literal ellipsis that is nevertheless implied. For here is director Lynne Sachs, a veteran experimental filmmaker, reflecting upon exactly who her father, Ira Sachs Sr., is, and, more importantly, how she came to understand the who, when and why of his legacy. This is remarkably candid about a man who is, in many ways, anything but candid.

See my full review at Spectrum Culture.
– Joel Copling


“I’m happy to feel an affinity for Lynne Sachs and I would like to say for now she is my favourite filmmaker. film about a father who was an exquisite hodgepodge about an elusive father and an even more elusive maw maw, told by the 7 children and former partners of ira (this was my granddads name too) very intimate storytelling, and ugh the scenes shot on film in the meadows, with maw maw in repose staring into light, the shots of children like held against their will by sachs in front of the camera, i really enjoyed and it was visually a beautiful viewing experience. i loved that at every stage of mature life sachs was there with a camera carving out this picture for audiences of complete strangers who could be equally intrigued by her father as she is, and the embarssment and awkwardness that comes from the outside inqiuiry into this man, and then the children who had to live with the repercussions of their dad’s lifestyle. loved a lot”
– ‘uglymother’


Watched in my Documentary Traditions II class at NYU. Sachs was in attendance and gave a Q&A after the screening.

An excerpt from an essay I wrote comparing the film to The Grand Bizarre:

“[T]he footage in Film About A Father Who is often of a kind we’re used to seeing in documentaries – archival home videos, interviews, ect. What’s unconventional is the achronological way in which the footage is stitched together. […] Sachs’s sound design […] is absolutely vital to her film’s success. It frames the entire project almost as a memory or a dream – getting at the nostalgia inherent in Sach’s central premise. This nostalgic quality cuts some of the darker emotional stretches of the film and keeps them from overwhelming everything else.

[…]

In class, Sachs described the structure of her film as ambiguity followed by clarity. If this was the intention, the film’s ending fails to achieve it. The clarity Sachs describes simply never arrives. Her film is an incredibly thoughtful and stimulating one, but I can’t honestly say that I left it with a greater understanding of who her father is […] Intent aside, an argument could certainly be made that the film is stronger this way, provoking the audience to think without supplying an answer. The problem, however, is that this lack of resolution doesn’t feel graceful in context. The film simply ends.”

– Burt Reynolds


Director Lynne Sachs’ documentary “Film About a Father Who” poses an intriguing question about fathers and their children — and whether the child can ever truly know what is going on in their parent’s head.

Sachs tries to make sense of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., through footage accumulated for 35 years, from home movies in 1984 to interviews taken from the ‘90s to now. The footage spans all formats, from 8mm and 16mm film to VHS, Hi-8 and digital. The different formats serve as historical markers, and also showing how intimate the moments become, with the older film more formal and the tape and digital cameras becoming less obtrusive and more ubiquitous, to the point where people act like they’re not there.

Read the full review at The Movie Cricket: moviecricket.net/sundance-2020/2020/1/24/slamdance-review-a-daughter-tries-to-figure-out-her-father-in-thoughtful-enigmatic-film-about-a-father-who

– Sean P. Means


This film isn’t therefore about righting wrongs, but exposing facts Ira kept locked away. Lynne Sachs captures it with immense compassion.
my full review at The Film Stage and archived 

– Jared Mobarak

Croatia’s Vox Feminae Festival to Screen “Film About a Father Who”

Full Festival Line-Up: https://voxfeminae.net/festival/

About Vox Feminae Festival: 
Vox Feminae Festival is an international festival held annually, since 2007, in Zagreb, Croatia.

Vox Feminae Festival was founded with the aim to promote and increase the visibility of women’s artistic achievements through the international competition film program, exhibitions and performances as well as workshops and educational content.

Vox Feminae Festival presents and rewards films of all genres, and topics include gender equality, women’s creativity, and achievements, non-stereotypical gender roles and relationships, as well as feminist and LGBTIQ themes. Vox Feminae Festival especially encourages submission and presentation of the biography films that celebrate women who made significant contributions to the society in the fields of culture, politics, science, human rights, and art.

Vox Feminae Festival is organized by non-profit organization Expanse of Gender and Media Culture ‘Common Zone’ that provides innovative cultural and gender patchwork.


Vox Feminae Festival 
May 23, 2021
Sunday, 23.05.2021 // Kino Tuškanac // 9:00 PM
https://voxfeminae.net/festival/vff-2021/film-about-a-father-who/

Film About a Father Who

From 1984 to 2019, Lynne Sachs shot film of her father, a bon vivant and pioneering businessman. This documentary is her attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to her siblings. With a nod to Cubist renderings of a face, Sachs’ exploration offers simultaneous, sometimes contradictory, views of one seemingly unknowable man who is publicly the uninhibited center of the frame yet privately ensconced in secrets. As the startling facts mount, Sachs as a daughter discovers more about her father than she had ever hoped to reveal.

Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker and poet living in Brooklyn, New York. Lynne has made 37 films, including features and shorts, which have screened, won awards or been included in retrospectives.

Maysles: “Film About a Father Who” Collaborators Panel

Saturday, April 3, 2021
https://www.maysles.org/calendar/2021/4/2/film-about-a-father-who

A PANEL DISCUSSION BETWEEN LYNNE SACHS (DIRECTOR), REBECCA J SHAPASS (EDITOR), STEPHEN VITIELLO (MUSIC AND SOUNDSCAPE), KEVIN T ALLEN (SOUND COLLAGE AND MIX), AND RACHEL ROSHEGER (ANIMATION AND CREDITS) WILL TAKE PLACE ON SATURDAY, APRIL 3 AT 4PM EST. MODERATED BY EMILY APTER AND INNEY PRAKASH.

“Our conversation will look at the way that films can be made with collaborators who bring their own vision and insight to a project. Dialogue with each of these people was critical to the making of my film, providing challenges to my own assumptions about working with and beyond reality. These four people pushed me to think in new ways about my own process and intention in the editing, sound and graphic design that were so much a part of the making of Film About a Father Who.” — Lynne Sachs

In Their Own League – Interview with Lynne Sachs

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR LYNNE SACHS
In Their Own League 
March 30, 2021
By Joan Amenn 
https://intheirownleague.com/2021/03/30/exclusive-interview-with-director-lynne-sachs/

Following my review of her latest, “Film About a Father Who” (2020) which I saw as part of her exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, I sat down with Lynne to dive deeper into this poignant and revealing film.

Going through all this footage, was it ever just too painful? Did you ever think I need to walk away from this”?

In a sense, every film I made since ’91 is a walk away from this film. For example, I made a film with my sister in 1994 called “Which Way is East?” She was living in Vietnam as a journalist. In the early ‘90’s she was one of the first journalists to be there and I went there with her to kind of understand the Vietnam War from the perspective of Vietnamese people. It’s very much from that of two sisters, two women, what we notice. It’s definitely not from a former soldier who is going back to Vietnam would notice. That film was made and finished in ’94 and it was a run to my sister but away from the Dad film. I actually started that film as a triptych, “Film About a Father Who,” that was about the ways that you can know about another person. I made this film that was about my Dad, and then I made a film about a woman who was a filmmaker and a mother who lived in Israel and how her life got wrapped up in the violence of the Middle East. She was a total stranger but ..I felt a connection to her.  So, I made that film called “States of Unbelonging.” And then I made a film about a relative of mine. I never met him but during WWII he lived in Europe, in Rome specifically. He was a doctor and he reconstructed the bodies of dead American soldiers. I called it “cosmetic surgery” and it was all about his letters. He was kind of connected to me but also a stranger.

So, there were these three degrees of how you can know another person and you would think the one about my father would be the easiest but it was hardest because it was painful, there was shame. There was an inability to find distance, and also even aesthetically I would look at film footage that I had shot all through the ‘90’s and the Aughts, I would look at the mediums and not like it, it didn’t look as good! I would be very judgmental of it. Until I had this flip, which you articulated very well, this is the skin and the texture of that era, so why not celebrate it? I made “States of Unbelonging” in 2005 and the film about my cousin was called “The Last Happy Day” in 2009 so I kept doing other things because it felt more possible and less intimidating.

I noticed that in your ending credits, you suggested the diagramming of a sentence?  Maybe I read too much into that.

Oh, yes! Oh, yes-you got it! I did a lot of diagramming in junior high school…I thought that they had stopped teaching diagramming because my daughters never learned it which I thought was a shame. But my editor assistant, Rebecca has a very good friend of hers who does animation, went to an all-girl Catholic school and at least in 2010 let’s say, they were teaching diagramming. When I said to the two of them I want my credits to be this ambiguous play between a family tree and diagramming, because both of those are sort of structuring devices we can use to introduce people to relationships.. [the animator] got it…I don’t think she had ever done credits before but she had done animation. In my mind I was so insistent that it had to be something like that and she just got it and she went way beyond what I ever expected…The thing is I could have made my life a lot easier in this film if I had a family tree early. I could have eliminated the mystery, my mystery, my confusion. If I gave you a family tree than you would get clarity like that! I didn’t want that and I didn’t really care at all if you would finish this film and you would know…you would probably know that I’m the oldest. You didn’t have to know the order of everything else because things were more associative and I didn’t want it to be so rigid that way. I wanted it to be more amorphous and for you to keep asking questions, even about your own family.

…This brings up something I’ve never talked to anyone about in relation to “Film About a Father Who” which is, this is a film about a parent. I’m a mother. Everybody writes about this film being about a daughter but it’s really a film about a parent. Actually, maybe more because I didn’t understand all the responsibilities of being a parent, I didn’t understand the expectations, the complexities of how you live your life in relation to these other people. And the idea that you leave an imprint. I realize in talking to you, that I couldn’t finish it until I had become a parent because that allowed me to move into this other zone, not exclusively being a daughter. I could handle a lot more once I had my children and once I knew how much guilt is involved in being a parent; like, did I make the wrong decision? Maybe my Dad didn’t have that superego that said, “Don’t do that, that’s going to make your child feel bad!”

Were almost out of time, so whats next?

Oh, that’s a fun question! Well, I have been spending a lot of time on the distribution of the film. It’s distributed through Cinema Guild. I’m a filmmaker more than a director so because of that I’m used to traveling…I like talking to the audiences. Sometimes I do workshops, I try to put together shows in little storefronts… but we’re not doing that now. Working with my distributor has been a lot of work and pleasure. What a treat that’s been! I’ve also probably made around four or five short films since the pandemic. They’re all plays between sound and image. For example, I made a film which was a commission for a film festival in Spain called Punto de Viste which is a super interesting film festival in Pamplona. They asked ten filmmakers around the world to make a film and they gave us each 400 Euros, which is enough to make a digital film. The film was supposed to be a letter to a filmmaker who had been important to us who was no longer alive. I chose Jean Vigo, he made “Zero for Conduct” (1933) and “L’Atalante” (1934) and he was a filmmaker in the 1930’s. He only made three films but he is very beloved to people in the experimental and documentary film world. His film “Zero for Conduct” is 45 minutes and it’s about boys in a boarding school, who take over the boarding school. It’s very anti-authoritarian. They’re very adorable, and feisty and crazy and it’s all about childhood anarchy in the 1930’s. It’s a great film. On January 6th, when the rioters broke into the Capitol and the violence ensued, I started to think about when playing becomes dangerous. I made this short film as a letter to John Vigo but it uses footage from the January 6th breach. I also cut it into a film that Peter Brook made, “Lord of the Flies” (1963). In “Lord of the Flies” you see these boys that have landed on this island and they become very violent. They endanger one another and themselves so that space between beautiful anarchy and violence was interesting, so I made that film. I don’t think short films are calling cards to the big ones. I like making films of all lengths… so it has been kind of exhilarating. I [also] have a big project that has something to do with Ida B. Wells. It’s a collaboration with a friend of mine who teaches African American studies. Ida B. Wells was a journalist who researched lynching. She comes from Memphis which is where I come from so there are stories I want to explore related to her life.

DCTV presents “Film About a Father Who” and a conversation between Kat Sachs & Lynne Sachs

“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.- Kat Sachs, Cine-File Read Kat Sachs’ full review of “Film About a Father Who” on cine-file

“Film About a Father Who” will be available in DCTV’s virtual cinema through April 22, 2021. Get your tickets HERE!


DCTV Presents
Film About a Father Who

http://news.dctvny.org/q/qNMm2XG6IICrU7XrJvrXOH-ShggvU1FW-_KmRmP-9Vd8NfhQo66wtOeF6

Dir. Lynne Sachs / 2021

“Sachs has created an indelible work that, like those within it, perseveres by way of honesty and love.” — Kat Sachs, Cine-File

Over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, filmmaker Lynne Sachs shot 8 and 16mm film, videotape and digital images of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah. Film About a Father Who is her attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to her siblings.

With a nod to the Cubist renderings of a face, Sachs’ cinematic exploration of her father offers simultaneous, sometimes contradictory, views of one seemingly unknowable man who is publicly the uninhibited center of the frame yet privately ensconced in secrets. Sachs allows herself and her audience to see beneath the surface of the skin, beyond the projected reality. As the startling facts mount, she discovers more about her father than she had ever hoped to reveal.

This online rental in DCTV’s Virtual Cinema includes a Q&A with film critic Ela Bittencourt, as well as an exclusive Q&A with Director Lynne Sachs and Cine-File’s Kat Sachs, where Lynne Sachs looks fondly back to her first film class at DCTV. We’re so honored to be able to continue to support and share her work. This film is not to be missed! Watch >

https://cinemaguild.vhx.tv/checkout/film-about-a-father-who-dctv/purchase

National Gallery of Art Hosts “Family Constructs: New Films by Lynne Sachs” Online through March 9

National Gallery of Art
Family Constructs: New Films by Lynne Sachs
https://www.nga.gov/film-programs/family-constructs-new-films-by-lynne-sachs.html
Curated by Peggy Parsons and Joanna Raczynska.

Streaming now through March 9

Working alone and with various collaborators over the course of 35 years, Lynne Sachs has developed a body of work deeply invested in a range of interwoven personal and ethical subjects. Using all types of media, from 8mm and 16mm film to HD files, her rigorous explorations in sound and image investigate ideas of family, mythology, portraiture, political resistance, feminism, war, and the quotidian. A poet, educator, collage artist, and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, Sachs has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts (2014), among many other awards. In January 2021, the Museum of the Moving Image organized a major retrospective of her film work. Here, two recent shorts accompany her latest feature, Film About a Father Who . . ., each reflecting features of the artist’s family.

Girl Is Presence

Lynne Sachs has collaborated numerous times with other filmmakers, writers, and performers in her fertile pursuit of a very personal cinematic language. Made with writer Anne Lesley Selcer, and grounded in a domestic sphere during the COVID-19 pandemic, the new short Girl Is Presence features Sachs’s own daughter Noa carefully sifting through and rearranging curious objects while Selcer recites lines from her poem Sun Cycle. (2020, 4 minutes)


Film About a Father Who . . .

Over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, Lynne Sachs recorded 8mm and 16mm film, analogue videotape, and digital images of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah. Ostensibly a documentary portrait of a parent, Film About a Father Who . . . reveals as much, or more, about patriarchal silences and omissions than about the subject himself, who remains enigmatic throughout. “My father has always chosen the alternative path in life, a path that has brought unpredictable adventures, nine children with six different women, brushes with the police, and a life-long interest in trying to do some good in the world.” It is also a film about the complex dynamics that conspire to create a family. (2020, 74 minutes)


A Year of Notes and Numbers

Silently accumulated handwritten to-do lists and notes to herself become evidence of the filmmaker’s relationship with family, friends, and herself over a limited period of time. These fragments of text and direction on scraps of paper and yellow Post-it notes form an abstract storytelling device—like a personal poem or storyboard for an experimental film. (2016, 4 minutes)

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: “Film About a Father Who” Review

New Documentary “Film About a Father Who” Explores Intriguing Family Dynamics
March 3, 2021
By Mary Magsamen
https://www.mfah.org/blogs/inside-mfah/film-about-father-who-explores-intriguing-family-dynamics

For filmmaker Lynne Sachs, the action of reflecting, recording, and editing a film about her family produces a pretty crazy personal narrative: the new documentary feature Film About a Father Who.

Dynamic Story
Exploring the contradictions and melodrama of her own family, Sachs created her film from footage she has been assembling since 1984, weaving together a visually textural film about her father and siblings with honesty and openness. Her talent is visible because she makes it all look so easy. For film enthusiasts, it is noteworthy that Sachs takes inspiration for the film’s title from the avant-garde 1974 feature Film About a Woman Who.

Sachs’s father, Ira Sachs, Sr.—a colorful personality and resident of Park City, Utah—made a living as a hotel developer and enjoyed partying with women on and off the ski slopes. He fathered nine children by five women, creating this dynamic story.

Complicated Interactions
I had the pleasure of seeing this film at the Slamdance Film Festival, a more-independent alternative to the Sundance Film Festival, both of which take place in Park City, Utah—clearly the right place to premiere this film. I love Film About a Father Who because it demonstrates the director’s filmmaking skills as she unfolds decades of complicated family interactions, particularly with her father. Family can bring out the worst in us, but for the Sachs family, it seems to knit them together, even if uncomfortably.

I asked Lynne about the feedback she has gotten from audiences.

“After watching my film, a man exactly my age wrote to me from Oklahoma to say that he wanted to share the story of his relationship with his mother, and his discovery of adult siblings he had never known. I have had so many conversations with people who told me that their experience of watching my film gave them insight into their own thinking about the imprint of our parents on all of us as children.” —Lynne Sachs

• Film About a Father Who / WATCH HERE Your ticket ($12) supports the MFAH and provides a 3-day pass to the film. SEE THE TRAILER

About the Author
Mary Magsamen is the curator at Aurora Picture Show and an artist who works in collaboration with her husband, Stephan Hillerbrand, as Hillerbrand+Magsamen.

Cineaste: “Film About a Father Who”

Film About a Father Who (Web Exclusive)
Cineaste
Reviewed by Darragh O’Donoghue
Spring 2021
https://www.cineaste.com/spring2021/film-about-a-father-who

Produced, written and directed by Lynne Sachs; cinematography by Lynne Sachs, Ira Sachs Sr., and Ira Sachs Jr.; edited by Rebecca Shapass; music by Stephen Vitiello; sound collages by Kevin. T. Allen; featuring Ira Sachs Sr., Lynne Sachs, Dana Sachs, Ira Sachs Jr., Diane Sachs, and Rose Sachs. Color, 74 min. A Cinema Guild release.

As the British say about buses, you wait ages for an experimental film about an aging patriarch by his daughter, then two come along at once.

In October 2020, Netflix dropped Dick Johnson Is Dead, wherein long-time documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson confronted her retired father’s dementia and mortality by staging elaborate tableaux of his imagined death, involving angels, heaven, funeral services, and missiles falling from the sky. By continually casting her father in these fantasy scenarios, Johnson hoped to postpone his real and inevitable death—and, by the end of the film at least, had succeeded in doing so.

Three months later, Lynne Sachs’s Film About a Father Who was also released virtually. It too centers on a charismatic older man in physical and mental decline. Kirsten Johnson is the co-parent of twins with Lynne’s filmmaker brother Ira, so presumably Lynne knew all about Dick Johnson Is Dead when she was making her own work. Still, it still must have been a little galling to see her three-and-a-half-decades-long project eclipsed by a film that was not only released on the world’s biggest moving image distribution service, but also widely featured and reviewed in the press, culminating in a place on many best film of the year lists, such as Sight & Sound’s, where it ranked number six.

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Filmmaker Lynne Sachs with her father Ira Sachs Sr., the subject of her documentary.

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Kirsten Johnson’s Dick Johnson is Dead, about her father, appeared a few weeks before Sachs’s film (Kirsten Johnson with Dick Johnson).

That said, even had Film About a Father Who been released first, or without Dick Johnson Is Dead as competition, it would not necessarily have attained that film’s visibility or reach. This is partly due to Sachs’s career-long assertion of creative independence and her reluctance to court major studios or platforms like Netflix as so many of her peers have. Sachs is one of those awkward filmmakers with one foot in the art world, where many of her films are screened and even generated (through grants, residencies, fellowships, and the like), and the other in the documentary or essay film world. In practical terms, this means that she has a foot in neither; the art world doesn’t recognize her as a moving image artist (she is not represented by a commercial gallery, the sine qua non for institutional recognition), and her documentaries and essay films don’t conform to the rigid formulae demanded by studios and networks. As a result, Sachs’s exemplary body of work over thirty years has been largely ignored—as far as I am aware, she is yet to receive a feature, interview, or full-length review from any of the major English-language film periodicals. Compare this to the widespread coverage granted the fiction films of her brother Ira, who has engaged with both mainstream distribution and the star system (one movie even stars a former James Bond!). The price for Lynne Sachs’s preciously guarded independence has been critical invisibility. We must try harder.

But the film also resists mainstream co-option by its refusal to offer simplistic characterization or narrative. Dick Johnson is a model of probity, as a professional (he worked as a clinical psychiatrist), husband, and father; a religious man, his path never deviated from accepted norms of middle-class respectability. Ira Sachs Sr. is a sketchier figure, and as a result, Film About a Father Who is a sketchier film. Dick Johnson may feature in various fantasy scenarios, but he remains the same, recognizable person, physically and morally. Ira Sr.’s elusive identities are first signaled by his sundry business cards—he worked as a “hippie” entrepreneur, buying up unpromising tracts of land in remote areas and developing them—as if he were some sort of undercover agent. His latter-day presence as a beaming, seemingly vacant good ol’ boy is supplemented by footage from half a century’s worth of home movies in diverse formats (mostly shot by Lynne and both Iras), interviews past and present with Ira Sr. and his family, photographs, letters, and even vintage commercials.

The documentary or essay film is often compared to a detective story, with an investigator uncovering or sifting through evidence, parsing essential information from a mass of raw data, before arriving at a singular truth and resolution. Film About a Father Who is an antidetective story—the more we discover about Ira Sr., the less we know. A better metaphor for his narrative might be an endless Russian doll, or a defective onion—layers of skin are peeled away to reveal only more layers, although the peeler still ends up in tears.  

This ambiguity and indeterminacy is indicated by Sachs’s title—Film About a Father Who. “A” father, not “my father,” not All About My Father or something. “A father” distances the subject from the film in the manner of a fairy tale or myth, appropriate for a man who wanders in and out of assorted lives with little thought for the havoc he wreaks. “Who”—a father “who” did what? “Who” is Ira Sachs Sr.? The “who” may also reference the popular BBC/NBC television series Who Do You Think You Are? This genealogy format is structured around a subject–detective’s search through the archives and historical sites in order to construct their family tree. These subjects may find out more than they wanted to, but the format—question, quest, revelation, affirmation—never changes. Film About a Father Who shares similar themes and motifs, but its outcome couldn’t be more different.

The film’s conceptual and narrative structures are introduced by two sequences that, at first, seem uncharacteristically labored and literal, but resonate powerfully as the film develops. In the opening sequence, before any voice-over contextualizes what we see, an old man sits having his hair cut by a woman who is eventually revealed as the man’s daughter, and the film’s director Lynne Sachs. The hairdresser’s attempts to unravel the sitter’s matted hair mirrors the work the filmmaker will have to do on the clotted narrative strands of Ira Sr.’s life story. This sexually potent, Jewish alpha-male winces as his hair is manipulated, perhaps reminding us of the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah, the emasculation of a virile hero by his treacherous lover. In its quiet, patient, loving, intimate way, Film About a Father Who is a work of emasculation and betrayal, a feminist critique of patriarchal structures embedded in the family as rigorous as anything by Yvonne Rainer, whose 1974 classic Film About a Woman Who inspired Sachs’s title.  

But that very quiet, patience, love, and intimacy is part of the sequence too—for Lynne Sachs at least, Ira Sr. is a man worth spending time with, not least because he was not always there. The profusion of home movies in Film About a Father Who is misleading, as it occludes the unfilmed gaps when Ira Sr. was not present, when he left his first wife Diane (mother of Lynne, Ira, and their writer sibling Dana) for a trail of other women, including at least one other wife and numerous children. The media-savvy Sachs family—if nothing else, the film can be watched as a history of communications technology, as succeeding generations of cameras, televisions, video formats, and mobile phones appear as part of the familial mise en scène—shoot hungrily today because there may not be anything to shoot tomorrow. The fact that Ira Sr.’s other families were not as technologically adept as the Sachs’s mean that these parts of his life are not visually represented, their documentation dependent on hearsay, rumor, speculation, and oral histories that are occasionally, understandably, embittered. Such camera-free environments may have been part of the appeal of these other lives for a showman who is happy to perform for the camera but shrinks when it tries to peer behind the mask of bonhomie.

In the second key sequence, the now middle-aged Lynne, Ira Jr., and Dana sit on a bed like children, discussing their parents. They differentiate their characters in terms of grammar and punctuation: 

Ira: Mom was providing an example that was much more linear. 

Dana: And stable. There were no question marks when you were in [Mom’s] house, and with Dad’s, there was all question marks. You didn’t know what could happen.

Lynne:  With Mom there was a sense of…I was obsessed with grammar [as a child]. Grammar was worth understanding because once you had grammar you had total transparency. And Mom understood the grammar of…

Dana: In Dad’s life there was no grammar. There was no punctuation—

Lynne: There was no grammar…

Dana: Well, there was punctuation…

Lynne: Exclamation marks!

Dana: And question marks!

Lynne: Exclamation marks and questions marks. With Mom…periods and commas…and the comma gave you a sense, you knew where things went. The thing was, you had the commas and the pause and they were exquisite. They were just right, and you felt affirmed.

Dana: Well, she was steady, and she would keep things in discrete pieces. Life was very…you knew where the boundaries were, and his was always opening up into something. Like a colon opens onto something else—

If the first sequence signifies Lynne’s attempt to unravel the multiple strands of her father’s life, the film proper is an attempt to find a new grammatical form for the unsettlingly open, nonlinear, exploratory, unstructured, opaque, irregular, boundaryless narrative of Ira Sachs Sr., one that could not be contained by conventional film grammar.

This grammar is structured by its subject’s and the film’s relation to time. The classic detective story is defined by time—a crime has been committed that disrupts the flow of time; the detective establishes a chronology of events that restores it. In Dick Johnson Is Dead, Kirsten Johnson tries to stop the flow of time altogether, resulting in a deliberately static, repetitive work—the longer I keep things the same, the longer Dad will stay alive. Film About a Father Who, by contrast, can’t stop time. As edited by artist Rebecca Shapass, it is a vertigo of time, a criss-crossing of past, present, and future, producing a hall of mirrors wherein present-day Ira Sr. confronts his former selves, the time-traveling Father Who as Doctor Who. He never stands still, and neither does the film, resulting in a work as mercurial and fugitive as life itself, resistant to harmonious closure.

Sachs’s focus on her own family is typical of a certain strand of American avant-garde filmmaking—think of Jonas Mekas’s diaries, Stan Brakhage’s processed home movies, or Stephen Dwoskin’s ghostly portraits of long-deceased family members. In an interview with Reverse Shot, the house magazine of New York’s Museum of the Moving Image—which hosted a virtual retrospective of her work in January—Sachs discusses other experimental films about difficult fathers by Su Friedrich (Sink or Swim, 1990) and Alan Berliner (Nobody’s Business [1996]—Berliner is credited as an artistic advisor on Film About a Father Who). The joys and travails of family life are a recurrent subject in Sachs’s work—as it is, indeed, of Ira Jr.’s, with his films’ weak or difficult husbands and fathers. In particular, Lynne has confronted her own parenthood with portrait films of her children, such as a series that captures her daughter Maya at various ages (Photograph of Wind, 2001; Same Stream Twice, 2012; and Maya at 24, 2021), that anticipates in reverse many of the procedures of Film About a Father Who.

Film About a Father Who could have been a monumental film, a “summa” of a life’s work (Sachs will be sixty this year) as well as a multilayered portrait of a complex man. Such finality and thematic bombast is anathema to Sachs, however. This is a film, after all, as interested in the ritual of an old woman putting on a pair of stockings as it is in the great themes of Family, Identity, Time, or American Masculinity. Sachs’s aesthetic has always been defined by the fleeting and provisional, by the rejection of a saleable authorial style, and by formal and philosophical “lightness,” what the French praise as légèreté, the ability to find forms that critically distance subject matter that is emotionally volatile, even traumatic, with wit, illumination, empathy, and nimble intelligence. To call Film About a Father Who Sachs’s “best” or “breakthrough” film would be to miss the point. Like her great predecessors Jonas Mekas and Chris Marker, each work by Sachs—whether it is a film, a poem, a performance, or a Web installation—is a fragment of a larger body of work that is simply “the work.” One hopes that someday Sachs’s achievement will be recognized as the major contribution to modern American cinema it is. 

Darragh O’Donoghue works as an archivist at Tate Britain in London.

Copyright © 2021 by Cineaste Magazine 

Cineaste, Vol. XLVI, No. 2

Kino Rebelde to Represent Lynne Sachs’ Catalogue Internationally

http://www.kinorebelde.com/kino2020/lynne-sachs-retrospective/

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

vera@kinorebelde.com


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.