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“Lynne Sachs: Tender Non-Fictions” on DAFilms with interview by Cíntia Gil

March 2022

Lynne Sachs: Tender Non-Fictions

We are delighted to present a program of films by experimental documentarian Lynne Sachs, who has been prolifically creating works for cinema for four decades. Her non-fiction films, represented here in 11 works of varying lengths, powerfully evokes the curiosity and richness of a life lived through art.

Living in Brooklyn, New York, Sachs is part of a community of active experimental and documentary filmmakers and has long eschewed conventional forms of making movies. Her work, perhaps inevitably, defies easy classification. Instead, it is best understood collectively as a sprawling adventure playground, stretching across continents and blending influences across the borders of distinct art forms. Our focus maps a path through some of the ideas and forms that recur time and again in Sachs’ cinema.

The marks of war that linger in the background of a society—from Vietnam to the Middle East—are an ever-present specter in her long format films, as are the transformative effects of time on members of one’s own family. Feminism in all its forms is an animating subject and drive for Sachs, from the early formal experimentations with bodies and spaces in Drawn and Quartered to the energy of the Women’s March fragment And Then We Marched to the love, artistic kinship, and solidarity between female friends and comrades evident in Carolee, Barbara & Guvnor or, more implicitly, A Month of Single Frames.

Her latest feature length work, Film About a Father Who, whose title hints at Yvonne Rainer, provides a perfect entry-point into her style. This film is not only a torn and disrupted family album, but is also a document of the development of the evolution Sachs’ filmmaking over the years. A feature-length polyphonic portrait of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., taken over many years, it ultimately suggests that the man himself is unknowable, that his mysteries are too vast to be captured by a camera. Through reckoning with this fact, Sachs seems to suggest, the filmmaker is able to unearth other truths, about herself and about her family as a whole. A crucial early work, marking the end of a distinct period in Sachs’ work, The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts, is available to watch for free.

Cintía Gil: Hello everyone. Hi Lynne, how are you?

Lynne Sachs: I’m Good. 

Cintía Gil: Welcome to the DA Films. I’m really happy to be here with Lynne Sachs, whose work I absolutely love. And thank you. Yeah, so this is a conversation coming from the program put together at the films platform called Tender Non-Fictions, with 11 films from different moments in your life as a filmmaker, and your life too, because it’s kind of together. And I thought about doing your conversation, not so much film by film, but traveling a little bit through the films and through also your thoughts about film making, and film, and how filmmaking connects, is a way of building spaces or building places for connection between different dimensions of our lives. 

Cintía Gil: And I wanted to start by an image that very much touched me, from States of UnBelonging. The beginning, the very beginning of the film, when we are in your living room, and you are reading, so you are calling your correspondents in Israel and you are reading the newspaper. So you are folding the newspaper with the news about the killing of a woman and her two children, and you are folding this newspaper, and then you just juxtapose this image of folding a map, so folding a newspaper and folding a map, and that’s juxtaposition touched me very much, because somehow, for me, it resonated with a lot of your filmmaking practice. And you say, “On my map.” And then you start talking about this territory where your film will unfold, and it spoke to me about your films because you somehow are juxtaposing geography and history and language with all the metaphorical questions that are iterations of a map, territory, and lands, and place, and culture, and everything else. 

Cintía Gil: And so, I realized that image, for me at least, it kind of speaks of a shiY that your films do, which is going from ideas like territory into ideas of place, body, and memory and time, so going away from norms and conventions about where people exist and actually coming to something more radically difficult to systematize, which is what is a place? How do we build place? How do we see body? What do we feel? And where does memory… How does memory unfold? And how time is a space for that. 

Cintía Gil: And I saw this in this film, where you are talking about Israel and Palestine and your relation to it, but also in Which Way is East, for example, the relation between Vietnam and USA history, and your and your sister’s connection, the space of a laundromat in The Washing Society, in the story, the beautiful story of the bra in House of Science, where you are talking about your first experience with the bra, and suddenly your body becomes

Lynne Sachs: territory 

Cintía Gil: Territory, exactly. 

Lynne Sachs: You’re the first person to make that connection. 

Cintía Gil: Yeah, because, for me, it was so striking, this… So yeah, I just wanted to launch the [inaudible 00:04:20]. 

Lynne Sachs: Thank you for being so observant. Actually, I think I’ll start with the name of the program at DA Films, Tender Non-Fictions, because the curator programmer, Christopher Smalls, said… Small, he’s suggested that title right off, and I was very excited by it, because Tender Buttons is the name of a book that Gertrude Stein had written, and I love her work and I love her radical disruptions of language, but then I actually mentioned it to my brother, and he said, “Well, tender, is that a problem? Does it make it look like you’re soft on these issues?” And so, I just listened to him and I thought, “Maybe that’s the wrong direction, maybe I need to have more edge, maybe… I want to make it clear that I’m trying to break all the paradigms around form and documentary and working with reality.” But it just kept sticking in my head and I kept thinking about it. 

And then, of course, the war in Ukraine started, and Christopher and I continued our dialogue, and I started to think about, well, maybe tender is actually a good place to start, is a place of awe, because you’re tender with things you’re not trying to destroy them, you’re aware of them and it’s tactile. So then that leads me to that question that, or the observation that you made about that image in the beginning of States of UnBelonging, which is an interesting place that you started, because States of UnBelonging looks at Israel/Palestine, and it tries to come at it through the kind of a quasi-portrait of a filmmaker who was also a peace activist, who lived… Her name was Revital Ohayon, and she lived in a kibbutz, very near the West Bank, and was trying to work with families and schools and her children, with other Palestinian children, and unfortunately she was killed in a terrorist act, but she certainly had tried. 

And the thing is that the war there is so… You were talking about place, the war there is about, not just place, but the substance of dirt, of the earth, of this thing, this idea that you could claim earth from… Just because your ancestors claimed it. And we know that the world is constantly changing and you can’t own something just because your great, great, great, great grandparents did, and that doesn’t give you a claim to it, and that’s some of what’s going on in Russia and Ukraine. 

And so, it’s very charged to look at place in that way, as if place is a static thing, so you brought up this two different, call it tropes, the trope of land, and then the trope as designated by a map, like a map as a signifier for land, but another signifier is also the map of communication, which is a letter, and another signifier wrapped up in there, because I’m speaking through a letter, it’s epistolary in that way, but another conceit is the idea of the newspaper, which is a way to venture into another place but not to have that, not to be present in it, so I think that was really interesting. 

But you also compared it to a film, I would never have thought of comparing, so it’s just like… I’m so enthralled by your perceptive approach to filmmaking, and that was that, in 1991, I made a film called The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts, and at that point, I was trying to connect with being a young girl, and the very first time that you wear a bra, and the feeling that you have isn’t like, “Hey, great, I’ve got breasts.” I felt like, “How dare you, world, tell me that I have to entrap these things, that I have to tame them, or that I have to claim them.” Lynne Sachs: And actually, what happened was, I was in the gymnasium at my middle school and I was wearing a super tight shirt. I was at an all girls school, it wasn’t like I was trying to show off my breast to the boys, but some of the girls said that… The girls told me I needed to wear a bra, and I was like, “Oh.” So then it turned my body into territory, and it wasn’t from my mother, and it wasn’t. And from the teachers, it was from the other girls, then they didn’t like it that I didn’t wear a bra. 

Cintía Gil: And you, in that film, you also talk about this, sometimes conflict between the body of the body and the body of the mind, and this struggle to live together and to, again, to build some sort of place or possibility of existence where both can come together. 

Lynne Sachs: And I think this is actually fairly common for a lot of girls, and maybe boys, but I can’t make a claim to it, before we want to be sexual beings, we want to be invisible. We don’t want… It’s not just that we transition without thinking, we actually like not being objectified, and then when we become objectified and we become territory, whether it’s from other girls or boys or men, then we become hyper aware of our bodies. So hyper… And then later in my life, much later, I did become more comfortable with my body, and I think probably not till I was in my early thirties and I had children, and it was the first time that I didn’t feel all caught up in the parameters that had been offered. 

Cintía Gil: Established. 

Lynne Sachs: Yeah. 

Cintía Gil: Which you talked about, this idea that the world’s changes and things are not fixed or static. And when I see your films, one thing that I find quite beautiful, is the way you seem to be quite interested in movement and fluidity, and in transition in your images production, even in the way you edit and the way you use your camera and the movements of the camera. 

I was very much trying to see… So for example, just an example, it happens oYen, all the time, but for example, in States of UnBelonging, when you’re talking to Revital’s mother, and your camera goes and kind of follows their hands, or in the Which Way is Easts also, in A Month of Single Frames, you have this absolute interest for fluidity and movement and transitions, and I wanted to hear you a little bit about that, about this, because the impression that it gives me is that it’s a very intelligent way of giving space for invisibility, for what is invisible, which in your cinema, happens a lot, because you oYen have immigrants, children, women, filmmakers, who are not on the spotlight. So you are very oYen talking from spaces that are traditionally of invisibility, and I feel that there’s an absolute coherence or connection between that and the way you film, the way you produce your images, and I wanted a little bit to hear you about this, about movement. 

Lynne Sachs: Again, Cintía, just very, very interesting correlations between what we sometimes call socioeconomic issues and issues around artistic form, aesthetics, and I think that is the most interesting challenge that we have when we’re working with reality, but with reality doesn’t just mean about reality, so the reality of the making. 

I think that film can document how they are made. In a way, the how gives you the opportunity to think about who’s making it and who’s supporting it, and who’s curious to find out more about the issue. So for example, you said something about the fluidity of my camera, and traditionally, we’d say that you don’t want to see a camera shake, that’s a sign of being an amateur, and if you’re an amateur, you didn’t bring a tripod, you’re not working with a professional cinematographer. 

But I actually think that a shaking camera is a breathing camera. If we could just whip out, erase that word “shake”, which is not bad, because it has a tentativeness, and talk about the breadth of the maker, then we know that it’s an embodied camera and that the camera is alive and thinking. 

You were talking about a shot in States of UnBelonging, where I’m interviewing a woman whose daughter had been murdered, so I felt very vulnerable myself, as a mother, as another woman, I felt sympathetic. So my camera isn’t just frozen, the camera is reflecting my insecurities and pain, let’s call it empathy. 

So I didn’t, maybe, know that I was doing that at the time, but there is a kind of transparency that I think is fine. I was making a film called Investigation of a Flame, which is about civil disobedience. It’s a film really about anti-war activists, and I was interviewing one of these very wonderful, heroic anti-war activists, and as he’s talking and offering a parable to me, I let the camera look out the window, just over there, and people have asked me about it. And I said, “Sometimes when you’re listening to… You, meaning the person behind the camera or a person in a conversation, sometimes the most intense form of concentration is to allow your eyes to wander. And that’s what taking the camera, literally, off the tripod, or letting the camera be an extension of the body, is actually considered a very atypical thing. People think that keeping your horizon line horizontal is a sign of confidence, but why do we always have to show confidence? 

As you and I know, that one of the hallmarks of the essay film is doubt, so if you can have the form register that in a nonverbal way, and in an articulated way, then I think that’s super interesting, and I do try to play with that. I have a conceit you’ve probably seen in a lot of my films, where I let another person walk in circles around me, and I think that’s… I’ve done it a lot, I’ve done it with my mother, my daughter, my father. It’s something I love to do because it makes me get dizzy, not just because you see the world passing by, but I lose my stability, and that’s a form of exploration of what it is to be lost in the process, and then you find yourself, hopefully. 

Cintía Gil: You were mentioning the film that is in the program, Same Stream Twice, which is with your daughter, Maya, running around you, and actually, when I was thinking about this, I was thinking about… I had noted a quote from the synopsis, where you talk about something you can’t grasp, but can feel, and how this camera of yours brings the possibility of that. And now you were talking about doubts in image making, in filmmaking, and the political aspect of it, I thought that maybe tenderness comes from that, and I also thought about, again, in House of Science, when you say in the end, incendiary, but not arson, so that’s possibility- … but not burning everything all at once. It’s maybe the tenderness question that’s is absolutely embodied in your images. 

But going again to how you assemble films together, another thing that I find really unique, is the way you work in between the closest intimacy to the widest perspective, and you do that a lot through the relation between image and sounds and voiceover. 

And first, one thing that I find really interesting, is that your voiceover, or whoever’s voiceover, is never a statement, it’s always full of suggestions, descriptions, unfinished sentences, possibilities, but never saying what things are or what we are supposed to think about things. 

And the second thing is how voice in your films always comes together with other kinds of sounds, so how you sound in a really precise way. And so, I would like to listen to you a little bit about how you build this relation between images and sounds, because it’s absolutely precise, there’s an absolute rigor to it, which doesn’t mean there isn’t doubt and there isn’t experimentation in it, but it’s so very much creating movements within the moment. 

Lynne Sachs: I’ll say a couple things about… So I do use what you call voiceover or narration, but I like to play around with, for example, a word that these days people use all the time, but it hasn’t been historically so considered, and that is the pronouns. 

There’s a couple of things that I think that are anathema that I do, but I’m committed to them. For example, I like to play around with the English language, with the word “you”, so you can also be similar to one, and you can also be a way to invite people in and the listener, the audience isn’t told that you should, I don’t do that, but I say, you might think this, and you might wonder how to relate to members of your family, but I do. I don’t always center myself, and so, to play around with language, that way has become very much a part of my practice. 

Another thing that I’ve done with voiceover and around pronouns, is to not be committed to traditional exposition. As in, you can’t say he, she, without knowing who he, she is, identifying it, explaining it. So in literature, in novels, they’ve been doing that for hundreds of years, you don’t always know where you stand, but film had this commitment to clarity, and the thing is that if you believe that clarity takes the mystery, and that eventually you will arrive at some kind of insight, maybe not like… The world is never absolutely clear, but insight is where you really want to go. So I try to play with that. 

Another thing I try to do with… Or two more things I’ll say about language and about the language that I’ve written or spoken, and that’s part of the film, is that I like to cut what… I don’t call a dialogue, but you know that the convention is to call anything with voiceover, or people talking, dialogue, and it’s cut like prose. It’s cut a period at the end of the sentence, or if someone speaks and then it’s the end of a thought, it’s where the period is, but I like to cut the language the way I would write poetry. So the thing, like a little bit like Robert Altman, things are overlapped, and you think about the ways that language, like information and communication and words, are used simultaneously. 

Thus, you can cut the voice in the same way that you cut the sounds of birds or the sounds of a door closing, and you can play with it, and you can, like the way in poetry lines, in poetry, it’s vital to know where the line breaks are, that’s how sound should edit. It should be rhythmic, it should be in relationship to the image. So there are line breaks. So if you look at a traditional screenplay, there’s no line breaks, it just goes from one side of the page to the other, but if it were full of line breaks, then it would be more engaged with the whole fabric of the sound. So those are different ways of working, that I try to like bring in play, but with an intention. 

Cintía Gil: Expanding from language, because that’s also the question of the languages, which you also use a lot and you play a lot with. 

Lynne Sachs: Super important, yeah. 

Cintía Gil: And not only language, but translation. We had a conversation before about this, your obsession with translation and how, for example, in Your Day is My Night, where you have the different languages coming to play, or in the Washing Society, or actually, in all of your cinema, somehow in Which Way is East, et cetera, in all of your cinema, there’s this question of the breaking of the language. And I actually saw a conversation between you and a lot of people in World Records, where you were talking about English, and I wanted to hear you a little bit about that, because I feel that language itself, as attached to culture and to memory and history, is something that is a material for you. 

Lynne Sachs: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I will, just to mention, that about three years ago, I brought together a group of experimental documentary filmmakers, which included Jean Finley, Sky Hopinka, Naeem Mohaiemen, and Christopher Harris, all artists whose work I just adored, and all artists who, in some way or another, are trying to challenge the dominance of English. Even if they didn’t say, that’s what I’m doing, I could see it in their work so clearly. And now, three years later, English is even more dominant. And how can we, yes, have English as a language of flow between cultures, because so many people know it as their second language, but how can we also subvert it? 

And so, I’ve tried to do that, for example, with Your Day is My Night. The whole film is pretty much in Mandarin and Cantonese, and I have English subtitles, but they’re not just subtitles, I don’t even like the word subtitle, and I’m scared of the word subtitle because it’s not sub. The minute you bring in English subtitles, people start, pretty much stop listening. They stop hearing Chinese, they stop being aware of the textures, the tenderness, let’s say, of another language that isn’t theirs, they completely separate from it.

So I tried to, in that film, I tried to use the text on the screen and across the screen in various ways, and that’s one of the reasons why we actually, on DA Films, we have a separate link for the Your Day is My Night with English subtitles, and another one with Spanish subtitles, because you couldn’t just use a program or an app to get the titles for that film, they have to really move with the recognition of Spanish in relationship to the image, or English. 

So, but I’ve had, in other films of mine, in The Washing Society, we have a whole section of the film where you hear Chinese and you hear Spanish, and you do not have translations, or just a little bit of translation, and therefore, there’s a certain moment of alienation for a viewer who doesn’t know those languages, and I think that’s really important. I think anybody who speaks English as a first language needs to learn what it is to be an outsider. And since that’s like a form content interplay in The Washing Society, because most of the people, at least in the United States, who are washing clothes as a service, are also going through the alienation of being an immigrant. 

So I wanted to switch the power. I worked with a playwright on that film, Lizzie Olesker, she’s just been a real inspiration to me, and together we tried to recognize the oral qualities of Spanish and Chinese, in this case, and to like let them enter the visceral physicality for a listener, that not just information. 

Pretty much all my films, I have resisted that term, like documentary is an educational experience, but it is, in some ways there’s something wrong with that word. If you think that it’s an education in becoming aware and becoming how you are in society, that’s actually one of the biggest intentions of documentary film, is to have people leave the theater or the laptop, or whatever, leave it more aware, not just of Vietnam, or not what it is to be living in a shift bed apartment in a New York City’s Chinatown, but what it is in a more conceptual way, what it is to be an insider and an outsider, to be a resident and a new visitor, what it is to be in that transitional place. If you can leave a film with that, you’re actually, probably, a little bit more mature or a little bit more observant. 

Cintía Gil: And also, in that effort of finding a common language or finding a way to speak to another person whose main language is not English, that vulnerability also allows for some other layers of existence come to life, memories, or fears, or it’s for example, I’m thinking about the moment in Which Way is Easts, when suddenly, memories of work come in a dialogue between you or Dana with someone else, and how that happens, never in a programmatic way, but always from this vulnerability position, it comes from this efforts to be somewhere else, to be there, and which is really beautiful, and I think it’s a quite interesting aspect of your filmmaking, which is this idea of, or possibility of a testimony, the possibility of a testimony, which is not a report or a declaration, or a narrative of events, but more a testimony thought of as a transmission, it’s more as a transmission. 

And I thought, for example, in the way, precisely you worked in Your Day is My Night and The Washing Society, which is quite even a more nuanced way of working with testimony, because you worked those monologues with the people. So there was a process to that, but it comes from before, and I feel that there’s always this quality of transmission in words, in your films, but I would like to hear you a little bit about that process in these two films. 

Lynne Sachs: Actually, I’ll start with Which Way is East, and there was something I learned in that film about translation, and maybe about test testimony. And I’ll try to explore that, but in Which Way is East, I learned something about language and about culture. So there’s always been an expectation around documentary film, that even if we’ve never been somewhere, if we see a movie about that person, I mean about that place, then we have the next best thing. Next best thing to travel is to watch a documentary film. Yeah, but the thing is that that film only gives you, really, the person who made its experience, and it has a kind of… And it should have a clearly prescribed point of view, let’s say. 

But when I was making Which Way is East, I learned that when you’re a foreigner in another country, I was an American in Vietnam. Yes, I didn’t speak the language and my sister did, but there’s another thing I didn’t speak, which has to do with understanding. I didn’t understand the culture enough, for example, to understand the parables. So a parable is actually a far, maybe, richer and more comprehensive mode of understanding a whole way, a psyche, of another country. 

Again, during the war right now, we are all trying to understand the psyche that could make this happen, what is it? And it has to do with the mythology, and in Which Way is East, I decided I wanted to listen to every single parable I could possibly find, related to animals and Vietnam, because parables often do work with animals. And for example, we have a parable here that says, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. If you have it already, don’t try to do anything that’s going to make you look like you might be able to get the two birds in the tree, like hunt them, but probably not, so just keep what you have.

So there was a parable in Vietnam, which said, a frog that sits at the boPom of a pot thinks that the whole world is only as big as the lid of the pot. So it’s sort of solipsistic, it says nothing exists beyond where I am, but it was such a wise way of thinking about a kind of xenophobia that we can have, that we don’t care what is beyond our grasp, and I feel like I’ve been exploring that ever since. 

I explored it in States of UnBelongong, I made a whole body of work, actually, over a decade, which I called, I am Not a War Photographer, and it included… It’s really started with Which Way is East, and it included States of UnBelongong, so they both contemplate what it is to be within something and what it is to observe from afar, and not really to understand and complete… Not to claim complete knowledge. 

So many times, Cintía, when I make a film in another country, which I haven’t done as much lately, because I think, also it’s our obligation as documentary makers to explore where we are at home, but so many times people would presume that I was an expert of anything that I… There’s always that assumption, and I think that it’s also our jobs as makers of this kind of work, to be really transparent that what people are have access to is our search, not really our expertise. 

Cintía Gil: And can you a little bit about the way you built the monologues in Your Day is My Night? 

Lynne Sachs: Sure. Yeah, so-

Cintía Gil: In The Washing Society, how you built the text, because it’s quite a beautiful… 

Lynne Sachs: So

Cintía Gil: Results, and I mean, you can see… 

Lynne Sachs: They both come out of failure, for sure, and if there’s anything I’ve learned aYer quite… Three decades, three and a half decades of making documentary films, that every single project, halfway through, you have a point where you think you cannot go on, you cannot, because this door wasn’t opened or because this person dropped out. So part of the failure of Your Day is my Night, was that I thought I wanted to make a film about people who lived in what are called hotbed houses. That’s a colloquial to that people hardly use anymore, or shiY bed houses, or shared apartments, in which someone might live in a room or on a bed during the day, sleep there during the day, then they go to work at night and somebody else would come in.

And I learned about, that that was a very typical mode of managing, particularly in New York City, but I think worldwide, when you’re a refugee, an immigrant, a person, particularly in an urban environment, which you don’t of have access to the whole infrastructure, sometimes you just have to make do. And so, an apartment doesn’t just mean one family, it could be multiple families. So I was interested in how that would be manifested in New York City, but I really couldn’t get, we say here, my foot in the door, like the proverbial foot in the door. I wasn’t able to get access to people who lived that way, and I felt a little uncomfortable about it. I wasn’t sure that that was my role or that I should be doing that. 

So I thought I would make a fiction film, my first, and I went to a Chinese theater troupe and I asked them if they would work with me, and they said, “Sure, show us the script.” But I didn’t really have the script. I wanted to build on observations and the kind of work that I’m used to doing. 

So that failed, and so I had already two failures under my belt, the failure of getting the foot in the door as a documentary maker and the failure of writing a fiction film, and so I… A man told me, he kind of fancied himself the mayor of Chinatown. He said, “Why don’t you go to that senior, older people community center?” And I went there and I said to them that I was looking for people to be in a film, and I happened to use the word audition, because that’s the word people use for trying out to be in a narrative film, and 40 people auditioned to be in the film, and then seven of them, I thought were extremely charismatic, and they had all actually lived in shift bed apartments. 

And so, instead of auditioning them, I actually did what I’m very comfortable doing, which was interviewing them. And then, so I had these fairly long interviews in Chinese, which had to be translated, and then I worked with a playwright and we turned them into these distillation, based on their lives. 

And so it became a new way of working for me, because in documentary, there’s a, sometimes a kind of trickiness that goes on, as in, I want to know about your life, but I’m going to ask about it in a new way so you don’t really feel comfortable, like you lose your confidence, and you’re going to say something to me that is very, very, very raw, and that’s going to work perfectly with my movie because the rawer, the better. I didn’t want to do that with these people who were in their sixties to eighties at all, and I’ve never been… Maybe I was trying to be tender or something. 

So, because it was their life story, and it was based on experiences they had, then when I gave them back a distillation of what they had already told me, I was perfectly happy with their improvising or forgetting their lines. And it became more about performance, but performing the real, and we had the best time and we got to do things like, take one, take two, take three, which usually, documentary doesn’t get to do, because that’s considered manipulative and that. 

So we worked that way in Your Day is My Night, and then in The Washing Society, there were issues around trying to do your conventional interview with immigrants in the US. People were scared of cameras, and even the word it’s funny, like we say, it is a documentary, but we also use the word undocumented. A person is undocumented because they aren’t here legally. 

It’s almost… They’re synonyms. To be undocumented is to be an illegal, here illegally. So when we said we’re making a documentary, it was like, “No, we can’t do that. We can’t do that.” So what we did was we just talked to laundry workers for about a year, and then we wrote a play, and then we worked with actors, and then we ended up finding a few laundry workers who were here legally, and so they were in… 

So it became a whole hybrid mix, and those are ways of working that I’m still excited about. I’m still like… Well, another thing that happened in The Washing Society, was that one of the actors, her name is Jasmine, ended up becoming one of the, call it, almost like a producer, because she decides, or not… She’s acting in a film about laundry workers, and then her grandmother, with whom she lives, says to her, “Hey Jasmine, I worked in a laundry for 30 years, but you didn’t know it.” She interviews her grandmother, who was very involved in a union, and fought for her own… Her raise. She fought for better working conditions, and probably, her grandmother would never have told her that story, so all of these things come out of failure, or missteps, or obstacles that ended up becoming opportunities. 

Cintía Gil: No, it’s quite beautiful because we are slowly feeling the notion of tenderness with a lot of political power. You’ve just built, like explained, or at least explored also the political implications of sticking to the word documentary sometimes, and sticking to the norms and orthodoxies of what is supposedly a documentary, that many times just serves nothing in certain situations. And so it’s quite beautiful how, if we open that notion, it’s much more about this negotiation or fluidity between us and the world, and what the world brings. 

Lynne Sachs: I think at the very… It’s most fundamental… Most, as documentary makers, our jobs are to encourage our viewers to question the truth. If we do nothing else but that, I think we’ve succeeded. Because that is the only way to translate or to… An experience that’s very closed, which is the watching of a film. How do we create a porous presence for our viewers, that goes beyond the theater? Not so much to say, “Oh, well, I inspired them to become an activist.” Maybe, maybe not, but if you’re already an activist in the most fundamental ways, if you question what the reality that you see, who’s controlling it, not just information, but who’s telling you what is the right thing to do, what is the wrong thing to do, and who’s doing it, and why, and if you question that, then you’re already a better human being, I guess. But of course, we know that when that happens, you become very sad. You have no confidence in anything anymore. 

Cintía Gil: Well, I wanted to bring to that, related to that, the text I was reading, by you, about Gunvor Nelson and her editing lessons, because there’s a moment when you say, “Meaning is discovered outside of…” No sorry, it was me who wrote, aYer your text, I was writing a note saying, that you discover meaning when you let go of continuity, and of the narrative, and of plot, you… I think it was in the moment where you were talking about her, telling you to look at the outtakes, and look at what’s what’s outside of what… You should always look at the outsides before closing a film. 

Lynne Sachs: And actually, thank you for reminding me that she told me that, because I didn’t know why I believe in that. And when I was making Film About a Father Who, that was critical, because the thing is, with what’s beautiful and what are the… People are working on their computers, and they have these folders, and they’re called NG, like No Good. You should go back and look at those, because those are the ones where the camera’s shaking, those are the ones where some kind of wild energy happen, those are the ones where you thought someone said, turn it off, but you didn’t. And things get messy, and when things get messy, they get interesting. And so, she did tell me to go back and look at the outtakes, because the first response, usually, of an artist is, what is pretty? And when did I do a good job? And the good job means that I measured my F stops correctly, and the good job is that there was no traffic going on when the sound was running, and so you tend to judge things in the most insubstantive registers, you’re saying, “Oh, this looks good, and this is accomplished.” And the other material is more revealing. 

And so, when I was working on Film About a Father Who, I made myself go back and look at videotapes that had been shot on VHS in the 1980s and stored in garages, and I thought they were ruined, and I was just about to throw them away. And then I come across an image, for example, of my dad, where all the color had disappeared, and it was just his silhouette and some lines going through, but you could still tell it was a man walking away. And I thought, that’s the perfect image for the last shot of the film, because people don’t mean detail, and furthermore, these days, with the digital cameras, we’ve got a plethora of detail. 

We know what people’s faces look like, what we need is something that’s more ephemeral and suggestive, and therefore, if it’s at the end of the film and I had totally dismissed it, I should say, if it’s the end of the film, the audience can fill in the detail in their heads. And that means they’re involved, that means they did the work, that means they spent 74 minutes with me and with us. 

And so, those are the kind of images that Gunvor would’ve said, you need, and I would’ve, in the 1980s, when she was my teacher, I would’ve said, “Oh, that’s embarrassing. That’s terrible.” And she taught me a lot, she taught me that dead flowers are prettier than living ones, because you have stores selling the pretty ones, the living ones with color, but nobody’s selling dead flowers, so they’re much more thought provoking. 

Cintía Gil: Yeah, and it’s interesting when you link that to what you were talking about, that the minimum, or what a documentary filmmaker does, is to make people question truth. And at the same time you talk about building meaning by… In bringing to the film, this sort of failures, or moments of not… Unpreiness, it’s quite beautiful, which brings me to the next question, which is the role children in your films, because it’s one of the most risky things to do in film, is to work with kids, and you do it. 

Lynne Sachs: And dogs, and I don’t do dogs. 

Cintía Gil: Yeah, true. But it’s quite beautiful because it’s, I think most of the time I meet with girls, young children, girls, but children, in general, are all through your filmography. Not all the films, but they are there very much present, and it’s beautiful because they bring a sense of transition, again, this sense of unstable transition, but also this sensation of extreme perception. It’s like they come… It’s very much linked to play and you film them in a very, how to say, very grounded way, in the sense that you portray them in some sort of mystic way, or whatever. Cintía Gil: But at the same time, they bring this capacity for extreme perception. For example, the young girl who talks to you in And Then We Marched, or the children in States of UnBelonging, the children, for example, the film that is not in the program, but the film you did with your kids, with the, we need the pool play. 

So there’s always this weird capacity of children in your films, that through play, they reveal something else, and they add something to the film. So I wanted to know, because you started that really early in your filmmaking, to do things with kids. 

Lynne Sachs: Well, yeah, I can say that one of my beliefs, when I decided that I would have children, and also I decided I would be an artist, it’s not that I said right away, I’m not going to separate them, but there is a, call it a paradigm, for male artists, that there’s a woman at home, taking care of the kids. So Paul Gauguin can go to Tahiti, and other filmmakers we know of, like Francis Ford Coppola, he could be shooting, what’s the movie he shot in… Apocalypse Now, and his wife is along, making a movie about him, and their kids are there too, but she’s there to support him. And my husband is a filmmaker as well, but we support each other, and I just didn’t want to separate myself, as in, I have a person taking care of the… They were there. 

So there’s an expression in English, where people say out of the mouths of babes, like as I never thought children have more insight. I was just interested in the evolution of insight, I was interested in trying to connect with something like the novel and book, The Tin Drum. You go back to these movies that talk about this haunting quality. One movie that had a very big effect on me was The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick, and believe it or not, the person who pushed me to see what an incredible film that is, it’s not a child who’s speaking, but it’s a young man who’s a soldier. 

And with Stan Brakhage, and those are not the kind of movies that Stan, the great American experimental filmmaker, Stan Brakhage didn’t make kind of movies with voiceovers and story, but he loved that movie, he loved the rawness of it, and I think there’s a way that children offer that and they don’t censor themselves. And I also like that they’re willing to make mistakes, or they make mistakes. 

And in The House of Science, a breakthrough moment for me was that I asked a friend of mine if I could film her daughter, tap dancing. And so when I went to their house, she kept running away from me, it’s in the film, so she’s supposed to be on a pedestal, tap dancing, and she doesn’t obey us at all. And she’s wearing this Batman costume, not a costume with a little tutu or anything, and she runs away. 

And then there’s another scene in that film, where I was working with a girl and I had her read the most insidious anthropological text by a man named Cesare Lomroso, and she makes all these, which you would call mistakes, but they become very subversive and radical and smart, at least from my perspective. And both girls saw the film a few years later, and they said to me, “Oh, that it’s so embarrassing. I can’t believe I wasn’t reading well.” Or, “I can’t believe I wasn’t compliant.” But I’ve never been interested in compliancy. I, once when my girls were younger, I met a woman who was bragging to me because her… She said, “My daughter is in all these commercials for The Gap.” It was for the… Because she’s so compliant. And I think, “I’m glad my kids were not invited to be in commercials.” But I’ve been surprised by children ever since. And then,

And Then We Marched, I had filmed the Women’s March in 2017, when we were all devastated by the new president of the United States, but I decided that if I were to listen to another adult, I’d probably hear what I expected to hear, and I wanted to hear from a child. So it was a great excuse to knock on the door of my neighbors, I hardly knew, and to talk to this little girl. And she was so excited by things like yelling on the street, and she was so excited, she was so sad that they’d lost their sign. And there was something so clear and not hype. It was super smart, but it wasn’t trying to be too intellectual. It was just there, like just observant, and I thought that was so much of a gift. I’m really interested in all the gifts that happen in filmmaking. You do give to your audience, but the people who are willing to be in your movies are also giving of themselves. 

Cintía Gil: Now, as the last question, I wanted to build a little bit, some sort of leap between the oldest film in this program, which is Drawn and Quartered. 

Lynne Sachs: Ah, yeah. 

Cintía Gil: And the film of About the Father Who, because it’s quite… They are completely different, they come from completely different moments, but it’s quite beautiful, because in Drawn and Quartered, you obviously were experimenting and looking at intimacy and closure and body in the most… It’s beautiful, because actually, in your films, and now I’m thinking about the way that film finishes, there’s this link to the window, there is the closure, but then there’s the window, there’s the outside, and there’s the world also. But then in Film About the Father Who, it’s like you are taking a trip in the… We never know where it’ll take you, we as a viewer, we never know where we will go, and it’s quite beautiful because you give it… It’s like a film where I feel somehow that you, as a filmmaker, are more vulnerable than in that first film that we see.

Lynne Sachs: I think that Christopher Small’s curating is really brilliant to have included these two films for exactly that reason. So there’s a word that we use a lot in talking about how our culture works. We talk about exposure, like, do you want exposure? Do you feel exposed? Are you exposing yourself? Is someone exposing you? It’s both an active… Like a transient and… A transitive intransitive… You use that word in many, many different valances. And so, when I was making Drawn Quartered, where I take all my clothes off, my boyfriend takes his clothes off, I had read Laura Mulvey’s essay at the time, which was only probably 12 years in… It was part of a cannon of feminism, but not everybody had read it, but I had read it, and I was aware of her ideas around the male gaze. 

So I wanted to try to subvert that without erasing it. So I gave the camera to my boyfriend, he shot me nude, I shot him nude, and it’s all in the film, and it’s only four minutes, and I called it Drawn and Quartered, which is an expression, it’s from like the medieval period. To be drawn and quartered is to be pulled, like punished, it’s a punitive action when you’re pulled into four parts, and the film actually exists in four parts, so horses pulled you into fragments and you’re killed. So I felt really exposed in that film, but I’d done it to myself, and I actually edit my face out. I thought, “Okay, I’ll show my body, but I won’t show my face.” And then I thought, “That is very weak. If I’m going to claim my in my film, I’ll put it back in.” 

So this was before computer editing, so you see the splices. It’s destructive editing, like am I in, out, in out? Anyway, I ended up in the film, and so, audiences can see that very exposed film. It’s got nudity, so I don’t know if DA Films has to put, click a buPon, like, “This is awkward, kid.” No- … nudity than you might see in the Louvre, with a Rodin or a Michelangelo, but it’s nudity, and not as many muscles.

And then I make a film about my relationship with my dad and my other family members, and it’s really very exposed, but there’s no nudity. It’s very, it’s vulnerable in another way, and much scarier. I was scared in 1986, but I was terrified in 2000, in 2020, excuse me, 2020, which is when I finished that film, because I felt like I’d kind of been making up who I was all along, and I felt vulnerable because I both had this very compassionate appreciation for my dad, as well as rage, and to show both, either one of those, made this into a very personal film, but I wanted the film to give people a chance to connect to their own families and maybe find some court, like relationship that seemed familiar to them. But all of it came because I actually didn’t put any filters on. I kept thinking I should, and then I didn’t, and I really didn’t think many people would ever see this film. It never occurred to me that it would stream, ever. It never occurred to me that I would really travel much with it. I just needed to get it out of my system, so the exposure part of it was a relief, like, “Okay, now I’m just being honest.” 

Cintía Gil: Now it’s quite amazing, because today I was thinking about the film again, and linking it to your other films. And I was thinking about the sentence, I am not a war photographer, and somehow it resonated, the way, how do you, as a filmmaker, go into a film, or for example, when you talk about fear in States of UnBelonging. And I see all of that in the film of About the Father Who. I see fear too, and I see this sort of, the potential idea of war in the sense of, how do you place yourself as a filmmaker in a place of conflict, and it’s absolutely impressive that all these ideas that flowed through your work, suddenly they are met together in a film about your father, where you were so vulnerable too. 

Lynne Sachs: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And it’s been real… I want to say, so there have been two independent documentary makers who’ve died in the last two weeks in Ukraine. Maybe one of them was in Russia. I don’t know where they both were, but there, in the work that we do, there is a tendency to want to witness. And I love… Wherever you are, you’re witnessing. And they put their lives on the line, so I want to say, I’m awed by that, and that is the ultimate vulnerability. 

Cintía Gil: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I had one last thing to ask you still about a Film About the Father Who, which is the… Because you give it the title, drawing from Film About a Woman Who, by Yvonne Rainer, and which you also refer to in your second short film, I think, the one, A Woman With Four Objects. 

Lynne Sachs: Yeah. 

Cintía Gil: You also link to Yvonne, but it’s interesting, because in Film About a Woman who, she’s moving away, or she’s refusing the narrative control, and idea of plot, and the antimonic normativity of narrative, and I find it fascinated, the fact that you affirm that for yourself and you come from there to film a man and a story, or a lifetime that is more fascinating, sometimes, than the wildest of fictions. So it’s very interesting, because you affirm this putting narrative away when you are dealing with the most incredible fiction story that you have in front of you, so I wanted you to tell us a little bit about this. 

Lynne Sachs: So interesting, when there is this propensity in documentary filmmaking that you have to buy a ticket. If you really need to go far away to find what’s most exotic, the most interesting, because your life… And I actually, maybe, had bought into that at some points in my life. I had made a lot of films that required travel. And then, actually, probably about 10 years ago, I started to think, how can you look inward? How can you, not so much make personal films, but what do you know from living the life that you have for this many years? So I think that the insight that Yvonne Rainer, to me, gives us, is a kind of rigor to look at the structure of family, to look at family as an anthropological being, and to distance ourself, to look at archetypes, to look at relationships that we can find through the structures that she creates in that film, that has a lot of detachment. She allows us into her head through her aesthetic choices and her very radical resistance to certain formulas that exist in family. 

I had to take what I got, I got, this is the world I live in, the family is this way, but I want to leave the answers in an… She uses an ellipsis. So she uses dot, dot, dot, dot. Film About a Woman Who, you fill it in, and you fill it in because you understand how narrative works, or syntax. And I tried to, I leY that off. It’s a little bit like Which Way is East. They’re not questions, they don’t have that at the end, but they ask us to, one, to fill in. And in both cases, I guess what I’m trying to do, is I actually want you to fill in, so you fill in because you learn about me, but that’s not the gift I gave, the gift I gave you isn’t just this extravagant story of a dad who had nine kids by six different women, because that was the life I lived, and I just knew was hard, but I want my viewers to… And this has happened a lot more than I thought, a lot, where people look at their… They transpose my story to their lives in this very energetic way. 

And it’s not just women, it’s a way of saying, my flawed situation that I thought was so flawed is my own situation, but there are very few families that don’t have that, that don’t have something that gives anguish, or maybe not the extreme that I have, but I don’t wish that you would live and think this is the wildest story I’ve ever seen, though it’s pretty wild, but maybe just that, in my case, that a woman lived through it with shadings of a lot of emotions. And I think there are many ways that my film is different from Yvonne Rainer’s. She’s made some brilliant films that deal with her cancer, she’s made some incredible films that deal with the lives of performers and the psychic space that goes on in their heads. So she has ways of telling us what’s on her mind, and it’s the formal discoveries that are so interesting. 

Cintía Gil: We should finish now, but I still want to push you for one more, which is, because you were talking about Yvonne and about the spectator and how… And all your cinema is built… I think your body of work is probably, for me, one of the closest to what could be a correspondence cinema, which is not an epistolary cinema, it’s beyond that. It’s like a building in between different people, and it speaks to the way you film Barbara and Carolee and Gunvor, and how you build A Month of Single Frames, but also how you exactly, you build that come and go and trust with the viewer, with your known viewer. So I wanted to ask you a little bit to talk about collaboration in this open sense, about this idea of correspondence and how you, in your work, you allow others to exist with you and how you build that. 

Lynne Sachs: Thank you for asking that. I’m still looking for the right word. Is it correspondence? Is it a collective experience? Is it a collaboration? One thing I’ll say that is kind of a tricky issue around documentary, is that there’s an expectation that you don’t pay your subjects, because if you pay them, then they’re influenced by that financial relationship. I actually, about nine years ago, threw that out the door, because I thought, if there’s any experience where someone is time with me, multiple iterations of that, I need to recognize them in a professional way, and recognize that they’re not able to do something else that makes money. So there’s, yes, I want to say, I have chemistry with people I work with, I have a commitment, but I also recognize that they’re doing something for a project that I created, and I have to also see their work as important enough to be paid for it. 

So that’s one thing, I won’t say it’s very much, but it’s a recognition. Then there’s the other relationships, that I feel really grew, like in Your Day is My Night, these were people I had never met before, and it’s particular to Chinese culture, and I wasn’t aware of it, that you have a lot of physical contact. So we met over a period of a year, and definitely, food was a very big part of our experience. And I think in a movie making situation, they collect craft services, and you have to have good food because people get tired. But I think the food is totally different, it doesn’t have to be that good, it has to create, it has to contribute to that warmth, it has to contribute to the fact that we can be friends, as well as people making something together. And that’s something I feel I’m always looking for in my work, that people have enthusiasm for making something that they might not have made, like if I’m working with someone who does a sound mix for me, I like to show that person the film over six months, so that he’s involved intellectually. 

I work with a man named Stephen Vitiello. He worked on Film About a Father Who, he worked on Your Day is My Night and other films of mine, that he doesn’t just do… He is a musician, but he involves himself. Sometimes he’ll deliver sounds to me that I have to meet him, and so we have this, call it mutual respect, and we get excited as artists, as creative people, about our collaboration. 

Also, I feel really close to people like you, people who are curators, who give me insight, and then I learn through your observations of the films, I learn how your mind works, I learn how certain things exhilarate you. I feel like we met on the terrain of cinema and then learned things about each other, and I think that’s really pretty profound. 

Cintía Gil: But it’s also very beautiful, the generous way how you allow your films to have that. 

Lynne Sachs: Hopefully. 

Cintía Gil: Thank you so much, Lynne, it’s an absolute pleasure to talk with you, always. 

Lynne Sachs: Thank you for your fantastic insights. And it’s actually rare for a filmmaker to have the chance to talk to someone who’s looked at work over this many years and sees threads that I didn’t always know they’re there, but I know how I work, so I really, I learned a lot from you, thank you very much. 

Cintía Gil: No, I learned from you. Thank you. And thank you to your films. 

Lynne Sachs: Yeah. 

About DAFilms

DOC ALLIANCE – The New Deal for Feature Documentaries

Doc Alliance is the result of a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals: CPH:DOXDoclisboaMillennium Docs Against GravityDOK LeipzigFIDMarseilleJi.hlava IDFF and Visions du Réel. The aim of the Doc Alliance initiative is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and continuously promote quality creative documentary films.

Activities of DOC ALLIANCE:

• Doc Alliance Selection – Since 2008, the Doc Alliance platform presents the Doc Alliance Selection Award. The award goes to the best European documentary film selected independently by each of the platform’s festival members. The individual festivals also nominate the representatives of the jury of experts, recruited among the film critics from the festival countries. Within the Doc Alliance Selection section, each of the Doc Alliance festivals screens at least 3 films nominated for the award in the given year.

• The online portal DAFilms.com is the main project of the Doc Alliance festival network formed by 7 key European documentary film festivals. It represents an international online distribution platform for documentary and experimental films focused on European cinema. For a small fee, it offers over 1900 films accessible across the globe for streaming or legal download. The films are included in the virtual database on the basis of demanding selection criteria. The portal presents regular film programs of diverse character ranging from presentation of archive historical films through world retrospectives of leading world filmmakers to new premiere formats such as the day-and-date release. DAFilms.com invites directors, producers, distributors, and students to submit their films, thus offering them the possibility to make use of this unique distribution channel. For more information, see FILM SUBMISSION.

“House of Science” Screens at Ji.Hlava 2021 with Publication in Dok.Revue

The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts at Ji.Hlava

director: Lynne Sachs
original title: The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts
year: 1991
running time: 30 min.

This defiant feminist mosaic subversively recontextualizes archived materials dating back to the 1950s. Footage taken from a medical laboratory, an educational film on menstruation, and an amateur fantasy film about a mermaid gain whole new meanings. The repurposed shots represent the female body as a kind of freak show of bodily processes, sexuality, and maladaptation. Opposing the distorted imagery of women rooted in our patriarchal world is American poet Gertrude Stein, who seeks to bridge the gap between the “body of the body” and the “body of the mind” and achieve the integrity denied to women by Western society.

“I deconstruct a purely cinematic reality that to me seems disturbing, humorous, and just plain visually provocative. The composition of a single frame displaces the seedbed where I can cultivate my paintings and collages.”

Lynne Sachs (1961) is an American experimental filmmaker and poet. She studied film and history in San Francisco and at Sorbonne. Her work blurs the lines between live-action film, documentary, collage, and performance. Sachs tends to explore feminist and socially critical themes. Ji.hlava IDFF 2021 will also present her film Maya at 24.

5. 11. 2021 / AUTHOR: LYNNE SACHS

In The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts (1991), Lynne Sachs exposes the edifice of scientific “facts” with which the male-dominated disciplines of science and medicine have constructed an image of what a woman is.

Opposing the distorted imagery of women rooted in our patriarchal world is American poet Gertrude Stein, who seeks to bridge the gap between the “body of the body” and the “body of the mind” and achieve the integrity denied to women by Western society. We bring here the script of this experimental film, that is screened online till 14th November at Ji.hlava IDFF online.

VOICE OVER:  I met him while I was on the table, you know they you put on the table, put you in the stirrups and he walks in.  At first, it’s a kind of an awkward introduction.  Second, maybe he didn’t mean it, but I don’t think he had any inclination to be warm or kind or talking. It was a real quick examination.  I was still on the table. I was pregnant. He said “Any questions?” His hand was on a doorknob. And I, of course, said “No.”  I had a zillion questions. And I can’t tell you how tall he was. I was lying down. But he always struck me as short, cold and with glasses, and he may not look like that at all.

TITLE:  The House of Science: a museum of false facts

Doctor: That’s the spirit I like, very nice indeed.  I like that spirit when you take charge of yourself.
Woman: Yes.
Doctor: You won’t have anyone messing you about.  That’s how it should be.
Woman: Have you seen what the head looks like?
Doctor: It’s covered with hair.
Woman: What color?
Nurse: Black.
Woman: Dark hair. It will come out now showing, then go back.  Popping in and out like that until it gets far enough out to stay out.
Woman: Yes.
Doctor: Then that’s what we call the crowning. Twenty minutes after that you’ll probably have your baby.
Woman: You know it seems extraordinary that frail women must do all this pushing.
Doctor: I often think that.
Doctor: Yes, it’s a boy.
Woman: Is he all right?
Doctor: Oh yes.
Woman: Listen!

LYNNE’S ONSCREEN DIARY & V.O:  The doctor’s office is full blond Victorian women patting their stomachs, smiling, Monalisa-esque, knowing.  They welcome 18 year old me to their coterie of framed ladies-in-waiting. Waiting for the “pop,” the baby.  And meanwhile, they sell pharmaceuticals.  They pose in their nicely framed images hung ever so carefully around the waiting room of Doctor L. I am waiting too, for sex, and much, much later the “pop.”  But now, it’s sex, with a someone I don’t know, as of yet.  It’s an abstract meeting but I want to be prepared. I’m here for one thing, Doctor L., the armor. It’s too bad though, I don’t say “sex.”  I say “college.”  “Give me a diaphragm, Doctor G., so I can go to college.”  He gives me the shield but doesn’t tell me how to use it. I leave his office, fully equipped, protected, completely incapable of placing that plastic, or is it rubber, sheath over my cervix. Where is my cervix?

The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts

LYNNE’S VOICE:  But, uh, I don’t know if you want to talk about this, so if you don’t want to talk about this, but it interests me.  It’s not something you have to …Do you think that, at the time, I mean that a lot of women, for many women, that dealing with that, whether it’s abuse or exploitation or whatever from ….?

VOICE OVER POEM BY GERTRUDE STEIN READ BY THREE WOMEN: That’s wonderful …woops … okay girls … lifting belly is so strong, lifting belly is so strong, lifting belly together, lifting belly oh yes, remember what I say, do you?  (Laugh) That’s a mother’s line. Okay let’s start all over and we’ll get it this time. It will give me a feeling of completion.   Lifting belly is so strong, I want to tell her something, wax candles, we have brought a great many wax candles, some are decorated.  They have not been lighted. I do not mention roses.  Exactly. Actually. Questions and butter.  I find the butter very good. Lifting belly is so kind.  Lifting belly fattily.  Doesn’t that astonish you? You did want me.  Say it again. Strawberry. Lifting kindly belly.  Sing to me I say.  Some are wives not heroes. Lifting belly merrily. Sing to me I say. Lifting belly. A reflection. Lifting belly joins more prizes. Fit to be.  I have fit on a hat. Have you. What did you say to excuse me? Difficult paper and scattered. Lifting belly is so kind.

LYNNE’S DIARY ON SCREEN:  My memory of being a girl included a “me” that is two. I am two bodies – the body of the body and the body of the mind.  The body of the body was flaccid and forgotten.  This was the body that was wet with dirty liquids, holes that wouldn’t close, full of smells and curdled milk.  Of course there was the skeleton.  This was assumed and only reconsidered upon my very rare attempts at jumping farther than far enough, clearing the ditch, lifting the heave-ho. But the body of the body was not the bones.  This body wrapped and encircled the bones, a protective cover of flesh, just on the other side of the wall I call skin.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL TEXT READ OUTLOUD BY LITTLE GIRL WHO MAKES MISTAKES (SUBTITLED):  Let us take the next example, that of a born thief. Louis C. Magnan writes of her, aged nine, was the daughter of a mad father, always in …. a condition of sexual excitement.  She was of weak intelligence.  Her instincts had always been bad, her conduct turbulent, and her mind incapable of concentration. At three, she was a thief and laid hands on her mother’s money. At five, she was arrested and conveyed to the police office. She shrieked, tore off her socks and threw her dolls into the gutter and lifted her shirts in the street. But on looking at her photograph, one perceives that although only nine years old, she offers the exact type of the born criminal. Her jaws and cheekbones are emmense, the frontal sinews strong, the nose flat. She looks like a grown woman – nay, a man.

GIRLS WHISPERING:  Remember … remember … the next day … tomorrow… the next day … tomorrow … remember … tomorrow … remember … tomorrow … remember … this movie and there were these women … with elephant snouts … and really long …. I know I saw that movie too … they jumped off the screen …the next day … remember.

LYNNE’S DIARY ON SCREEN:  The body of the body moves in cycles and with every repetition there is a sensation of pain.  The reminder, emanating from the core, the indefinable marrow that can never be touched, is a cleansing, scarring, tactile, silent exclamation.  The arrival of the body of the body forces the body of the mind to take notice, begrudgingly so. With legs crossed, the blood is caught just before it crosses the border into the public domain.

WOMAN’S VOICE:  But I always thought black widow spiders spit, cause I really loved black widows, and I would always go out and stand by them and I ran to get my father to show him, and he said that I couldn’t go near it, and I said that I wouldn’t ever touch it. You know, I was just going to watch it. And he said “No, cause it will spit at you!”  And I believed that unquestioningly, until, I was, and I told everyone “Oh yeah, black widows spit….” I don’t think black widows spit. It doesn’t even sound logical. I don’t even think they have any apparatus to spit.

VOICE FROM ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTARY SCIENCE FILM: Body hair appears, most noticeably under the arms and in the pubic region. Menstrual or monthly periods usually happen every four weeks, however they’re likely to be quite irregular for the first two or three yeas while a girls is still maturing.  And later a cycle of perhaps five weeks or three weeks is perfectly normal. It takes time to get used to the changes of adolescence which at first may seem so strange. However, for many girls menstruation brings no problems and little discomfort, only the extra time needed for cleanliness.

LYNNE’S DIARY AND V.O.:  Filled with infectious, infected liquids, we hold in the blood, the water, the sneeze, the wax, the hair, the puss, the breath.  All that is ours to let go, to release onto this earth, is held in, contained. I am the cauldron of dangerous substances.

WOMAN’S V.O.:  Well, as a young child I always had a lot of coughing and stuff and my mother would never allow me to spit what came out of my chest. Because she said that “Girls don’t spit. They swallow it. You know you don’t do that because it’s vulgar.”

MAN’S VOICE FROM OLD DOCUMENTARY:  Science began when man began to observe and make note of his observations.

GIRL WHISPERING:  … the next day … tomorrow …the next day tomorrow I know I saw that movie too … the next day … tomorrow.

GIRLS’ VOICES FROM OLD MOVIE:  For someone who has so many outside activities. She’s smart, that’s why.  Sure she’s smart, but she’s also human. Besides, this thing is all over school now!  Is that true?  Have the rest of you heard about this?

Woman #1:  Prostitutes have longer hands and larger calves but their feet are small.
Woman #2:  While criminals have the darker hair and eyes, it is the prostitutes whose fare and red hair now surpasses the normal.
Woman #3: Female thieves, above all prostitutes, are inferior to moral women in cranial capacity and circumference.

GIRLS WHISPERING:  I saw this movie called “The Secret Garden.”

WOMAN’S V.O.:  My dad was always disappointed because my mother never gave him a son.  We rode his butt when we found out men are the ones that give a child gender.  Cause he had really harassed my mom for years because she didn’t have a son.  So we had to tell him that it was his fault. Cause he really, really wanted a boy. I was the closest thing that he had to a son for years.

MALE V.O. FROM OLD MOVIE THAT TEACHES DRAWING LESSONS:  … is to support the framework and to give a framework to the body and to give it contour … There’s no difficulty in looking at a subject such as this to see that it’s symmetrical.

Woman #1:  Prostitutes have longer hair and larger breasts, but their thighs are smaller.
Woman #2:  But I have dark hair and dark eyes and I like my hair red.
Woman #3: No way, they’re rough, they’re tough, they’re hard to bluff.

WOMAN V.O.: Like I can remember when I learned about martyrs. I was going to be Joan of Arc or I was going to be different saints and then I was going to be the Virgin Mary. Then I remember when I read about Nancy Drew. Then I was going to be her. So I had more recollection from the inside out. Visually, from the outside in, I remember putting on make-up like my mother, but would always cover my whole face with lipstick.

MALE VOICE FROM SCIENCE RECORDING ON BABIES:  No one has yet come up with a complete and precise interpretation of each type of cry.  There are catalogued some twenty different non-normal cries and fifteen to twenty different normal need cries. In a moment, you will hear four different normal need cries. The cries illustrated are hunger, pain, fatigue and fretfulness.

LYNNE’S DIARY AND V.O.:  I remember my first introduction to the bridle, the bra.  I was a horse irritated by such constraints.  My bosoms were a keen, smooth extension of my growing, extending torso – all one piece.  The cusp between my breast and my rib was a hiding place for my lanky, unwieldy arm. I was triangle, feeling a wholeness somewhere between my elbows and the nape of my neck — until the bridle came and created divisions, areas of artificial mystique, a separation between the functional arm and the sexual breast. Territory.

WOMAN’S V.O.:  We have Rubens’ women. They are, I assume they are purchased for this purpose, like chubby, flesh women swinging on swings or lounging around, always kind of grotesque looking and there – just to be taken, just right there for the taking.  And I assume that is why they were purchased, though we pretend that they were just purchased for art. Or there’s another, the Venuses, there’s a period of time when they were shaving all the pubic hair from the Venuses.  There’s something I think about power in removing that hair and also a few perversions in the male culture that made that so popular. I think they become less powerful images for the male. And I think a lot of times, the more the visual images can be disarmed the better the male artist feels.

LYNNE’S DIARY V.O.: A speculum before me. I hold the mirror just inches away and learn to look – sometimes shyly, occasionally detached, and now, more often than not, bravely. I touch myself with knowledge. I trace a path across my chest, searching for surprises I’d rather not find, knots in the fabric.


GIRLS WHISPERING:  There was a secret garden and she had been in it, and she found it and she dug a hole everywhere she could find it and she found the key and she found the door and the next day she told another boy ….

LYNNE’S DIARY V.O AND TEXT ON SCREEN: Undressed, we read our bodies like a history. Scars, muscles, curves of the spine.  We look at ourselves from within, collect our own data, create our own science, begin to define.  Built from the inside out, this new laboratory pushes against the walls of the old structure. An incendiary effect, yes, but not arson.

Girl #1: Doctor, doctor, I can’t talk very well, I lost my voice.
Girl #2: Okay, let me take a strep test.
Girl #1: Okay, what do I do?
Girl #2:  Just open your mouth, and I’m going to put this down your throat. Okay, now we’ve got to put it in the chemicals. You have strep!
Girl #1: I do?  Mom, I have strep.  What’s strep?
Girl #2: It means you have a very soar throat.
Girl #1: I do? Oh, thank you. What do I have to do for it?
Girl #2:  Well, just take the aspirin and wait a few weeks.
Girl #1: Okay, bye!
Girl #2: Bye!

Mubi Notebook: Experimenting and Expanding at Prismatic Ground

Experimenting and Expanding at Prismatic Ground
MUBI Notebook
By Caroline Golum
May 31, 2021


An exhibiting filmmaker’s thoughts on the recent online festival, Prismatic Ground.

It began, as so many things do these days, with a tweet: in October 2020, Inney Prakash, programmer of the Maysles Cinema’s “After Civilization” series, put out a call for experimental documentary films. The resulting festival, Prismatic Ground, debuted in early April with a diverse line-up of new and repertory non-fiction films that ran the gamut of genres, styles, and techniques. Imagine: a programmer directly engaging with his community of filmmakers with an open-hearted all-points-bulletin was the antithesis of conventional festival gatekeeping. The refreshing prospect was a beacon to filmmakers struggling to create and exhibit work during a traumatic and hostile time. 

Prakash’s call for submissions caught my attention on that fateful October night: for once, my endless Twitter scrolling put me in the right place at the right time. For the last four years, I’d been dutifully at work on a narrative feature concerning Julian of Norwich, an obscure 14th-century woman mystic. With development and production on indefinite hold, I resolved to keep in “fighting shape” by making whatever I could—however I could—about Julian’s ecstatic religious experience. I had originally set out to make a companion piece, a sort of altar to this long-overlooked religious icon. What began as a few standalone tableaux eventually turned into The Sixteen Showings of Julian of Norwich, a bricolage of stop-motion animation, back-projection, and collage. 

I was very fortunate to have a job for most of last year, but working well beyond the customary 40 hours a week in these new circumstances was disastrous for my mental health and creative practice. For the first few months of this solitary arrangement, I was lucky if I ended each day with just enough energy to bathe and feed myself. Readers, no doubt, will recognize this feeling immediately—a pervasive fogginess, a dearth of initiative, contained on all sides by fear, dread, and exhaustion. The immediate reaction for many of us possessing an artistic temperament is to heal through the work, to create from a place of self-preservation as a therapeutic exercise (because, to be perfectly honest, very few working artists can afford traditional talk therapy).

After a nights-and-weekends work schedule, I finished a short film in my little office consisting of whatever I had on hand. It’s a wild departure from my usual narrative practice of snappy dialogue and meticulously-designed sets, edging my practice into a heretofore unexplored aesthetic and style. 

Sixteen Showings was my first attempt to make a film without in-person collaborations: Tessa Strain’s narration, Matt Macfarlane’s original score, and Eliana Zebrow’s rich sound mix were directed entirely over email. The film was tangential to my would-be narrative feature, but very much apiece with my overarching vision. Finishing this solo effort was a balm—somehow I had made something new despite… well, you know, everything. But what now? Surveying the fruits of this months-long process, I struggled to conceive of a suitable afterlife beyond the customary Vimeo upload. Where could I screen this? What context could there possibly be for a theological exploration of isolation, plague, and revolt? Calling it a “shut-in watercolor movie,” or “moving altar,” while elegiac, didn’t quite fit the bill. 

Enter Inney Prakash’s well-timed tweet and timely festival. Emboldened by his transparency and programmatic voice, I steeled myself for yet another humbly-toned inquiry. When Sixteen Showings was selected, I was shocked, ecstatic and, in a way, relieved: if there was an audience for this film, surely I would find it at Prismatic Ground. Having never enjoyed a virtual premiere, I went into the experience as a total neophyte. But for every gripe there was praise in equal measure: the pleasure of connecting with an otherwise distant viewership, public recognition for work made under great duress. Prismatic Ground helped me recontextualize what felt like a moving target. More than a descriptor or genre, “experimental documentary” affords artists a wide berth to do just that: experiment with cinematic and journalistic techniques within a nonfiction framework. To that end, I began to understand the dual significance of Sixteen Showings as a documentary about Julian of Norwich’s life and, by extension, my own. 

In a festival space laid low by last year’s pandemic, Prakash saw an opportunity to challenge “the toxic or tedious norms governing festival culture, and to emphasize inclusivity and access.” Where the year’s higher-profile festivals sought to replicate the exclusivity of their in-person events with geo-blocked premiers and Zoom happy hours, Prismatic Ground promised viewers a deliberate antithesis. Its programming, ethos, and even web presence were tailor-made for the online space, prioritizing widespread access and a filmmaker-centered focus on screenings and Q&As. Prakash’s curation was mission-driven: “It was important to me to strike a balance,” he said, “between early career and established filmmakers, palatable and challenging work, passion and polish.” The line-up generously gave equal weight to artists at every stage of their process. Instead of single-film, time-sensitive screenings, audiences enjoyed free reign to explore and engage of their own accord, a heretofore unheard of format—online and off.

Organized in a series of “waves,” Prismatic Ground was structured around four separate collections touching on simultaneously personal and societal themes. It was reassuring to screen Sixteen Showings alongside equally intimate works, each with a different visual and philosophical approach. I was, and still am, grateful to Prakash for including my film. Despite being a newcomer to experimental filmmaking and documentary, I never once felt like an impostor. That feeling carried over to my experience as a viewer as well: these were films unlike any I’d seen, whether due to their newness or, in the case of repertory titles, my own lack of access. I am grateful to the festival for offering an avenue through which to engage with the work of other like-minded artists. 

I was eager to hear from my fellow filmmakers about their road to the festival and experience as participants in this bold experiment in public exhibition. While we all arrived through different avenues, I immediately noticed a shared resonance. A wide net-approach to programming naturally attracted filmmakers reeling from the exclusionary nature of the mainstream festival circuit. Filmmaker Angelo Madsen Max (Two Sons and a River of Blood, 2021) was quick to note how “Inney was able to really access all of the different layers of what the piece was doing.” For director Sarah Friedland (Drills, 2020) it was the fervor of how Prakash had “created the festival he wanted to exist, instead of trying to reform an established festival” that drew her to the event.

For filmmakers navigating constraints brought on by the pandemic, and its ongoing economic aftermath, social media provided the sense of community missing from in-person festivals. Elias ZX (You Deserve The Best, 2018) was already familiar with Prakash’s programming work on “After Civilization” when they submitted their film. “We became friends through Twitter, [and] he told me about his plan to make an experimental documentary festival.” Screening online “gave my film space to breathe in a way that is really uncommon for festivals. Every viewer was allowed to have a completely unique experience with the film.” Virginia-based filmmaker Lydia Moyer (The Well-Prepared Citizen’s Solution, 2020) saw the festival as a chance to broaden and strengthen these seemingly disparate filmmaking communities. “As a person who lives in a rural place, it’s great that so much interesting work has been available this year to anyone who’s got enough bandwidth (literally and figuratively).” Moyer said. “The way this is set up is for online viewing, not just trying to transfer an in-person experience online.” 

Programming the work of early career filmmakers alongside more established artists was more than a canny curatorial choice. The variety presented across these four waves expanded the audience’s access to repertory titles, while simultaneously reiterating the connection between both older and more recent offerings. Prismatic Ground’s streaming platform and presentation stood out for director Chris Harris (Reckless Eyeballing, 2004), who “had some streaming experiences that weren’t so happy in terms of the technical aspects.” The festival’s creative exhibition format was especially taken by “the mix of programming, special live events, and the flexibility of accommodating filmmakers with the option of live and recorded Q&As.” For prolific filmmaker Lynne Sachs, Prismatic Ground represented “an entirely new, unbelievably adventurous, compassionate approach to the viewing of experimentally driven cinema,” emphasizing that the festival itself was “beyond anything I have ever seen in my life.”  

Among the filmmakers I spoke with, Prismatic Ground’s liberal approach to exhibition belied a tremendous sense of potential for artists navigating a post-COVID festival ecosystem. Harris noticed an “[increasing] festival bandwidth for underseen/emerging Black experimental filmmakers,” a tendency that he “[hopes] to see continue after COVID.” In lieu of a return to in-person only screenings, the general consensus saw streaming as a fixture in future festivals. “I don’t think it is going to be possible to put the toothpaste back in the tube here,” noted Zx, emphasizing that “more access will be good for filmmakers… and will challenge programmers to be more competitive, to release more obscure films that are harder to find.” 

Prakash’s groundbreaking work has already heeded the call, citing critic Abby Sun’s Berlin Critics’ Week essay “On Criticism” as a guiding principle. “Festivals aren’t merely reacting to social conditions,” Sun writes. “They are often the primary creators of them.” Prismatic Ground’s focus on diverse curation and access reaches well beyond the artistic ramifications. Prakash’s end goal is emboldening, a manifesto of sorts: “Enough of premiere politics, prohibitive pricing, playing only the same handful of films at every festival. Let’s create better conditions. There is a moral imperative to keep doing virtual screenings now that we know we can and how.” 


By Joshua Brunsting 
Criterion Cast
April 8, 2021

Marking it’s debut edition, Prismatic Ground is a film festival of endless potential. Space for experimental cinema, particularly short form, is hard to come by, and thankfully it appears as though a new, heavily curated festival is set to give these incredible artists a new ground to show their work. But again, it’s a first edition. What could they possibly collect on their first try? Well, if these seven(ish) films are any hint, we may be at the ground floor of one of the country’s most interesting experimental film festivals.

6. The Films of Lynne Sachs

Another sidebar, although not one found in the main program, director Lynne Sachs is being honored as the inaugural winner of the “Ground Glass Award,” the festival’s award given to a person who has contributed to the world of experimental media. Being honored by both the award and a pair of programs, eight of the director’s short and medium-length works are being highlighted here, led by one of her more well known works (at least recently), A Month of Single Frames (For Barbara Hammer). Made in 2019 but just now making its way out of the festival circuit, the short is actually also available on MUBI at the moment, and sees the director collaborating with late director Barbara Hammer by finishing her final project in what ultimately results in a profoundly moving and aesthetically captivating character study of sorts. Other highlights include Sermons and Sacred Pictures, Sachs’ 1989 documentary about Reverend L.O. Taylor, a Black Baptist minister with a passion for filmmaking, and also maybe the best film of the bunch The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts. This 30 minute experimental documentary from 1991 looks at the depiction of the female body throughout history, and is as provocative today as it ever has been. Sachs is also featured in the main slate with her 4 minute masterpiece Drawn and Quartered, another film about perception, looking and gender.

7. 4 Films By Bill Morrison

Starting off this preview of the debut Prismatic Ground festival, we turn to a sort of sidebar-within-a-sidebar. Structured largely around four “waves,” Prismatic Ground is highlighting films with similar themes and ideas, and for the first entry we turn to, of course, the first wave. Within the first wave known as “desire is already a memory,” Prismatic Ground is highlighting four brand new shorts from beloved director Bill Morrison. Including the likes of 2020’s Curly Takes a Bath By The Sea and 2021’s trio of Sunken FilmsWild Girl and The Ring, these collectively only run around 30 minutes, but are as entrancing a quartet of films as you’ll see all year. Chief among them is Curly Takes a Bath, which is a short the director produced during lockdown that is strangely one of the more moving explorations of the striving for freedom that lockdown has brought us. Sunken Films feels squarely in his wheelhouse as its story of lost films discovered is a topic found throughout his career, as is the idea of loss and decay, which is the topic of both Wild Girl and The Ring, the former being maybe the director’s most formally interesting work collected here.

5. Home In The Woods

The feature film highlighted in the fourth wave (the same wave as the above mentioned Sachs film), Home in the Woods is about as singular a vision as you’ll ever encounter. At once maximalist in its experimental aesthetic and yet born out of the most minimal of intents, Home is director Brandon Wilson’s exploration of a forest near the filmmaker’s own home in Oregon. However, this isn’t a rudimentary point and shoot style, almost zen-like document of metaphysical freedom. No, instead Wilson crafts a relatively narrative-free deconstruction of the cyclical nature of the world around us and man’s own relationship to the space we inhabit. Pairing incredible sound design with filmmaking choices ranging from dynamic color processing to the use of microscopic imagery, Home has an almost science-fiction like feel, despite being a decidedly tactile and organic work. Not so much born of the lockdown era as the perfect type of conversation piece with it, Wilson’s film is in many ways one of the great pandemic documents. A film about the beauty of nature that plays as both zen installation piece and hypnotic slow cinema deconstruction.

4. Too Long Here

Back to the wide array of shorts collected here, for one of the more anger-inducing viewing experiences of the festival. More or less a seven-minute short film looking at the day that former First Lady Pat Nixon inaugurated a stretch of land along the US-Mexico border as “Friendship Park,” Too Long Here is director Emily Packer’s recontextualizing this event opposite the increasing racism and xenophobia that has ultimately culminated with not just former president Donald Trump, but his “liberal” replacement Joe Biden potentially continuing the building of the disastrous border wall. A soul-crushing exploration of America’s failed promise and increasing descent into nationalism is the real focus here, with Packer using lushly restored footage from the inauguration set against what the viewer is keenly aware of as the future for this relationship. In just seven minutes Packer stacks her film with fascinating moments from that day in history, and culminates with an absolute emotional gut punch of a final moment. A fascinating, deeply important work.

3. The Annotated Field Guide of Ulysses S. Grant

From one singular picture to another. The Annotated Field Guide of Ulysses S. Grant is from director Jim Finn, and tells the story of General Grant, as he attempts to liberate the southern states during the 1860s. However, this isn’t your father’s historical documentary. Instead Finn takes things like board games and collectible trading cards to lay out the respective battles Grant found himself in, pairing these opposite modern day landscapes of former battlefields, all shot in gorgeous 16mm. An engrossing, travelogue-like riff on a legendary historical figure, Field Guide is a strange melting together of the revered (former battleground location footage) and juvenile (board games). This is also a brilliant piece of research, moving viewers from the border between Texas and Louisiana up to the coast of New England, pairing seemingly misplaced thing like a 1970’s inspired soundtrack with deeply textured and dense historical background, making this an endlessly surprising feature.

2. The Films of Anita Thacher

The final director-focused collection on this list, Anita Thacher’s work is set to open the festival, with seven of her rarely seen shorts getting highlighted as the opening night centerpiece. This collection is led by the incomparable Loose Corner from 1986, which is being shown as a restoration-in-progress screening, as the Academy Film Archive is currently attempting to bring this masterpiece back to life. Cinephiles may find one of her later films, Cut to be compelling, particularly it’s fascinating use of image, sound and editing, and those, and I myself am transfixed by Loose Corner, maybe the most playfully kinetic of the films collected here. It’s a gloriously anarchic experiment in filmmaking and space, and features some of the most formally inventive sleights of hand you’ll ever find. These are exactly the type of one of a kind visual experiments that make Prismatic Ground a fantastic new player on the festival circuit, and will hopefully inspire more people to give these filmmakers proper respect.

1. Second Star To The Right And Straight On ‘Til Morning

Rounding out this list is arguably the most buzzed about film of the festival, and for just cause. Originally intended to be included on potential home video releases for the underrated Ben Zeitlin film WendySecond Star is the latest film from directors Bill and Turner Ross, and is not only likely never to make any release of the film they documented, but may very well never see the light of day commercially following this festival run. Billed as “too experimental” by the studio, this documentary is less about the making of the film itself and more about the spirit of the children that helped make it happen, embracing a sense of freedom and almost whimsy that is truly unlike any making of picture you’ve ever seen. Featuring little to know actual interviews, the film is more a collection of moments, of lives, all the while feeling decidedly of the Ross Brothers. Inherently a film about community, Second Star feels like a distant relative to a film like Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, a film about performance and family, catching small moments like a child blessing someone’s sneeze in the middle of a conversation, all the while making these happenstances feel immensely moving. There simply aren’t filmmakers quite like these two, filmmakers with endless empathy and compassion.

Kino Rebelde to Represent Lynne Sachs’ Catalogue Internationally


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


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.

THE FILMS OF LYNNE SACHS Curated by Craig Baldwin at the Roxie (San Francisco)

Curated by Craig Baldwin 


Film About a Father Who +

Two Sidebar Programs

Starts February 12

Fresh from her early 2021 retrospective at New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image, filmmaker Lynne Sachs returns to San Francisco where she lived and went to school (SFSU & SFAI) between 1985 and ‘95. It was here that Lynne really immersed herself in our city’s experimental and documentary community, working closely with local artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Barbara Hammer, Gunvor Nelson and Trinh T. Minh-ha and spending time at the Film Arts Foundation (RIP), Canyon Cinema, SF Cinematheque, and Other Cinema.

“For more than thirty years, artist Lynne Sachs has constructed short, bold mid-length, and feature films incorporating elements of the essay film, collage, performance, and observational documentary. Her highly self-reflexive films have variously explored the relations between the body, camera, and the materiality of film itself; histories of personal, social, and political conflict; marginalized communities and their labor; and her own family life, slipping seamlessly between modes, from documentary essays to diaristic shorts.” – Edo Choi, Assistant Curator of Film, Museum of the Moving Image.

Accompanying our Bay Area premiere of Sachs’s Film About a Father Who, the Roxie offers two accompanying shorts sidebars programmed by filmmaker and Other Cinema curator Craig Baldwin.

Special thanks to Other CinemaCanyon Cinema, and Cinema Guild for their support in organizing this program.


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. In the process, Sachs allows herself and her audience inside to see beyond the surface of the skin, the projected reality. As the startling facts mount, Sachs as a daughter discovers more about her father than she had ever hoped to reveal. (74 min., 2020, A Cinema Guild Release)

Critic’s Pick! “[A] brisk, prismatic and richly psychodramatic family portrait.” – Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

“Sachs achieves a poetic resignation about unknowability inside families, and the hidden roots never explained from looking at a family tree.” – Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times

“Formidable in its candor and ambition.” – Jonathan Romney, Screen International

Tickets for FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO will be available on February 12



Still from “The House of Science: a museum of false facts”

Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (4 min., 1986)
Sermons and Sacred Pictures (29 min., 1989)
The House of Science: a museum of false facts (30 min., 1991)
Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (made with Dana Sachs) (33 min., 1994)

“As sidebar to her fresh Father feature, here is the first of two shorts programs, showcasing the astonishing cinematic artistry of Lynne Sachs…all made during her san fran years and recently digitally restored. Her ‘89 Sermons offers an early glimmer of her sensitivity to both marginalized communities and their archives, as she gracefully threads ultra-rare ‘30s & ’40s footage from Rev. LO Taylor into a tapestry of visibility and respect for Memphis’ Black community. Her facility for celluloid extrapolation is demonstrated in even more creative ways in House of Science, a personal essay on female identity, told through found footage, poetic text, and playful experimental technique. Which Way is East raises its eyes to engagements in international waters, and to insightful exchanges with her expat sister Dana, towards new understandings of and in the oh-so-historically charged Republic of Vietnam.  Opening is Lynne’s first ever 16mm, Still Life.” – CB

TRT: 96 min.

Tickets for Sidebar 1: INQUIRIES INTO SELF AND OTHER will be available on February 12


A Month of Single Frames (for Barbara Hammer) (14 min., 2019)
Investigation of a Flame (45 min., 2001)
And Then We Marched (4 min., 2017)
The Washing Society (co-directed with Lizzie Olesker) (44 min., 2018)

“Characteristically, Sachs speaks in first person to cultural difference and dissent, here particularly valorizing acts of resistance and struggles for justice. Her collaboration with the recently deceased lesbian maker Barbara Hammer keynotes this ‘Solidarity’ set, with Lynne literally framing/finishing her mentor’s last project. Younger allies are also acknowledged in Sachs’ inspiring 2017 celebration of women’s political power on contested Washington, DC turf. The 2001 Investigation is a tribute to the courage and conscience of the epochal Berrigan-led burning of Baltimore draft records, made while Sachs was teaching in that town. And the local debut of The Washing Society, produced with playwright Lizzie Olesker, stakes their support of NYC’s low-paid laundry workers—mostly women of color—in even another radiant illumination of the little-seen truths of contemporary race/class inequity.” – CB

TRT: 107 min.

Tickets for Sidebar 2: PROFILES IN COURAGE will be available on February 12

“Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression” – Museum of the Moving Image to host Sachs Retrospective

Museum of the Moving Image 

Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression

January 13–31, 2021

For more than thirty years, artist Lynne Sachs has constructed short, bold mid-length, and feature films incorporating elements of the essay film, collage, performance, and observational documentary. Her highly self-reflexive films have variously explored the relations between the body, camera, and the materiality of film itself; histories of personal, social, and political trauma; marginalized communities and their labor; and her own family life, slipping seamlessly between modes, from documentary essays to diaristic shorts. On the occasion of her latest feature, Film About a Father Who, a kaleidoscopic portrait of the artist’s maddeningly mercurial father, the Museum is pleased to present a career-ranging survey of Sachs’s work, including new HD presentations of Drawn and QuarteredThe House of Science: a museum of false facts, and Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam, as well as the premiere of Maya at 24, the third edition of Sach’s temporal portrait of her daughter.

Organized by Assistant Curator of Film Edo Choi.
Special thanks to Canyon Cinema and Cinema Guild for their support in organizing this program.

All films will be presented in MoMI’s Virtual Cinema, including a new video interview between Lynne Sachs and Edo Choi, which will be available exclusively to ticket holders.

Tickets: An all-series pass (including Film About a Father Who) is available for $30 ($26 MoMI members). A pass for just the repertory portion is $20 ($16 members) / individual program tickets are $5. Tickets for Film About a Father Who are $12 ($10 members).

All films are directed by Lynne Sachs.

Program 1: Early Dissections
In her first three films, Sachs performs an exuberant autopsy of the medium itself, reveling in the investigation of its formal possibilities and cultural implications: the disjunctive layering of visual and verbal phrases in Still Life with Woman and Four Objects; un-split regular 8mm film as a metaphorical body and site of intercourse in the optically printed Drawn and Quartered; the scopophilic and gendered intentions of the camera’s gaze in Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning. These experiments anticipate the range of the artist’s mature work, beginning with her first essayistic collage The House of Science: a museum of false facts. Itself an autopsy, this mid-length film exposes the anatomy of western rationalism as a framework for sexual subjugation via a finely stitched patchwork of sounds and images from artistic renderings to archival films, home movies to staged performances.

Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986, 4 mins.)
Drawn and Quartered (1987, 4 mins. New HD presentation)
Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning (1987, 9 mins.)
The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991, 30 mins. New HD presentation)

Program 2: Family Travels
One of Lynne Sachs’s most sheerly beautiful films, Which Way Is East is a simultaneously intoxicating and politically sobering diary of encounters with the sights, sounds, and people of Vietnam, as Sachs pays a visit to her sister Dana and the two set off north from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. The film is paired here with a very different kind of family journey The Last Happy Day, recounting the life of Sachs’s distant cousin Sandor Lenard, a Jewish Hungarian doctor who survived the Second World War and was ultimately hired to reassemble the bones of dead American soldiers. Here Sachs journeys through time as opposed to space, as she assembles a typically colorful array of documentary and performative elements, including Sandor’s letters, a children’s performance, and highly abstracted war footage, to bring us closer to a man who bore witness to terrible things. This program also features The Last Happy Day’s brief predecessor, The Small Ones. Program running time: 73 mins.

Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam (1994, 33 mins. New HD presentation)
The Small Ones (2007, 3 mins.)
The Last Happy Day (2009, 37 mins.)

Program 3: Time Passes
Twenty years unspool over nine short films: portraits of Lynne Sachs’s children; visits with her mother, brother, niece and nephew; a tribute to the city where she lives; and scenes of sociopolitical trauma and protest. Nearly all shot on super 8mm or 16mm, and often silent, each work is at once a preservation of a moment and a record of change, seamlessly weaving together the candid and the performed gesture, the public and the private memory, in a simultaneously objective and subjective posture toward the passing of time. Program running time: 51 mins.

Photograph of Wind (2001, 4 mins.)
Tornado (2002, 4 mins.)
Noa, Noa (2006, 8 mins.)
Georgic for a Forgotten Planet (2008, 11 mins.)
Same Stream Twice (2012, 4 mins.)
Viva and Felix Growing Up (2015, 10 mins.)
Day Residue (2016, 3 mins.)
And Then We Marched (2017, 3 mins.)
Maya at 24 (2021, 4 mins. World premiere)

Program 4: Your Day Is My Night
2013, 64 mins. “This bed doesn’t necessarily belong to any one person,” someone says early in Your Day Is My Night. It could be the metaphorical thesis of this film, perhaps Lynne Sachs’s most self-effacing and meditative work. A seamless blend of closely observed verité footage, interpretive performance, and confessional monologues and interviews, the film doesn’t document so much as create a space to accommodate the stories and experiences of seven Chinese immigrants from ages 58 to 78 who live together in a “shift-bed” apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Sachs’s quilted sense of form achieves a new level of refinement and delicacy in collaboration with her cameraman Sean Hanley and her editor Amanda Katz, as she works with the participants to exhume a collective history of migration and struggle.

Program 5: Tip of My Tongue
2017, 80 mins. Sachs’s richly generative Tip of My Tongue finds the filmmaker responding to her 50th birthday by gathering twelve members of her generational cohort—friends and peers all born between 1958 and 1964, and originating as far as Cuba, Iran, and Australia—to participate in the creation of a choral work about the convergent and divergent effects history leaves upon those who live it. From the Kennedy assassination to Occupy Wall Street, the participants reveal their memories of, and reflections upon, the transformative experiences of their lives. Set to an ecstatic, pulsing score by Stephen Vitiello, the film interweaves these personal confessions with impressionistic images of contemporary New York, obscured glimpses of archival footage, and graphically rendered fragments of text to create a radiant prism of collective memory. Preceded by Sachs’s frantic record of accumulated daily to-do lists, A Year in Notes and Numbers (2018, 4 mins.).

Docs In Orbit – Masters Edition: In Conversation with Lynne Sachs

Docs in Orbit
Masters Edition: in Conversation with Lynne Sachs
August 2020

Welcome to another Masters Edition episode of Docs in Orbit, where we feature conversations with filmmakers who have made exceptional contributions to documentary film.  

In this episode, we feature a two part conversation with the remarkable and highly acclaimed feminist, experimental filmmaker and poet Lynne Sachs

In part one of the conversation, Lynne Sachs speaks about how feminist film theory has shaped her work and her approach to experimental filmmaking. We also discuss her collaborative process in her films including, her short documentary film A MONTH OF SINGLE FRAMES (for Barbara Hammer), which is currently available to screen at Sheffield Doc/Fest until August 31st.

In part two, we discuss her latest feature-length documentary film, FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO, which will be having its international premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest in Autumn.

LYNNE SACHS’ WORK REFERENCED (in order mentioned)

  • A Film About a Father Who (2020), available to watch in cinemas or Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects in September
  • A Month of Single Frames (2019), available now through August 25 @ DOKUFEST and @ Sheffield Doc/Fest through the end of August
  • My Body, Your Body, Our Bodies: Somatic Cinema at Home and in the World (2020), a lecture and screening by Lynne Sachs, available on Vimeo
  • The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991), available on Vimeo
  • Tip of My Tongue (80 min. 2017), film website
  • Year by Year Poems (2019), Tender Buttons Press, available via Small Press Distribution


Maya Deren | Laura Mulvey | Carolee Schneemann | Kara Walker | Bell Hooks | Cauleen Smith | Ja’Tovia Gary 


  • Mulvey, Laura. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen, 16(3), 6-18, Link
  • Steyerl, Hito. (2009). In Defense of the Poor Image. e-flux, 10, Link

Lynne Sachs is a Memphis-born, Brooklyn-based artist who has made over 35 films. Her work explores the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together text, collage, painting, politics and layered sound design. 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 her work with every new project. 

Sachs films have been screened all over the world, including New York Film Festival, Sundance, Oberhausen, Viennale, BAMCinemaFest, Vancouver Film Festival, DocLisboa and many others. Her work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts and other venues, including retrospectives in Argentina, Cuba, and China. 

She received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts. In 2019, Tender Buttons Press published Lynne’s first collection of poetry Year by Year Poems. 

Lynne Sachs is currently one of the artists in focus at Sheffield Doc Fest where her most recent feature documentary film, A FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO is presented alongside a curated selection of five of her earlier films.

“At Ease with Including Your Doubt” – Interview with Lynne Sachs on Ultra Dogme

By Tijana Perović 
July 2, 2020 
Ultra Dogme

When Lynne Sachs agreed to meet me on Skype, I was equally excited and nervous: excited, because I had just seen several of her movies, which left me feeling like I had entered a whole new world of visual and verbal language. Nervous, because her knowledge and experience in experimental/essay/documentary cinema were vast compared to mine. Nevertheless, we agreed on a meeting and it was one of the most honest and inspiring conversations I have had on film. I began the conversation by briefly introducing myself. I am a PhD student in a biology lab, where I often conduct experiments. Perhaps that is why I’m so drawn to experimental film, especially Lynne’s work.

Lynne Sachs: What you do in your lab – which is to dive into the unknown by using materials you understand, without knowing what will happen when they come together, without a script for what the results will be – shares something with experimental filmmaking. Although, as you might already know, Jonas Mekas didn’t like the term experimental. It is kind of like saying you’re an atheist, meaning you define yourself by what you’re not, so I understand, he just says: “I make films”.

Tijana Perović: Do you feel ok with the term experimental?

I personally do. I think it turns the noun into a verb because it says that the entity itself is devolving and can’t be made from a template. I like it and I think it’s liberating.

How did you get into filmmaking?

I definitely didn’t grow up watching personal art films, made by women. I hardly knew that women were making movies. But I always have written poetry and I always did a lot of art. In university, I pursued something that you might call more academic. I was a history major, but I did a lot of studio art. So in that time, when I was at university, I took a year, I went to Paris and I discovered Chantal Akerman and Marguerite Duras. This changed me. I realized that you can make films from this place of experience, or you can bring your attention to the small things in life. You could also bring in some politics or a change for women, etc.

In a sense, I got a chance to see that a film could be a vessel and that you could throw whatever you want into it and make your own recipe or idea. That was really exciting to me and a revelation. After college, I moved to New York and I started taking classes in Super 8 and video. I ended up going to graduate school in San Francisco. That was such a transformative experience, because there were so many people there.

You know Gunvor Nelson’s films? Gunvor was a teacher of mine. In fact, Carolee Schneeman, Gunvor Nelson and Barbara Hammer were all living in San Francisco at the time. Such powerful women. Powerful in a poetic way. Do you know George Kuchar’s films? They are very rowdy and irreverent. Craig Baldwin was also there. He is a filmmaker, quite renowned, almost all of his work is made from found footage. But he also has a small, still existent, screening space, called Other Cinema. It is just like a store front. And I spent almost every Saturday there, from 1987 to 1994, and that’s actually where my husband Mark Street and I met. It was a scene and that’s how I educated myself on film. I was not the kind of person who stayed up watching all the famous fiction films on TV until midnight. I hadn’t even seen Citizen Kane until I was in my mid-twenties. Now I am interested in all of film history, but that is not what brought me to this kind of filmmaking.

Funny that you mention that, because I just watched Jeanne Dielman 10 days ago.

I actually was thinking about Chantal Akerman, two days ago, because of our quarantine. Have you seen her film Là-bas (2006)? She went to Tel Aviv, to do some teaching there. It was during a very heightened period of violence, in Israel/Palestine, so she made the whole film from her window. To me, it’s very timely to think about the window as a frame in its relationship to the film frame. The thing about long films like Jeanne Dielman is their stature. You need to spend almost four hours with her film. But think about a book. When you read a book, you need to spend two weeks with it! Four hours really shouldn’t be a big thing.

What is really interesting for me in your movies is that in each one of them there is an idea, but it flowers, it grows. In your experience, how does this idea change during the process of actual moviemaking and in editing?

Sometimes when I make a film, it starts with the material. Is there any particular film on your mind?

Still from House of Science: a museum of false facts

The House of Science first comes to my mind.

Then I’ll talk about The House of Science. That actually started with the collages which are in the movie. It started with the idea that I felt alienated from my own body. And I probably felt that way for most of my life, maybe until I had a baby. I wanted to move through the world almost invisibly. I don’t think that if I were 30 today, I’d make the same film. But in 1991, I felt frustrated with how my culture was constructing me. Not with the feminism, 1st wave, 2nd wave – rather as I moved through the culture and I felt this alienation from the world of science. But then it became an equal distaste for art, while I was making it. So, that was a film where I said, any idea that comes to my head will go into the film. I called it a yes film. That film is a film essay. What defines a film essay is that you are at ease with including your doubt.

So you have this idea, and it is kind of a manifesto, but it isn’t really a manifesto because you are always second guessing yourself. In a sense, you have to have more confidence in what you say by including your doubt. If you didn’t, then it would be dogma or didactic. That film really came out of an idea. Did you see And Then We Marched? It is a super short film I made after the women’s march. I didn’t have a particular idea. I had collected Super 8 film from the 2017 Women’s March, and I wanted to do something with it. I didn’t want to just document it because I thought a lot of people are already doing that. I thought I needed to shake up my understanding of what that march was, and the only way I could do that was to talk to a child. That’s been common in a lot of my work. I struggled to make The Last Happy Day for years and years, until I started to work with some children.

Still from And Then We Marched

Also Wind in Our Hair, the film I made in Argentina. Sometimes working with kids doesn’t infantalize the situation, but it allows you to experiment more and listen to the materials more and to be surprised. Maybe it’s because I had two daughters and I brought them along. But I am also very intrigued by what children bring to it perceptually. So to take something as large as the Women’s March of 2017, and to think about it from that perspective was very invigorating and turned it into something more immediate. In the end, the Women’s March sadly did not have that much impact. It was like a plaintiff call, so it did connect all of us, but it didn’t bring structural change. It brought bonding amongst kindred spirits. When I’m making a film, I often have to figure out how can an idea that I had years ago can resonate today.

Last night, at 3:30 in the morning, I woke up. We’re not as active these days during the quarantine so sleeping is strange. I got up and I took a bath. But then I had this idea for a film I have been working on for many years. It is called The Company We Keep. It comes from an English expression, often you are judged by the people your are around, “the company that you keep.”  Some people use this expression in a rather judgemental way. Over many years, I’ve collected business cards, so I have about 500 of them. I’ve scanned most of them. I want to make this film kind of like an animated film where we go through them. The purpose of a business (calling) card is to be a mnemonic device. Surprisingly, I can remember a little bit about almost all of those people. I am playing with the idea of how these cards trigger something, not just what I remember, but how I understand myself in relationship to them. When you look at the cards, you remember who you were when you connected with that person, but also something about them.

Last night, I wrote myself a note. Most of the people whose business cards I have kept are in a group of people I will probably never know. But in the present, there is another group of people I will never know. These are the people whom I’m hearing about who died from the coronavirus.  Recently, a friend of my daughter’s told us about two African American men in her neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were quite old, already retired.  For years, they would sit on the stairs (what we call here the stoop) and talk to everybody on the block. Both of them died. Then another man I know lost a brother who was autistic. As you hear those stories, you imagine those people, you imagine them almost like a cut-out, paper-doll. You imagine their shape but they are gone. I wanted to weave that into this short film, because it makes it more vital to me now.

What is your definition of feminist filmmaking?

Many years ago, when I was in grad school, we would take turns shooting each other’s movies. A woman asked me to shoot her film, which I was excited about. We were on her set but I didn’t think that what she was espousing my concept of feminism. Even though I was very honored to be her cinematographer, I could not accept the imagery that she was creating and wanted me to co-create. I have been hesitant to shoot other people’s films ever since. This was the time when I realized that we talk about feminism in terms of holding the camera in addition to how the images of women’s bodies are constructed. I don’t cheer just because a woman gets an Academy Award. I am not actually even necessarily happy that Joe Biden has already announced that he will choose a woman. I feel like he did that as a political ploy. I am happy that he is going to choose a woman, but is that why he chose this woman? I think that a feminist approach to filmmaking takes the responsibility for the representation of women, but for me it must be broader than that. It has sensitivity to other categories of identification, whether you are talking about gender identity, etc.

I loved your talk for the Ann Arbor Festival. I especially agreed when you said that Godard has challenged the film world in many ways, but never in terms of the representation of women. So, who were your favorite feminist filmmakers and your inspirations?

Definitely all three of the  women in my film Carolee, Barbara, Gunvor. Each one for different reasons. I would say that they run the gamut of different approaches within the sector of personal filmmaking. I think Barbara Hammer and Carolee Schneemann were particularly at ease with their own bodies. Carolee challenged feminism in a profound way, because she was interested in sensuality, too. I think that’s very current, but she was criticized in other periods of feminism; for showing her own body, for exuding a kind of sensuality/sexuality. Barbara also showed her own body, but in a different way: it was more about strength, strength in the bareness and nudity. Gunvor Nelson made this film called Schmeerguntz. It is so wild, and it’s about motherhood, having babies, all the mess, the shit, the body, letting it all hang out. That’s kind of her take on it. They really run – to me – the gamut. I mentioned Chantal Akerman and loving her work, and her study of women’s bodies. But it’s not just about bodies, of course.

Have you heard about the Bechdel Test? Yes.

I think it’s pretty interesting for mainstream filmmaking. It’s a handy rubric for deciding what the presence of – let’s talk about narrative film – what the presence of a protagonist does or whether a character is able to speak. I think those are interesting things. They’re not the kind of films I’m making, but I do watch them, and I think that plenty of women who make it very high up in the industry, instead of trying to change that structure, actually think that the best way to get into the business is to replicate what already exists, and that’s a shame.

We had two movies at Berlinale this year that were pretty mainstream and feminist – The Assistant –

Oh I saw that! I really liked it. It’s controversial.

At her press conference, the director said that it was hard for her to get funding because she was criticizing the industry. Sometimes these norms are really hard to break. The other one was Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

I wanted to see that. It came out, and then [lockdown happened]. Now it’s online. The other movie that came out in the mainstream, like The Assistant, on the same topic – workplace dynamics – was a film called Bombshell. Did you see that?

No, but I heard about it.

Well…I did not like that movie at all. One of the reasons was, they were talking about the abusive power in the workplace, by men who had financial or other kinds of control in the workplace. But the people who were playing the women actually were bombshells. Do you know this expression? It’s old fashioned. A bombshell is an incredibly beautiful woman.

The movie’s called Bombshell because it’s about these women who are television anchors on broadcast news, who have to be bombshells to get those jobs, but then the story is that they also have to sleep with the boss. But the film, in its texture and representation, never breaks the mould. The women who play the parts are always presenting themselves with the best bodies and make-up, etc. Whereas in The Assistant, everything becomes much more austere and cerebral, and you think about the protagonist – who she is at her desk. I thought it was much more effective.

Another filmmaker who has had a very big influence on me is the Argentine director Lucretia Martel. I study her films, to help me figure out things, around editing. I’ve really been affected by her work.

Did you have a plan for your career? How did you find your direction?

The lucky part was that I found this way of working, and relationship to the media, that I loved. I think that’s been a setback for plenty of good friends of mine: they didn’t necessarily find something they were passionate about doing. I just continue to be excited about it. I had to find ways to make that work for me. The most practical thing I did when I moved to San Francisco, was that I enrolled in a program at a public university that also had a whole cinema studies component. I had a lot to catch up on, in terms of developing a foundation for the understanding of cinema. But the degree was a Master’s degree, and then there was an art school there at the time – The San Francisco Art Institute.

They offered a Master’s of Fine Arts – which in the States is considered a terminal degree, not just the first step. I ended up doing both programs because I was thinking ‘I might want to teach’ and I have been teaching pretty consistently for all these years, but I never aspired to a tenure track job. I’ve taught at probably 15 different art schools or universities, but I wasn’t trying to raise myself up in academia. So that was the most practical thing I did. The other part was that depending on where you teach, it could be hard to have time to do your work, e.g. if they have 7 classes a year. It depends on what is expected. I have had good relationships with places where I was teaching where they gave me funding for a project. Here, we have all different kinds of grants: we have grants from the government (which are not that big), or grants from private foundations, like the Guggenheim foundation.

How did you develop your aesthetic? Did you look back at your earlier works and think ‘oh I could have done this better’ or are you happy with each step?

No, not necessarily happy. Oh my God, sometimes I look at the credits and think ‘oh why did I do that? Why did I have so many names?’ I’m actually in the midst of doing some preservation work on some of my older films. I’m doing part of it with the Museum of Modern Art, they’re working on my film Which Way Is East. It’s been interesting because I’ve had to look at it very carefully, and they are very fastidious. They said, ‘when we make a new 4K scan, you can’t push us to try to make it look like you made this in 2020, because you made it in 1994’. You think about the film stocks and things like that.

NYU has a preservation program, and they are studying the preservation of one of my very first short films, it’s called Still Life with Woman and Four Objects. We’re working on that. They just transferred it to 4K.

That movie actually made me think of Chantal Akerman a lot.

Thank you for saying that. I was also very affected by Yvonne Rainer. I had seen Akerman for sure by that time, because I’d seen her in France, but I don’t know if I’d seen Yvonne Rainer’s [work].

My newest film is called Film About a Father Who. There’s a famous film that Yvonne Rainer made, called Film About a Woman Who… – from the ’70s. I have definitely been very influenced by Yvonne Rainer, but then I would say her films are more austere than mine are.

But you asked about aesthetics. I can’t impose any one aesthetic that I might’ve discovered on the next project, because the idea is the boss. The idea drives the aesthetic, mostly. Sometimes I just shoot, and it’s like I re-find my own material. Did you see this short film I made called Starfish Aorta Colossus?


The whole film is shot with a regular 8mm camera that you wind-up. It’s collaboration between myself and poet Paolo Javier. That material I had shot over decades, and then he asked me if I would make a poem in honor of his book being published. I thought it was a good excuse to go back and look at all this old footage.  It wasn’t like I created the footage for his poem, but I put it together in response to his poem.

What was it like to have Bruce Conner as your mentor?

I had kind of like a short-term boyfriend, and he introduced me to Bruce. I was just getting involved in filmmaking, so I had negative skills. But we got along well. Some people thought he was a bit of a curmudgeon, but he wasn’t to me at all. I would just go to his house – I was supposed to be helping him splice his films, but he would look at my splicing ability and think it was so terrible that he ended up doing it himself.

I went once a week and he would tell me stories the whole time. We would just talk and talk. He had a long-term kidney problem. He actually lived for twenty more years, but he would always have to take a rest so I would hang out with his wife. Over the years, when both my children were born, he gave them lovely drawings and we stayed in contact. His found-footage work is profound. The ideas that happen between every shot in A Movie are so fantastic. Nothing is about ‘the archive being precious’ – [instead] the archive is about a way of finding irreverence, or irony, or poetry or politics. He was interested in the clash, rather than the archive being an illustration of a moment in history.

Does your approach change — and if so, how — when working with digital versus celluloid?

It takes a lot more for me to be excited about images that are shot on digital.

[She shows me a work in progress, from which the following still was taken.]

I like the unpredictability of film – the fact that as she circles around, you go into these dark areas. It can happen in video too, but I like the way it works on film, especially in black and white: the background that’s black becomes one kind of canvas, versus another kind of canvas. I also like that it’s not perfectly sharp, because I think that in television there’s too much attention on the face. The less you show, the more interesting the face is. The precision of digital and its ability to replicate reality makes it less compelling to me. Sometimes I shoot digital work I really do like. But in digital, people tend to overshoot: hours and hours. With film, I only shot three minutes of my daughter [running in cirlces], so I have to work with that.

It’s interesting how the film shapes what you make. I watched the XY Chromosome Project. [Made in collaboration with her husband Mark Street.]

That’s also the name of our – we sort of have a film company. It doesn’t really mean a company, but… you know. I’m glad you watched that.

How was it to collaborate? Did you plan it together and then shoot separately? Or did you shoot separately and then come together?

We made that during a period when our daughters, who are 23 and 25, were younger. We initially made it for this performance space here in New York that was also a restaurant, called Monkeytown. They’ve moved all over the world. There’s one person who runs it and sometimes I hear he’s in Australia, sometimes in Berlin. He had this restaurant (with delicious food), where everybody sat on the floor. They had projectors, so you could project on all four walls of the room. We thought it was Cartesian, so we had an X and a Y. But we also thought about XY as in Chromosomes, so that’s where we got the name.

We’ve made quite a few films together. More than films, we created projection evenings, and things like that. We did something at the Microscope Gallery, for example, here in Brooklyn. Anyway, in this particular case, Mark and I had each shot some of our own material, and we said we had to edit the film together: he would edit a shot, and I would come in on the same computer and edit the next one, like a Surrealist Exquisite Corpse. We constructed it that way, so it was not pre-planned.

How does language that you use mediate or affect your creative process? Language is so interesting in your movies. It’s very rare to find somebody who is so visual and lingual at the same time. Somehow people tend to choose one or the other.

That’s really true. And I think that’s one of the reasons I don’t necessarily identify with certain kinds of ‘purist’ wordless experimental films – but then I also really don’t identify with traditional documentaries that aren’t as playful with the image.

The thing is, that poetry is very close to experimental films. If you think about it, poetry breaks all the rules of grammar, a line break is like a cut between the shots. It makes sense that you don’t have to say ‘cine-poem’, but that poetry is in conversation with not just a love of a language, but a heightened love of language that would work with a heightened love of the film frame. Instead of it being one or the other. But for many people it is one or the other. I’m just excited about both.

It’s really nice. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching mostly male experimental cinema for the longest time. I suddenly switched and thought maybe it’s just because women are more verbal.

That definitely could be. It’s interesting because Barbara Hammer and Carolee Scheemann both did a lot of writing. I would say in Carolee’s films, the words weren’t that important, but she wrote many books, and she was very engaged with text.

Reclaiming Womanhood – On Lynne Sachs’ ‘The House of Science’

Cinea Berlin
By Tijana Perović 
July 1, 2020 

In The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts (1991), Lynne Sachs curates a moving-image exhibition of womanhood, carefully sampling artifacts from the past (fabricated truths built to sustain male dominancy), intertwined with empirical artifacts of her own history (personal truths and memories). Through the power of visual and aural association, several domains of the exhibit simultaneously unfold in front of us: the personal, the public and the historical. Sachs drifts between these domains smoothly until a whole network of information is gently bestowed upon us. We start with the image of a doctor guiding a woman into a glass booth, followed by him setting a model house on fire, and the sound of Sachs’ voice, telling us about her experience of being examined by an apathetic gynecologist while pregnant. The image of the detached male doctor lingers with us for the whole length of the movie, along with his perverse power over a female body, over her right to “bare armor”—as in, contraception—and over her right to give birth. Together with Sachs, we wince at the story of her obtaining a contraceptive diaphragm. The doctor has no issue sending her off into battle with her new armor and zero instructions on how to do it. “I leave his office fully equipped, protected, and completely incapable of placing that plastic sheath over my cervix. Where is my cervix?” Next, we see a naked woman rolling up and down a sand dune unceasingly.

Another moment sat with me throughout the movie, that of a little girl. A little girl learning to read, stumbling through the grotesque words of Dr. Cesare Lombroso, naively walking us through his diagnosis of a nine-year-old female, a “born thief”. Sachs explores the concept of criminal atavism by juxtaposing her daughter’s voice with the delusional criminalization of women based on their physical appearance. By pairing images of female child-like playfulness and purity with delusional artifacts of the late 19th century, she amplifies the gap between the male study of women and women themselves. She flows between the public, mainstream, male rationale and the private, subjective female counter-experience. We are left with the uncomfortable ambiguity of child-like giggles of lightness and historical screams of darkness.

At the core of Sachs’ exhibit lies her most intimate gaze upon womanhood. It is articulated into unspoken words on the screen:

“I am two bodies—the body of the body and the body of the mind. The body of the body was flaccid and forgotten. This was the body that was wet with dirty liquids, holes that wouldn’t close, full of smells and curdled milk.” (We hear pencil scratches.)

The body of the body of a woman is biologically destined to be softer and therefore more fluid. All this fluidity, open space, holes, smells are often psychologically coupled with shame. Sachs’ words here represent the experience of most girls becoming women. This body of ours is too visceral for both us and the world to accept.

“The body of the body moves in cycles, and with every repetition there is a sensation of pain. The arrival of the body of the body forces the body of the mind to take notice, begrudgingly so. With legs crossed, the blood is caught just before it crosses the border into the public domain” (We hear a person peeing and a loud flushing of the toilet.)

Not only is the body of the body full of liquids and smells, but they threaten to spill over into the public domain. Our bodies and all their products are trained to be confined.

“Filled with infectious, infected liquids, we hold in the blood, the water, the sneeze, the wax, the hair, the pus, the breath. All that is ours to let go, to release onto this earth is held in, contained. I am the cauldron of dangerous substances.”

To defeat this imposed belief system of male ideas which we were fed throughout our lives is to inspect and observe your body for yourself. It takes a lot of courage to look into your own body with curiosity, rather than shame.

“I trace a path across my chest, searching for surprises I’d rather not find, knots in the fabric.”

Women are being re-educated to examine themselves instead of being examined by the cold metal-handed gynecologist. However, self-examination carries a burden of unforeseen surprises. Releasing our juices into the public, into the mainstream. Bravely facing the knots in the fabric as early signs of our bodies decaying.

“Undressed, we read our bodies like a history. Scars, muscles, curves of the spine. We look at ourselves from within. Collect our own data, create our own science. Begin to define.”

Built from the inside out, this new laboratory pushes against the walls of the old structure. An incendiary effect, but not arson.

When we are brave enough to look into the stretch marks, the scars, the wobbles, the curves, we own our space, our fluids and our bones. We collect and process our data, introduce new terminology. We allow for the soft to be malleable, buoyant, rather than flaccid and weak. We allow for differences. We allow for change. We allow for expression to re-place suppression. We become safely vulnerable instead of avoidant or anxious. We spit our words and meanings out instead of swallowing them.

In between the personal and the public domain lie Sachs’ women. These are real, physical women, subjects of anatomical studies, as well as women in paintings, subjects of the male painter’s gaze. The first, forced silent, the latter, painted static, confined to a space in history, “to be taken”. We witness a female artist looking at men looking at women.

Despite the immanently observational, passive and saddening tone of the movie, there is a promise in this exhibit. A promise that by carefully unfolding and studying the history of womanhood, one is already shaking the habitual. Sachs’ voice is not passive at all, it is rather filled with precisely focused meditative anger, an eloquent scream for justice, live from the gynecologist’s office, calling for help and cooperation.

To aid and support this novel conception of womanhood, we seek out new imagery, new viewpoints, new forms. Sachs’ filmography is a great start. The House of Science shifted my gaze to earlier works of art, predating celluloid. I searched for an alternative museum of womanhood. In particular, the Viennese modernist painters Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka stood out as engaging with the representation of women: as neither virgins nor whores, allowing their female subjects to escape this demeaning cage. They let their subjects move around freely, be comfortable, take up space, lie down wrapped up in themselves. Schiele went one step further: painting anger and anxiety on the faces of his subjects. “By exploring such subjects, the three artists simultaneously exhumed their own sexuality: their fears, sorrows, hopes, and ecstasies…their women do not necessarily submit passively to the male artistic gaze. They look back and demand to be understood on their own terms.”1 These were not the only attempts by men to redefine womanhood in a feminist way. However, the others were often buried and forgotten, most likely because they were single, isolated sprouts of change.

Although revolutionary, the idea that cooperation could displace competition has certainly taken root lately. This idea insinuates that equality is actually a lot more functional and productive for all parties involved. A very timely example would be the evolution of a virus (or a random constituted body of persons, empowered by the state, with a specific aim, e.g. to enforce the law). If a virus were to survive, it would have to evolve in a cooperative manner with its host. Eventually, many highly infectious and pathogenic viruses have decreased their pathogenicity in order to keep their hosts alive. Some have even been completely eradicated over time. This gives me hope, both for us as a species and us as women. However, to put this into practice, we need both the unspoken voices to be heard and the destructive, competitive voices to fade out. It would have to be a cooperative effort.


  1.  Jane Kallir, ‘Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka – Men Looking at Women Looking at Men’, p. 59, in: Agnes Husslein-Arco Jane Kallir and Alfred Weidinger, The Women of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka, 2015