Tag Archives: Sermons and Sacred Pictures

Mubi Notebook: Experimenting and Expanding at Prismatic Ground

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

https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/experimenting-and-expanding-at-prismatic-ground

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.” 

Prismatic Ground Hosts Two Programs of Films by Lynne Sachs

https://www.prismaticground.com/lynne-sachs


Lynne Sachs in Conversation with Brett Kashmere (Canyon Cinema) – Ground Glass Award Presentation


Hosted April 8-18 , 2021
Here: https://www.prismaticground.com/

Prismatic Ground is a new film festival centered on experimental documentary. The inaugural edition of the festival, founded by Inney Prakash, will be hosted virtually in partnership with Maysles Documentary Center and Screen Slate. Catch the ‘Opening Night,’ ‘Centerpiece,’ and ‘Closing Night’ events live via Screen Slate’s Twitch channel. The rest of the films, split into four loosely themed sections or ‘waves’, will be available for the festival’s duration at prismaticground.com and through maysles.org. On April 10, at 4PM ET, Prismatic Ground will present the inaugural Ground Glass Award for outstanding contribution in the field of experimental media to Lynne Sachs. Other live engagements TBA.


MUBI and Prismatic Ground Film Festival

Questions from Mubi Notebook interview for the article Experimenting and Expanding at Prismatic Ground

1. How did Prismatic Ground get on your radar, and what drew you to the festival?

I met Prismatic Ground Film Festival director Inney Prakash about a year ago when I was teaching my very first virtual film and poetry workshop at the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem where Inney works as a programmer.  Of course, the workshop was supposed to be a face-to-face experience, but it was May of 2020 and there was no way that was going to happen!  We were living in the beginning of a global pandemic!  Inney was a critical part of our pivot to an online experience that could nourish participants from anywhere in the world.  To our surprise, it worked extraordinarily well and 17 participants from the US, Ireland and Uruguay collaborated on making a series of fantastic video poems.  From that point on, I have a feeling that Inney started to think that anything was possible in terms of making and viewing non-commercial, experimental documentaries. A few months later, he wrote to me to ask me if I would accept the first ever Ground Glass Award from his new founded Prismatic Ground Film Festival. I love the name of the award and thoroughly understand the meaning of the term “ground glass” since I have been making 16mm films since the mid 1980s!  By the way, “ground glass” is the frosted glass surface in a film camera that allows the light projected from the lens to bounce off of a mirror and then be recorded as an image on the film surface.

2. What has your experience been with virtual premieres and screenings? And how has Prismatic Ground been different, if at all?

I had four films circulating in 2020 and 2021, “A Month of Single Frames” (14 min) and “Film About a Father Who” (74 min.), “Girl is Presence” (4 min.), and “Epistolary: Letter to Jean Vigo” (5 min.), plus career retrospectives at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City and at the Sheffield Doc/ Fest in the UK. I was also on the jury for the Ann Arbor Film Festival and the FestCurtas Belo Horizante Film Festival in Brazil. It’s been a daunting but exciting year. Everything was virtual, but somehow it worked. I loved these experiences and felt that they successfully brought filmmakers from all over the world together. The “in real life” experience can often be quite elitist just because air travel and hotel accommodations are so extraordinarily expensive.

     Prismatic Ground embraced an entirely new, unbelievably adventurous yet compassionate approach to the viewing of experimentally driven cinema, beyond anything I have never seen in my life.  Inney presented such an astonishing array of FREE work, never privileging a feature film over a shorter work, or a more accessible film over a more challenging one.  His Q and A’s were informed, respectful and inviting. 

     I also want to say something about the festival website design and graphics which subtly forced all of us as audience to watch the films with focus and commitment.  You could not scroll through a film or go backward or forward. While you were allowed to pause, you could not be a dilettante and hop around from one film to another without losing your place in a movie.  This created the closest experience to the one we have in a theater that I have ever witnessed online. In addition, the aesthetics of the website allowed Inney to frame each film on a page in relationship to others in the same “wave” which meant that you were always aware of his curating and the intricate relationships and themes he wanted you to recognize between the films.

3. Do you have a dream vision for a post-COVID festival ecosystem? Can be as broad as “more digital screenings,” or as specific as “curated specifically for underseen/experimental artists,” anything at all.

I think that the virtual is here to stay, but I also am praying for a return to being in a space with other people, with all the breaths, whispers, laughs, weeping, and shuffling of our bodies. We must accept that the virtual is vital. It allows homebound, less affluent audiences to access work outside mainstream, commercially driven movie culture. It can also put less emphasis on box office revenue which means experimental, underground, alternative cinema can travel on the magic carpet of the internet.  I have noticed that more and more people throughout the world are becoming interested in the history of avant-garde film.  They are discovering the work of artists like Jonas Mekas, Chick Strand, William Greaves, Carolee Schneemann Fernando Solanas and others, not just in museums or in classrooms, but at home. This is a revolution of the mind, the eye and the ear!

4. How has the last year of relative isolation influenced your work, if at all?

Despite the annus horribilis of 2020 (and beyond), I have actually met really interesting, dynamic, risk-taking people in the filmmaking community, all through the virtual portal of Zoom. For example, I was incredibly sad not to be able to attend the retrospective of my work at the Sheffield Doc/ Fest and at Prismatic Ground, but I was still able to meet Trinidadian essay filmmaker Che Applewhaite through our shared screenings at both festivals. Over the last few months, we have corresponded a great deal and recently even managed to meet in person here in NYC.

      As I mentioned, I was on the jury for the 2020 Ann Arbor Film Festival and the Belo Horizante International Short Film Festival in Brazil. While I was not able to talk, face-to-face, or hang out in local bars with my fellow jury members after the screenings, we did develop quite profound relationships that allowed us to share our aesthetic passions and our personal pandemic struggles.

     As an artist, I was able to make several short films that reflected my thinking during these troubling times. One of my most lasting discoveries has been that you can actually make collaborative work with artists from anywhere on the globe, and that this interactive experience can be revelatory.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could be possible. Over the course of the last year, I found creative and intellectual comrades with whom I could work on such a surprising and generative level.  Who knew?

Lynne Sachs

Criterion Cast: 7 FILMS TO SEE AT PRISMATIC GROUND 2021

By Joshua Brunsting 
Criterion Cast
April 8, 2021
https://criterioncast.com/festivals/7-films-to-see-at-prismatic-ground-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

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

Kino Rebelde has created a retrospective that traces a delicate line connecting intimacy, power relations, violence, memory, migration, desire, love, and war in Lynne’s films. By looking at each of these works, we can see a director facing her own fears and contradictions, as well as her sense of friendship and motherhood.  Moving from idea to emotion and back again, our retrospective takes us on a journey through Sachs’ life as a filmmaker, beginning in 1986 and moving all the way to the present.

With the intention of allowing her work to cross boundaries, to interpret and to inquire into her distinctive mode of engaging with the camera as an apparatus for expression, we are delighted to present 37 films that comprise the complete filmmography, so far, of Lynne Sachs as visual artist and filmmaker. Regardless of the passage of time, these works continue to be extremely contemporary, coherent and radical in their artistic conception.


About Kino Rebelde

Kino Rebelde is a Sales and Festival Distribution Agency created by María Vera in early 2017. Its exclusively dedicated to promotion of non-fiction cinema, hybrid narratives and experimental.

Based on the creative distribution of few titles by year, Kino Rebelde established itself as a “boutique agency”, working on a specialized strategy for each film, within its own characteristics, market potential, niches and formal and alternative windows.

This company supports short, medium and long feature films, from any country, with linear or non-linear narratives. They can be in development or WIP, preferably in the editing stage.

The focus: author point of view, pulse of stories, chaos, risk, more questions, less answers, aesthetic and politic transgression, empathy, identities, desires and memory.

Kino Rebelde was born in Madrid, but as its films, this is a nomadic project. In the last years María has been living in Lisbon, Belgrade and Hanoi and she’ll keep moving around.

About María Vera

Festival Distributor and Sales Agent born in Argentina. Founder of Kino Rebelde, a company focused on creative distribution of non-fiction, experimental and hybrid narratives.

Her films have been selected and awarded in festivals as Berlinale, IFFR Rotterdam, IDFA, Visions Du Réel, New York FF, Hot Docs, Jeonju IFF, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Sarajevo FF, Doclisboa and Viennale, among others.

María has a background as producer of socio-political and human rights contents as well as a film curator.Envelope

vera@kinorebelde.com


Lynne Sachs (1961) is an American filmmaker and poet living in Brooklyn, New York. Her moving image work ranges from documentaries, to essay films, to experimental shorts, to hybrid live performances.

Working from a feminist perspective, Lynne weaves together social criticism with personal subjectivity. Her films embrace a radical use of archives, performance and intricate sound work. Between 2013 and 2020, she collaborated with renowned musician and sound artist Stephen Vitiello on five films.

Strongly committed to a dialogue between cinematic theory and practice, she searches for a rigorous play between image and sound, pushing the visual and aural textures in each new project.

Between 1994 and 2009, Lynne directed five essay films that took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany – sites affected by international war – where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own perception. 

Over the course of her career, she has worked closely with film artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Ernie Gehr, Barbara Hammer, Chris Marker, Gunvor Nelson, and Trinh T. Min-ha.

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

THE FILMS OF LYNNE SACHS 
Curated by Craig Baldwin 

https://www.roxie.com/the-films-of-lynne-sachs/

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.

FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO 

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

SACHS SHORTS SIDEBARS

Sidebar 1: INQUIRIES INTO SELF AND OTHER

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

Sidebar 2: PROFILES IN COURAGE

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

Cool Worlds and Sacred Pictures: Hurston, Clarke & Sachs

Photo by Rev. L.O. Taylor

Photo by Rev. L.O. Taylor

mumok

museum moderner kunst stiftung ludwig wien, austria
Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 19:00

Film program

Zora Neale Hurston, Fieldwork Footage, 1927–1929, 5 min
Lynne Sachs, Sermons and Sacred Pictures, 1989, 29 min
Shirley Clarke, The Cool World, 1963, 104 min

Presented by Christian Kravagna

Ethnography is describing the Other. In the 1920s, writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston reacted to this established view with her own artistic and scholarly works on everyday cultures in her own home in America’s black south. Hurston political and poetic studies of “folk cultures” that were mostly disparaged at the time are an expression of unmitigated appreciation and a way of taking up a position within the debate on “high” and “low” art in Harlem between the wars. This show begins with film of Hurston, the most significant artist of the “Harlem renaissance,” made during her field research, and then presents two more recent films that look in other ways at specific milieus and their rituals for creating and destabilizing community. Shirley Clarke’s film is a semi-documentary ethnography of the rituals of maleness and empowerment in the Harlem youth scene in a 1960s society shaped by racist exclusion. Lynne Sachs has made a portrait of a remarkable Afro-American pastor in Memphis in the 1930s who himself made use of film as a spiritual and social tool. Sermons and Sacred Pictures exemplifies the links between religion, art, and politics typical of the late Civil Rights Movement by looking at the documentary and activist filmmaking of one the movement’s pioneers.

Christian Kravagna is an art historian and curator. He works as professor for postcolonial studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.

“Sermons and Sacred Pictures” at MoMA in ‘Tributaries’ program

MoMA2

Tributaries: Zora Neale Hurston and Other Chroniclers of the Deep South

A Road Three Hundred Years Long: Cinema and the Great Migration
June 9 and 10, 2015 

Introduction by Lynne Sachs

After looking at Jacob Lawrence’s haunting “Migration Series” painting exhibition upstairs here at the museum, watching the movies that are part of A Road Three Hundred Years Long: Cinema and the Great Migration makes me feel as if Lawrence’s canvases have come downstairs and started to breathe.  Tonight we will experience the cinematic “tributaries” that come together to articulate our understanding of life in the South – particularly for African Americans – during the early to mid part of the 20th Century.

In 1989, I made a pilgrimage to Eatonville, Florida to participate in the first ever ZORA! Festival celebrating the life and work of Zora Neale Hurston, an African American writer and folklorist I had recently become aware of through her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. I remember driving in the vicinity of Eatonville, which is a bit like the back yard of Disney-dominated Orlando, and spending – without the assistance of a GPS of course – what seemed like hours trying to find this little village that was not even on the map and almost no one in Orlando had ever hear of. Eatonville was incorporated in 1887 and was one of the first self-governing all-black municipalities in the United States.

This was the town where Zora Neale Hurston grew up and a museum had just been built in that town in her honor.

Thanks to the hard work of author Alice Walker, American readers at that time were beginning to discover the passion, sensuality and artistic virtuosity of Hurston through her fiction, her folklore investigations and more recently, her films. In tonight’s digitized 16mm film, you will watch her 1928 anthropological documentary footage which will give you a chance to see how inspired she was by the richness of the culture she so appreciated in the area of the South where she grew up. Like Rev. L.O. Taylor, the subject of the film I will be screening tonight, Hurston had an uncanny appreciation for what we might call the “familiar”, a very different approach to a visual anthropologist who must travel afar to make a “discovery.” She recorded stories, songs, and traditions from African-Americans in small Florida communities like her own hometown. As we all know, these were images that generally never made it into the history books. Like Taylor, the act of filming for Hurston is not simply an act of witnessing but rather engaging, seeing and being seen.

Filmmaker Pare Lorentz’s documentary “The River” received support from the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. The film was shot in “spectacular” black and white by the renowned cinematographer Willard Van Dyke. The film was made in 1938, the same year that Billie Holiday sang and recorded “Strange Fruit” her searing interpretation of the experience of seeing a lynching of a Black man, which you can also experience upstairs. While Lorentz expresses a bold economic and environmental critique of agrarian life in the US during a period of struggle, he does not address race issues. Nevertheless, this is the troubled South from which the people in Lawrence’s paintings are escaping. In contrast to Taylor and Hurston’s images, there is a polish to the film – the fingerprints of the makers themselves are subsumed by the good intentions of the documentary project as a whole. The voice over narration is authoritative, its intention persuasive.

Next, we will take a look at Fox Movietone’s “Itinerant Negro Preacher” which was made by a documentary movie team in 1925, the earliest period that is represented today. Here you will see a far less personal but certainly enthralled lens. The Fox camera man follows a traveling preacher revealing the word of God to anyone who will listen.

Now I will talk a little bit about my film “Sermons and Sacred Pictures”.

I first saw Reverend L.O. Taylor’s films and heard his audio recordings when I was 17 years old in the late 1970s

  • he’d recently died and his wife had given his entire movie collection to the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis for safe keeping
  • As a high school student in Memphis, I became part of a folklore team that took a cumbersome 16mm film projector around to Rev. Taylor’s churches in order to identify who the people were in his films
  • Early on, I realized the novelty of someone like Taylor who was committed to “shooting from the inside out” in what he called his Taylor Made Pictures
  • Eight years later, I returned to Memphis, after I too discovered I wanted to be a filmmaker, and not a “director” in the traditional sense of the word, to walk around Rev. Taylor’s neighborhoods where had preached and filmed – with my own 16mm Bolex
  • Like Taylor, I issued my own unofficial license, I didn’t work with a bona fide news agency – I had the freedom to explore, ask questions and engage with a part of town that was, honestly, new to me – one that was quite different from the Memphis I had known

As I began to intertwine my new color material with Taylor’s images, I felt as if we were in the process of creating something together. Throughout the making of the film, I had guidance from three filmmakers who were living in San Francisco where I was currently studying.

  • 1) I interned with Bruce Conner — avant-garde film’s found footage impresario and a devoted gospel music fan — for a year and he helped me to jump into the film images with reverence and spunk
  • 2) Trinh T. Minh-ha — filmmaker and cultural theorist — helped me to grapple with my own distance and difference from the people in the images but also to find a comfort in my connections to the story
  • 3) Experimental filmmaker and early film enthusiast Ernie Gehr showed me how to see each frame in Reverend Taylor’s films as a photograph with a specific history and composition
  • Over my two years of shooting and editing, I discovered that it was in the sound that I felt that the people in these films most “came alive” – it was in the voices and the splash of the water that I felt the miracle of the medium as it “journied” through time and space. As film curator Josh Siegel noted in his introduction to this series, perhaps what is most startling about these films is that we have a window into the “interior worlds” of African Americans living in early to mid-century America. We as a 2015 audience are able to see what mattered most to these artists of long ago.

My first screenings of “Sermons and Sacred Pictures” were in Rev. Taylor’s very own church. We had hundreds of people from Taylor’s community and far beyond there to celebrate a man who had given so much of his life to his people. Like Spencer Williams in his now legendary “Blood of Jesus” and Hurston in her moving image documents, Taylor was a filmmaker who realized that through the lens of his camera he could preserve and convey significant strides in Black American history as well as dramatic, deeply spiritual moments that somehow brought those of us on the earth a little closer to something he called God or heaven.

That’s Shanghai Magazine interviews Lynne Sachs

Thats Shanghai

INTERVIEW: Experimental documentary filmmaker Lynne Sachs

INTERVIEW: Experimental documentary filmmaker Lynne Sachs
16 Dec 2014
by Tamia Tang
Link to “That’s Shanghai”: http://www.thatsmags.com/shanghai/post/8005/interview-experimental-documentary-filmmaker-lynne-sachs

Image above: “What Happened in the Dragon Year?” by Xun Sun, mural painting displayed in Shanghai Biennale 2014.

Award-winning American experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs recently visited Shanghai for the Second China Women’s Film Festival with her latest offering Your Day is My Night. Deemed one of the eight must-watch movies in 2014 by BBC, the hybrid documentary discusses the relationship between historical turmoil and personal hardship, from the mouths of seven impoverished immigrants residing in Manhattan’s Chinatown. We caught up with the director to talk about the film, race and feminism.

Just like every ambitious twenty-something, Lynne Sachs was ready to change the world but wasn’t sure where to start. Her young mind was bubbling over with all kinds of possibilities. “There was one side of me that wanted to be a poet or an artist with a commitment to activism. Then there was the other side that thought the only way I could improve conditions around the world was to become a human rights attorney,” she reflects, saying her first brush with the world of experimental films was Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren, who is considered the grandmother of the field. “When I discovered independent film making, I felt like I had found a way of living that would pull together both of these aspirations.”

After graduating from Brown University with a B.A. in history, she went on to earn a M.A. in cinema at San Francisco State University, and later an additional M.F.A. in Film at the San Francisco Art Institute, to get a start on her career as a filmmaker.

Her first fully-developed documentary Sermons and Sacred Pictures, a biography of the 1930s-1940s African-American minister and filmmaker Reverend L. O. Taylor, made its debut at the Museum of Modern Art in 1989. “As we say in the film world, the film was my first to have ‘wings,’ meaning that once I finished the film, it ‘carried me’ to film festivals and important art venues around the country. Both of my parents flew from their homes across the country to attend. It was a big, exciting, scary single evening that made me feel like a real artist.”

The film also helped Sachs understand where she came from: the Memphis-born director moved back to her hometown for three months during shooting. “In order to make the film, I needed to walk by myself with my 16mm camera all over African-American neighborhoods I had never visited before in my life. Memphis was 50 percent black and 50 percent white. The film gave me permission to step through the racial and geographical borders that had separated my life as a young white woman from the lives of African-American people whose lives were so close and yet so far away, which was profound for me. ”

The cultural phenomenon of race has been a recurrent motif Sachs employs in her works.  From Sermons and Sacred Pictures, to Which Way is East (1994) where she traveled extensively with her sister in Vietnam exploring the other side of a collective war memory, to States of UnBelonging (2006) in which she meditated on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict through uncovering the life of an Israeli filmmaker and mother killed in a terrorist attack, before she spent two years working with Chinese immigrants in New York City in her most recent work Your Day is My Night (2013).

Sachs on location for Your Day is My Night

During the making of Your Day is My Night, Lynne was mindful of her position as an outsider, and sensitive to how the people in her film – whom she regards as her collaborators – felt about their collaboration. “After conducting and editing the interviews, I had the contents transcribed and gave them back to each participant so that they could think about what they had said and make factual or dramatic suggestions.”  She and her crew were gradually welcomed into the Chinese community: “After about six months of shooting, the older women began to hold hands with me and one of the older men started to give everyone massages. We often went out for a relaxed Chinese meal, and we spent time together that was informal and fun, not just about shooting or exhibiting our film.” Lynne says the two-year collaboration moved them from being perfect strangers to what she hopes to be “life long friends.”

Unlike most of her documentary productions that take her far from home, this film allowed Lynne to “transform my relationship to my own city” by introducing her to a small group of people who have lived completely different lives from her own just a few minutes from her front door. “Most New Yorkers see Chinatown as a place to eat, that’s it. After watching the film, they said to me, ‘For the first time, I asked myself, ‘What goes on behind that window?’ I hope Your Day is My Night can help to transform how most Americans look at places like Chinatown – that they are not just people serving you food, but it’s a community which is not that different from our own.”

Sachs with the cast of Your Day is My Night

“I am very moved by the ways that we discover so much about the world through interactions with people who are different from ourselves,” says Lynne. “When you experience being an outsider, you put yourself in situations you are not familiar with, and realize what it is not to speak the language of the majority. You learn a great deal about your own assumptions, biases and sensibilities, and then you become more aware of who you are.”

Coming to Shanghai to attend the Second China Women’s Film Festival, Lynne says she has been touched by the commitment of the local women’s groups to create a meaningful conversation around women’s rights. “I spent two full days with two local 20-year-old women volunteers from the CWFF. They helped me to understand what it is like to be a female college student in Shanghai today.”

Attending a film screening at Women Bookstore

The director also has a lot to say about feminism. Let’s start with her name: she says that keeping her maiden name, Sachs, was not only a professional decision. “I honestly never considered changing my name to my husband’s. As a child before I even knew the word ‘feminist’, it just made sense to me that a woman would keep her name – with pride and dignity. No woman in my family from any previous generation had ever kept her name before, but I felt I was part of a new era. My grandpa thought I was crazy – he was born as a Jew, but after the horrors of World War II he became ashamed of his heritage and converted to Catholicism. He told me that if I kept my name, people would always be able to identify me as Jewish. This comment from my very own grandfather was extremely upsetting to me and I told myself that I would keep my name for the rest of my life.” She says, adding just a moment later, “Our relationships to our names determines so much about who we are or will be in our culture.”

“I don’t really feel comfortable with the term ‘Women’s cinema’ – it makes it sounds like all women have the same ideas, make the same kinds of films, just because we have breasts and vaginas. But I don’t think we do. Our works are influenced by many things, they’re multifaceted. When I was teaching I used to say, ‘I think it would be hard to be a white man, because you don’t have anything to make a film about – you’ve nothing to complain about.’” Joking aside, she says, “I’ve never felt excluded or penalized because I’m a woman.”

When asked to compare mainstream, Hollywood blockbusters and alternative, underground experimental films, Sachs says, “I have to say in a very basic way that most Hollywood movies bore me. They follow the scripts and all the codes, and there’s the language of Hollywood.” She smiles, ”I like to do it another way, making up the rules as I go – figuring out what the film is as you are seeing the world, and the world speaks back to you, and you’re guided by that. I believe each film has to invent its own language.”

Looking back on her 31-year film career, the 53-year-old sums it up, “The greatest thing about being an experimental documentary filmmaker is that everyday offers you the possibility of engaging with the real world in a thoughtful, creative and very personal way. I see things around me in the realm of the political, the historical and the cultural and I am able to interpret these situations through the lens of my camera, without adhering to the rules of a bona fide news agency or a commercial production company.”

Sermons and Sacred Pictures

Trailer:

Full Film:

“Sermons and Sacred Pictures: the life and work of Reverend L.O. Taylor”
29 minutes, Color and B&W,  sound, 1989

2015 Screening at the Museum of Modern Art

An experimental documentary on Reverend L.O. Taylor, a Black Baptist minister from Memphis, Tennessee who was also an inspired filmmaker with an overwhelming interest in preserving the social and cultural fabric of his own community in the 1930′ s and ‘ 40’ s . I combine his films and music recordings with my own images of Memphis neighborhoods and religious gatherings.

Taylor  photographed and filmed businesses and schools in the black community, trips to the National Baptist Convention, baptisms, funerals, social events, and individuals in the quiet dignity of their everyday lives.  Over the years he compiled an extraordinary record of black life in the South before the Civil Rights movement captured the attention of the nation.  Sermons and Sacred Pictures combines Rev. Taylor’s black-and-white films and audio recordings with color images of contemporary Memphis neighborhoods and religious gatherings.  Commentary by his widow and others who knew him forms an intertwined narrative focusing on Rev. Taylor as a pioneering documentarian and social activist.  Taylor emerges as a man of humor, piety and intelligence, vibrantly involved in the community he loved.

Photo by Rev. L.O. Taylor

Supported by a Pioneer Fund Grant for Emerging Documentary Filmmakers and a Film Arts Foundation Development Grant.

“Sermons and Sacred Pictures has a magical quality….It brings to life the work of Rev.. Taylor through his community filmmaking efforts.  The film in turn affirms African-American identity and spirit.”  Elaine Charnov, Margaret Mead Film Festival

“Viewers will be fascinated by this half hour documentary…among the highlights of the Margaret Mead Film Festival.”  J. Hoberman, Village Voice

Screenings and Festivals include:
Museum of Modern Art, New York (1989 and 2015)
“Best Short Documentary” 1989 Athens (Ohio) Film Festival
CINE Golden Eagle
Margaret Mead Film Festival
Robert Flaherty Film Seminar
American Anthropological Association honoree, 1991
Black Cultural Expo (Memphis) honoree
National Education Film Festival Award
“Best Documentary” Sinking Creek Film Festival, Nashville
WKNO Memphis, WYBE Philadelphia

In the library collections of:  Duke,  Los Angeles Public Library, Memphis State University, Newark Public Library, Northwestern,  New York University, Reed College , Stanford and Temple

For inquiries about rentals or purchases please contact Icarus FilmsCanyon Cinema, or the Film-makers’ Cooperative. And for international bookings, please contact Kino Rebelde