Sachs, who has
made dozens of films in a variety of genres since the mid-80’s, is perhaps best
known for her 2020 feature documentary about the life of her father, “Film
About A Father Who.” Also a poet, her work often
combines poems, essayistic narration, collaborations with non-filmmakers and
autobiographical content. (Her brother Ira is also a filmmaker.) In “Swerve”
she has taken a book of poetry, “O.B.B.” (or “Original Brown Boy”) by Paolo
Javier, and reacted to it by having Javier and five other performers read lines
from the book during a visit to the Hong Kong Food Market in the Queens borough
of New York City.
published by Nightboat
Books in 2021, is not a conventional book of poetry. For 276 pages,
Javier and illustrators Alex Tarampi and Ernest Concepcion combined words with
collages based on D.I.Y. techniques like “the Mimeo
revolution,” Kamishibai street theater and Surrealist cut-up
aesthetics. Born in the Phillipines, Paolo has lived in Queens since 1999 and was the poet laureate
of that borough from 2010-2014. With “O.B.B.” he used this techno comix format
to reflect on topics like America’s continuing colonization of the Phillipines
and other countries and his Filipinx identity. It was also heavily influenced
by the work of the late Canadian poet Barrie
Phillip Nichol (AKA bpNichol).
In an interview
for the Filmwax Radio podcast, Lynne said her idea for the film was
to have a small number of “performers” visit a food court in Queens, the most
internationally diverse place in the country and a borough also famous for its
vast selection of cuisines. She wanted the multilingual cast to read the poems
“as if poetry itself was a language.” In the same interview Javier explained
the title of the short. In Lucretius’s ancient poem “De rerum natura” (On the
Nature of Things) he proposed that atoms have a tendency to swerve randomly and
that this accounts for the free will of humans. (Literary scholar Harold Bloom
later used “clinamen”–Lucretius’s
name for this phenomenon–”to describe the inclinations of writers to swerve from
the influence of their predecessors.”)
In the seven
minute film, five performers visit Hong Kong Food Market, an Asian food court
located in Elmhurst, Queens and the nearby Moore Homestead playground. Shot
during the time of the Delta variant of Covid, many of those seen are wearing
masks. This was also a time when many local businesses failed because of the
pandemic. Quite a few in the food court are boarded up and only a few customers
are seen eating there.
performers (plus Javier) speak lines from “O.B.B.” while exploring the
location. “Emboggled minds may puff and blow and guess,” artist and curator
Emmy Catedral says and Sachs has the three verbs in that phrase appear on the
screen. Actress Juliana Sass sits on a bench outside of the Elmhurst subway
stop to read her lines; ray ferreira and Javier visit the playground to
perform. Filmmaker Jeff Preiss (who has words from the book written on his
mask) and film curator Inney Prakash order grilled pork sandwiches while
trading lines such as, “Already imposing 5’6 Wil E. Coyote.” Later, in the
park, Prakash seems to sum up a key point of the work by saying, “Adore your endless
monologue.” The film ends with a waving Maneki-neko (lucky
or beckoning cat) in a store window that may be a reference to Chris Marker’s
Soleil.” (And Javier and Sachs both cite film director Wong Kar-wai as an
inspiration, especially the food courts inside Chungking Mansions seen in his
1994 film “Chungking Express.”)
“Swerve” is a
lovely, serene cinematic meditation on postmodern/avant-garde/post-colonial
poetry construction in general and specifically it’s a terrific incitement to
read Javier’s book and seek out more of Sachs’s fascinating body of work.
intriguing collaboration, four other films will be shown at
collection of shorts. The total running time for the program is 73 minutes
and there will be Q&A’s with the artists afterwards.
Javier are also doing a poetry reading and book signing this Friday, June 24.
Details can be found here. Earlier this month, the two discussed their
collaboration on an episode of the podcast “Filmwax
Radio.” Go here to listen or watch.
Have you ever experienced an entire film in verse, in which five New York City performers wax poetic, and recite poetry instead of reading from a script?
One of Queens’ most diverse neighborhoods became the real-life setting for a new boundary-crushing film by director Lynne Sachs. You can see Elmhurst’s bustling Asian food market, called HK Food Court, filled with vendors serving up mouth-watering eats, and located across the street is another popular spot, where locals and their kids like to hang out: Moore Homestead Playground. Both are featured in the filmmaker’s newest cinematic offering, titled “SWERVE,” which was inspired by Queens’ former Poet Laureate (2010–2014) Paolo Javier’s “Original Brown Boy” poems.
“’Swerve’ engages with language in a distinctly poetic way. While the setting of the food market in Elmhurst is as real as can be, the words that my performers speak emerge from the work of Paolo Javier,” Sachs noted, adding, “Each performer memorized one of Paolo’s sonnets from his new book “OBB/ Original Brown Boy” (Nightbook, 2021.) Then they spoke the poems to one another as if they were communicating in verse.”
Sachs explained that her film embraces Paolo’s poetry by “tugging his language away from its book form” and into daily life.
“This all happens in an extraordinarily dynamic and diverse part of NYC, where a plethora of languages dance and swim around us. The ‘swerve’ in language is the acceptance of difference in the face of routine and formula,” she said.
The Brooklyn-based filmmaker previously noted that she views life through the creative lens of a painter/poet. That winning combo has given rise to a series of experimental and avant-garde works exploring her own family life, as well as histories of personal, social and political trauma, marginalized communities and a variety of other intriguing topics.
Last January, the director’s film about her enigmatic dad’s life and loves, titled “Film About a Father Who,” was highlighted in the Museum of the Moving Image’s Virtual Cinema, in Astoria as part of a 20-film online retrospective of the artist’s celebrated body of work, which spans more than three decades.
“The first time I read Javier’s sonnets from his new 2021 book, I started to hear them in my head, cinematically. In my imagination, each of his 14-line poems became the vernacular expressions of people walking through a food market full of distinct restaurant stalls,” Sachs recalled, adding that she had re-watched Wong Kar-wai’s film “Happy Together,” a favorite of hers and Javier’s, and immediately thought of that food court in Elmhurst, a gathering spot for immigrant and working-class people from the neighborhood.
“As we all know, restaurant owners and workers experienced enormous economic hardship during New York City’s pandemic. Nevertheless, the market and the playground become vital locations for the shooting of this film, inspired by Javier’s exhilarating writing.”
Together, they invited local performers and artists Emmy Catedral and ray ferriera from Queens, NYC-based creatives Jeff Preiss and Inney Prakash, as well as Brooklynite Juliana Sass to participate in a challenging yet playful endeavor. In the film, each performer devours Paolo’s sonnets, along with a meal from one of the market vendors.
“Wearing the tell-tale masks of our daunting now, they speak his words as both dialogue and monologue,” Sachs continued. “Like Lucretius’s ancient poem “De rerum natura/On the Nature of Things,” they move through the market as Epicureans, searching for something to eat and knowing that finding the right morsel might very well deliver a new sensation.”
The camera records it all.
“‘Swerve’ then becomes an ars poetica/cinematica, a seven-minute meditation on writing and making images in the liminal space between a global pandemic and what might come next,” Sachs added.
The film took one day to shoot in HD video and Super 8mm film — in August 2021 — during the first few days of the Delta variant.
“It was only a
few days before our scheduled shooting day that NYC returned to wearing masks
indoors. Still, our determination and commitment persisted, and we simply
integrated the tell-tale masks of our moment into the fabric of the film,”
Sachs noted, adding, “It had to be that way!”
Elmhurst, a richly diverse immigrant space that saw its residents endure our
country’s ground zero phase of COVID-19, ‘Swerve’ brings tremendous visibility
to an Asian food court and workers, otherwise invisible and ignored by the
city,” Javier said. “Together, we all honor the resiliency of Asian American
and Pacific Islanders, underscoring the vitality of poetry and cinema in these
Catedral, a native of the Philippines and a Queens-raised artist and curator,
chose to recite one of Javier’s poems, called “Sun and Moon Chilis.”
is in response to Paolo’s work, which is absolutely singular and expansive,”
she noted. “Paolo is also one of my closest friends and collaborators, so I had
to say ‘yes’ to being a part of this. It’s a collaboration among friends. I was
excited to be among this fantastic cast that included ray ferreira; she grew up
“Swerve” mean to you?
celebrates the possibilities of language through Paolo’s beautiful book. It’s
impossible for me to not think about language in the context of Elmhurst — the
countless ones spoken here, the language justice work people have been doing
and the emergency of translation that wasn’t coming quickly enough from the
government; the mutual aid translation that people did for each other as the
pandemic was unfolding,” Catedral continued.
“I cannot say
enough about this neighborhood because it’s my environment, and I feel the
neighborhood itself. I feel its grief. I grew up here. My friends and I
loitered in the playground after junior high. The HK Food Court holds memories
of being with my family. I went to HK for spicy fish soup laced with chilis,
and other side flavor bombs. In the ’90s, across the street on Broadway, I’d get
haircuts at a salon called Rosa’s with my mother and sisters.”
the current status of HK Food Court, Catedral told QNS that she recently passed
by and it remains open. Many of the vendors — in fact, all of the featured
businesses in the film — are no longer in operation, but it seems there are new
tenants keeping the food market open, with a slightly different configuration,
according to the performer.
another “Swerve” performer, said that he never felt he was playing a character
or a role.
“I projected a
fantasized meaning onto the circumstance we inhabited, where Paolo’s and
Lynne’s poetics were routine commonplace frameworks,” he explained.
“I am a
director and a filmmaker, but to take part in another filmmaker’s project,
among friends, produces a kind of effervescent joy. It was through the
production that I met Paolo and was introduced to his work. Important events,
to say the least! Being allowed a personal ownership of his text was
beautiful…getting to where I felt I could imprint myself into his writing, was
of itself a swerving journey.”
“It’s an intoxicating, vertiginous title…like a swooping course to avoid catastrophe, unscathed,” Preiss added. “And by the way, Queens is exactly what I dream New York should be.”
experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs returns to Fimwax to discuss her latest
work, “Swerve” which screens at BAMcinemaFest this month. She’s joined by poet
Paolo Javier. And the director of a new intimate & experimental documentary
called “Beba”, Rebeca Huntt makes her first appearance.
Sachs makes her 5th appearance on Filmwax with her latest short
work of non-fiction, “Swerve”. She’s joined by former Queens Poet
Laureate Paolo Javier who leant his poetry to the film. A food
market and playground in Queens, NY becomes the site for this film inspired by
Paolo Javier’s Original Brown Boy poems. The film itself transforms into an ars
poetica/cinematica—a meditation on writing and making images in the liminal
space between a global pandemic and what might come next—as five New York City
performers speak in verse while wandering through food stalls in search of a
new sensation. “Swerve” gets its festival premiere at BAMcinemaFest on
Sunday, June 26th, at BAM in Brooklyn.
Huntt makes her first appearance on Filmwax with her first feature
film, “Beba” —also quite experimental in its approach— which is currently
screening at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be having its
theatrical in NYC & LA beginning Friday, June 24th. With “Beba”,
Huntt undertakes an unflinching exploration of her own identity in the
remarkable coming-of-age documentary/cinematic memoir BEBA. Reflecting on her
childhood an adolescence in New York City as the daughter of a Dominican father
and Venezuelan mother, Huntt investigates the historical, societal, and
generational trauma she’s inherited and ponders how those ancient wounds have
shaped her, while simultaneously considering the universal truths that connect
us all as humans. Throughout BEBA, Huntt searches for a way to forge her own
creative path amid a landscape of intense racial and political unrest. Poetic,
powerful and profound, BEBA is a courageous, deeply human self-portrait of an
Afro-Latina artist hungry for knowledge and yearning for connection.
Filmwax Radio is America’s favorite podcast featuring luminaries from the indie film community. Guests include actors, filmmakers, festival programmers, journalists and just about anyone else with a stake in the game. Listeners can expect engaging and nuanced conversations.
Hosted by Adam Schartoff, Filmwax Radio began in September of 2011 and has had thousands of guests over the years, many of whom make a point of returning over and over.
Following her feature documentary Film About a Father Who, director Lynne Sachs has set her sights on a market and playground in Elmhurst, Queens withher new short Swerve, inspired by former poet laureate of Queens, Paolo Javier, and his Original Brown Boy poems, and fittingly world-premiering at NYC’s BAMcinemaFest later this month. We’re pleased to exclusively premiere the first trailer.
Wearing the tell-tale masks of our daunting now, five New York City performers (Emmy Catedral, ray ferriera, Paolo Javier, Jeff Preiss, Inney Prakash, and Juliana Sass) search for a meal at the Hong Kong Food Court while speaking in verse. The film itself transforms into an ars poetica/ cinematica, a meditation on writing and making images in the liminal space between a global pandemic and what might come next.
The film was inspired by Sachs’ reading of Paolo Javier’s sonnets in his new 2021 book O.B.B. aka The Original Brown Boy, and she started to hear them in her head, cinematically. In her imagination, each of his 14 line poems became the vernacular expressions of people walking through a food market full of distinct restaurant stalls. She re-watched Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together, a favorite of both of theirs, and immediately thought of the Hong Kong Food Court in Elmhurst, Queens, a gathering spot for immigrant and working-class people from the neighborhood. The five performers were then invited to devour Paolo’s sonnets along with a meal from one of the market vendors.
See the exclusive trailer below.
Swerve premieres at BAMcinemaFest on June 26 as part of Shorts Program 2.
Following her feature documentary Film About a Father Who, director Lynne Sachs has set her sights on a market and playground in Elmhurst, Queens with her new short Swerve, inspired by former poet laureate of Queens, Paolo Javier, and his Original Brown Boy poems, and fittingly world-premiering at NYC’s BAMcinemaFest later this month. We’re pleased to exclusively premiere the first trailer.
Wearing the tell-tale masks of our daunting now, five New
York City performers (Emmy Catedral, ray ferriera, Paolo Javier, Jeff
Preiss, Inney Prakash, and Juliana Sass) search for a meal at the Hong Kong
Food Court while speaking in verse. The film itself transforms into an ars
poetica/ cinematica, a meditation on writing and making images in the
liminal space between a global pandemic and what might come next.
The film was inspired by Sachs’ reading of Paolo Javier’s
sonnets in his new 2021 book O.B.B. aka The Original Brown Boy, and
she started to hear them in her head, cinematically. In her imagination,
each of his 14 line poems became the vernacular expressions of people walking
through a food market full of distinct restaurant stalls. She re-watched
Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together, a favorite of both of theirs, and
immediately thought of the Hong Kong Food Court in Elmhurst, Queens, a
gathering spot for immigrant and working-class people from the
neighborhood. The five performers were then invited to devour Paolo’s
sonnets along with a meal from one of the market vendors.
Figuring out the unique grammar of your life can be difficult. People, situations, can give us question marks with no answers and ellipses that lead to nothing. Lynne Sachs, a Memphis-born experimental filmmaker, attempted to answer some of these questions in her own life with the 2020 documentary, Film About a Father Who. She offers an in-depth look at her father and titular character.
Ira Sachs Sr. is an enigmatic hotelier out of Park City, Utah, with an unmissable mustache and a penchant for colorful button-ups. His approach to love parallels in eccentricity. He despises loving like a “swan,” the idea of mating with a single soulmate for life. Sachs Sr. chose instead to surround himself with a steady flow of young women and went on to marry—and divorce—a number of them. Many of Lynne Sachs’ childhood peers were enamored by the bravado and Hefner-esque life her father led. But this way of life caused tension at times with those closest to him, to say the absolute least.
Beginning in 1984, Lynne Sachs chronicled moments in Sachs Sr.’s life for thirty-five years and those in his mother’s, ex-wives’, children’s, and others close to him. Her mission was to elucidate his tucked-away interior life, not just to an audience but to herself. Two years after the release of the film and two years younger than when Sachs began this project, I got to speak with her about it and her greater body of work. Sachs gave a lecture at Sarah Lawrence in the fall of 2021—for those who took Tanya Goldman’s “Experimental Documentary”course. I sat in my apartment in upstate New York and called Sachs, who was in a hotel room in Paris. She’d left her Brooklyn home for a few weeks to attend a screening of her work. In our hours of conversation, what stuck with me the most was what she said about the image above. Sachs stated that it is “the most important in all of Film About a Father Who.” A scene that wasn’t even filmed by Sachs, instead by her father. It’s a tranquil look at three of her siblings as children playing in a creek. For a film that follows a bon vivant and his unorthodox lifestyle, I was taken aback that this scene was the most important.
The scene occurs once in each of the three acts, all different segments of the same shot. Why? Well, it’s part of what makes this film, like each of her films, have a unique “feeling”—or “grammar”—to them. “Grammar,” as a metaphor, is illustrated in another wonderful scene in act one. I told her,
I really loved that scene in Film About A Father Who.
In it, Sachs, her brother, and her sister sit on her childhood bed talking
about how [your father] doesn’t have a grammar and your mother does when you’re living with each of them. Do you feel that your work as a filmmaker has some sort of grammar behind it? Or is it just question marks when you go into each project?
I think that what really, really distinguishes an experimental film from a more conventional film, whether you’re talking about a documentary or a narrative or any other form, is a refusal to embrace a formula around grammar or a template—the grammar of cinema. Because people say things like, “well, a great documentary is character-driven,” or they say “you can’t break the 180-degree rule when you’re shooting,” or you must have the exposition sort of identified and articulated in a narrative film by fifteen minutes in.
There’s all these rules about the shape of things. The way shot-reverse-shot insinuates that two people are in the same room and doing things simultaneously. If you know about making films, you know that they’re probably not, but it relies on an assumption on the part of the audience that the grammar of the film will be accessible and key to that—key is familiar.
So then you jump over to something that is more playful, experimental, distinctive in terms of each work, having its own cosmos. And you think that the audience at first might be a little disoriented because the audience doesn’t understand its distinctive grammar, but through the shaping, evolution of the film, the audience starts to register how meaning is constructed. And I think that’s really exciting. And I think that is an opportunity to constantly reinvent how you work with the medium of film. When I hear about someone who says, “well, I bought this software that helps you to write your screenplays, it comes with a template.”
I think, okay, if it comes with a template, then you are going to construct time in a certain kind of way. You’re going to create your characters in a, probably, formulaic way. So I’m scared of that kind of stuff. I think it’s problematic. So, then you asked that in relationship to Film About a Father Who, and I think that every family has its own grammar as well and that the grammar is significant because it guides you in terms of how you relate to people of different generations or new members of your family. It has to do with how transparent you are. What it means to do something like tell a lie, or what is a white lie? How many different people in your family do you tell white lies to, to protect them?
What does a white lie really mean? People either withhold information or you shift information because you think the truth is going to be complicated or intimidating or painful. So you were asking about the punctuation marks—are my films question marks? I do actually like when people leave my films, asking questions of themselves or questions of society or questions more ontologically about how we construct meaning. I like that. I think that’s an opportunity for being changed by a work of art. Or perhaps being just slightly shifted by it.
There was kind of a shift at the end of the film when you bring in your sister—the one that had been removed from you for so long. A lot of stories about your father- there’s some sort of way you and your other siblings in your minds might have justified them a lot of times, but in that one, there’s no justification for what happened.
Sachs’ half-sister went on a pre-college trip with a best friend from high school, staying in a ski lodge with Sachs Sr. At the end of the vacation, her best friend announced that she had fallen for and would continue to live with her father.
I felt like that really changed the perception of the film.
Sometimes we do that with things that upset us. We create justification in order to move forward, but then it keeps gnawing at us. So if we finally come to terms with our own anguish with the recognition that the reality is not what we want it to be, but it is there and that we can’t make any more excuses for it. Then I think it’s like a cathartic experience, even if it is difficult.
Also what I loved about that film is I felt you’re really comfortable not only behind the camera but also in front. Your  short film, Drawn and Quartered, you talked about how you at first edited out your face because you were so embarrassed [to show yourself nude], but then you ultimately decided to put it back in. And I felt like that was a moment of growth?
In English, we say, “oh, don’t you feel exposed.” We the word exposed on a physical level, and we use it on a psychological level.
So at that point, I was not very secure with showing my body, and I felt vulnerable and I felt too observed. But then later I made a film called the The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts, and I take my clothes off a little, other people do too—it’s a lot about the body.
But what was more of an exposed feeling was the writing. The idea of that you write about things that go on in your body and the grit of it all, the pus, the urine, and all those things. But the thing is, by exposing that, you’re actually saying I’m just like everybody else.I’m a woman. My body’s like all the other women; we’re just shaped a little different. It’s when you open up and expose the narrative of your life and all the compromises that come with that–that’s even more revealing. So there’s all these layers of what it means to be exposed.
As you’ve made films throughout your career, have you felt you’ve been able to be more comfortable [in front of the camera], or was this something from the beginning you felt—
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, definitely not. Sometimes I go back — not that I do this very much — and look at my progress reports from elementary school. And my teachers would say, “Lynne is a good student, but she’s so shy.” I wasn’t a very forthright child. I wasn’t the first person to raise their hand, you know, in those situations. But I think it’s come to me, and I think part of it is, let’s say, making a film like Film About a Father Who. I was so profoundly nervous about making this film.
It’s not just because I was exposing myself to you or to anyone else in the audience, but I was exposing myself, my life to myself. Does that make sense? I’ve never explored this word in this way. You are really making me think! Like I was saying, “Hey, this is really how it is,” because you can get very wrapped up in the day-to-day activities of your life and not really allow yourself to think in an analytical way, an emotional way about how, how you’ve lived your life. And so the film gave me that chance. I realized as I was making Film About a Father Who that two things happen when you’re interviewing and when you’re trying to write.
If I’m talking to one of my siblings and I’m asking them to tell me about how they feel about something, they’re looking to me, and I’m saying, “yes, yes,” and I’m nodding, and I’m affirming as if that’ll fit perfectly into my edit, you know, [like] that’s exactly what I needed. So I found that if we went together into a very dark place, like a closet, there wasn’t that constant affirmation and perhaps, manipulation. So that’s one thing. But then the other thing had to do with the writing and the construction of a voiceover or narration was that I kept censoring myself. So I used a method that has really proven to be super helpful. That was to just record my thoughts in this kind of unfiltered way and then to send it to a transcription service. And then you come back, and you have 20 pages of text. That was how I did it since I kept writing in my moleskin diary and scratching it all out.
I know you got your start with feminist filmmaking.Seeing Film About a Father Who, I wondered was there any sort of [internal] conflict?
I was actually editing Film About a Father Who during the Me Too movement. So I was cognizant of the fact that I was talking about a man who led a life, well, he’s still alive, in which he had a certain kind of power over different women in his life. Maybe not in the workplace, but you know, in his personal life. And I knew that there were contradictions, but I felt that I was not only making it as a feminist but also as a daughter. You look at your parents as role models, but you also look at your parents for ways to be completely different.
They’re your first models of how to exist in the world and for how to define what their sexuality is—how they define the meaning of their gender. And so either you adhere to that, or you move away. And for example, in Film About a Father Who, I think my brothers were all positioning themselves in very different ways in terms of their own identity as men. I think that they were confronting those things in just as complicated ways as we as daughters were. I mean, my brother Ira said he thinks the gist of the whole movie is a kind of search for a new or refined definition for masculinity in the 2020s.
So I was trying to deal with that all the time to move between my rage at my dad, but also my attempt to forgive him or to recognize his flaws.
I also found it interesting that from the beginning of your career, you started filming people in a unique way, compared to traditional documentarians that do shot-reverse-shot and have them look at a certain place. Whereas I feel like a lot of people that you film will look right at the camera or look right at you. How did you even think to do that? Break that rule.
Oh, you really picked up on something. That happened particularly in a film called Investigation of a Flame
(a 2001 documentary by Sachs that illuminates the story of the Catonsville Nine, who were Catholic activists in 1968 who peacefully yet poignantly burned draft files to protest the Vietnam War.)
When I was shooting that film, most of it, not all of it, I shot by myself. I was shooting it, but I was also using it as an opportunity to get to know these incredible anti-war activists, people who had been fighting the fight—the good fight. And even breaking the law in an absolutely nonviolent way as a statement against the Vietnam war. So I was on my way to interviewing someone near Boston. And a friend of mine who worked for National Geographic [said to me], “How are you going to shoot that by yourself? Because where will they look?” But that’s part of a grammar, that conceit, that idea that you have to look like three-quarters off. I think it was Errol Morris, the documentary filmmaker, who came up with a camera which he reconfigured so that people could simultaneously look at him while he was shooting and appear to be looking off at something. He invented some form of refraction to kind of work against that formula for setting up a relationship that isn’t about that the director controlling—[even though] we know the director is controlling. I mean, one of my very favorite places to do interviews is in the car because I think when people look off at a horizon line, even if the car isn’t moving, they become very introspective. Have you ever noticed all the deep conversations you might’ve had in a car?
Yeah. No, I never thought about that. There must be something with like the horizon—
The horizon, the sort of hermetic solitude—removed from the rest of the world but not really. You’re not in a silent chamber. You’re actually watching the world go by. But people become very— what’s the word? Meditative.
I definitely remember you having a couple of interviews where a person is looking out a window, looking outside.
I’ve been criticized for that. Oh my God. I had an interview in Investigation of a Flame where I’m interviewing this man. And then I look out the window— the camera looks out the window. And a lot of people were surprised that I kept that. They said, “why didn’t you just put in ‘B-roll’?” But I actually hate the term B-roll. I can’t stand it. It’s so disrespectful of the image, but also, I wanted the shot to convey that I was listening to him. I mean, I thought it was honest. I was listening to this man so intensely that I needed to not look at him. I needed to take in what he was saying.
I think that’s so interesting that you hate that term “B-roll.” Because I definitely feel like for a lot of your films, what makes them so good is that you have like an eye for beauty in all moments. No moment is B-roll.
I think that I said it was “disrespectful to the image,” but it actually doesn’t allow for the dialogue or the voiceover to have multiple layers of meaning. It just provides a little bit of distraction. I mean, I would say if the idea of B-roll, as in filler, is all you can do, just put in black.
The attention to dialogue is evident in each of Sachs’ films. Her 2013 documentary, Your Day is My Night, documents the lives of Chinese immigrants living in Manhattan’s Chinatown. In a scene where a middle-aged man gives another a back massage, he apologizes for bringing trashed mattresses into their shared living space. He likes to clean them and give them back to people in need. Sachs cut back and forth from a close-up of his hands gingerly rubbing the other’s back to a close-up of his face as he speaks, the window reflecting in his glasses. The audible rhythm of the massage combined with the focus on the scene presented—no, B-roll—makes it feel immersive. It made me linger on every word, every sound.
Sachs cares greatly about the spoken word but also the written. Many of her films intersect both of these mediums. Her 2020 abstract short film, Girl is Presence, silently follows her daughter arranging items from shark teeth to film strips while a poem is recited as a voiceover. For this short, she collaborated with poet Anne Lesley Selcer. I thought it was intriguing that Sachs, being a documentarian who tend to concern themselves with prose-oriented storytelling, has such a strong interest in poetry. Though, it is not surprising because Sachs herself is a poet. In 2019, her first book was published, Year by Year Poems (Tender Buttons Press) which inspired her 2017 documentary Tip of My Tongue.
I know you write poetry as well.
Yeah, I think there’s an interesting intersection between film and poetry that isn’t just about two different disciplines coming together, but it’s a way of listening. So poetry is like a confrontation with or a disruption of more conventional ways of constructing meaning, of organizing sentences. Poetry asks you to think in more associative ways and in speculative ways and redefines words you thought you knew. It asks you to listen in this kind of super-engaged way. And I also like that poetry thinks about the words in collision with each other and overlapping each other like the songs of words and even the fact that we break lines based on sound and based on rhythm, which is not how prose works. And that’s also how I like to edit, for example, dialogue in my films. I like to think about the ways that things are iterated, not just a cause and effect. Like I say this, and then you say that, and then I say this back to you. So I think poetry pushes you to engage with the oral experience in really revealing ways. I have recently, like in the last four or five years, integrated poetry more and more into my own film work, like with “Tip of My Tongue.” Then I made quite a few films in collaboration with other poets, like Bernadette Mayer or Paolo Javier.
Watching your films, I felt like there was a unique flow to the dialogue a lot of times.
One thing that’s been helpful over the years is I often shoot images separate from recording sound. So when you shoot what we call video image or digital, it’s like the sound and the picture usually, as they say, it sounds so terrible, [are] “married.” So you get the image, and you get the sound, and people tend to privilege the hearing of clear, clean sound in order to convey information. But if you let that go, you can allow dialogue to transform into sound effect. Like in conventional filmmaking, you have a track which is dialogue, a track which is effects, and a track which is music. But if you think of it all as an opportunity for dialogue to become music or for a sound effect to register almost like voice, then you start to get surprises that I think are super interesting.
That just reminded me of like- I love that opening of The Washing Society, where it was cutting to different [exteriors of] laundromats [around New York City]. I just remember watching that, and, you know, I had the volume turned up. And I felt like each laundromat, each area, had its unique sounds to it and really flowed into each one quite nicely, but then became distinct.
Thank you for saying that. In that film and about five others, I’ve worked really closely with Stephen Vitiello, who’s a wonderful sound artist and performer. We started working together on Your Day is My Night in 2013. Then he worked with me on Tip of My Tongue , Drift and Bow and Film About a Father Who. I’ll send him sounds from laundromats, then he’ll send me back musical pieces, and they’re usually much longer than the image. So then I have to find more image. And so it’s really like a back and forth the whole time. It’s never simply that he just creates the music track.
That’s the main methodology [for] him making music for your films? You’ll send him soundbites, and he’ll send you music?
Sort of. A lot of times, I’ll send him an image, and then he’ll come up with something, or he’ll say, “listen, [I] sent you all these sounds I made.” He also uses instruments. Sometimes he’ll hire a clarinet player, and then they’ll make these longer pieces, and then I love the piece so much that I think I have to meet him with more image. For me, the places where we have his music are very evocative and also places for thinking so that my films aren’t too much dialogue. I call them a sound vessels so that you can be in this place of resonance without exposition or information or anything like that, listening in a more relational way.
So, sometimes he’ll send you music, and you’ll actually respond by filming more?
Yeah. Yeah, sometimes.
I think that’s awesome.
It’s a lot of pressure, but I try to rise to the occasion.
I think in that way it makes the films breathe a little more, you know, so that you have some kind of scene where you have all this activity and energy and conversation, and then you have, a time that’s more sort of more cerebral. It’s not like a rest time. In fact, I think the audience has to kind of work with what they’ve just experienced in the previous scenes. That’s what I think happens in those sections.
Also, I see that you’re very interested in the ephemeral with a lot of your work. I’m wondering, for something as permanent a medium as film is, what is your interest in that?
Hmm, that’s really a lovely question. So, I guess I explored that most… I’m going to think about a couple of films, but I don’t know if you’ve seen them. Did you see Maya at 24?
Maya at 24 is a four-minute short film she released in 2021, which captures her daughter, Maya, at ages 6, 16, and the titular, 24. It’s comprised almost entirely of three paralleled scenes of Maya running in circles around a camera at each of those ages. Sachs shot it in black and white film on her 16mm Bolex.
So I was thinking about this while my daughter was spinning around me and then later as I was watching those moments on film. There on the screen are aspects of her that are no more—like I can’t touch anymore, that I can’t access anymore. But film itself can remind me; it’s almost like saying film is the antidote to the ephemeral? It’s sort of saying, “well, nothing is ephemeral because we can contain it and put it in our computer or put it in a can,” but yet it is also constantly reminding us that it no longer is. Did you see a Month of Single Frames?
No, but that’s the one about Barbara Hammer?
Yeah. You know, Barbara Hammer’s work?
A little bit. I’m not too knowledgeable of her, though.
Well, she was definitely a mentor of mine and a dear friend—she was never a teacher—but I admired her. She was exactly the same age as my mom is, and she was a powerhouse, “lesbian, experimental filmmaker,” that’s what she called herself. And when she was dying, a year before that, she asked me and some other people to make films with materials she had never been able to finish. And so the film that we made, which is a Month of Single Frames, or that I made in homage to her, is also about the ephemeral because it’s a recognition of the mortal coil as well as the changing landscape that you’ll see in the film. The landscape is- has- will always change. So it’s only there to hold onto and to touch in that exact moment. It’s like the Heraclitus, you know, “you can’t step in the same [stream] twice.” And so, it is always passing us by. I’m working on a new film now called Every Contact Leaves a Trace. It’s about people who’ve left imprints on me, but that expression comes from a forensic study. That if you come into my home or space and you take something from me, you leave something of yourself, a residue. So I’m interested in that. What happens when a tangible, touch-based experience is investigated, which is sort of like, how do we confront the ephemeral?
So for that film, Every Contact Leaves a Trace. Are you trying to take like a neutral stance and pull in people that have had any sort of contact with you—negative or positive?
I actually only have a pool of 550 people.
That’s a lot, though.
But I’m not using all of them. No, I’m not. They are people who, at one point, gave me a card. We had a haptic intersection. It could be a doctor. It could be someone from like a hardware store. I have both of those types of people. I met a man on the border between the United States and Mexico, right in Tijuana. We met for about an hour. He gave me his card. So, I’m actually constructing scenarios in my mind about those. Yeah, it’s kind of similar; you said “ephemeral.” It’s like a passing in the night. That man left something with me. Maybe I left something with him. I don’t know. That happened in 2014, but I have these cards going back all the way to the ’90s. I’m interested in not so much the trajectory of their lives but in the detritus of the moment. I might do kind of playful reenactments. I’m not quite sure.
Like Lynne Sachs’ use of business cards to recall moments with strangers, near the end of the interview, I brought out stills from her films to recall scenes. The image I brought for Film About a Father Whowas one of my favorites, but the one I had the most trouble understanding. It’s the image you have seen twice thus far—Sachs’ siblings playing in a creek. I was first drawn to it by the use of color and light. Then, when I noticed she repeated it across the film it made me believe it had to hold more significance than I understood. Though, I was not prepared for how important. I said to her,
I noticed that you repeated this image in Film About a Father Who.
Oh, thank you. Okay. I love that you brought that up. What happens in Film About a Father Who is that I have a seven-minute shot that my dad recorded with his own camera. So it’s the world and his children perceived by him. In many films that one makes, you talk to people, and they tell you exactly how they feel about things. But that was really a challenge for me with my father. So, to see the world through his lens, through his eyes, was such an opportunity for me to think about the positive things that he brought to his children. I had that material, and at first, I absolutely dismissed it because it had been completely degraded by time, by the weather, by the fact that the material had been in a garage for decades. Then I looked at it again, and I realized it was the most important image in all of Film About a Father Who. Because it has this compassion, but also as an image, it’s like the classical golden triangle. It’s constructed graphically like what you’re taught in design school or in drawing class—to create this perpetual motion inward towards the center through a triangle. And so, I was interested in using that as a marker three times in the film, but it’s not exactly the same shot. It’s different parts of the same seven-minute shot. Each time you, as the viewer, have a different level of engagement. The first time the children are sort of archetypal children playing in the water. The second time you know that they’ve grown up and you’ve seen them in other places, and you’re able to have a kind of comprehensive understanding of life live; they have become thinking, engaged adults. The third time that you see it, you bring a kind of gravitas. Like these people have been through some pain. They have wisdom; they have interesting and complex interactions. So I’m interested personally in how you change as viewer because each time you see that frame, you are slightly more knowing. By the end, you’re almost omniscient, but in the beginning, you’re just engaging with it as material image.
That was so profound. I absolutely love that explanation.
It was really a reversal because I was so dismissive of that shot, and then I was so enthralled by it. There’s one other shot in Film About a Father Who that’s kind of like that. At the very end, there’s this static-y black and white shot where you only see the silhouette of my father, and he’s going off towards the horizon line. It probably was at the end of a tape and was damaged in some way. But I liked that it was pared down to these high contrasts blacks and whites, and that was it. It is my father, but it could become your father or anyone in your life you’re trying to hold onto.
You can find many of Lynne Sachs’s films on the Criterion Channel, Fandor, DAFilms and Ovid:
The 2022 BAMcinemaFest has officially unveiled its lineup. IndieWire can exclusively announce that Sundance breakout documentary “Aftershock” will make its New York Premiere on the opening night of the festival, which kicks off June 23 and runs through June 30.
The fully in-person event will begin with Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee’s critically acclaimed documentary. The film exposes the failures of the maternal healthcare system that have led to a disproportionate amount of Black women dying in childbirth. “Aftershock” won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Impact for Change at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Fellow Sundance selection “2nd Chance” is set to make its New York Premiere, as well as breakthrough filmmaker Andrew Infante’s “Ferny and Luca,” a fresh take on the ebbs and flows of a young Brooklyn relationship.
BAMcinemaFest will also mark the world premiere of Amber Bemak’s performative documentary “100 Ways to Touch the Border,” which follows the 40-year career of radical Mexcian-Chicano artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who enacts his interventions by “queering the border,” claiming all borders as queer and liminal spaces.
The festival will take place fully in-person at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn and will feature a blend of premieres, new restorations, along with in-person filmmaker Q&As.
New restorations of Brooklyn filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira’s debut feature “Alma’s Rainbow” (1993) and short “Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People” (1984) are slated to make their respective premieres. Both films depict multilayered glimpses into the Black woman’s world, with examinations on beauty and the pressure to conform.
Launched in 2009 as a showcase for new independent films, the annual BAMcinemaFest is an extension of BAM’s year-round film program, collecting the most innovative new work from festivals in the U.S. and around the world and bringing them to New York City audiences.
See below for the full lineup. Descriptions courtesy of the festival. Ticketing info is here.
“2nd Chance” (2022) Dir. Ramin Bahrani This critically acclaimed first documentary from Ramin Bahrani follows the life and contradictions of the man that created, and self-tested, the bulletproof vest. 89min. New York Premiere. Documentary.
“100 Ways to Touch the Border” (2022) Dir. Amber Bemak A daring, self-reflexive documentary on the extraordinary Mexican/Chicano performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s 40-year career of radical artistic practice and work in “queering the border.” 84min. World Premiere. Documentary.
“Actual People” (2021) Dir. Kit Zauhar Desperate to control something, a college grad decides to win the affections of a boy from her hometown in Kit Zauhar’s exciting, honest film by and about a young woman of color. 84min. New York Premiere. Drama.
“Aftershock” (2022) Dirs. Paula Eiselt & Tonya Lewis Lee A powerful NY-filmed documentary that shines a light on the Black women, and bereaved partners, who are failed by the U.S. maternal health system. 86 min. New York Premiere, Opening Night Film. Documentary. From Onyx Collective and ABC News, the film will stream on Hulu domestically later this Summer.
Ayoka Chenzira Retrospective New restorations of African-American filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira’s visionary work center Black womanhood. 95min. New York Premieres.
“Alma’s Rainbow” (1993) Dir. Ayoka Chenzira
Known for her socially conscious films that challenge stereotypes about Black culture, Ayoka Chenzira’s first feature film is a coming-of-age dramedy that highlights a group of middle-class Black women living in Brooklyn. As Rainbow (Platt) enters womanhood and navigates her own experiences around beauty standards, self-image, and the rights of Black women over their own bodies, her pragmatic mother Alma Gold (Weston-Moran) and free-spirited aunt Ruby Gold (Kirby) disagree on the “proper” direction for Rainbow’s life. In this multi-layered Black woman’s world, Rainbow, Alma, and Ruby wrestle with love and what it means to exert and exercise their own agency. New restoration!
“Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People” (1984) Dir. Ayoka Chenzira In this satirical short, Chenzira utilizes mixed media and animation to unpack the stereotypes associated with Black hair while critiquing the limits of the European beauty standard. She draws attention to the physical pain Black women endure to straighten their hair, and the emotional pain that comes as a result of the pressure to conform. New restoration!
“Chee$e” (2022) Dir. Damian Marcano An award-winning breakout debut by up-and-coming director Damian Marcano about a young father’s eccentric scheme to sell weed. 105 min. New York Premiere. Comedy/Drama.
“Crows Are White” (2022) Dir. Ahsen Nadeem A filmmaker searches for answers in a strict Buddhist monastery and at the bottom of a sundae in this doc-existential comedy. 97min. New York Premiere. Documentary.
“Ferny & Luca” (2021) Dir. Andrew Infante An award-winning lo-fi rom-com, shot in Brooklyn, that follows the hot and cold relationship of a naive pretty boy and a rough and tumble disco queen. 70min. New York Premiere. Comedy/Drama.
“Free Chol Soo Lee” (2022) Dirs. Julie Ha & Eugene Yi This extraordinary portrait of community activism follows the wrongful conviction of Chol Soo Lee and the complex legacy—and human cost—of becoming the symbol of a movement. 83min. New York Premiere. Documentary.
“Happer’s Comet” (2022) Dir. Tyler Taormina Filmed on the weekends across four months during 2020, Tyler Taormina cast his own Long Island family and neighbors in the delicate cinematic meditation on late-night life, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Taormina takes the audience through the nightly routines of suburban residents as they clean their offices, meet their lovers, apply make-up before going out, and rollerblade around town. Dreamlike, gentle, and strangely ominous, this sensory series of vignettes “is a hypnotic ode to the night owl” (The Film Stage). 62min. New York Premiere. Drama.
“The Last Days of August” (2022) Dir. Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck & Robert Machoian From prairie towns in Nebraska to the quiet nightlife of suburban Long Island, these visually stunning films capture the quiet essence of humanity. 13min. Screening with HAPPER’S COMET.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” (2022) Dir. Jason Kohn Jason Kohn pushes the documentary into thriller territory with this riveting investigation of the secretive diamond industry. 87min. New York Premiere. Documentary.
Shorts Program 1 “When There Was Water” (2022) Dir. Nicole Otero A lyrical exploration of family, loss, connection and nature. 15 min.
“The Feeling of Being Close to You” (2022) Dir. Ash Goh Hua This autobiographical film documents an attempt at healing the trauma of touch between mother and child, as the filmmaker and their mother talk openly for the first time about the intergenerational trauma and abuse within their lives. Present-day phone conversations are juxtaposed with archival VHS footage, creating a connection between the past and a re-write for the future. 12min.
“Portal” (2022) Dir. Rodney Evans During the pandemic, two queer BIPOC friends sustain each other through communication and connection in this short non-fiction film about the lack of touch for single people catalyzed by Covid-19. 12min
“When It’s Good, It’s Good” (2022) Dir. Alejandra Vasquez When she returns to rural West Texas to document the effects of the boom-and-bust nature of the oil industry on her hometown, the filmmaker unexpectedly captures the political transformation that takes place in her family over five years and two election cycles. 16 min.
“Winn” (2022) Dir. Joseph East & Erica Tanamachi From activists fighting for the rights of incarcerated pregnant people to singles searching for touch during the pandemic, these shorts focus on family, connection, and trauma. 17min.
Shorts Program 2
“Shut Up and Paint” (2022) Dir. Titus Kaphar & Alex Mallis Winner of the Best Short prize at the 2022 Big Sky Documentary Film Festiva, Shut Up and Paint follows the painter Titus Kaphas as he turns to film when the art world tries to silence his voice. 20min.
“The Body is a House of Familiar Rooms” (2022) Dir. Eloise Sherrid An experimental documentary collaboration between myself, Samuel Geiger, and Lauryn Welch. The film is a window into Sam’s experience living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a painful connective tissue disorder that limits his mobility and functionality. 10min.
“Swerve” (2022) Dir. Lynne Sachs with Poetry by Paolo Javier A food market and playground in Queens, NY becomes the site for this film inspired by Paolo Javier’s Original Brown Boy poems. The film itself transforms into an ars poetica/cinematica—a meditation on writing and making images in the liminal space between a global pandemic and what might come next—as five New York City performers speak in verse while wandering through food stalls in search of a new sensation. 8min. World Premiere.
“Udeyonv (What They’ve Been Taught)” (2022) Dir. Brit Hensel Filmed on the Qualla Boundary and Cherokee Nation, ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (Udeyonv) (What They’ve Been Taught) explores expressions of reciprocity in the Cherokee world, brought to life by an elder and a first language speaker. Premiering at Sundance, the documentary circles the intersection of tradition, language, land, and a commitment to maintaining balance. 9 min.
“The Fire This Time” (2022) Dir. Mariam Ghani A selection of formally inventive short films ask questions about art and history. 26min.
“Sirens” (2022) Dir. Rita Baghdadi Moroccan-American filmmaker Rita Baghadi captures the unexpected, uplifting behind-the-scenes story of the Middle East’s first all-female thrash metal band. 78 min. New York Premiere. Documentary.
“The Unknown Country” (2022) Dir. Morrisa Maltz| In this narrative/documentary hybrid, Lily Gladstone stars as a grieving woman traveling to the Texas-Mexico border to reunite with her Oglala Lakota family. 85min. New York Premiere. Drama.
Swerve 7 min., 2022 a film by Lynne Sachs with poetry by Paolo Javier
A market and playground in Queen, New York, a borough of New York City, become the site for the shooting of a film inspired by Paolo Javier’s Original Brown Boy poems. Wearing the tell-tale masks of our daunting now, five New York City performers search for a meal while speaking in verse. The film itself transforms into an ars poetica/ cinematica, a meditation on writing and making images in the liminal space between a global pandemic and what might come next.
Paolo Javier is a poet who thinks like a filmmaker. I am a filmmaker who thinks like a poet. In Swerve, we’ve come up with our own kind of movie language, or at least a dialect that articulates how we observe the world together as two artists using images, sounds, and words. The first time I read Paolo’s sonnets in his new book O.B.B. aka The Original Brown Boy, I started to hear them in my head, cinematically. In my imagination, each of his 14 line poems became the vernacular expressions of people walking through a food market full of distinct restaurant stalls. I re-watched Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together” – a favorite of both of ours – and immediately thought of the Hong Kong Food Court in Elmhurst, Queens, a gathering spot for immigrant and working-class people from the neighborhood who love good cuisine. As we all know, restaurant owners and workers experienced enormous economic hardship during New York City’s pandemic. Nevertheless, the market and the playground across the street become vital locations for the shooting of my film inspired by Paolo’s exhilarating writing. Together, we invited performers and artists Emmey Catedral, ray ferriera, Jeff Preiss, Inney Prakash, and Juliana Sass to participate in a challenging yet playful endeavor. They all said “Yes!”. On a Sunday this summer, they each devour Paolo’s sonnets along with a meal from one of the market vendors. Wearing the tell-tale masks of our daunting now, they speak his words as both dialogue and monologue. Like Lucretius’s ancient poem De rerum natura/ On the Nature of Things, they move through the market as Epicureans, searching for something to eat and knowing that finding the right morsel might very well deliver a new sensation. The camera records it all. “Swerve” then becomes an ars poetica/ cinematica, a seven-minute meditation on writing and making images in the liminal space between a global pandemic and what might come next.
Made with the support of cinematographer Sean Hanley, sound recordist Mark Maloof, editor Rebecca Shapass, and production assistants Priyanka Das and Conor Williams.
Premiere: BAMCinemafest June, 2022
Screenings: Museum of the Moving Image “Queens on Screen” Chicago Underground Film Festival Camden International Film Festival Woodstock Film Festival
On the set of Swerve
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“’SWERVE is shot in Elmhurst, Queens, a richly diverse immigrant space that saw its residents endure our country’s ground zero phase of Covid-19. SWERVE brings tremendous visibility to an Asian food court and workers otherwise invisible and ignored by the city. Some of the film’s performers have lifelong ties to the nabe. Together we all honor the resiliency of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, underscoring the vitality of poetry and cinema in these fraught times’” – interview with poet Paolo Javier in QNS/ Queens News Service by Tammy Scileppi QNS/ Queens News Service: “‘SWERVE’: NYC performers wax poetic in a new film shot in Elmhurst” byTammy Scileppi , June 23, 2022
Please join us on Sunday, October 17, @ 2pm ET to celebrate the publication of O.B.B. a.k.a. The Original Brown Boy, by Paolo Javier, and the debut of Lynne Sachs’ short video, Swerve, which adapts poems from the book. The reading will take place at the Moore Homestead Playground in Elmhurst, Queens—a neighborhood park and location of Sachs’ video—and Javier will be joined by Stephen Motika, Aldrin Valdez, and the cast and crew members of Swerve—Emmy Catedral, ray ferreira, Inney Prakash, Jeff Preiss, Juliana Sass, and Priyanka Das. Swerve will be playing as a video installation inside of HK Food Court, located across from the park at 8202 45th Avenue, from 12 noon to 6 pm.
This event is generously funded by NYFA’s City Artist Corps Grant and co-sponsored by the Queens Museum. Free and open to the public! The Moore Homestead Playground is located on the corner of Broadway, 45th Ave, & 82nd St, and off the Elmhurst Ave R train and Q60 and Q32 bus stops.