Tag Archives: the washing society

The Washing Society and Jeanne Dielman: Making the Invisible Visible

The Washing Society and Jeanne Dielman: Making the Invisible Visible
December 13, 2021
By Patricia K.

One of the most underappreciated roles in our society is the labor behind housework and caregiving. There are lots to do to maintain the upkeep of our households — laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc — but these menial tasks keep the household together and, most importantly, keep us alive and put food on the table.

Filmmakers often focus on what’s exciting and entertaining instead of the mundane, which keeps these tasks invisible in pop culture; even filmmakers interested in the charm of daily life would ignore this type of labor. However, housework and caregiving have been explored, particularly, among women filmmakers, who know the internal lives of this hidden labor. 

Chantal Akerman’s three-hour Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles and Lynne Sachs’ & Lizzie Olesker’s short film The Washing Society, albeit portraying two different kinds of housework, both share a common thread: these films are making the invisible visible.

The Washing Society tells a story about laundromat workers in New York City through vignettes of fiction, nonfiction, and performance art; the film is guided by the 1881 Atlanta washerwomen strike, where hundreds of washerwomen — mostly of African-American descent — went on strike after being underpaid by their bosses. The Washing Society continues this legacy by interviewing two laundry workers and a former laundry worker who went on strike in the 1960s. The film also tells its story through three characters — two women who represent the mostly immigrant, mostly Chinese or Spanish-speaking laundry workers in New York City, and one woman representing the ghosts of the 1881 strike. When we drop off our laundry at the laundromat, we come back with a fresh load of clothing without thinking all the work that is put behind them. Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker focuses the camera on these narrow storefronts, rows and rows of washing machines, and the Sisyphean task of folding and washing clothes to bring forth that invisible labor that people don’t often think of.

My screening of The Washing Society was followed by a Q&A with feminist Marxist theorist Silvia Federici. Sachs has mentioned about how her work has been based on Federici’s work on Wages Against Housework. In her seminal essay, Federici argued that domestic labor is a form of production used to sustain other forms of work in a capitalist society. However, it is very convenient to make this form of labor invisible. A tenet of its invisibility is to mask this labor into a “labor of love” — that things such as washing clothes are marked as a care, therefore taking out the value of the work performed and expecting that careworkers are doing it based on willingness and kindness. Whereas, the reality is that these workers are indeedworkers and should be valued as such. Federici’s shaping of The Washing Society reminded me of another film, and is a helpful framework to understand it in a Marxist perspective: Jeanne Dielman.

Directed by Chantal Akerman (who has an interest of portraying domestic work on film), Jeanne Dielman is a story about a housewife who has lost her husband, therefore resorting to sex work to support herself and her teenage son. The film focuses on the minutiae of Jeanne Dielman’s day-to-day tasks; running errands is no longer a generally glossed-over issue in this film as we watch Jeanne cook meals, wash the dishes, grocery shop, and do the things we would consider as menial. While The Washing Society raises awareness to this invisible labor by employing narrative and performance art techniques, Akerman forces the audience to watch this invisible labor. The music is very sparse, the camera movement static, the pace moves slowly, making its audience truly see and listen to the details of Jeanne Dielman’s actions. The invisible, then, becomes hypervisible.

Through this hypervisibility there is a visual code that guides Jeanne Dielman’s actions. Once we focus on these mundane everyday scenes, we realize how repetitive it all gets. Folding clothes, chopping vegetables, boiling water. It’s almost like Sisyphus, rolling his boulder to the top of the mountain only to find it down on the ground again. Once the housework is done for the day, there will always be new loads to wash, more mouths to feed. Some would argue that this repetition is a type of performance art — as housework becomes hypervisible, we are exposed to the rhythm of this repetition and we are seeing it as a form of art in this context, rather than a task. The Washing Society continues this by actually transforming laundry work as performance art. In a few scenes, we see the two fictional laundromat workers rhythmically tapping on laundry machines and dancing on top of them. It is a form of ownership of their own labor — in a world where their customers and bosses do not see the value of their work, they make themselves visible.

What sets Jeanne Dielman apart from the women in The Washing Society is the solitary nature of her labor. Where laundromat workers work in groups and can form unions and negotiate against their bosses, Jeanne Dielman navigates through housework on her own. She is rarely seen communicating with people other than her son — we only see her communicate with her friends through mail, or through more laborious requests by her neighbor. She has no space to talk about these things, as the labor she performs at home is timed to a T.

However, what unites the two films are the internal space of the labor of housework. The internal spaces and thoughts of careworkers and houseworkers are often ignored, as people often impose that they’re thinking of care when they are approaching they work. The reality is definitely far from that — in a system where they work endless, repetitive tasks, they are constantly thinking. This thinking is then manifested in a form of action. The 1881 washerwomen of Atlanta forms a union and strikes for better wages. The fictional laundromat workers in The Washing Society expresses this stifled rage through performance. Jeanne Dielman, however, spends more time with her thoughts since her work is extremely solitary, and expresses them in a more pessimistic way.

What makes Jeanne Dielman’s labor more dire is that her labor isn’t valued in a tangible way. While laundromat workers are able to count their wages and identify wage theft, there is no way for Jeanne Dielman to price the value of her housework. In Capital, Marx took account the labor of housework, and including housework to be valued based on the family breadwinner’s labor-value (although this line of thought has been criticized by scholars like Silvia Federici, who argued to put a direct labor-value of housework itself). However, what happens when this breadwinner is taken out of the equation? Jeanne Dielman has to find a line of work that doesn’t interfere with her housework. In the film, she resorts to sex work, entertaining male guests in her home while her son is away at school. In the dialogue of both forms of labor that Jeanne Dielman performs, we can clearly see how both sex work and housework is tied to patriarchy — it is a form of work that is often invisible, and is dictated by the labor-value of the men who sustain the housewife/sex worker. It is not hard to see how these forms of labor are inherently exploitative to working women like Jeanne Dielman.

When we reflect on working women in patriarchy-dictated forms of labor, we have to also look at how it evolves in the future. Near the end of The Washing Society, Lynne Sachs narrates that most of the laundromats she filmed has closed, due to the rise of instant laundry apps that will pick up your laundry, wash them in an undisclosed location (where workers are completely hidden from their bosses and customers), and bring them back to you. Sachs and Olesker argues (in line with Silvia Federici) that technology has not liberated us. Instead of making work easier, work will eventually increase, and workers’ labor will be more and more alienated. If Jeanne Dielman lives in 2021, indeed, it will be easier for her to find jobs through remote work, but this work will fail to recognize how her housework will be much more laborious. COVID-19 has moved a significant amount of workforce online, and has led more bosses to assume that working from home allows workers more free time. The labor of housework was invisible from family breadwinners, and now is made invisible to bosses as well.

With the far-reaching consequences of technology to housework, we should also think about international solidarity. The rut of technologizing housework will fall to migrant workers and workers from colonized countries, as supply chain technology and transportation has eased the access of cheap labor from around the globe. This exploitation of colonized countries also lies in sex work: sex work has long become a justification for colonialism, and day after day men and women from colonized countries have been forced to enter this inherently exploitative line of work. Historian Gerda Lerner mentions how sex work is “the first form of trade, making them seen as less than human,” and that this is “the beginning of women’s subordination at the hands of men.” This exploitation still continues today through avenues like sex tourism and sex trafficking, which targets the poorest of working class women around the globe. This shows that patriarchy and capitalism definitely works hand in hand with colonialism, and that patriarchy and sexual exploitation are tools to further the empire of capitalism and imperialism.

Both Jeanne Dielman and The Washing Society brings forth these invisible strings in the lives of working women: hidden labor in housework and sex work and the exploitation that comes with it. Jeanne Dielman’s work may be solitary, but as I watched her do her menial tasks I am reminded of the hidden labor in the lives of the women I know. She experiences all of it alone, but her rage is universal, and makes me think about the power that working women around the world hold. These power materializes in labor unions, strikes, and revolutions. Working women around the world constantly continue to uphold the spirit of the women before them who also does this hidden labor, in worse circumstances of the progression of technology and the further alienation of their labor. It is up to us to fight for their rights and make the invisible visible.

The Washing Society and Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles are both available to watch through the Criterion Channel. Besides of watching both films, I also urge you to take action to support the working women in your community. Here are some current efforts in NYC (DM me if you want me to include more efforts):

  • Workers of the United Jewish Council (a home care agency), who are mostly Black/Latinx/immigrants/women of color, has been fighting to end the 24-hour work shifts imposed by the agency. They are holding a rally on Thursday, December 16 in front of the UJC office. More information on the AIW instagram: @aiwcampaign
  • After the Q&A, Sachs, Olesker, and Federici highlighted the work of NYC’s Laundry Workers Center. They are an organization aiming to support and protect workers in NYC laundromats. You can donate to their fund or check out their website for the campaigns they are running. More information can be found in their website: www.lwcu.org.

OBSERVE AND SUBVERT: Lynne Sachs interviewed by Inney Prakash for Metrograph

December 2021

An interview with experimental documentary filmmaker Lynne Sachs.

Our Lynne Sachs Series plays at Metrograph December 10–12.

Several of her films are currently available to watch on the Criterion Channel

Whether portraying artists, historical figures, family members, or strangers, filmmaker Lynne Sachs has always found rivetingly indirect methods of representing her subjects. The San Francisco Weekly called her 2001 film Investigation of a Flame, about the Vietnam War and the Catonsville Nine, a group of Catholic activists who burnt draft files in protest, an “anti-documentary.” Sachs herself now uses the phrase “experimental documentary” as shorthand for describing the formal elements that constitute her particularly idiosyncratic and collage-like cinematic vernacular, notable in work like the decades-in-the-making Film About A Father Who (2020).

Rooted in her days in San Francisco’s experimental scene, Sachs’s concerns are deeply material; they regard the matter that makes up the world as inextricable from the technology that reproduces it. Her investigation of New York City laundromats, The Washing Society (2016), co-directed with playwright Lizzie Olesker, struck me as an apt departure point for our wide-ranging discussion about and around this material awareness, as well as the larger concerns that bridge the gap between her films as works of art and Sachs’s  advocacy for worldly change.


I like weird questions.


I have been thinking about lint so much over the last few years. It started with my thinking about skin, and the epidermis, and about clothing being a second layer of our skin—which means that when we collect lint out of the dryer, we’re also catching aspects of our bodies. Sometimes it’s our own bodies, sometimes it’s the bodies of people we love. Sometimes it’s the bodies of people whose clothes are being washed in a transactional way…Iin that flow, you collect something most people think of as detritus. But I actually think of it as material, in the way that Joseph Beuys was really interested in wax and felt. So, lint is material for sculpture, and for an examination of our bodies. When that comes together, I find it very compelling.


That attention to the microscopic aspects that are residue of the much larger social relationships around service, hygiene, and the exchange of money for someone who performs something for somebody else—lint represents all those things.


When we look at traditional 16mm film, we see scratches and hair, like we see in lint. It’s not that different. Because lint collects through the months or ages, it collects aspects of the world. Film does the same thing; it is changed by its journey in time.

My co-director, Lizzie Olesker, and I wanted to figure out ways to examine the interplay between economics, aesthetics, and politics. You look at the form of cinema and you say, “I want to create ruptures. I want to create a radicalization of the way images are represented.“ But it’s also important to look not just at the way the camera reproduces our reality, but what is produced by the reality that might be dismissed or ignored. … Lint is not invisible, but it’s about as close to invisible as it gets. It moves from clothing to the trashcan in a kind of rote way. By breaking up that [journey], we’re trying to look at the mechanisms of labor.


It occurred to me about a year ago that every single film is a document of a performance. Even a fiction film, which is a bunch of people doing this crazy thing—to reinvent themselves, pretend that they’re different from who they are—we film it, and it’s called a fiction film, but it’s actually a documentary of a group of people together.

What’s started to interest me in the last year is that woven quality that takes seriously that anyone in, for example, a documentary film is performing an aspect of who they are. As soon as they turn their head and they see the camera, they’re performing. And there’s this, you could call it a leash, or an invisible thread [that runs] between my eyes and the eyes of any human being in front of the camera. They’re always looking to the director for some kind of affirmation, like, “Yes, you’re doing a good job.“ It’s the same in documentary. If you actually recognize that this is a form of exchange, then you can try to subvert it. People who are supposed to be ‘real’ become performers, or we have performers who open up about their lives . And so, obscure that rigid differentiation. That’s why I’m not really happy with the term ‘hybrid’ yet. Because it’s saying that this ontological conundrum doesn’t really exist, and that we have to create another category that says, “That’s ambiguously real and that’s ambiguously fiction.“


With filmmaking, there’s always two answers. There is the production answer: we tried one thing and it didn’t work, so we decided to go another way. And then there’s the more theoretical, maybe conceptual answer.


Okay, the conceptual answer first. We wanted to research the experience of what it is to wash the clothes of another person. Particularly in a big city, where people and workplaces can be taken for granted. Lizzie comes out of playwriting, and this notion that you observe the world in which you live, and then you re-create characters who inhabit those experiences you’ve witnessed, or those interactions that confuse you, and that you’re trying to grapple with. And I come out of experimental filmmaking, with documentaries. So you observe and then you subvert.

She asked me if I would help her to investigate laundry workers in New York. We started, and we got really hooked, but most of the people who do this kind of service work in America are also immigrants, and many don’t have the formal paperwork to give them the freedom to be on camera, to talk about the struggles of their workplace or their bosses, who they’re supporting, all those things. So we would have very informal conversations, but we couldn’t record and we couldn’t film.

Our answer was not to give up, but to listen really actively, and then to write the characters, or to write three characters who appear in the film as composites of these conversations. So, there’s Ching Valdes-Aran, Jasmine Holloway, and Veraalba Santa. They’re all performers—the film started as a performance called Every Fold Matters, which we did live in laundromats in Brooklyn and in New York City, and at places like University Settlement, The Tank.

But then, okay, the answer to the conceptual side is that, even though I’ve been making work that you could call reality-based or documentary-based for a long time, I’m always questioning this notion of asking people to open up their lives for me. That’s why I made Film About a Father Who, because I felt like it was my turn to be in that vulnerable position.

One thing I’ve done for years now, I always pay people [who appear] in my films. That’s kind of anathema in documentary. People don’t do that. Especially journalists, which I do understand… But why shouldn’t you pay them the way you would pay an actor?

Often we measure the success of a documentary by how real it is, by the spontaneity of the reveal of information; “I can’t believe you got in that door.“ Or, “I can’t believe you got those people to say that for you with your camera on.“ There’s a lot of registers of success that have to do with the people in front of the camera letting it all hang out, and that’s an awkward exchange… I wanted to have people who felt confident in their place in the world, to speak from that position. If people didn’t feel confident, then we listened, and we tried to embrace their sentiments and struggles in a fictionalized way.


It’s both. We used parts of it, but often we wrote in a more free-form way. It’s really a composite, and there’s a freedom that comes from making a film like this. .. I call it the Maggie Nelson effect, [which is] this idea where you lay bare the research. In The Argonauts, she tells this personal story about her relationship, and she has these fantastic tangents, which are about her research, what she happened to be reading, letting all of that come in.

I can [also] say that we were influenced by Yvonne Rainer. She was such a visionary when it came to choreography, and a celebration of the body through dance. Because she looked at the quotidian, and she ‘deconstructed’— in the word of that period— how we move through the world. We took that approach to how we thought about the dance movements in The Washing Society, how we could re-examine the gestures of the everyday, and think about how they might be beautiful, in the way that Roberta Cantow’s film Clotheslines celebrates the beauty of laundry work. [Lizzie and I] wanted to think about recognising washing as a form of physical dance. Especially because there’s so much repetition, which dance also uses.


Clotheslines is fantastic. It’s giving attention, again, to urban life, and to things that people do that maybe they feel ashamed of doing but that they have to do. It’s interesting to look at Roberta Cantow’s film, because it’s a twist on the whole idea of being a feminist. Barbara Hammer did something similar; I think the term ‘feminist’ is evolving all the time.

What Roberta Cantow did in her work, I think, is say, “Let’s acknowledge the beauty of what mostly women do. But it doesn’t mean that they’ll become stronger women than when they don’t do it.” … I should add that today I had a conversation with Roberta Cantow. A woman she knew who organizes washerwomen in New York City told her about the screening. Anyway, she told me today that this whole group of organizers around washerwomen, 10 of them, are coming to Metrograph.


Yeah. And I’m hoping [for] a group from the Laundry Workers Center, which is a union I’ve done a lot of work with, who organize workers in the small laundromats all over New York City…  If they’re trying to shut down a laundromat or bring attention to conditions that are really, really bad—where people are required to work 12 hours, and they can’t look at their phones, or all the different rules that are had—[Lizzie and I] make videos for them sometimes.


I was thinking about this last night. I went to an event at E-flux, and I was listening to Eric Baudelaire, the filmmaker, talking about this too…. I don’t think I’ve ever made a film that had the ability to make someone act differently, or to push them in a direction. But I always hope it makes them think about who they are differently, or about how the world works in another way. Maybe the result of that would be an action. But if it’s just a thought, that’s pretty good too. I guess it has to do with results, how you measure your reach… I get very excited, like with Investigation of a Flame, by people doing things with passion, and pushing themselves to extremes from which they can never turn back. I mean, that actually goes to Barbara Hammer. [She] lived life to its fullest, and with so much conviction.


Well, when I made Which Way Is East (1994), I didn’t at first understand that it really is about how we look at history, and how we analyze or reconstruct the past. That film is made from the perspective of myself and my sister. We were children who experienced the Vietnam War through television, mostly black-and-white images on a box in the living room. Being typical American, middle-class kids, our parents and their friends had not gone to war. The war was really far away… But you then grow up and you realize that it does touch you; you heard all the numbers of people who died, and you recognize that those statistics were always emphasizing the Americans, but what about the Vietnamese? How does war have an impact?

When we made the film, in the early ’90s, my sister, Dana Sachs, was living in Vietnam. I visited for one month, and, like a typical documentary filmmaker, you arrive in a place and you say, “I’m going to make a film.“ It came to me later that the film is a dialogue with history, but it’s also a dialogue between two women from the same family, who thought about that past in extremely different ways. She looked at Vietnam in this contemporary way, as survivors. Whereas I looked at Vietnam with this wrought guilt, trying to piece together an understanding of a war that still seemed to bleed. That’s what gave the film its tension, that our perceptions were so different. Ultimately the most interesting films are the ones that ask us to think about perception, that don’t just introduce new material.

So that was a gift, to be in dialogue with my sister… Another way of looking at dialogue, [if] you’re in dialogue with [someone like] Jean Vigo, who’s not alive… then you’re creating a dialectic between the materials. In A Month of Single Frames, I’m in dialogue with Barbara Hammer literally, but I’m also in dialogue with her through the form of the film, and with the audience. That was intentional, to have this ambiguity.

In A Month of Single Frames, she also does something that’s not about activism, it’s about solitude… thinking about her place in nature. It’s all about being delicately and boldly in the landscape. When she cuts up little pieces of gel and puts them on blades of grass, she’s doing the opposite of what a feature film made in Cape Cod would… You’d have all these people stomping on the dunes, getting permission to shoot, to take over a whole house, you’d need light, electricity… She wanted to do everything with the least impact. It’s not a film that she probably announced as a celebration of the environment. But to me, it is so much about not leaving your footprint on the land, but being there. I really admire that work.


The last year of Barbara Hammer’s life, she gave footage to filmmakers and said, “Do whatever you want, and in the process use this material that I love but could not finish. Because I can see that my life will not last long enough to do so.“

She gave me footage from 1998, which she had shot in a residency on Cape Cod. I asked her why she didn’t finish this film and she said, “Because it’s too pretty, and because it’s not engaged, it’s not political.“ She felt that the fact that it delivered so much pleasure just in its loveliness made it problematic. It was this gorgeous landscape, and a woman alone in a cabin. She thought there wasn’t a rigor to it. So she had never done anything with it; it just moved around with her, and it was bothering her, of course: “Finish me. Finish me.“

She gave it to me, and I started to edit. On the second visit, I showed it to her, just without any sound. I asked if she did any writing while she was there, and she said, “I kept a journal.“ She’d forgotten all about it, so she pulled it out.


She even writes about herself in the third person, which is fun, and different…

Everything was so pressured: she had to go to chemotherapy, she was trying to finish Evidentiary Bodies, a film that she was going to show at the Berlin Film Festival in 2019. It was one of the last things she did. So I had the material, and when she died… I needed to finish it. That’s when I wrote the text, because I needed to be in dialogue with her more than just editing the material. I needed to concentrate on that energy between us.


I’ll give you a little background. I’ve been on and off involved with the Punto de Vista Film Festival, which is a really interesting small festival in Pamplona, Spain, where they acknowledge and appreciate alternative ways of looking at documentary film practice. They asked 10 filmmakers to make a film in the form of a letter to a filmmaker who had influenced us.

I chose Jean Vigo; I love his film, Zero for Conduct (1933), because it is so much about rule breaking. It is so much about trying to exist in society, but knowing when there is a time to break the law. I had made my film Investigation of a Flame; I was interested in those moments where you have to turn inward and say, “This is wrong.“ And I wanted, again, to talk to a ghost. To talk to Jean Vigo.

Then, right at the beginning of this year, there was the attack on the US Capitol. A group of thousands chose to break the law, with absolute abandon in terms of the sacredness of other people’s bodies. I’m not even saying the US Capitol is sacred. But to go to a place of heinous destruction, that really disturbed me. I was already thinking about Jean Vigo, and I thought, “This is really complicated.” Because at what point do we learn to understand how to respect, how to have compassion, how to have empathy? That you can break rules, as in paint graffiti or burn draft files, but that once you start invading another person’s body— it’s a violation I couldn’t accept. And this space between anarchy and authoritarianism, and between compassionate rule breaking and violence was very interesting to me.


Oh. Well I have to say, a feminist socialist revolution probably would come with a lot of compassion. I think, I hope. But I would never say that women… I don’t think that there’s anything innate.

One other thing about E•pis•to•lar•y: I really like all the syllables in epistolary, so I like that it sounds like bullets. And yet it’s about dialogue… It may be silent, but audiences are writing back in their heads. I think a lot about that in my filmmaking, all the sounds that go on in audiences’ minds.


My interest in people who break the rules goes way back. I mean, I was protesting the implementation of imposing draft registration on American men when I was in high school. I’ve always been committed to trying to articulate a critique. But when I heard about the Catonsville Nine and this group of people who had nothing to gain by criticizing the US government’s presence in Vietnam, except that they were so upset that they felt they had to speak out against it…

They were Catholic antiwar activists: two priests in particular, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and a nurse, and a sister, and others. But they broke the law in the most performative way. To take draft papers and burn them [with] napalm…. Napalm is not that different from lint. It’s just soap mixed with chemicals. You can make napalm at home. It’s domestically produced napalm, which was being used in Vietnam. But [the Catonsville Nine] wanted to make it and burn it symbolically. This, to me, was the ultimate art performance piece. Let’s burn files, photograph it, disseminate it, and say that these files represent bodies.

People said that they changed so much thinking. It was effective because it was an image that… You were asking about activism, that’s an image! To see priests burning draft files, that’s going to change things. That’s real activism on their part, and that happened in the 1960s.


I never thought… But it’s made with soap!

Inney Prakash is a writer and film curator based in New York City and the founder/director of Prismatic Ground.

Lynne Sachs Series at Metrograph (NYC) – Decemeber 10 – 12th

December 10 to December 12, 2021

Since bursting onto the filmmaking scene in the 1980s, Memphis-born Lynne Sachs has compiled an inimitable, astonishing body of work which includes essay films, diaristic shorts, gallery installations, and quite a number of simply uncategorizable hybrids. Sachs’s wide-ranging, restless ingenuity is on full display in this program, which includes her 2020 documentary portrait A Film About a Father WhoThe Washing Society, her collaboration with playwright Lizzie Olesker, which premiered in 2015 at a Clinton Hill laundromat; and this year’s E•pis•to•lar•y: Letter to Jean Vigo, a ruminative, surprising response to the January 6th Capitol Hill riots. A blast of engaging, and engaged, cinema.

Sachs will be present for all three programs.

Friday, December 10th @ 7:15 PM
2020 / 74min / DCP

Made up of footage shot by Sachs between 1984 and very nearly the present day, Film About a Father Who represents her endeavor to better understand the outsized personality and myriad affairs of one Ira Sachs, Sr.: Park City, Utah, hospitality industry mogul; bon vivant hippie businessman; serial womanizer; and the filmmaker’s father. Analog and digital video shares space with 8 and 16mm film in Sachs’ decoupage of home movie formats, creating a tenderly critical mosaic portrait that’s as energetic, multifaceted, and messy as its subject.

Saturday, December 11th @ 3:45 PM
2018 and 1981 / 90min / DCP

Sachs’s The Washing Society, co-directed with playwright Lizzie Olesker, uses a combination of interviews, re-enactments, and patient observation to pay lyric homage to the little-acknowledged but essential labor of dealing with dirty laundry, as it occurs every day in New York City’s laundromats. Screening with Roberta Cantow’s feminist forebear Clotheslines, a film that takes laundry seriously as a form of folk art, a fraught social signifier, and a lens for women to reflect on the joys, pains, and ambivalences of household chores. With Sachs’s short “A Month of Single Frames” made with and for Barbara Hammer.

Co-Directors Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker will be present with special guest feminist scholar Silvia Federici for a post-screening conversation. Hosted by Emily Apter.

Post-Screening Conversation for

Co-Directors Lynne Sachs and Lizzie Olesker with special guest feminist scholar Silvia Federici in a post-screening conversation. Hosted by Emily Apter.

Sunday, December 12th @ 4:30 PM
1994, 2017, 2021, 2001 / 100min / DCP

Four shorts exemplifying the breadth and tireless curiosity of Sachs’s film practice, as well as an ongoing engagement with issues of justice and resistance. The Ho Chi Minh City–Hanoi travel diary Which Way is East: Notebooks from Vietnam offers an encounter between lived experience and mediated memory of a televised war. And Then We Marched juxtaposes 8mm footage of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C. with archival images of earlier struggles for justice. E•pis•to•lar•y: Letter to Jean Vigo looks at the January 6th Capitol Hill uprising through the unlikely but revealing prism of Vigo’s 1933 Zéro de conduite. Investigation of a Flame revisits the story of the Catonsville Nine, Catholic activists who burnt draft files in protest of the Vietnam War.

Director Lynne Sachs will be present.

Hunter MFA MIA Lynne Sachs event “Every Contact Leaves a Trace”

Every Contact Leaves a Trace
a talk by Lynne Sachs
Hunter College Master of Fine Arts
Media Alliance
Oct. 20, 2021

For most of her adult life, film artist Lynne Sachs has collected and saved the small business cards that people have given her in all the various places she has traveled – from professional conferences to doctors’ appointments, from film festivals to hardware stores, from art galleries to human rights centers.  In these places, Sachs met and engaged with hundreds of people over a period of four decades, and now she is wondering how these people’s lives might have affected hers or, in turn, how she might have touched the trajectory of their own journey.  During our first hour together, Sachs will expand upon her personal approach to making experimental documentaries and her essayistic method of asking questions of herself and others.  She will interweave clips from her previous works (including The Washing SocietyFilm About a Father Who, and Girl is Presence) and her work-in-process, all of which take a hybrid approach to research and production. She will also touch on the writing of thinkers who have recently been of great importance to her own art-making practice, including theorist of visual culture and contemporary art Tina Campt and scholar and activist Silvia Federici.  In this way, she will examine her own current work, be it inchoate, porous and, like everything that is worth doing, deeply challenging.

In the second half of her presentation, Lynne will ask the audience to make their own new piece. Lynne will share a screen shot of three of the cards from her collection as a prompt for responses.  Participants will choose one card as source material, using performance, forensics, or materiality as their medium of interpretation. Because our meeting will be conducted in a remote context, we will have access to items we find at home in our domestic universe or outside in the place from which we happen to be “zooming” in. At the end of our gathering, we will come together to discuss our own attempts to push as close to failure as we can imagine, and the revelations we discover on the way. 

For almost two years, we’ve all been wondering how and when we can begin to touch each other again.  Somehow, we’ve adapted to the distance – standing six feet apart, hiding our mouths, gliding one elbow along the elbow of another.  And yet in this time, I’ve also begun to wonder how, in my state of social existence, I am also a composite of “the company I keep”, as the expression goes, the people who have passed through my life and left their mark on my skin and my consciousness. 

In forensic science, the perpetrator of a crime brings something of themselves into the crime scene and leaves with something from it. Thus, “Every contact leaves a trace,” and there is always some sort of exchange.

Grappling with this “scientific” phenomenon, I returned to a box of 550 business or calling cards I have collected throughout my adult life. Rifling through the cards, I couldn’t help wondering about each person who offered me this small paper object as a reminder of our brief or protracted encounter. Some meetings were profound, others brief and superficial.  And yet, almost every card actually accomplished the mnemonic purpose for which it was created. Holding a card now, a trickle or a flood of memories lands inside my internal vault and that person’s existence is reinstated in mine.  Beginning earlier this summer, I threw myself into the process of investigating how the component parts of these cards could hold a clue to my understanding of what they are.  With the assistance of a forensic specialist, I examined the finger prints on the cards. I learned about their material qualities from a paper maker. Inspired by Jean Luc Godard’s series of TV interviewa about large conceptual topics with two children – France Tour Detour Deux Enfants – I listened nine-year twins glean what they could from the text and images on the cards and then create make-believe dinner parties composed of the individuals represented by the cards.  I visited with NYC artist Bradley Eros who seems to re-invent personae for himself simply by designing new cards. 

Clearly, I love the research. I have filmed each of these experiences. Now, here with you all, I want to return to some earlier projects to see how this way of thinking and working has been an integral part of my art-making process all along.

I am fascinated by the intention with which the cards are produced.  A business card is a distillation of who you are in just a few words, usually the uniform size of 3.5” x 2”. After these months of remote engagement, I am also interested in their haptic nature, the fact that they must be exchanged between two people, hand-to-hand.  

The concept of making distillation has been at the foundation of my work for a very long time.  As an experimental filmmaker and a poet, I am far more interested in the associative relationship between two things, two shots and two words than I am in their cause and effect, or their narrative symbiosis.  For me, a distillation is a container for ideas and energy, a concise manifestation of a multi-valent presence that does not depend on exposition. A distillation is not a metaphor; it’s more like metonymy and synecdoche, where a part stands in for a whole, where less might be more.

Tonight, I would like to share scenes from three of my films that most of you have seen thanks to the Hunter Media Alliance. This will give us a place to begin our conversation around the significance of this concept in my work.  

In my film “The Washing Society” (made with playwright Lizzie Olesker), I move from an almost microscopic attention to the most elemental aspects of the clothing we wear and wash, to a wider more place-specific image  of two women folding. I examine the material elements of the threads as they combine with the hair and skin of our bodies. All of this is encapsulated in lint. Lint is comprised of the detritus from our clothing and the hair, skin and mucus of our bodies.  It is a substance that some people find soft and comforting and others find disgusting.  Lint can be a ritualized expression of cleanliness or an abject reminder of decay. I discovered a divide in our culture, when I decided to hand out pieces of lint to every person who entered the live performance version of this work, which I call “Every Fold Matters”. There were those people who fiddled familiarly with the material throughout the show and others who immediately through it to the floor.  Lint is a somatic substance that can allows to find a material intimacy with others.

“The Washing Society” 
Lint shot and women working 14:43 – 17:00

No matter which way you feel, the experience of lint suggests touch. The most significant distinction in this conversation, however, is “Does the substance come from me or my family or someone else, a stranger or someone cleaning our clothing?”  And, if the answer is someone else, then we are talking about labor, service and wages.  

I am currently working on Hand Book: A Manual, a book version of this project to be published next year by Ice Floe Press.  A section of this book will include a recent conversation with the feminist historian and activist Silvia Federici. Federici helps us to understand better the relationship of this form of hidden, under-valued “reproductive” labor to the functioning of our economy. Over time, in the film, I push the lint to embody this resonance and complexity. 

In “Girl is Presence” (made with poet Anne Lesley Selcer), I filmed my daughter Noa during the most intense part of the pandemic in New York City. 

Play first two minutes of “Girl is Presence”: 

Noa is listening to a poem, one that happens to derive its every word from French philosopher George Bataille’s treatise “Solar Anus” where he writes: 

“If the origin of things is … like the circular movement that the planet describes around a mobile center, then a car, a clock, or a sewing machine could equally be accepted as the generative principle. An abandoned shoe, a rotten tooth, a dog devouring the stomach of a goose, a drunken vomiting woman, a slobbering accountant, a jar of mustard … are to love what a battle flag is to nationality.”

Wow!  This is a distillation, exactly what I am trying to do in all of these films. Create relationships of association between things. Refer to things as essences rather than explanations.  Before our eyes, my daughter moves her hand across a table arranging and re-arranging a series of mysterious – at least to her – objects from my own past as an articulation of her desire for a new order. We are witnessing a series of internal choices based on who she is. Again, like we saw with the lint earlier, hands rather than an entire body or a face are an integral part of my exploration of a dynamic my camera – and thus you – is witnessing.  

Does this film become a portrait, of sorts, through distillation? Does Noa’s tactile connection to these objects – or props in a more conventional film situation – offer us a context by which we can consider the impact that objects themselves have on our thinking?

I start my most recent feature “Film About a Father Who” with an image of me combing and detangling my father’s hair.  This is something I have done quite a bit with him over the last few years, as he and I have aged.  As you watch us, the scene feels both tender and a little painful. His skin is wrinkled and his hair is greyish-white. I am younger, middle aged, they say. He winces but he seems grateful. 

The next shot is an older image from his own home video storage bin, shot on Hi 8 probably in the early 1990s.  The tape has been stored in a garage, it has aged with time, decayed, been reduced to a few soft pastel colors. When I first came across it a couple of years ago, I immediately dismissed it as too deteriorated to even consider using.  A few months later, I thought about it again and realized that it was absolutely essential to the entire film. By breaking down this seven-minute shot into three parts placed in the beginning, middle and end of the film, I discovered an image vessel into which I might be able to generate three distinct responses from my audience. On initial “contact”, you are introduced to three archetypal young children playing in a stream. On second viewing, you know that these are two boys and a girl who are members of the filmmaker’s family and that the family dynamic is complex, fraught and not-at-all nuclear in the conventional sense. On third viewing, you as viewer bring to it your awareness of how these children grew into being adults and how they each are grappling with their relationship to their father.  Each iteration is a distillation, an evolving impression of this family and maybe family in general. We know that each interaction a father has with his child leaves a trace, each contact we have with an image leaves an impression of some kind. 

Opening shot of “Film About a Father Who”


In cultural critic and scholar Tina M. Campt’s book Listening to Images, 

“She explores a way of listening closely to photography by engaging with lost archives of historically dismissed photographs of black subjects. Through her inventive audio-based confrontation with images, Campt looks beyond what one usually sees and attunes her senses to the other affective frequencies through which these photographs register.” One can check out commercial photography to get their projects done. Thinking about Campt’s insistence that we “listen” and thus imagine the sounds of a life’s experience that has not been fully embraced or recorded, I too had to recognize another layer to these images. While at first glance my own family images seem celebrate and exemplify a welcoming and nourishing scenario, we know so much more about what we’re are not seeing: two sisters who have never represented. In the last image, I and you recognize this absence. The transparency is not visible but it is palpable. In this way, we recognize that these images are not so much a distillation of what we do see but what we don’t.

Take questions.

Stevie shares cards.

Instructions: Play in the space between the reality of the card and a conceptual response. Using only the materials you have at your fingertips, respond to these cards. Think about addresses, geography, fonts, numbers, names, the person you imagine made the card, the graphics, what is revealed, what is not revealed. 

Push yourself from the specifics to the abstract; reverse the “bio pic” approach; make a piece that evokes rather than explains.

Form: sculpture, video, performance, sound.

8:00  Lynne presents  idea for the interactive project. People can make sculpture, shoot with camera, perform.

8:05  Everyone turns off camera and begins to make their piece.

8:20  Everyone returns. Viewing using speaker viewing. Stay muted. Stevie will call on you and you will activate speaker viewer. All participants write down a couple of words to remind them of the work. Note, you need to unpin and return to gallery view each time. People who shot video may screen share.

8:35  Return to gallery and everyone displays their work at once. We cannot do simultaneous screen share so people who shot video must put their phones up to their computer camera. 

8:40 Begin conversation together about process.

Lynne Sachs: Criterion Octet




Featuring seven short films and a new introduction by the filmmaker

Over a period of thirty-five years between 1984 and 2019, filmmaker Lynne Sachs shot 8 and 16 mm 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. Like a cubist rendering of a face, Sachs’s cinematic exploration of her father offers multiple, sometimes contradictory, views of a seemingly unknowable man who is publicly the uninhibited center of the frame yet privately shrouded in mystery. With this meditation on fatherhood and masculinity, Sachs allows herself and her audience to see beneath the surface of the skin, beyond the projected reality. As the startling facts mount, she discovers more about her father than she had ever hoped to reveal.

This exclusive streaming premiere is accompanied by a selection of experimental short films by Sachs, many of which also reflect her probing exploration of family relationships

  • Which Way Is East, 1994
  • The Last Happy Day, 2009
  • Wind in Our Hair, 2010
  • The Washing Society, 2018
  • Girl Is Presence, 2020
  • E•pis•to•lar•y: Letter to Jean Vigo, 2021
  • Maya at 24, 2021

Featured in the following collections: women directors, shorts collections, exclusive streaming

Selected clips from original Criterion Channel interview with Lynne Sachs by Tara Young:

Criterion Channel adds “Film About a Father Who” Director’s Commentary

Watch it here: https://www.criterionchannel.com/film-about-a-father-who/videos/film-about-a-father-who-commentary

The Film Stage – “New to Streaming: The Velvet Underground, Lynne Sachs, I’m Your Man, Copshop & More “

New to Streaming: The Velvet Underground, Lynne Sachs, I’m Your Man, Copshop & More
The Film Stage
By Jordan Raup
October 15, 2021

Each week we highlight the noteworthy titles that have recently hit streaming platforms in the United States. Check out this week’s selections below and past round-ups here.

Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond)
It is hard to think of a recent horror film––or a film of any genre, really––in which the main character is tasked with a job as original and ingenious as Enid Baines, the protagonist of Prano Bailey-Bond’s riveting Censor. She is, yes, the titular censor. It is 1980s England, the time of “video nasties” that drew parental consternation and tabloid outrage. These were the low-budget, ultra-violent VHS cassettes that earned their own category in the collective consciousness. Not all were UK productions––I Spit On Your Grave and Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer made the list. In Censor, however, the nasties are homegrown, in more ways than one.  Chris S. (full review)
Where to Stream: Hulu

Copshop (Joe Carnahan)
It’d be hard to argue Joe Carnahan isn’t permanently stuck in 1997. Operating well past the point where dozens upon dozens of Tarantino knockoffs were inescapable on video store shelves and in shoebox auditoriums across America, he seems, if anything, intent on morphing the ’90s aesthetic into a new form of classicism for the 21st century. As the kind of guy who still finds slow-motion gunfights cool a full three decades after Hollywood caught wind of Hard Boiled, it’s nice he at least believes in a tangible, quasi-human cinema. – Ethan V. (full review)
Where to Stream: VOD

Film About a Father Who and More Films by Lynne Sachs
Along with her new documentary Film About a Father Who, The Criterion Channel is featuring seven shorts from director Lynne Sachs, including Which Way Is East (1994), The Last Happy Day (2009), Wind in Our Hair (2010), The Washing Society (2018), Girl Is Presence (2020), E•pis•to•lar•y: Letter to Jean Vigo (2021), and Maya at 24 (2021). Jared Mobarak said in his review of her latest feature, “While director Lynne Sachs admits her latest documentary Film About a Father Who could be superficially construed as a portrait (the title alludes to and the content revolves around her father Ira), she labels it a reckoning instead. With thirty-five years of footage shot across varied formats and devices to cull through and piece together, the result becomes less about providing a clear picture of who this man is and more about understanding the cost of his actions. Whether it began that way or not, however, it surely didn’t take long to realize how deep a drop the rabbit hole of his life would prove. Sachs jumped in to discover truths surrounding her childhood only to fall through numerous false bottoms that revealed truths she couldn’t even imagine.”
Where to Stream: The Criterion Channel

Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky)
In 2018, Victor Kossakovsky set out to shoot Aquarela, a survey-symphony that took the Russian documentarian around the world to capture glaciers, waterfalls, frozen lakes, oceans, and storms. Water, art-speak waffle as it may sound, served as Aquarela’s only protagonist: in that hyper-high-definition blue canvas, human faces seldom popped up, and voices were seldom heard, as Kossakovsky’s focus centered squarely on his liquid star alone.  A mystifying follow-up working again to question and depart from an anthropocentric perspective, here comes Gunda, a black-and-white, dialogue-free documentary chronicling a few months in the lives of the animals stranded in a Norwegian farm. – Leonardo G. (full review)Where to Stream: Hulu

I’m Your Man (Maria Schrader)
Falling in love with a robot isn’t good news, as Her and Blade Runner (both 2019 and 2049) tell us. In I’m Your Man, unspooling in competition at Berlin, a forty-something museum director (Maren Eggert) is justifiably nervous—she’s in a film named after a Leonard Cohen track, which is only asking for trouble—when asked to try out a new romantic partner. That’s because this is a “humanoid robot,” Tom, algorithmically aligned to her romantic preferences and played by dashing English actor Dan Stevens in a performance in which he impressively speaks fluent German. – Ed F. (full review)
Where to Stream: VOD

Needle in a Timestack (John Ridley)
For a movie about a fated love (Leslie Odom Jr.’s Nick and Cynthia Erivo’s Janine) being undermined by a jealous ex (Orlando Bloom’s Tommy), I didn’t expect to witness a scene towards the start where the latter philosophically (and selfishly) attempts to legitimize his sabotage by explaining how every love is, by definition, another’s missed opportunity. He points out a random woman in the bar and tells Nick that whomever she falls for will be the lucky one of millions, setting off a chain reaction that diverts all the other men and women destined to have crossed her path as suitable partners somewhere else instead. The sentiment is intriguing and full of possibilities well outside the scope of what appeared to be a run-of-the-mill, time travel romance. – Jared M. (full review)
Where to Stream: VOD

Rat Film (Theo Anthony)
It’s not often that a documentary with such a clear focus surprises and unnerves you. Rat Film, directed by Theo Anthony, finds its narrative in the parallel between rat-control efforts in Baltimore and the redlining that has kept certain neighborhoods in the city locked in poverty and crime. With a passionate attention to historical detail and nuance that is belied by the robotic narration of Maureen Jones, the film seduces the audience into following its train of thought through moments and ideas both grotesque and harrowing. Some of the tangents and paths of thought that Rat Film travels are surreal to the point of abstraction, but at the end of it all your view of urban development and its impact on human lives will have been fundamentally altered for the better. – Brian R.
Where to Stream: The Criterion Channel

The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes)
If you told people in 1967 that Andy Warhol’s house band just released one of the most revered rock albums of all-time, they would ask what they’re called, and when you told them they would laugh. As far as the public was concerned, there were a hundred acts capable of that historical success in the ‘60s, and none were called the Velvet Underground (or Nico). To a certain extent they would be right. It would be another decade before the banana-adorned The Velvet Underground & Nico would have its pop cultural comeuppance and over half a century before the glam avant-garde group would receive definitive documentary treatment by one of the best living filmmakers. But as history and said doc have proven, we would have the last laugh in that exchange. – Luke H. (full review)
Where to Stream: Apple TV+

Also New to Streaming
MUBI (free for 30 days)
The Third Lover
Moving On
In Search of the Famine
Corporate Accountability
I Like Life a Lot
Two Gods


October 10/11, midnight-1 am


On tonight’s show, we’ll be joined by filmmaker Lynne Sachs and theater and performance maker and labor organizer Lizzie Olesker to discuss their 2018 film, The Washing Society, and to celebrate the debut of eight of Lynne Sachs’s films on the prestigious list of Criterion Classics. The Criterion series relates to feminism, complicated parent-child relationships, female adolescence, Vietnam, the Holocaust and historic labor movements. Both The Washing Society and last year’s remarkable Film About a Father Who are among them.

Lynne Sachs’s cinematic works defy genre through the use of the essay film, collage, performance, documentary and poetry. Her films explore the intricate connection between personal observations and broader historical experiences. She has made 40 films which have screened at the Museum of Modern Art, Wexner Center, the Walker, the Getty, New York Film Festival and Sundance. In 2021, Edison Film Festival and Prismatic Ground Film Festival at Maysles Documentary Center awarded Sachs for her body of work. Her first book of poetry, “Year by Year Poems, was published by Tender Buttons Press in  2019. In 2020 and 2021, she taught film and poetry workshops at Beyond Baroque, Flowchart Foundation and Hunter.

Lizzie Olesker has been making theater and performances in New York City for several decades, reflecting on the politics and poetry of everyday experience. She’s created a series of solo pieces and plays around different aspects of domestic work, recently Infinite Miniatures (a solo piece with objects at a kitchen table) and Five Stages of Grief (a play starring a home care attendant and a ghost). Olesker’s first film, The Washing Society, which she co-directed with Lynne Sachs, grew out of their site-specific performance piece in New York City laundromats, Every Fold Matters. She teaches documentary theater at the New School and playwriting at NYU. She is also an organizer and adjunct representative with UAW Local 7902, and part of its movement to organize higher education and other professional workers.

The Washing Society opens in New York City at the Metrograph on December 11. You can find it and other Lynne Sachs films on the Criterion Channel (https://www.criterionchannel.com). Search for “Lynne Sachs.”

Hosted by Janet Coleman and David Dozer
Broadcasting at WBAI/NY 99.5FM
Streaming live at www.wbai.org
Archived at www.wbai.org/archive and www.catradiocafe.com 
Facebook at catradiocafe@facebook.com
Twitter @catradiocafe
New! New! New Home at prn.fm!!
PODCAST at https://thehouroflateralthinking.podbean.com

IDA: Sachs on Criterion Channel

SEPTEMBER 28, 2021
Screen Time: Week of September 27, 2021

 Two female laundry workers are wearing floral aprons and standing against a wooden wall. From Lynne Sachs’ ‘The Washing Society.’ Courtesy of The Criterion Channel.

Screen Time is your curated weekly guide to excellent documentaries and nonfiction programs that you can watch at home. 

At IDA, we deeply mourn the passing of Melvin Van Peebles, the “the godfather of modern Black cinema.” Van Peebles was an actor, poet, artist, filmmaker and playwright, among other things. Celebrate his humbling legacy with filmmaker Joe Angio’s How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)on Amazon Prime. 

In Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, filmmaker Jia Zhangke speaks to three authors who, like Jia, all hail from China’s Shanxi province. Through their conversations and writings, the filmmaker reconstructs a portrait of his homeland from the prism of the 1950s social revolution and the unrest it brought along. Starting September 30, you can watch the film on Mubi. 

Also playing on Mubi is Hannah Jayanti’s delightful science fiction documentary, Truth or Consequences. Taking off a fictional premise, the documentary takes place around the world’s first commercial Spaceport in New Mexico. Through its gaze set on a near future, the film unravels our histories and weaves them all with empathy and adventure.

Afro-Cuban musician brothers Ilmar and Aldo López-Gavilán grew up learning the violin and the piano—separated from one another; one in Russia and the other in Cuba. Los Hermanos, directed by Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider, follows the brothers as they collaborate (for the first time) and perform all across the US. The film is available to view on PBS starting October 1.

When filmmaker Sian-Pierre Regis’ mother, Rebecca, is let go from her job, Regis decides to take her on trips across the world. As the son helps take items off his mother’s bucket list, he reveals the dark underscoring of American society by ageism, the care crisis, and economic insecurity. Duty Free is a documentary that emerges out of the mother-son travels as Rebecca reclaims her life and dreams. Watch the film on Vimeo. 

Familial relationships also form the core of many of Lynne Sachs’ experimental nonfiction works. Starting October 1, you can watch seven of her experimental shorts on Criterion ChannelWhich Way Is East (1994), The Last Happy Day (2009), Wind in Our Hair (2010), The Washing Society (2018), Girl Is Presence (2020), E•pis•to•lar•y: Letter to Jean Vigo (2021), and Maya at 24 (2021).