‘Lynne Sachs makes films, installations, performances and web projects that explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together poetry, collage, painting, politics and layered sound design. Strongly committed to a dialogue between cinematic theory and practice, she searches for a rigorous play between image and sound, pushing the visual and aural textures in her work with each and every new project. Between 1994 and 2009, her five essay films took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany — sites affected by international war – where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own subjective perceptions.
‘Recently, after 25 years of making experimental documentaries, Lynne learned something that turned all her ideas about filmmaking upside down. While working on Your Day is My Night in the Chinatown neighborhood of New York City, she came to see that every time she asked a person to talk in front of her camera, they were performing for her rather than revealing something completely honest about their lives. The very process of recording guaranteed that some aspect of the project would be artificial. She decided she had to think of a way to change that, so she invited her subjects to work with her to make the film, to become her collaborators. For Lynne, this change in her process has moved her toward a new type of filmmaking, one that not only explores the experiences of her subjects, but also invites them to participate in the construction of a film about their lives.
‘Since 2006, Lynne has also collaborated with her partner Mark Street in a series of playful, mixed-media performance collaborations they call The XY Chromosome Project. In addition to her work with the moving image, Lynne co-edited the 2009 Millennium Film Journal issue on “Experiments in Documentary” and co-curated the 2014 film series “We Landed/ I Was Born/ Passing By: NYC’s Chinatown on Film” at Anthology Film Archives. Lynne has received support from the Rockefeller and Jerome Foundations and the New York State Council on the Arts and residencies in both film and poetry from the MacDowell Colony. Her films have screened at the New York Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, Toronto’s Images Festival and Los Angeles’ REDCAT Theatre as well as a five-film retrospective at the Buenos Aires Film Festival. The San Francisco Cinematheque recently published a monograph with four original essays in conjunction with a full retrospective of Lynne’s work.
‘In 2012, Lynne began a series of live film performances of Your Day is My Night in alternative theater spaces around New York City. She then completed the hour-long hybrid video which premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in 2013 and screened at the Vancouver Film Fest, Union Docs, the New Orleans Film Fest and other venues in the US and abroad. Lynne did her undergraduate work in history and studio art at Brown University and graduate work in film at the San Francisco Art Institute and San Francisco State University. She teaches experimental and documentary film and lives in Brooklyn.’ — LSS
Lynne Sachs Site
Lynne Sachs @ IMDb
Lynne Sachs @ The Film-Makers Cooperative
In the Liminal Zone: The Films and Videos of Lynne Sachs
LS interviewed by Nadia Zafar
Lynne Sachs @ Fandor
Lynne Sachs @ agnes films
DVD-rom: Lynne Sachs: A Collection of Films Exploring Women, Culture, Science & Myth
Refractions: Lynne Sachs
Lynne Sachs interviewed @ The Brooklyn Rail
Lynne Sachs films @ Kanopy
Light Moves Like Sound Waves: Lynne Sachs & Stephen Vitiello
UNEDITED INTERVIEW WITH LYNNE SACHS
Lynne Sachs: Disarming Drift
Letter to Lynne Sachs on Investigation of a Flame
Thoughts on Suggestive Gestures, by Lynne Sachs
“A Year in Notes and Numbers”
The Task of the Translator
Oktoskop Interview with Lynne Sachs on “Tip of My Tongue”
Lynne Sachs Today, I spent all morning in Central Park shooting black and white film in the snow.
Paolo Javier I’m glad one of us is enjoying the snow. Did the weather agree with your shoot today, and were you able to capture what you’d been dreaming about the past months?
LS For me the stark whiteness of the snow creates the sensation of a painter’s chiaroscuro, or a monochromatic tableau-vivant. When I am holding my Super 8mm camera, I am able to see graphic explosions of dark and light. Plus, lucky for me, my friend Sean was there to hold the umbrella and keep the snowflakes from dropping onto my lens. We just finished editing that film today. It’s called Drift and Bough.
PJ “The stark whiteness of the snow creates the sensation of a painter’s chiaroscuro, or a monochromatic tableau-vivant.” This sounds to me like a statement of poetics. Have any of your films developed from spontaneous, collaborative moments like this? More specifically, do you have a particular process for germinating work? Most folks associate documentary with a certain logocentrism, but your films—which are often hybrid—leave me with a palpable sense of play and surprise.
LS I think you are getting at something about my process of collecting images that maybe I didn’t really understand myself, until this moment. What I do in the world when I’m in the act of shooting film is ask myself how and if I can work in concert with something that exists in reality. When I shot my film essay Which Way is East (1994) in Vietnam way back in 1992, for example, I initially thought I was there to grapple with a specific historical period, the war in Vietnam, that it was my job to decipher everything I saw, as one of the first American filmmakers to be allowed to shoot in that country. Instead, however, I found myself waiting more patiently than I ever had for the right dappled light and shadow on a wall, or for a rhythmic pattern of bicycles and motorcycles to go by my bedroom window. For me, such plays of light are so exhilarating. Through these physical acts, the ideas of the film began to emerge.
PJ Let’s talk about your short films and videos in relation to your documentaries and longer narrative work. Is there an immediate relationship that you see between the two? I think of how certain novelists, like Haruki Murakami, would engage in short fiction as a welcome break from the enormous demands of writing a novel, which, in his canon, tend to be pretty epic in scope and design. I ask this not to imply that short film and video are necessarily lighter or less serious than a half hour or feature. In fact, it’s your virtuosic range as film and video maker that compels me to ask what might inform their exchange or simultaneities.
LS Yes, you are right, the nature of the work that came with shooting and editing films like Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (four min., 1986) or Same Stream Twice (five min., 2012) can be very different from the labor involved in longer films. For one thing, you don’t need to write so many meta-descriptions (i.e. grant proposals) before creating them. The space between idea and image is reduced. I also don’t tend to show these works to other folks while I am creating them. No focus groups. No in-process rejections. Just the pure joy of making things.
PJ I was moved to tears by the inclusion of your own recording of your daughter’s birth in A Biography of Lilith (1997), and I couldn’t help but read it as both a nod to and de-centering of Window Water Baby Moving, given the feminist discourse of your film.
LS No one who makes experimental films can deny the impact of Stan Brakhage! I actually wrote an essay about his Window Water Baby Moving which I call “ Thoughts on Birth and Brakhage.” As a mom and an artist, I was extremely inspired by the way that he integrated his family into his daily practice as an artist. If you separate the two, both suffer. I collaborated with my sister Dana Sachs on Which Way is East: Notebooks from Vietnam. In the early 1990s, she was living in Hanoi and had already become proficient in Vietnamese, so her long-term presence in that country gave us the chance to contemplate our relationship with that place on the earth as two American women who had “experienced” the war through television as children. Then a few years later, I made Biography of Lilith. That film’s production straddles the birth of my first born daughter Maya in 1995 and that of my second daughter Noa in 1997. Just because I was pregnant and ever so uncomfortable, I did not want to stop making art. Their presence in my life was most definitely a catalyst to my thinking. So why not reflect that in the work? Later I made Same Stream Twice (2012), which begins with Maya running circles around me at age six and then at sixteen, and Noa, Noa (2006) which observes Noa playing in the woods and exploring the city from ages eight to five. Yes, I intentionally made her grow younger—that’s the freedom that film provides.
The Last Happy Day (2009) is part of a three part series I made about the ways that you can and cannot know another human being. I wanted the film to be contemplative, surprising, horrific and whimsical. A very tall order, so full of contradiction. The film is an experimental portrait of my distant cousin Sandor Lenard, very much in the spirit of W. G. Sebald’s novels The Rings of Saturn or The Emmigrants. When I invoked the perspective of Sebald, I was able to inhabit my cousin’s past as if it were my own present. The one-directional flow of time became very simple to subvert. Absolutely any idea was fair game, which was morally risky in some ways because Sandor was a person whose life was turned inside out by the events of the Holocaust. I never knew him in real life, but I came to know him in a very profound way through the letters he sent to my uncle. Because Sandor Lenard was “family,” I assumed I could enter his life experiences in a deeper way than I ever had before in a film. In some ways, this was the movie I first wanted to make, beginning at the age of sixteen and finally finishing at forty-eight!
My brother, Ira Sachs, who is also a filmmaker, and I have been deeply involved in trying to document on film the range of feelings we have about our father. Ira’s narrative feature, Forty Shades of Blue is very much a veiled portrait of him, and I have been shooting my film about him for about twenty years. I practically have an archive of 16mm on this “subject.” The surprises never stop. Last year we found out we have two half-sisters we never knew before. One might assume that would make for good material, but it is also extraordinarily complicated to reckon with so many things that real life tosses your way.
PJ Cinema strikes me as a particularly haunted art form, but your virtuosic films and video, which embrace the past, present, and future of moviemaking technology rather seamlessly, are full of the spirits of the living, present day. Live performance and collaboration obviously engage with the immediate moment, but I’m curious to know how you might see film and video layering the new work if, indeed, you plan to incorporate both into it.
LS I think cinema can create an exhilarating confusion between a ghost and a memory. The intermingling of the two on the screen allows for a very particular dialogue between your imagination and your past.
The film I am beginning to work on now is called Tip of My Tongue. Similar in many ways to both Your Day Is My Night and Extra Large Twin at Pratt, it will be a performance and hybrid documentary. Working off my fifty-two poems from each year of my life, I plan to look at the last half century through the experiences of six New Yorkers born in the early 1960s. Like Weerasethakul, I want objects such as buttons (from an old dress or a presidential race), empty bottles (aspirin, wine, or milk) or hair (a baby’s, a dog’s or an old woman’s) to take on a magnified presence on the screen. We will talk about historical time—television broadcasts, fat headlines, big weather, economic upheavals, distant bombings—and from there we will move to the time we each own—torn away, buried, malnourished, un-photographed. After I transform these anecdotes into story-hybrids, the participants will “perform their own lives.” Each person will cycle through the time period, exploring distinct chapters—such as 1963, 1975, 1989, 2001, and 2012. Of course, my dream is that this piece will turn into a fearless act of self-examination: together we will construct a Cubist-inspired composite of life from the early 1960s through the first decades of the new millennium.
Perhaps, by working with performer/collaborators who have lived through the same years that I have, I am building a mirror that could help me understand myself a bit better. Just in the last few days, I have realized that I am entering the storm of a new film. It follows me down into the subway, to the stack of dirty dishes, and into the shower. This is a good place to be.
17 of Lynne Sachs’ 28 films
Still Life with Woman and Four Objects (1986)
‘A film portrait that falls somewhere between a painting and a prose poem, a look at a woman’s daily routines and thoughts via an exploration of her as a “character”. By interweaving threads of history and fiction, the film is also a tribute to a real woman — Emma Goldman.’ — LS
Drawn and Quartered (1987)
‘Regular 8mm footage enlarged to 16mm (literally, a ‘drawn and quartered’ image). Images of a male form (on the left) and a female form (right) exist in their own private domains, separated by a barrier. Only for a moment does the one intrude upon the pictorial space of the other.’ — Albert Kilchesty, LA Filmforum
Sermons and Sacred Pictures (1989)
‘An experimental documentary on Reverend L.O. Taylor, a Black Baptist minister from Memphis, Tennessee who was also an inspired filmmaker with an overwhelming interest in preserving the social and cultural fabric of his own community in the 1930′ s and 40′ s. I combine his films and music recordings with my own images of Memphis neighborhoods and religious gatherings. Made with the Center for Southern Folklore.’ — LS
The House of Science: a museum of false facts (1991)
‘Throughout ‘The House of Science’ an image of a woman, her brain revealed, is a leitmotif. It suggests that the mind/body split so characteristic of Western thought is particularly troubling for women, who may feel themselves moving between the territories of the film’s title –house, science, and museum, or private, public and idealized space — without wholly inhabiting any of them. This film explores society’s representation and conceptualization of women through home movies, personal reminiscences, staged scenes, found footage and voice. Sachs’ personal memories recall the sense of her body being divided, whether into sexual and functional territories, or ‘the body of the body’ and ‘the body of the mind.’ — Kathy Geritz, Pacific Film Archives
Window Work (2000)
‘A woman drinks tea, washes a window, reads the paper– simple tasks that somehow suggest a kind of quiet mystery within and beyond the image. Sometimes one hears the rhythmic, pulsing symphony of crickets in a Baltimore summer night.. Other times jangling toys dissolve into the roar of a jet overhead, or children tremble at the sound of thunder. These disparate sounds dislocate the space temporally and physically from the restrictions of reality. The small home-movie boxes within the larger screen are gestural forms of memory, clues to childhood, mnemonic devices that expand on the sense of immediacy in her “drama.” These miniature image-objects represent snippets of an even earlier media technology — film. In contrast to the real time video image, they feel fleeting, ephemeral, imprecise.’ — LS
Investigation of a Flame (2001)
‘On May 17, 1968 nine Vietnam War protesters, including a nurse, an artist and three priests, walked into a Catonsville, Maryland draft board office, grabbed hundreds of selective service records and incinerated them with homemade napalm.
‘INVESTIGATION OF A FLAME is an intimate look at this unlikely, disparate band of resisters – the Catonsville Nine as they came to be known – who broke the law in a poetic act of civil disobedience. The publicity and news coverage from the ensuing trial helped galvanize an increasingly disillusioned American public.
‘INVESTIGATION OF A FLAME explores this protest – an action more common in the 1960’s – within in the context of these extremely different times, times in which foes of Middle East peace agreements, abortion and technology resort to violence to access the public imagination.
‘Filmmaker Lynne Sachs has combined long unseen archival footage with a series of informal interviews of Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Howard Zinn, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, and Marjorie and Tom Melville to encourage viewers to ponder the relevance of such events today.’ — NYT
States of UnBelonging (2005)
‘The core of this haunting meditation on war, land, the Bible, and filmmaking is a portrait of Revital Ohayon, an Israeli filmmaker and mother killed near the West Bank. Director Lynne Sachs creates a film on the violence of the Middle East by exchanging letters with an Israeli friend. Together, they reveal Revital’s story through her films, news reports, and interviews, culminating in heartbreaking footage of children discussing the violence they’ve witnessed. Without taking sides or casting blame, the film becomes a cine-essay on fear and filmmaking, tragedy and transformation, violence and the land of Israel/Palestine.’ — collaged
Atalanta 32 Years Later (2006)
‘A retelling of the age-old fairy tale of the beautiful princess in search of the perfect prince. In 1974, Marlo Thomas’ hip, liberal celebrity gang created a feminist version of the children’s parable for mainstream TV’s “Free To Be You and Me”. Now in 2006, Sachs dreamed up this new experimental film reworking, a homage to girl/girl romance. Dedicated to filmmaker Barbara Hammer.’ — GK
w/ Mark Street XY Chromosome Project (2007)
‘In addition to our two daughters, we make films and performances that use the split screen to cleave the primordial and the mediated. After returning from an inspiring week long artist retreat at the Experimental Television Center, Lynne asked Mark to collaborate with her on the creation of a piece in which they would each ruminate on the other’s visual, reacting in a visceral way to what the other had hurled on the screen. Lynne would edit; Mark would edit. Back and forth and always forward. No regrets or over-thinking. In this way, the diptych structure is sometime’s a boxing match and other times a pas de deux. Newsreel footage of Ronald Reagan’s assassination attempt is brushed up against hand painted film, domestic spaces, and Christmas movie trailers. Together, we move from surface to depth and back again without even feeling the bends.’ — LS & MS
Wind In Our Hair (2009)
‘Inspired by the stories of Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, yet blended with the realities of contemporary Argentina, “Wind in Our Hair” is an experimental narrative directed by New York filmmaker Lynne Sachs about four girls discovering themselves through a fascination with the trains that pass by their house. A story of early-teen anticipation and disappointment, “Wind in Our Hair” is circumscribed by a period of profound Argentine political and social unrest. Shot with 16mm, Super 8mm, Regular 8mm film and video, the film follows the girls to the train tracks, into kitchens, on sidewalks, in costume stores, and into backyards in the heart of Buenos Aires as well as the outskirts of town. Sachs and her Argentine collaborators move about Buenos Aires with their cameras, witnessing the four playful girls as they wander a city embroiled in a debate about the role of agribusiness, food resources and taxes. Using an intricately constructed Spanish-English “bilingual” soundtrack, Sachs and her co-editor, Puerto Rican filmmaker Sofia Gallisa, articulate this atmosphere of urban turmoil spinning about the young girls’ lives. “Wind in Our Hair” also includes the daring, ethereal music of Argentine singer Juana Molina.’ — collaged
The Last Happy Day (2009)
‘The Last Happy Day is an experimental documentary portrait of Sandor (Alexander) Lenard, a Hungarian medical doctor and a distant cousin of filmmaker Lynne Sachs. In 1938 Lenard, a writer with a Jewish background, fled the Nazis to a safe haven in Rome. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service hired Lenard to reconstruct the bones — small and large — of dead American soldiers. Eventually he found himself in remotest Brazil where he embarked on the translation of “Winnie the Pooh” into Latin, an eccentric task that catapulted him to brief world-wide fame. Sachs’ essay film uses personal letters, abstracted war imagery, home movies, interviews, and a children’s performance to create an intimate meditation on the destructive power of war.’ — IMDb
Georgic for a Forgotten Planet (2009)
‘I began reading Virgil’s Georgics, a 1st Century epic agricultural poem, and knew immediately that I needed to create a visual equivalent about my own relationship to the place where I live, New York City. Culled from material I collected at Coney Island, the Lower East Side, Socrates Sculpture Garden in Queens, a Brooklyn community garden and a place on Staten Island that is so dark you can see the three moons of Jupiter. An homage to a place many people affectionately and mysteriously call the big apple.’ — LS
Same Stream Twice (2012)
‘My daughter’s name is Maya. I’ve been told that the word maya means illusion in Hindu philosophy. In 2001, I photographed her at six years old, spinning like a top around me. Even then, I realized that her childhood was not something I could grasp but rather – like the wind – something I could feel tenderly brushing across my cheek. Eleven years later, I pull out my Bolex camera once again and she allows me to film her – different but somehow the same.’ — LS
Your Day is My Night (2013)
‘While living in a “shift-bed” apartment in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown, a household of immigrants share their stories of personal and political upheaval. As the bed transforms into a stage, the film reveals the collective history of the Chinese in the United States through conversations, autobiographical monologues and theatrical movement pieces. Shot in the kitchens, bedrooms, wedding halls, cafés and mahjong parlors of Chinatown, this provocative, hybrid documentary addresses issues of privacy, intimacy, and urban life.’ — LS
Drift and Bough (2014)
‘I spent a morning in Central Park shooting film in the snow. The stark black lines of the trees against the whiteness created the sensation of a painter’s chiaroscuro, or a monochromatic tableau-vivant. When I held my Super 8mm camera, I was able to see these graphic explosions of dark and light.’ — LS
Starfish Aorta Colossus (2015)
‘NYC poet Paolo Javier invited filmmaker Lynne Sachs to create a film that would speak to one of his poems from his newly published book Court of the Dragon (Nightboat Books). Sachs chose Stanza 10 from Javier’s poem “Starfish Aorta Colossus”. She then decided to collaborate with film artist Sean Hanley in the editing of the film. Together, they traveled through 25 years of unsplit Regular 8 mm film that Sachs had shot — including footage of the A.I.D.S. Quilt from the late 1980s, a drive from Florida to San Francisco, and a journey into a very untouristic part of Puerto Rico. Throughout the process, Sachs and Hanley explore the celebration of nouns and the haunting resonances of Javier’s poetry.’ — collaged
TIP OF MY TONGUE (2017)
‘A lot of deep thinking goes on when you turn 50. Around the time that filmmaker Lynne Sachs celebrated a half-century on this earth, she decided to gather together other people, men and women who had lived through precisely the same years but came from places like Iran or Cuba or Australia or the Lower East Side, not Memphis, Tennessee where she had grown up. After a year of searching for just the right combination of participants, Sachs invited 12 fellow New Yorkers — born across several continents in the early 1960s — to spend a weekend with her making a movie. She included a few good friends and the rest were total strangers. Together they talked about some of the most salient, strange or ultimately revealing moments of their lives in a brash, self-reflexive examination of the way in which uncontrollable events outside our own domestic universe impact who we are and how we perceive the world. As director and participant Sachs, who wrote her own series of 50 poems for every year of her life, guides her collaborators across the landscape of their memories. She gives each person the same historical timeline as a catalyst for an exploration of the relationship between their personal lives and the times in which they have lived. Strangers initially with nothing in common but their age, the group works together in front of the camera writing, performing and filming. Using the backdrop of the horizon as it meets the water in each of NYC’s five boroughs as well as abstracted archival material, Sachs’ project becomes an activator in the resurrection of complex, sometimes paradoxical reflections. In the dreamscape of her movie, each participant embraces shards of the past, knowing that his or her connection to a historical moment may be tenuous but allowing for that ambiguity and mystery. In this way, traditional timelines are replaced by a multi-layered, cinematic architecture that both speaks to and visualizes the nature of historical expression.’ — LS
p.s. Hey. ** JM, Hey, man, great to see you. Thank you re: the posts, and, yes, I think safe to say that’s an ongoing preoccupation. Of the blog, my own work, the films, etc. Interesting studying you’re doing there, obviously. I’m pretty good because summer’s almost over and for other reasons too. I hope stuff stays inspiring for you. Any work in process or on the horizon? ** David Ehrenstein, In a sense, yes, hm. ** KK, Hi! Always nice and poetic to catch you amidst Astronomy. I’m assuming the break will be most welcome though. Survive the fucking heat. We supposedly had our last hot day yesterday and not a moment too soon, but we will see. Yeah, really sad about David Berman. ‘Actual Air’ is very good, unsurprisingly. And, yes, at least he went out with not just a new album but an excellent one. ‘Trash Humpers’ in 35mm? Whoa, it was transfered from cheap video to 35mm? You’ve seen it? It’s incredible and infuriating in about equal measure and for the same reasons. New poems! Or new to us at least! Excellent! I’ll get over there and read them as soon as I’ve signed off. Everyone, the very fine writer and d.l. KK aka Kyle Kirshbom has four poems available to read on the site/journal Sybil, and you will be happy while and once you’ve read them, for sure. So do that. Thanks. Yeah, I’m back into my novel finally. It’s weird to be back in that novel writing space. It’s intense. I like it. Time will tell if it actually pays off. You have a swell weekend too and stay as physically chilled as you can. Thanks a lot, man. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I too hope Paradigm sees it and checks in. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I, of course, know about the Eli Roth film being the haunted house fanatic that I am. One wonders. Obviously, it being a Roth, it’s not going to be genius or anything, but if he modulates his thing well, it could strike a nerve. Seems possible. Gotcha, and no problem about the SP post. I’d do one, but I’m a bit daunted at the thought. ** Bill, Hi, B. No, I hadn’t seen that article you linked to. Fascinating, I will pore over it shortly. Thank you. Oh, well, I hope you’re safely outta there and, I guess, back in SF if you’re reading this? Anti-jetlag magic transportable vibes+ to you. ** Okay. Today I ask you to delve into the work of another filmmaker whose work most of you most likely aren’t familiar with yet for the purposes of pleasure, inspiration, and appreciation for the cool things that cinema can do. See you tomorrow.