Twenty of the more than three dozen films Lynne Sachs has made since the mid-1980s have been selected for a virtual retrospective currently running at the Museum of the Moving Image through the end of the month. Even before she completed her first formalist experiments in 1986, Still Life with Woman and Four Objects and Drawn and Quartered, Sachs began shooting footage on 8 mm and 16 mm, and eventually, analog and digital video that she and editor Rebecca Shapass would shape into the centerpiece of the program. Film About a Father Who, which opened last year’s Slamdance, is a “brisk, prismatic, and richly psychodramatic family portrait” that “finds Sachs assessing her relationship with her father, Ira Sachs Sr., described at one point as the ‘Hugh Hefner of Park City,’” writes Ben Kenigsberg in the New York Times.
As Ira himself has put it, he’s a man with “one wife and many friends.” He’s fathered nine children over the years, and some of them have only recently become aware of the existence of others. Lynne grew up in Memphis with her sister, the writer Dana Sachs, with whom Lynne collaborated on the 1994 film Which Way Is East: Notebooks from Vietnam, and their brother, filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr. Talking to Conor Williams at Screen Slate, Lynne notes that the Memphis-based music producer played by Rip Torn in Ira’s 2005 film Forty Shades of Blue could be said to be loosely based on their father.
The younger Ira Sachs and his husband, the painter Boris Torres, coparent twins with Kirsten Johnson, who of course, has just made her own film about her father, Dick Johnson Is Dead. “It’s funny,” Lynne tells Williams, “I was going through my photos on my computer and I found four or five of them with my dad and Dick together. They’re holding hands up in the air, just last year.” Talking to Chris Shields at Reverse Shot, she explains why one sequence in Film About a Father Who is crucial. Ira Sachs Sr. himself shot the footage of three of his young children splashing in a stream. “In documentary work, it’s not just about seeing someone,” she says, “it’s how they see that can tell you just as much about them.”
The title echoes Film About a Woman Who, the 1974 film by Yvonne Rainer, one of the many influences Lynne Sachs is eager to cite, including Stan Brakhage, Bruce Conner, and Gertrude Stein. “Discovering ‘Lifting Belly,’ Gertrude Stein’s ever so physical, ecstatic belching of all things female, is critical to my work as an artist and poet,” she told Paolo Javier in Bomb Magazine in 2014. As a writer who would go on to stage multimedia performances, Sachs first discovered her love of filmmaking while studying in San Francisco, where she worked alongside Craig Baldwin, Ernie Gehr, Barbara Hammer, Gunvor Nelson, and Trinh T. Min-ha. In 2007, she helped Chris Marker create an English-language version of his 1972 short film, Three Cheers for the Whale.
For the best film-by-film guide to the retrospective, turn to Kat Sachs in the Notebook. No relation, by the way. “At the center of Sachs’s work is often Sachs herself: her body, her voice, her words,” writes Kat Sachs. “And with those come the subjects that preoccupy her: family, feminism, language, place, and being . . . Sachs never seems to intimate that her perspective is universal but, rather, that having a perspective is.”
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