New Lynne Sachs Short “Swerve” Debuts at BAMcinemaFest
“Swerve,” a new short film by experimental and documentary filmmaker Lynne Sachs will debut this Sunday, June 26 as part of a second program of shorts at BAMcinemaFest in Brooklyn. Go here for ticket information.
Sachs, who has made dozens of films in a variety of genres since the mid-80’s, is perhaps best known for her 2020 feature documentary about the life of her father, “Film About A Father Who.” Also a poet, her work often combines poems, essayistic narration, collaborations with non-filmmakers and autobiographical content. (Her brother Ira is also a filmmaker.) In “Swerve” she has taken a book of poetry, “O.B.B.” (or “Original Brown Boy”) by Paolo Javier, and reacted to it by having Javier and five other performers read lines from the book during a visit to the Hong Kong Food Market in the Queens borough of New York City.
“O.B.B.,” published by Nightboat Books in 2021, is not a conventional book of poetry. For 276 pages, Javier and illustrators Alex Tarampi and Ernest Concepcion combined words with collages based on D.I.Y. techniques like “the Mimeo revolution,” Kamishibai street theater and Surrealist cut-up aesthetics. Born in the Phillipines, Paolo has lived in Queens since 1999 and was the poet laureate of that borough from 2010-2014. With “O.B.B.” he used this techno comix format to reflect on topics like America’s continuing colonization of the Phillipines and other countries and his Filipinx identity. It was also heavily influenced by the work of the late Canadian poet Barrie Phillip Nichol (AKA bpNichol).
In an interview for the Filmwax Radio podcast, Lynne said her idea for the film was to have a small number of “performers” visit a food court in Queens, the most internationally diverse place in the country and a borough also famous for its vast selection of cuisines. She wanted the multilingual cast to read the poems “as if poetry itself was a language.” In the same interview Javier explained the title of the short. In Lucretius’s ancient poem “De rerum natura” (On the Nature of Things) he proposed that atoms have a tendency to swerve randomly and that this accounts for the free will of humans. (Literary scholar Harold Bloom later used “clinamen”–Lucretius’s name for this phenomenon–”to describe the inclinations of writers to swerve from the influence of their predecessors.”)
In the seven minute film, five performers visit Hong Kong Food Market, an Asian food court located in Elmhurst, Queens and the nearby Moore Homestead playground. Shot during the time of the Delta variant of Covid, many of those seen are wearing masks. This was also a time when many local businesses failed because of the pandemic. Quite a few in the food court are boarded up and only a few customers are seen eating there.
These performers (plus Javier) speak lines from “O.B.B.” while exploring the location. “Emboggled minds may puff and blow and guess,” artist and curator Emmy Catedral says and Sachs has the three verbs in that phrase appear on the screen. Actress Juliana Sass sits on a bench outside of the Elmhurst subway stop to read her lines; ray ferreira and Javier visit the playground to perform. Filmmaker Jeff Preiss (who has words from the book written on his mask) and film curator Inney Prakash order grilled pork sandwiches while trading lines such as, “Already imposing 5’6 Wil E. Coyote.” Later, in the park, Prakash seems to sum up a key point of the work by saying, “Adore your endless monologue.” The film ends with a waving Maneki-neko (lucky or beckoning cat) in a store window that may be a reference to Chris Marker’s masterful “Sans Soleil.” (And Javier and Sachs both cite film director Wong Kar-wai as an inspiration, especially the food courts inside Chungking Mansions seen in his 1994 film “Chungking Express.”)
“Swerve” is a lovely, serene cinematic meditation on postmodern/avant-garde/post-colonial poetry construction in general and specifically it’s a terrific incitement to read Javier’s book and seek out more of Sachs’s fascinating body of work.
Besides this intriguing collaboration, four other films will be shown at BAMcinemaFest’s second collection of shorts. The total running time for the program is 73 minutes and there will be Q&A’s with the artists afterwards.
Sachs and Javier are also doing a poetry reading and book signing this Friday, June 24. Details can be found here. Earlier this month, the two discussed their collaboration on an episode of the podcast “Filmwax Radio.” Go here to listen or watch.