Rough footage, gentle ideas

Movies: Poetic images emerge from films with a home-movie feel

Film

February 26, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

At first glance, the films of Lynne Sachs and Mark Street look like home movies -- the sort of intimate portraits of families and journeys that may not necessarily translate to a wider audience.

But in their hands, such otherwise banal subjects as a visit with a far-flung sibling or the daily growth of the couple's eldest daughter blossom into poetic meditations on such universal -- and always absorbing -- themes of dislocation, intimacy and the swoon of new parenthood.

Three of their short films will be shown tonight at The Lodge in Highlandtown. The screening will include the Baltimore premiere of "Which Way Is East," by Sachs, and "Sweep," by Street, and the world premiere of Street's "The Domestic Universe."

Street, 35, who teaches film at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, filmed the material for "Sweep" and "The Domestic Universe" when he and Sachs and their daughter, Maya, lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. (They also have a 21-month-old daughter named Noa.) "Sweep" combines footage the filmmaker shot for an advertising agency with sound taken from videotapes of the then-infant Maya.

The videos "seemed sentimental and amateurish," Street said during a recent telephone conversation. "But the sound I loved. It reflected her beginning to talk and that kind of rap and riff that we had."

Street superimposed the soundtrack on the film, which he painted with acrylics, scratched and let disintegrate in a Baltimore basement last summer. The resulting palimpsest -- of Street's filmed material, his manipulation of the images and the sing-songy voice-over -- is a trance-like evocation of a child discovering herself and the world around her.

"The Domestic Universe," a more straightforward documentary in which Street interviews fathers about their relationships with their daughters, often assumes the visual perspective of a crawling, exploring child. But mostly the movie -- which Street shot on a variety of film and video formats -- captures the shifting tectonics of gender roles.

"It's just a weird place to be," Street said of being a full-time father. "No matter what you say, you're pushing a stroller down the street on a Tuesday morning, and most of the people pushing a stroller down the street on a Tuesday morning are not men. There's something that's really special about that, and there's something that can be kind of weird about that."

(The fact that two of Street's subjects, Philip Lopate and Kevin Keating, are involved in the film world -- Lopate writes about movies and Keating is a filmmaker -- is a coincidence. He met both men at the Carroll Gardens playground.)

Sachs made "Which Way is East" in 1994, when she visited her sister Dana, a journalist, in Vietnam with a 16-millimeter wind-up Bolex camera (which she operated by winding it up) and a Sony Walkman-Pro on which to record sound.

"My viewpoint was very much first impressions," Sachs, 37, explained, "and very much like a person who was aware of different kinds of things than the kinds of observations she had after a long time."

The 33-minute film is partly a travelogue of the sisters' trips through the country, where bomb craters have become rice paddies. But it is also an impressionistic version of Sachs' own emerging understanding, both of her sister and of Vietnam's tortured history.

But more than a conventional take on political history, "Which Way Is East" is a sensory recollection of a place drenched in beauty and sorrow. The people, farms, streets and temples of Vietnam are portrayed obliquely, in bursts of saturated color and motion. "I feel like I traveled through Vietnam looking for moments of light," Sachs said.

"Which Way Is East," "Sweep," "The Domestic Universe" and "They Don't Know Who They Are Either," by Baltimore-area filmmaker Hollie Laverstein, will be shown tonight at 8 p.m. at The Lodge, 244 S. Highlandtown. Admission is $4, and Margaret's Cafe will serve a full meal for $6. The Lodge is sponsored by the Fells Point Creative Alliance. For more information, call 410-276-1651.

`American Hollow'

The Maryland Film Festival announced this week that it has added "American Hollow," a documentary by Rory Kennedy, to its program. Kennedy's film, about a family living in Appalachia, received acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

The chronicle of Iree Bowling, a 68-year-old mother of 13 and grandmother of 30, "American Hollow" traces the matrix of poverty, tradition, family pride and desire to break free that holds the new generation of Bowlings. Kennedy (who happens to be Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's sister), will be on hand to introduce the movie and lead discussions after it is screened.

The Maryland Film Festival unspools April 22-25. All-access passes to the festival are already on sale and may be purchased for $250 by calling 410-752-8083.

`Breaker Morant'

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