Usually you wouldn’t record interviews with three people simultaneously with them sitting back to back, but I wanted them to have to listen to each other. — Lynne Sachs
Among the earliest memories common to the participants who grew up in the United States are the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Sachs was six years old when King was killed. The primary impact of the event on her as a little white girl in Tennessee was that local curfews were imposed. In the movie, an African-American man who grew up north of the Mason-Dixon line offers a surreal memory of the way the shadows and light looked in the room as he listened to adults discuss what had happened and how he was handed a ring commemorating King so that he would never forget his legacy. It is an example of how much issues of race were part of the early childhoods of people born in these years and of how such formative memories can become encapsulated and pared-down, almost like art objects in and of themselves.
The sometimes-uncomfortable arrangements of Sachs’ participants were as much for visual variety as for the opportunity to take people out of their physical comfort zones as they talked and listened. “Usually you wouldn’t record interviews with three people simultaneously with them sitting back to back, unable to see each other, but I wanted them to have to listen to each other — the listening became as important as speaking in the film, and I thought I could draw attention to that. I thought they would dive more deeply into their memories if they weren’t looking at each other.” In this scene, two men and one woman talk about being young adults in Ronald Reagan’s America, their parents’ relative wealth, their first job opportunities, and how the men felt about having to register for selective service as a prerequisite for attending college. “By re-inhabiting other moments in their lives, they kind of became actors in their own stories,” Sachs said.
As the narrative arc of the film moves through the decades to the present, some of the stories venture into difficult childhoods or traumatic experiences, but most are more esoterically personal, even when they are anchored to a historical moment. Time is marked in many ways, including in the poetic and visual interludes that are interspersed throughout the stories. In one instance that falls within the 1990s, Sachs refers to the flower called columbine, which is also the name of the high school in Colorado where one of the first mass school shootings took place. Sachs did not want to belabor the point, which no one in the movie discusses, but she said that she included it because, for her, that time was about being a young mother and imagining what it would be like to be the mother of a victim or killer. “Some people will pick up on that in the film, and some people won’t. It might depend on how close they were to the event.”
hurtles into Sept. 11, 2001, and after that, time seems to collapse. There is war, the recession, and then comes the rise of Occupy Wall Street, when hundreds of activists camped out in a city park to protest economic inequality. Sachs was there to document the leaderless movement. “I knew I’d use the footage in the movie, so I shot all of it out of focus. I thought it was so near the present that people in the audience, even if they didn’t live in New York, would still have their own relationship with it. I thought it would help people project their own experiences.” — Jennifer Levin
“Tip of My Tongue” screens as part of Currents New Media at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 15, and Thursday, June 22, at Violet Crown (1606 Alcaldesa St., 505-216-5678); no charge.