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Lynne Sachs chat

Read the transcript from our live chat with director Lynne Sachs. Sachs' film, "Investigation of a Flame" will have its world premiere at the opening night event of the Maryland Film Festival 2001.

The film is a documentary about the 1968 "Catonsville Nine" Vietnam War protesters who walked into a Catonsville draft board office and burned hundreds of selective service records with homemade napalm. The incident gained national attention and even became a play on Broadway called "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine."

Sachs is a Baltimore-based film and videomaker. Her 1997 film, "A Biography of Lilith" uses narrative, collage and memoir to explore the ancient story of the first woman to live with Adam in the Garden of Eden. In 1994, Sachs took a journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi with her journalist sister living in Vietnam for the documentary, "Which Way is East."

SunSpot: Welcome, Lynne. It's nice to meet you.

Lynne Sachs: Hi. I'm very glad to be here and I'm very curious to see what kind of questions will come up and I'm very excited to hear any questions that people have about the Catonsville 9.

Joe, Detroit: What attracted you to this project?

Lynne Sachs: I moved to the Baltimore area in 1998 and a number of people mentioned to me that this very interesting, radical event had occured in this quiet, suburban town of Catonsville, Md., where I found myself. I started researching through the library and just started asking people questions in stores: "Had you ever heard of the Catonsville 9?" And all of a sudden I was catapulted into a two and a half year odyssey.

Kay, Portland, Ore.: What are your feelings about recent rallies in Seattle and Quebec to protest globalization and WTO? Also, speak about the media coverage of said events and the necessity for alternative voices (like yours) to chronicle, investigate, and document voices not friendly to the mainstream.

Lynne Sachs: That is a wonderful question. To my mind, the protests in Seattle and Washington are part of a legacy that this group of Catholic anti-war activists started 30 years ago. They, too, knew how to use metaphor, drama and true risk-taking to capture the public's imagination.

Trisha, Baltimore: What are your personal beliefs of the Vietnam War -- and how would you respond to some veterans and others critical of the anti-war movement?

Lynne Sachs: I'm very critical of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. One misconception about the Catonsville 9 is that their action was against the soldiers and the veterans. Actually, their deepest compassion was for the Vietnamese people and for the members of the military who were forced to go to Vietnam. Phil Berrigan, one of the Catonsville 9, was a soldier in WWII and speaks quite honestly and passionately about that experience.

Michael, Federal Hill: As a Jewish filmmaker, what interested you in this Christian-themed story?

Lynne Sachs: I became fascinated in the impulse that these people followed, the trajectory of their actions. They came out of a commitment to what was then a new idea -- liberation theology. I think many Jews have shared this intellectual and philosophical commitment.

Tony, Butcher's Hill: Is Baltimore a good town for independent filmmakers? How helpful is the Maryland Film Commission?

Lynne Sachs: I have not had any interaction with the Maryland Film Commission, but I have had a lot of support from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Maryland Humanities Council and the Fells Point Creative Alliance. In fact, the Creative Alliance has started a movie-makers component which probably will become the vortex for independent filmmaking in this area. They are putting together a panel during the Film Festival Saturday afternoon at 4:30. See www.mdfilmfest.com.

Bobbette, Memphis, Tenn.: Lynnie dear: How many times have you revised your film since you initially started on it?

Lynne Sachs: I have 31 versions of this film on my computer. Sometimes I wonder if this is like an oil canvas that is improving or deteriorating.

Peter, Baltimore: My daughter wants to become a filmmaker. Where do you suggest she attend school in Maryland? Any tips for women filmmakers?

Lynne Sachs: That's a nice question because -- believe it or not -- most film students are still men. I teach filmmaking and sometimes I ask my students to name their favorite woman filmmaker. They usually don't have an answer. Then, I say, "name any woman filmmaker." And they're still at a loss! Look at UMBC.

Eric, Baltimore: In response to your feelings about the Vietnam War, what do you think about Pres. Bush's recent statement that the U.S. will defend Taiwan against China?

Lynne Sachs: I don't think the United States should get involved in Chinese politics at all. It's very complicated and deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture and political history and at this point not that militarized -- at least from my perspective.

Reba, Towson: Did making this film change any of your personal opinions about the Vietnam War?

Lynne Sachs: Before I made this film, I had never had the chance to have such extensive conversations with people who very much believed that it was the United States' responsibility to fight Communism. This is a mindset that we've almost forgotten about. As I listen to these perspectives, my own anti-war feelings remained very strong, but I was able to understand the fears that some of these older people felt and -- astonishingly -- still feel today.

Charles, Baltimore: Is this, along with "Which Way is East" (which I saw at Cinema Sundays), part of a larger project about Vietnam?

Lynne Sachs: My sister has recently completed a book entitled "The House on Dream Street: A Memoir of an American Woman in Hanoi." She lived in Vietnam for two years. We're both in our late 30s and are still grappling with the Vietnam War as a backdrop for our whole childhood. In many ways, "Investigation of a Flame" is the Part 2, as you noticed, of my work on Vietnam.

Sue, Rochester, N.Y.: Do the Catonsville 9 still stand behind their actions? Do you think they would do it again in the same circumstances?

Lynne Sachs: That question is kind of the essence of the whole movie. I think they all believe they did the right thing, but they are now very divided over the issue of civil disobedience in the year 2001. Some of them are skeptical about its effectivenes. Others are still doing actions and going to prison, as you may know. Philip Berrigan is currently in prison for an action he did in Maryland in 1999 as a statement against the use of depleted uranium in U.S. fighter planes.

Greg, Boston: Have you ever personally protested anything? If so, what? What do you feel would be worth protesting?

Lynne Sachs: I protested the reinstatement of draft registration in 1981. I was involved in some anti-nuclear protests in the '80s, as well.

Blythe, Baltimore: Do you feel that "psuedo-documentaries" like "JFK" and "13 Days" affect the way audiences respond to real documentaries? Do they question the authenticity of the story?

Lynne Sachs: I'm absolutely not interested in the truth and prefer to swim about in the folklore of storytelling. As long as people don't pretend to be objective. I think these kinds of explorations of nonfiction are very compelling. I adore collage representations of history. They are the most sublime revisionist expression.

Alexa, Baltimore: Are you interested in making feature films in the future?

Lynne Sachs: For some reason, people always look at filmmaking as a trajectory toward 90 minutes and commercial theaters. I hope I never buy into that paradigm. If I make a film of that length, I will be breathless, I'm sure, and hopefully proud of every minute. But I don't believe in stretching a piece just to fit that mold.

Ben, Highlandtown: What project will you be working on next?

Lynne Sachs: I am planning to go to Sarajevo in June to do a collaborative project with some Bosnian artists. We are creating a house Web site in which people move from room to room as a way to evoke the personal histories that they've been through. This is a continuation of my own work on the relationship between personal memories and publically defined history.

SunSpot: Thanks for talking to us. Is there anything else you want to say about the Film Festival?

Lynne Sachs: I will be screening my film Thursday, May 3, at the Senator and Saturday, May 5, at the Charles Theatre. Both shows will include a conversation with several members of the Catonsville 9, who are flying in from all over the country. There will be many other documentaries and experimental shorts that I am really looking forward to seeing myself.

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