Investigation of a Flame

Investigation of a Flame

color, sound, 45 min
On May 17, 1968 nine Vietnam War protesters, including a nurse, an artist and three priests, walked into a Catonsville, Maryland draft board office, grabbed hundreds of selective service records and burned ...
Rental format: 16mm $100.00
Available for sale: Digital file $25.00, DVD NTSC $25.00

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About

On May 17, 1968 nine Vietnam War protesters, including a nurse, an artist and three priests, walked into a Catonsville, Maryland draft board office, grabbed hundreds of selective service records and burned them with homemade napalm.  “Investigation of a Flame” is an intimate, experimental documentary portrait of the Catonsville Nine, this disparate band of resisters who chose to break the law in a defiant, poetic act of civil disobedience.   A series of informal, yet charged conversations with members of the group encourages viewers to ask their own questions about the relevance of such events today.  How did the photos, trial publicity and news of the harsh two-year prison sentences help to galvanize a disillusioned American public?  “Investigation of a Flame”  explores this politically and religiously motivated performance of the 1960's in the context of  a newly militarized America.   With renowned activist priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan leading the way, this powerful, imaginative statement of protest reveals the necessity to reflect actively on our government’s wartime forays into the lives and politics of other nations. 

Selected Reviews:
“A complex rumination on the power of protest…..the trauma of the past, the continued mistakes of the present and the necessity to reflect actively on our government’s wartime antics.”  Holly Willis, The LA Weekly

“INVESTIGATION OF A FLAME is a gorgeously crafted experimental documentary recounting the odyssey of the Catonsville Nine. Investigation’s radical veneer belies the after-schoolish wholesomeness at its core, for the committed pacifism of its subjects exemplifies a venerable American tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience  – the principled breaking of imperfect human laws in adherence with higher moral ones.  There’s little to add to the chorus of praise that followed MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight  screening of the film, but it’s nonetheless a film to rave about, as well as reckon with.”  Ionnnis Mookas,  The Independent Film and Video Monthly

“BEST DOCUMENTARY in  2001”, Phillip Lopate, Village Voice Critic

 “One of the ten best films released in 2002” Phillip Lopate, Film Comment

"Sachs' elegant, elliptical documentary visits with surviving members of what became known as the Catonsville Nine, humble architects of this purposeful yet scathingly metaphoric act of civil disobedience."  Jessica Winter, The Village Voice

“The Catonsville Nine are so intriguing, so inspiring. They almost make one long for the government to stick its nose into something murderously immoral once again; they probably have actually. In those days, anyone could become a hero and a martyr just by doing what's right. Bravo! A poetically flavored but soberly ennobling movie.” Guy Maddin, filmmaker

"Speaking of people who broke the rules, Lynne Sachs made a fine, artful documentary about the Catonsville Nine, the war protesters who walked into a Selective Service office in 1968, grabbed as many files as they could carry and burned them with homemade napalm.  She's got the surviving protesters down on film, Philip and Daniel Berrigan among them; and she's got other interested parties too, including the district attorney who prosecuted the Nine and one of the jurors who convicted them.  The juror weeps now, out of respect for their courage. The film is titled Investigaiton of a Flame." Stuart Klawans, The Nation

“On May 17, 1968, nine Vietnam War protesters, including a nurse, an artist and three priests, walked into a Catonsville, Maryland, draft board office, grabbed hundreds of selective service records and burned them with homemade napalm. Investigation Of A Flame is an intensely personal portrait of these dissidents that refuses to settle for the easy answers of propaganda. Sachs has created a rare gem of a film that manages to combine a sense of moral complexity with visual sophistication and conceptual brilliance. The film is remarkably democratic, including commentary from protesters, a prosecutor and juror involved in their subsequent trials as well as a draft board office clerk who attempted to protect the military records from destruction. Just as impressive, Sachs uses images of flowers and a scale model of Catonsville itself as elliptical, rhyming metaphors for the passions surrounding the protest, a strategy that mirrors the poetry of the protesters' use of napalm.”  The Florida Film Festival

“A terrific work. … compelling and revealing in terms of the motivations and consequences of what took place. Gives a density and delicacy to the representation of what happened that really enlivens memory and enriches history.  The sensitivity and strength, together, of the perpetrators is quite impressive.  They know what they are doing and why and have given it such careful thought.  I felt like it had similarity to “The Thin Red Line” with the poetic, evocative quality Morris instills, but without the romantic overtone that his use of Glass' music imparts.  The rapid pans of flowers and so on have a more austere quality to them without that kind of softening and intriguing, mystifying music and the austerity may leave the film less scintillating in some sense but it is also a work of obvious integrity and purpose that then takes on a dignity that, I think, is genuinely memorable.”       Bill Nichols  (2004)

Author of Movies and Methods, Introduction to Documentary, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary

“Investigation of a Flame artfully revisits this footnote to recent history that took place right in our own backyard. This is an account of the war at home against the war in Vietnam.  These people were not Yippie fist-shakers.  All but one of the men wore suits.  Investigation of a Flame captures the heartfelt belief behind the Nine’s symbolic action of civil disobedience that sparked other (actions)  like it across the nation.  Sachs cannily avoids the usual documentary dance of talking heads and file footage by interspersing impressionistic shots.  (The film) provides a potent reminder that some Americans are willing to pay a heavy price to promote peace.”  Lee Gardner, Baltimore City Paper,

“By avoiding some of the orthodoxy of documentary filmmaking, Sachs has gone beyond the historical to the profoundly personal.”  Jed Dietz, Maryland Film Festival

“This is a documentary about the protest events that made Catonsville, Maryland, an unpretentious suburb on the cusp of Baltimore, a flash point for citizens’ resistance at the height of the war. Sachs found assorted characters still firm to fiery on the topic.  She came to admire the consistency of the mutual antagonists in an argument that still rages (today).”  Francis X. Clines, The New York Times

“A highly personal,... compelling ‘anti-documentary’ record of a once celebrated, now forgotten protest.”  Greg Rickman, “Zoom Lens” San Francisco Weekly

“(Sachs’) stammering editing pace and hand-held camerawork is more avant-garde than MTV as the film moves apace with its idea that the history of Vietnam protests is more than simply a battle of hawks and doves.” Peter Crimmins, Berkeley Daily Planet

“This poetic essay offers the perfect antidote to PBS:  there is no omniscient narrator talking down to the viewer, reciting facts and explaining what to think, yet the story is perfectly clear.  Brothers Phil and Dan Berrigan, who led the protest, appear both in the present and in archival footage, a mix that makes their commitment palpable, while images like a newspaper going in and out of focus remind us that shifting contexts alter our understanding of complex events.”  Fred Camper, Chicago Reader

“Sachs’ documentary has added significance at the moment, but it would be relevant regardless of current events. “  Johnny Ray Huston, San Francisco Bay Guardian

“To those who think that everything in a society and its culture must move in lock step at times of crisis, these two films  might seem to be ‘off-message.’ But they are in essence  patriotic... saluting U.S. democracy as it pays homage to the U.S. tradition of dissent.” Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

"This annual survey (Museum of Modern Art Film Fortnight) of recent social documentaries includes docs dealing with terrorism and war, including Lynne Sachs' Investigaiton of a Flame" (J. Hoberman)   “You won’t have to sit through any Hollywood calling-card films at the ambitious, eclectic, festival international (NY Expo of Film and Video).  Don’t miss the doc showcase with pieces by Tsipi Trope, Lynne Sachs (‘Investigation of a Flame”) and Marina Petrovskaya.”  Amy Taubin,  Voice Choices,  Short List, Village Voice

"This is a beautiful, hauntingly evocative film.  It presents  the viewer with a painful reminder of the evil and idiocy of an  earlier American war, and of the singular courage of nine who  struggled against it.  "Investigation of a Flame" moves effortlessly between past and present, between a peaceful suburban environment and  the horrific violence of Vietnam, between the serenity of a Maryland springtime and the machinery of death, between black and white and color, between youth and old age.  It tells us much about how great  deeds are remembered and judged by their doers, many years later."– Prof. David  Schalk, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of History, Vassar College.

 

Screenings: National Broadcast on the Sundance Channel; Maryland Film Festival “Opening Night”; Museum of Modern Art, Documentary Fortnight “Opening Night”; Rhode Island Film Festival; Art Institute of Chicago; Mill Valley Film Festival;  San Francisco Cinematheque;  Pacific Film Archive; Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Olympia Film Festival., Providence Women’s Film Festival, Denver Film Festival; Harvard University Film Archive; Cornell University Cinema; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; NY Underground Film Festival; Vassar College; Ithaca College; Massachusetts College of Art; Catholic University; Maine Film Festival; Florida Film Festival; Georgetown University;  Brooklyn Academy of Music, Portland Doc. Festival,  Wisconsin Film Festival,  Georgetown University’s Jesuit Week, American University Center for Social Media

 

Awards:  Black Maria Film Festival; San Francisco International Film Festival: New Jersey Film Festival; Ann Arbor Film Festival; First Prize Documentary Athens Film Festival

 

Selected Collections:  Museum of Modern Art, Pacific Film Archive, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; University of California, Irvine; New York University; Columbia University, Wesleyan University; SUNY Binghampton; Duke University; Seattle Public Library; Brown University; New York Public Library; Johns Hopkins University; Boston Public Library; Georgetown; Penn State; University of Virginia

 

Films

  • Other films by this artist in our catalogue

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    Drawn and Quartered
    Experimental

    Drawn and Quartered
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, color, silent, 4 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Body
    • Films About Film
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
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    Still Life With Woman and Four Objects
    Experimental

    Still Life With Woman and Four Objects
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, black and white, sound, 4 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Arts / Artists
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
    • Structural
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    Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning
    Experimental

    Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, color, sound, 9 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Arts / Artists
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    Sermons & Sacred Pictures: the life and work of Reverend L.O. Taylor
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Sermons & Sacred Pictures: the life and work of Reverend L.O. Taylor
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, color and b/w, sound, 29 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
    • Political / Social Activism
    • Biography / Autobiography
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    The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts
    Experimental

    The House of Science: A Museum of False Facts
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, color, sound, 30 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
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    Which Way Is East
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Which Way Is East
    Lynne Sachs

    DVD, color, sound, 33 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Political / Social Activism
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
    • Ethnographic
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    A Biography of Lilith
    Documentary
    Experimental
    Narrative

    A Biography of Lilith
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, color and b/w, sound, 35 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Philosophical
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
    • Spiritual / Mystical
    • Family
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    Window Work
    Experimental

    Window Work
    Lynne Sachs

    video, color, sound, 9 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Body
    • Films About Film
    • Structural
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    Photograph of Wind
    Experimental

    Photograph of Wind
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, color and b/w, sound, 4 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Body
    • Hand-Processed
    • Children / Youth
    • Family
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    First Steps in a Terra Incognita
    Experimental

    First Steps in a Terra Incognita
    Lynne Sachs

    video, color, sound, 4 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
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    Tornado
    Experimental

    Tornado
    Lynne Sachs

    video, color, sound, 4 min
    Rental formats: 16mm, Digital file
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    A Collection of Films on DVD Exploring Women, Culture, Science & Myth by Lynne Sachs Vol. 1
    Experimental

    A Collection of Films on DVD Exploring Women, Culture, Science & Myth by Lynne Sachs Vol. 1
    Lynne Sachs

    DVD, color and b/w, sound, 65 min
    Rental format: DVD NTSC
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    Atalanta: 32 Years Later
    Animation
    Experimental

    Atalanta: 32 Years Later
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, color, sound, 5 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Found Footage
    • Spiritual / Mystical
    • LGBT / Queer
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    Noa, Noa
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Noa, Noa
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm , color and b/w, sound, 8 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
    • Children / Youth
    • Family
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    States of UnBelonging
    Documentary
    Experimental

    States of UnBelonging
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 63 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
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    • Personal / Diary / Journal
    • Ethnographic
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    The Small Ones
    Documentary
    Experimental

    The Small Ones
    Lynne Sachs

    Digital, color, sound, 3 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
    • Political / Social Activism
    • Found Footage
    • Abstract
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    Lynne Sachs: 10 Short Films Vol.3
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Lynne Sachs: 10 Short Films Vol.3
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 62 min
    Rental format: DVD NTSC
    • Body
    • Arts / Artists
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
    • Found Footage
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    Georgic for a Forgotten Planet
    Experimental

    Georgic for a Forgotten Planet
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 8 min
    Rental format: DVD NTSC
    • Landscape / Architecture
    • Environment / Nature
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
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    The Last Happy Day
    Documentary
    Experimental

    The Last Happy Day
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 38 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
    • Biography / Autobiography
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
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    Cuadro por Cuadro/ Frame by Frame
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Cuadro por Cuadro/ Frame by Frame
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 8 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Films About Film
    • Found Footage
    • Hand-Processed
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    Wind in Our Hair (Con viento en el pelo)
    Experimental
    Narrative

    Wind in Our Hair (Con viento en el pelo)
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 42 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Children / Youth
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    The Task of the Translator
    Documentary
    Experimental

    The Task of the Translator
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 10 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
    • Philosophical
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    Sound of a Shadow
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Sound of a Shadow
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 10 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Landscape / Architecture
    • Environment / Nature
    • Ethnographic
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    Same Stream Twice
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Same Stream Twice
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm, color and b/w, silent, 4 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Body
    • Philosophical
    • Children / Youth
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    Your Day is My Night
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Your Day is My Night
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 65 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
    • Landscape / Architecture
    • Music
    • Literarature / Theater
    • Ethnographic
    • Hand-Processed
    • Dance
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    Drift and Bough
    Experimental

    Drift and Bough
    Lynne Sachs

    black and white, sound, 6 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC, super8
    • Landscape / Architecture
    • Environment / Nature
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    Viva and Felix Growing Up
    Documentary

    Viva and Felix Growing Up
    Lynne Sachs

    black and white, sound, 10 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
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    Starfish Aorta Colossus
    Experimental

    Starfish Aorta Colossus
    Lynne Sachs

    color, sound, 5 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Landscape / Architecture
    • Films About Film
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
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    Day Residue
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Day Residue
    Lynne Sachs

    Super 8mm , color, silent, 3 min
    Rental format: Digital file
    • Biography / Autobiography
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
    • Abstract
    • Family
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    Tip of My Tongue
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Tip of My Tongue
    Lynne Sachs

    HD Video, color, sound, 80 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
    • Philosophical
    • Arts / Artists
    • Biography / Autobiography
    • Personal / Diary / Journal
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    And Then We Marched
    Documentary
    Experimental

    And Then We Marched
    Lynne Sachs

    16mm and Super 8mm , color, silent, 3 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
    • Political / Social Activism
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    Carolee, Barbara and Gunvor
    Documentary
    Experimental

    Carolee, Barbara and Gunvor
    Lynne Sachs

    digital file , color, sound, 9 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • Body
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    • Cameraless / Handmade
    • Biography / Autobiography
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    The Washing Society
    Documentary
    Experimental

    The Washing Society
    Lynne Sachs

    HD Video, color, sound, 44 min
    Rental formats: Digital file, DVD NTSC
    • History
    • Political / Social Activism
    • Economics