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“I Tried to Write Something Yesterday…”: Ira Sachs on Quietude, Listening and Art that Speaks to the Moment

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

Hey Scott,

I tried to write something yesterday, based on some ideas I had when you first wrote, but in light of what’s been going on in the world over the last few days, I found that anything I had to say now about creativity during the pandemic felt not up to the task of the moment at hand. In truth, I feel like I’m not the person who needs to be taking up space at this time with my words and feelings. I read someone suggest that as a White person, one of the things that I might do most meaningfully right now is keep quiet and listen. I’m trying to do that. I’m sure it will in some ways inform my creativity over time. I’m reading Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader by Vivian Gornick, and she quotes an interesting, relevant passage by Tolstoy that I’m not sure I agree with but think is usefully provocative. Gornick writes, “Tolstoy once said that if he was asked to write on social or political questions, he would not waste one word on the subject, but if asked to write a book which twenty years from the time it was written would make people laugh and cry and love life more, to this he would bend all his efforts.” What strikes me most about this passage is that Tolstoy himself seemed in no way to follow his own advice. His novels continue to do all that he asked of himself and his work as a writer—to make us love life more—and at the same time speak so directly to everything that was happening around him in his own time.

I guess the above is what I’ll say now in response to the question you posed.


Ira — June 1, 2020

Ira Sachs is a writer and director based in New York.

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