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Sink or Swim

USA, 1990 (MIFF 1991, Experimental)

Director: Su Friedrich

Friedrich's latest film, Sink or Swim, about her difficult relationship with her father, is both precise and wonderfully suggestive, at once readily accessible and dense with allusion, in less than an hour this film covers more ground than some filmmakers manage in a life's work.

"When Friedrich asked her father to teach her to swim, he took her to a pool, explained the theory and mechanics of swimming, and then threw her into deep water. It is to the film's immense credit that this tale, told on the soundtrack by the film's child narrator, isn't presented as the horror story it might have been in the hands of a more simpleminded filmmaker. After some flailing, Friedrich learned to keep her head above water and has been a swimmer ever since. This story makes clear, as does the film, Friedrich's divided attitude toward her father - as someone who loved her and introduced her to the world but also as someone who often acted inappropriately, disruptively, even abusively. Indeed, much of the richness of this auto biographical film, whose honest engagement with essential human dilemmas proves immensely moving, stems from its refusal to make simple choices or settle into unambiguous positions." - Fred Camper, Chicago Reader

Sink or Swim is a 48 minute film which tells the story of a girl's difficult relationship to her father. Through a simple but rigorous structure of twenty-six short stories, which correspond to the letters of the alphabet, a dual pattern slowly evolves that of a father who was more concerned with achievement and discipline than with creating a secure home life, and of a daughter who has been unable to forget her childhood experiences. The black and white images are primarily of contemporary life, although some found footage is used as well. The sensuality and the forcefulness of the text are united through a fluid and elegant editing style to create a complex and emotionally charged film." -(Friedrich's preferred synopsis)

"I can think of no more corrosively moving refutation of "the law of the father" than Su Friedrich's extraordinary precise Sink or Swim. Summoning her nerve, Friedrich rather fearlessly refines her previous researches into unexplored areas of memory, dream and desire. Sink or Swim shows, how, with a few sudden, powerful strokes, the supposedly submerged familiar past can overtake and threaten to drown our supposedly buoyant present." - Ernest Larsen

See also...

First Comes Love

Last year's Grand Prix winner Su Friedrich (Sink or Swim), returns with something of a departure from her usual style First Comes Love uses footage shot at weddings, married with a soundtrack of ... More »

Rules of the Road

MFF's '91's Grand Prix winner Su Friedrich's (Sink or Swmi) latest film is a slyly subversive take on dominant male car culture and the dif­ficulty of carving out a feminine or lesbian space ... More »


This beautifully crafted short feature, examin­ing adolescent lesbian identity in the 1960s, is an absolute gem. Director Su Friedrich approaches her subject from a number of differ­ent ... More »

Anemone Me

Lauded young New York playwright Suzan-Lori Parks wrote and directed this allegorical mood piece about a blind bodybuilder and the handsome merman that inhabits the ocean near his African American ... More »


'D' consists of a sequence of still photographs and drawings that have been rotsocoped. The photographs are from a trip across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn on the D train. ... More »


This film is compiled by Barbara Hammer from X-ray footage shot in the 1950's. The striking skeletal view we are shown allows the camera to rest on movement and gesture with-out covering the skin ... More »

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