In the poetical documentary Why a Film about Michele De Lucchi? directed by Alessio Bozzer, the Italian architect, designer and member of the Memphis Milano movement states: "The architect helps the world to stimulate creativity". De Lucchi's words could be used to explain in just one sentence the main purpose of the Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF), kicking off tonight in New York at the Tribeca Cinemas.
Founded in 2009, the ADFF, the nation's largest film event devoted to this subject, celebrates the creative spirit that drives architecture and design, while educating, entertaining and engaging its audiences.
Curated by Directors Kyle Bergman and Laura Cardello, the 6th edition of the festival promises something for every taste with 25 feature-length and short films (some of them U.S. Premieres), a 3D Film Series and a Special Focus on Women in Architecture plus panel discussions and Q&As with filmmakers and industry experts.
Viewers will be taken around the world to discover new and restored sites, buildings with a long history or recently built, and the thought of the designers and architects behind them.
Some films offer intimate portrayals of the architects and designers as well: Eileen Gray is celebrated through Marco Orsini's Gray Matters that starts with the iconic "Dragon Chair", sold for a record sum at the 2009 Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé auction. The documentary is a fresh take on Gray and analyses via interviews with several key collectors and experts, the interior design projects, spatial structures and houses by this pioneering and visionary creator and modernist icon.
Gray is not the only woman celebrated during the festival: while Roger Parsons's Who Dares Wins (2013) profiles Zaha Hadid, Making Space: 5 Women Changing the Face of Architecture (2014) directed by Ultan Guilfoyle, looks at Annabelle Selldorf (New York), Marianna McKenna (Toronto), Kathryn Gustafson (Seattle and London), Farshid Moussavi (London) and Odile Decq (Paris).
Younger people with an interest in design or futuristic experiments will definitely enjoy Maker (2014), a feature-length documentary by Mu-Ming Tsai looking at the implications of the Maker Movement (from open source programming to 3D printing, biohacking, crowdfuding and democratising access to exploration) and Telos: The Fantastic World of Eugene Tssui (2014), directed by Kyung Lee, and focusing on the maverick architect inspired by nature's form and function.
One of the highlights of this year's festival remains the 3D film series Cathedrals of Culture, a film project about the soul of buildings that moves from a question - "If buildings could talk, what would they say about us?" and that features six filmmakers - Robert Redford, Margreth Olin, Wim Wenders, Karim Aïnouz, Michael Madsen, and Michael Glawogger.
The six films are delicate and poetic portraits of several structures: the Salk Institute, a centre for breakthrough science, designed by architect Louis Kahn and inspired by a living organism; the futuristic Oslo Opera House populated on the inside by performers and members of the audience and, on the outside, by passers-by, models posing for a fashion shoot and people practicing tai chi; the Berlin Philharmonic, a modern Leviathan with a ship-like shape; the Centre Pompidou, interpreted as a living and breathing culture machine with metal muscles and steel bones, a violent and futuristic structure with the nostalgic charm of a steam engine; Halden Prison, the world's most humane penitentiary with the inmates filmed playing basketball with the guards; and the labyrinthine National Library of Russia, an almost sacred kingdom of thoughts.
The roles of designers and architects in our society and the constant transformations our environments go through are tackled, questioned and explored via films that look at political aspects including Neon (2014), directed by Eric Bednarski, an original analysis of Polish neon designs in Warsaw in the '60s and '70s, and Christiania - 40 Years of Occupation, by Richard Jackman and Robert Lawson, chronicling the vicissitudes of an independent squatter community in an abandoned military base in Copenhagen.
Some films reveal completely unexpected subplots: superficially, Frédéric Tcheng’s Dior & I (2014) follows the making of Raf Simon's first Haute Coutre collection for Dior, but looking at it in-depth you discover not just the architecture of the clothes made by the petites mains and therefore the internal architecture of a fashion house, but also the immersive environment Simons creates in the building where the collection is shown.
Suddenly, its walls covered in flowers inspired by Jeff Koons' floral installations, give the impression that the building may not be able to talk but can definitely breathe, imposing its presence and becoming the protagonist of the show, overshadowing the celebrities, famous editors and designers sitting in the front row, while offering on its roof a safe haven to an emotional Simons.
The best thing about some of these films and documentaries remains the fact that they help the viewers to look at things with the eyes of the mind and become more aware of the objects and spaces surrounding them.
De Lucchi feels the sacredness oozing from the walls of the Manica Lunga, the monks' cells turned into a library inside the Fondazione Cini in Venice, and, after watching some of these documentaries, you will definitely start questioning the value and meanings of design and of the structures and buildings you will walk in, but also grasp the essence of these objects and places.
As the ADFF founder and director, what fascinates you the most about architectural films?
Kyle Bergman: I'm an architect myself and I think there is a huge similarity between making architecture and making films. They are indeed almost identical processes in a lot of ways: they are very collaborative, they are public and they are both about telling stories. Besides, architectural films increase the dialogue between architecture and design and the great thing about a film is that you can go watch it and then have a coffee and talk about it. In our case, architectural films can lead to inspiring debates about architecture and design. The best thing about the ADFF is maybe what happens in between the films, when people stay a little longer to exchange opinions, engaging in conversations and debates - that's what makes the festival exciting.
In which ways has the festival changed since it was first launched in 2009?
Kyle Bergman: I would say that one of the most exciting things is that there are more and more films about architecture and design being produced and more high quality films as well. This has happened because people have seen successful films about architecture and design, while the costs of making films has come down a little bit, but the quality is still good. As a consequence, our audience has grown and more people are getting to know our festival.
Wim Wenders first explored the theme of talking buildings in 2010 at the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale with a film in collaboration with SANAA, in which ways has he developed this visionary subject further in Cathedrals of Culture?
Kyle Bergman: We played Wenders' If Buildings Could Talk two years ago at the festival and I think it was an interesting film, but you can definitely see the learning curve from that first film to Cathedrals of Cultures. Wenders is trying to see how he can use 3D in a way that it's not too descriptive or spectacular, so it's not about a bow and arrow that make you jump as they come out of the screen, but he wants to capture the essence and the advantages of shooting in 3D. His film of the Berlin Philharmonic is much more mature, he is in control of the technique and masters it at its best. Besides, in my opinion, the series as a whole is even more interesting than the individual pieces, because it's everyone's different take on what buildings would say, so you have six film-makers and six artistic expressions. It is an amazing series of films and we are super-excited about it because it is the US premiere.
The films included in the festival employ architecture to tackle other issues such as humanity and knowledge: how difficult it is for a director to look at these intangible themes through something tangible?
Kyle Bergman: The best way to see a building is to walk through it, but a film about it has a lot of advantages that you don't necessarily get by just walking through it. I preview over 250 films each year and the great thing that films can do is to tell a story from so many different perspectives. When you're making a building you're telling a story by your choice of materials, colours, and by the choice of how you programme what you're doing. As users of a building we get to reinterpret the stories all the time, so we understand a building in accordance to our impressions and personal experiences, but film-makers present us with their own visions and perspectives. The directors of Cathedrals of Culture ask themselves: "What is this building? What is it trying to say and what does it want users to know about it? What is it that the architect and designer and the team that put it together want you to know about it? What were they thinking?" This allows them to have a multiple approach to tell a story from many different perspectives - from the past to the present and future - and this is how they look into wider issues and themes.
Do you feel that the 3D technique allows the directors to explore better and in a more human ways the buildings they employ as protagonists of their movies?
Kyle Bergman: There is more behind the 3D technique than just the wow factor, but, as I said, we are in a learning curve. When colour first came into film, there were people who were colouring everything, but nowadays film-makers such as Pedro Almodovar uses colour as part of the story and of the narration. The same can be said about 3D: it is used at the moment prevalently for the excitement surrounding it, but Wenders proves it can be a powerful medium. As Executive Producer of Cathedrals of Culture, Wenders set up a challenge making a 30 minute film, using 3D and talking about what a building would say. The other five directors who took up the challenge did it in their own way. Obviously different films will resonate differently with each of us, but they all prove 3D is an exciting and innovative medium. For example, even though I've never been in it, the film about the Oslo Opera House gave me a really great understanding of what the building is about, I really got a good sense of it from the film.
Which one of the buildings celebrated in this year's festival do you find particularly fascinating and would like to engage in a conversation with?
Kyle Bergman: A lot of the buildings that you see in the films are exciting. The Oslo Opera House fascinates me a lot, but we also have a film on Eileen Gray and there's her very famous house, the E1027, a little modernist jewel located in a beautiful setting overlooking the sea in Southern France, that I love. The building was recently brought back to life and will re-open to the public soon. I would love to engage that building in a conversation as it would be fascinating to explore what it could say because it has seen so much and its history is dynamic and intriguing.
Would you like to do a film about a specific building?
Kyle Bergman: I have actually started two different film projects - one of them is about a not so well known yet interesting architect, and the other one is more about a urban community idea. They are both in the early stages and, like it happens with a building, it takes a few years to go from the idea to the final completion, but it feels like an exciting challenge. I've always been interested in films and when I was in undergraduate school I was taking film-making and architecture classes as I couldn't decide what I really wanted to do. In the end I went for architecture, but later on I realised how similar the two disciplines actually were.
Who is in your opinion the most architectural director of all times?
Kyle Bergman: It's an interesting question, as I said I do think that architecture and film are very similar, so I wouldn't pull them apart as two different disciplines, besides it's hard to pick one as there are so many. I love for example the way Hitchcock and Frank Lloyd Wright tell their well-crafted stories. Both charge their creations with mystery, wonder and excitement through clever changes in perspectives. The way Hitchcock unravels his plot is the same technique Frank Lloyd Wright uses to present us his buildings that expand and compress without revealing us everything from the beginning. I do love modern buildings, but sometimes they do lack mystery, they expose themselves right from the beginning, while I do like a little bit of mystery because it helps your mind growing. I also like the way Orson Welles plays with light in a very architectural way, as he employs darkness and shadows to hide some aspects and to avoid revealing you everything.
The Monditalia section at the 14th Venice International Architecture Exhibition features clips from a list of around 80 films and the program offers visitors the chance to see until November full length films selected from the same list. Do you feel that this opportunity currently on at the Biennale can help bringing the film and architecture connection to a wider audience who may have just seen buildings not as a key part of a narration, but as a mere part of the set and setting for a film?
Kyle Bergman: I haven't been to the Biennale this year, but I read about it and what I like about this idea and what we're trying to do also with our festival is to bring architecture to a wider audience. As architects we talk too much, while these events help the general audience to understand architecture and design a bit better, and prompt them to ask architects and designers to make better projects.
Who is the ideal member of the audience of the ADFF?
Kyle Bergman: We do have professionals, but also people simply interested in architecture and design, that's why the schedule includes a wide variety of films. For this festival our goal has always been that of programming films that are open enough to people who may not know anything about these subjects. Architecture and design are for everyone and the more people understand it, the more sophisticated we will make people, and the better architecture and design will be produced.
The 6th Annual Architecture & Design Film Festival, Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick Street, New York City, October 15 - 19, 2014.
Image credits for this post
All images Courtesy Architecture & Design Film Festival
1. Cathedrals of Culture - The Centre Pompidou by Karim Aïnouz
2. Gray Matters by Marco Orsini, filming at Eileen Gray Villa @ Celina Lafuente De Lavotha
3. Gray Matters by Marco Orsini, Copyright Julian Lennon 2014. All Rights Reserved.
4. Who Dares Wins: Zaha Hadid by Roger Parsons
5. and 20. Maker by Mu-Ming Tsai
6. Cathedrals of Culture - The National Library of Russia by Michael Glawogger
7. Christiania - 40 Years of Occupation by Richard Jackman and Robert Lawson
8. and 9. Dior and I by Frédéric Tcheng
10. Why a Film about Michele De Lucchi? by Alessio Bozzer
11. The Yellow Circle House, Telos: The Fantastic World of Eugene Tssui by Kyung Lee
12. Cathedrals of Culture - The Berlin Philharmonic by Wim Wenders
13. Cathedrals of Culture - Halden Prison in Norway by Michael Madsen
14. Cathedrals of Culture - The Salk Institute by Robert Redford
15. Cathedrals of Culture - The Oslo Opera House by Margreth Olin
16. E1027 after restoration, Gray Matters by Marco Orsini
17. Neon by Eric Bednarski
18. Farshid Moussavi, MOCA Ground Floor, Making Space: 5 Women Changing the Face of Architecture by Ultan Guilfoyle. Photo by Dean Kaufman.
19. FRAC Bretagne Museum by Studio Odile Decq. Making Space: 5 Women Changing the Face of Architecture by Ultan Guilfoyle. Photo by Odile Decq and Roland Halbe.
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