SVA BBC Doc Film Fest: A Wrap

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This past Saturday the first SVA BBC Design Documentary Film Festival wrapped up at the SVA Theatre in New York. The films were enlightening, insightful and entertaining. Alas, I cannot direct you to any of them since they are not online. But attempts are being made to insure greater accessibility. Below are my edited introductory comments prior starting the proceedings.

We are so glad to see you here today and grateful you chose our modest festival over a HUNGER GAMES marathon.

The past ten years has seen a rise in design and design-related documentaries. Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica not only raised the bar but opened the gates to mainstream interest in design themes. He followed up with Objectified on industrial design and Urbanized on urban design planning. In February we had the world premiere of Doug Wilson’s Linotype: the Movie, devoted to the machine that set helvetica and so many other types. There has been an upswing in design biopic docs too: Including one on Max Bill by Erich Schmid, Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight by Wendy Keys (also shown here), The Visual Language of Herbert Matter by Reto Caduff, and Massimo Vignelli by John Madere, among others. The film Art and Copy by Doug Prey, about the big ideas in American advertising, made quite a splash. And Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey, narrated by James Franco, of all people, is currently playing the circuit.

This surge did not happen overnight. Films on design and designers have been sporadically produced since the early 1950s. Saul Bass, Herbert Bayer and other mid-century modernists have been subjects, although many of these have yet to be made into either VHS or DVD. Also these were more or less heroic career films. It took a while longer to make the objects of design stars of their own films. And the BBC was arguably the first to take this on.

Adam Harrison Levy (a freelance producer for BBC) and I started talking about curating a design film festival over two years ago. We looked at many feature length films, and decided that design alone was not enough connective tissue.

Then we had an ah-ha moment. Since Adam has produced for various BBC documentaries, and BBC has been a pioneer in producing documentaries on design, then why not celebrate the BBC’s role in building interest in and precedent for this genre of documentary.

And since the college we both work for, SVA, has three letters, just like BBC, why not butt those initials together. Now that’s design.

Now let me give you a synopsis of today: We present three short films produced by the BBC – Levis 501 Jeans, Sony Walkman and The Barcelona Chair. These are historical documents. They are the BBC’s early attempts to raise the public’s awareness in Britain about designed objects. As artifacts of a pre-digital era, the production values of these films have a dated glow, but the content is well worth watching (and some of the on-screen interviewees will be fascinating to see and hear).

After a fairly generous break, we return with Selling the Sixties: How Madison Avenue Dreamed the Decade, produced to accompany the premiere of Mad Men, which premiers its new season tomorrow night, to BBC audiences. They idea being the Brits could use a primer on the Creative Revolution. After the film, George Lois, one of the legendary art director/designer ad men will take to the stage in conversation with Adam.

After another break we will return with The Book: The Last Chapter?, Alan Yentob’s inquiry into the future of publishing in the digital age, with some surprising and even disturbing conclusions. Mr. Yentob has been the creative director and head of BBC2. In England he is a well known on-screen and off-screen presence, who has spearheaded their documentary programs. Following the film he will converse with Adam and take questions from the audience.

The primary reason for showing these films is simple: You would probably never see them otherwise. For various reasons, none of these films are available for U.S. distribution or transmission. We have received one-time, special dispensation. So if you blink or go to the restroom in the middle of any one of them, you’re out of luck.

Nonetheless, we’re lucky to have these films and the special guests to speak about them.

More Design Resources:

  1. Available now: Print Magazine’s Guest Art Director Digital Collection

  2. Enter your work in the Regional Design Annual

  3. Get the only book on logo design you’ll ever need: Chermayeff & Geismar’s Identify