• Steven Heller

Lights, Camera, Design

We all love watching movies. At home, on iPads and in theaters, great films are transformative experiences, if only for the moment. This week designers have a special treat, if they’re in New York, and have the urge to see movies about design and designers. The 2013 Architecture & Design Film Festival (the fifth) is set to open tonight (go here) at the Tribeca Cinemas until October 20. So, I’ve taken time out of festival founder and director Kyle Bergman’s busy schedule to ask him about his hopes for the festival and its films.

What is the ah-ha moment of this, your 5th festival? What is the must-see?

I think the ah-ha moment this year is definitely urbanism. We never have a predetermined theme when we’re requesting films, but this year we have a strong selection of films on urban issues. For example, the opening night film, The Human Scale, is about cities and the work of the influential Danish architect and professor Jan Gehl. Other films in the festival connected to this theme that have emerged are My Brooklyn, about the gentrification of the Fulton Street Mall area as seen through the eyes of filmmaker Kelly Anderson. Helsinki Music Centre – Prelude is about the struggle to put city resources into a cultural building at the time of a deep recession in Europe. It won the prestigious International Festival of Film on Art (FIFA) grand prize this past March. Even The Vision of Paolo Soleri uncovers his urban ideas about living in dense human environments. The video game designer who created SimCity, Will Wright, was inspired by Soleri’s drawings of urban spaces and will be at the festival for Q&As after the screenings.

Since we have all of these new films on urbanism we dipped into the film archives and are screening William H. Whyte’s classic film, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, which has a direct connection to the opening film, The Human Scale. I think they all worth seeing but there are two films in particular that are hidden sleepers. Away from All Suns! is about some almost forgotten treasures lurking in the back alleys of Moscow: Utopian buildings built in the 1920s in the spirit of Russian constructivism. And also The Latin Skyscraper – a film that tries to uncover a possible connection between Buenos Aires’ famous Barolo Palace and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The Latin Skyscraper

Since you began the festival, has the amount of design films or films about design increased? I have been tracking design films for the past 10 years and believe there is a greater quantity and quality of design films being produced. It’s a trend that I think, and hope, will continue. There are also more design films getting theatrical releases, which is good news for the whole industry. In fact, both ADFF opening night films from 2012, Design is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli and 16 Acres, will have theatrical releases this fall. Crossing into commercial films, there are a few new interesting films connected to design that are currently in production. One is a film about the life of Eileen Gray, which may be shown in a year or two at the festival.

Away From All the Suns

There are some gems on display. What has the response been to the festivals? The response has always been tremendous and the feedback we get from people who attend the festival is overwhelmingly positive. Part of the reason may be that we select films offering more than just interesting content; they’re films with a human story. But also, the festival is about more than just the films. The interesting part is what happens in between screenings, the conversations in the lounge of the Varick Room over a drink or coffee, or while browsing the pop-up bookstore by Rizzoli. It’s one of the main reasons to have a festival in the first place – to bring the public and the design community together to hopefully increase the dialogue about design. In this aspect, the festival has been wildly successful.

Jen Gehl in The Human Scale

Tado Ando Church of the Light

My Brooklyn

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →