Susan Morris | Essays

Documentaries at DOC NYC and Architecture & Design Film Festival

Documentary films were in full flourish with the DOC NYC film festival, which ran back-to-back with the Architecture & Design Film Festival.

Strikingly, films about Brutalism, were in full flower, along with another film at the Metrograph, the independent cinema in Lower Manhattan. A post WWII architectural style and a direct descendent of Modernism, Brutalism is marked by it starkness, exposed materials particularly cast concrete, monochrome palette, structural expression, textural feel and anti-nostalgia, a reaction to rebuilding after the destruction of the WWII.

The Hungarian-born architect Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) who favored Brutalism, is at the center of Breuer’s Bohemia, a cluster of like-minded patrons, friends and colleagues based in New England. Initially, he made his way to the Bauhaus “like a Mecca” according to architectural historian Barry Bergdoll, where he fit the epitaph “total designer,” combining furniture design and architecture. He developed a tight relationship with Walter Gropius, (1883–1969) the school’s founder and head, and when he moved to Harvard in 1937, enticed Breuer to join him. Their mentor/mentee love/hate relationship extended beyond academia to an architecture practice until Breuer stormed out beginning a new phase based in Connecticut. Pivotal was MoMA’s Architecture Curator Philip Johnson’s first “House into the Garden” commission in 1949, a demonstration bi-nuclear house with a butterfly roof that Breuer called “Sun and Shadow.” It caught the eye of Rufus & Leslie Stillman of Litchfield, CT who became “somewhat of a pimp for Marcel Breuer,” according to Joseph Mazzaferro, preservationist and Stillman friend. Not only did they commission several personal houses from Breuer (with mobiles, sculpture and site-specific murals by neighbor and friend Alexander Calder), but introduced him to Andrew & Jamie Gagarin, who also commissioned multiple homes and buildings for their business, Torin Corporation (formerly the Torrington Manufacturing Company), which manufactured air-moving equipment and springs, nearby and abroad (Belgium, Australia). Together they made Litchfield County a Breuer Modernist district — which ruffled the patrician community that favored Georgian and Colonial houses then but is celebrated now — with Southern New England Telecoms Building (1973-74) and four local schools — Bantam Elementary School (1956), Northfield Elementary School (1953), Connecticut Junior Republic School (1955), Litchfield High School (1956). Dinner parties included other locals Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward (Westport), Robert Redford (New London), Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe (Roxbury), William Styron (Roxbury), Philip Roth (Warren) and the Calders (Roxbury).

Another cluster was in Wellfleet, MA on Cape Cod where in the same year as the MoMA House in the Garden, Breuer designed his own house and a mirror image one for designer György Kepes. Wellfleet was a summer Bauhaus way-station: Xanti Schawinsky, Lazlo Molloy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer frequented, with Serge Chermayeff across the street, Eero Saarinen down the road, Charles Jencks nearby and guests including Saul Steinberg, Florence Knoll and Gropius.

Breuer’s style moved from International Style to Brutalism both in pre-fabricated concrete panel designs such IBM Research Center and Village of La Gaude, France (1962), UNESCO Headquarters in Paris (1955-58), and stone and shaped concrete in such buildings as the Whitney Museum (1964-66) now the Frick Madison).

The Architect of Brutal Poetry is Hans Broos (1921-2011), a Slovakian/German architect who chose Brutalist architecture as his preferred style after studying early indigenous architecture that used concrete mixed with whale blubber in his adopted Brazil in the early 1950s. “What made him a genius architect? He could introduce concrete and Brutalism into the natural environment without any aggression or brutality. He endeavored to relate an architecture different from the one in Germany, which, following the war, was mainly about restoration. He was interested in modern architecture; the architecture of concrete” says Brazilian architect and historian Angelina Wittmann. His own home featured a big, Brutalist frame, large roofline and full-height window walls, which exposes the raw power and nature of the materials. An important large-scale project was the Church of St. Bocaface (1966) in Sao Paolo, awarded building of the year. It features a rectangle with an arch above, like a lattice with a suspended cube made of concrete. The nave is illuminated only by skylights. The patron was worried about vibrations and poor acoustics, so Broos made a double frontage perforated by holes in the facade inspired by Greek theaters. As the head architect at Hering, the largest clothing textile company in Latin America with hundreds of factories and stores, he brought in landscape architect Roberto Burke-Marx at the time he was co-designing Brasilia.

Inside Prora shows the many lives of the “Colossus of Prora,” a planned, oversized Brutalist seaside resort city in Binz on the island of Rugen, Germany on the Baltic Sea about 200 miles north of Berlin. Intended for 20,000 people, it began in 1936 under the Nazis as part of its Kraft lurch Freude “Strength Through Joy” initiative — although no tourist ever vacationed here — its purpose shifted to a military hospital and emergency shelter, which then transformed under Socialism to a GDR Army facility (a military college and a holding facility for conscience objectors called “construction soldiers”), to its current renovation as a hotel complex under Capitalism, a return to its original intent. “Prora is the largest architectural denazification project of all time” says developer Ulrich Busch. Enormously scaled at nearly three miles long with 10,000 rooms, its horizontal, linear structure remind us of other institutions like schools, prisons, hospitals and army barracks. The architect was Clemens Klotz (1886-1969), a favorite of Hitler, who embedded politics into the walls while also embodying a modernist Bauhaus aesthetic coupled with Brutalism.

“The most important inputs, with regard to both construction and organization of the state, came from Italy. Hitler looked strongly to Mussolini” says architect, editor and museum director Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani. Peter Eisenman says: “Mussolini saw architecture as his major means of his propaganda. He built new seaside towns, he built new health communities, in Ravenna, Rimini, Cesenatico [70 holiday camps were built], all these projects that had never been made for the working class… The politics was to sell modern to the working class.” The state being involved in leisure was innovative; the army of workers are now the army of tourists. Prime examples of these massive Italian complexes are the Colonia Marina Varese, Rimini, Emilia Romagna; Foro Italico, Rome; and Colonia Rosa Maltoni Mussolini, Calambrone, Tuscany, with the last featuring spiral staircases wrapped around towers, curved piazzas and pink facades. It seems to have inspired a lifeguard tower by the GDR’s equivalent of John Lautner, Dietrich Otto, who made a Jetsons-like TV-set shaped structure with large glass windows on all sides perched on a stem in Binz where Prora is located.

Battleship Berlin examines two “Brut-iful” buildings, one the “Mouse Bunker” a hulking pyramid sporting triangular projecting dormers and horizontal blue ventilation tubes jutting out of this former animal laboratory of the Free University designed by architects Gerd + Magdena (1971-81). Directly across the street is the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine by Fehling + Gogel (1966-74) with a curved bow made of exposed cast concrete. Both are located in West Berlin, and both are up for landmark designation. The latter was easily approved, with its graceful lines and Brutalist purity, but the former is controversial. Owned by Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, a large university hospital, its ability to transform the space into a useable lab is deemed difficult. These unique buildings are reflective of their times expressed in Brutalism where everything is exposed showing its “honesty,” and striving to be a Utopia. Examples of the elegant transformation of other Brutalist buildings are the former St. Agnes Church (Werner Düttmann, 1967), Kreuzberg, Berlin which is now the König Art Galerie and cultural hub, and the Boros Bunker, a project of the Boros Foundation and the Berghain nightclub in Mitte, Berlin in the WWII Reichsbahnbunker Friedrichstrasse Imperial Railway Bunker (Karl Bonatz under supervision of Albert Speer, 1942).

The Metrograph screened Last and First Men, the feature debut and sole directorial effort of the late Icelandic film composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969 – 2018. Sicario, Blade Runner 2049, The Theory of Everything). This tale takes place two billion years in the future with humanity on the verge of extinction and is portrayed entirely with Brutalist WWII monuments and memorials in the former Yugoslav republics. Filmed in 16mm B&W, it “conjures a world of surreal and phantasmagorical monuments, once intended as symbols of unity and brotherhood, now abandoned beacons beaming their message into the wilderness.” Among the sites are memorials in Tjentište, Bosnia and Herzegovina commemorating the 1943 Battle of the Sutjeska (1958); the Valley of Heroes (1971) by Miodrag Živković and the concrete Memorial House (1974) by Ranko Radović; the 120 feet high Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija (1981), Petrova Gora, Croatia; and, the Kadinjača Monument (1952) a pyramid-shaped crypt holding the the remains of the Workers' Battalion killed during the Battle of Kadinjača, Serbia.

The conceptual, or the notion of the ideas as being the most important thing in design, and process was evidenced in films including Form + Place: Arthur Erickson, about the Canadian architect who clearly espoused this idea. Among his significant works are Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, the Canadian Chancery in Washington, D.C. and many houses. Similarly, Another Kind of Knowledge: Portrait of Dorte Mandrup explores the Danish architect’s thought processes, whether for her works for UNESCO (Icefjord Centre, Ilulissat, Greenland and Warden Sea Centre. Ribe, Denmark), or such other projects as the Jemtelandsgade Neighborhood Centre, Copenhagen and Exile Museum, Berlin built on the fragments of the Anhalter Bahnhof, the biggest train station in Europe before WWII. The film falls into chapters: Transformations, Sensibility, Community, Creativity and Expectations. Winner of the 2019 Berlin Art Prize for Architecture, she gained notoriety for a 2017 article she authored, “I am Not a Female Architect” in Dezeen that addressed gender politics.

Architect Sarah Wigglesworth discusses her process in What Does it Take to Make a Building? starting with her home and office structure in north London which combines the domestic, industrial and commercial with a slanted roofline, skylights and bales of hay.

The Light Snatcher: Tale of Light and Architecture is Juha Leiviskä, the award-winning Finnish architect who has specialized in churches and sacred buildings. He says, “An architect’s task is to capture light, use it as a material and make spaces alive with it….What light is I don’t know. But I believe it’s the fountain of all life. It’s the most important material in architecture; it’s what a space is created of.” He was deeply influenced by Baroque churches in southern German which are “like instruments for light to play.” He also designed the pendant light fixtures in his buildings (also in the British Library) which architectural historian Kenneth Frampton called “playful layering…miraculously floating at the ends of imperceptible cords.”

Objects looks at the stuff we hold onto to examine worth and meaning. As Marcel Proust wrote “the past is outside the domain and reach of our minds. It is hidden in some material object which we do not suspect.” Whether it’s the handful of grass 70-year old journalist Robert Krulwich has saved since he was 15 to remind him of his first girlfriend, or graphic designer Rick Rawlins’ delicate sugar egg he has protected since childhood to remind him of a kind gesture, or writer Heidi Julavitz’s conserving the auctioned wardrobe of French actress Isabelle Corey (1939-2011) who appeared in films Bob le flambeur and And God Created Woman, we try to understand what these “Rosebuds” signify. The film goes into the “Significant Objects Project,” a literary and anthropological experiment, which contrasted the original purchase price of cheap items purchased in thrift stores and garage sales like snow globes, candle holders and toy airplanes by famous people — Kurt Andersen, Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, Merrill Markoe, Neil Labute — compared to the same works sold on eBay with the buyer’s imprimatur, a difference of $128.74 vs. $3,612.51, a 2700% profit increase.

All Light Everywhere, about the fallacy of body cameras as “neutral witness” starts with the premise that every person sees things differently and there is no singular truth, as described by William Blake: “Every Eye sees differently as the Eye – such the object” that appears at the head. As Dan Schindel wrote in Hyperallergic, “Only through the oblique approach …(looking at everything but the images themselves) can we hope to really grapple with seemingly contradictory elements, like how body cameras have somehow reduced police accountability. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, but some beholders are more powerful than others.” The film goes back to the origins of such devices as the “photographic rifle,” the first portable movie camera by Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) that converted images into data, and the early adoption of photography by the justice system in the 1840s. Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914), a French policeman and biometrics researcher (who invented the “mug shot” - straight on and profile photos of the arrested) came up with a system for measuring a suspect’s body parts and wrote a manual used by police ever since. “The eye only sees in each thing that for which it looks, and only looks for that of which it already has an idea.” Even in his 1862 lecture “Age of Pictures,” Frederick Douglass (1817-1895), the Black abolitionist, said “We all feel…That the curtain has not yet been lifted…that behind the seen lies the immeasurable unseen.” Axon, the largest U.S. maker of body cameras and tasers, demonstrates how the gear mimics what the eye can see using a wide angle lens for court purposes, but the blind spot is that it eliminates what the officer is doing; it captures what happens to the officer, not what they did.

Maray’s work coincided with the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), his exact contemporary, whose odd trajectory is covered in Exposing Muybridge. An Englishman who migrated to San Francisco at age 20 where he was a bookseller, publisher, inventor, banker, investor and photographer. In the last he operated the "Helios' Flying Studio” where he documented the American West, notably at Yosemite (the film compares photos by Muybridge, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, all taken within 20 feet of each other, but with differing emphases), and military explorations to the recently purchased Alaska Territory.

Motion studies, where he penetrated the invisible-to-the-naked-eye world to analyze how creatures move, began as an 1872 commission for railroad baron and future California governor Leland Stanford who wanted to race horses faster. Muybridge developed a guillotine shutter system, built raked walls with numbers, and laid a white ground with marble and lime dust so that the galloping horse became the absence of light on film to reveal that their legs were curled toward each other while aloft, rather than splayed forward and back.

According to Muybridge “Photography…was soon recognized as a most important factor in the search for the truth.”

In 1879 he developed the “Zoopraxiscope” machine that showed a sequence of still photographs in rapid succession, a primitive version of a motion picture device. From 1883-86, he worked at the University of Pennsylvania with faculty doctors, physicists and zoologists on human and animal gait and locomotion, using either 6 synchronized cameras in the round, or 12 cameras in a row against a gridded backdrop which all match up. Athletes perform feats of agility and strength, while women gracefully carry out domestic tasks; many were in the nude.

By 1895 the Lumiere Brothers vaulted past Muybridge, but his published work has never gone out of print, and he inspired such diverse artists as Francis Bacon, David Hockney, William Wegman, Sol Lewitt, U2 and Walt Disney, and such programs as Rick & Morty and The Matrix.

End of the Line is another form of locomotion, the NYC subway system, a miracle that needs tending. “You couldn’t have skyscrapers across the street from each other unless you could move people in and out very efficiently. The very shape and fabric of the city is made possible by the very existence of high-capacity subways” declares Jon Orcutt, Director of Policy, NYC Department of Transportation, 2007-2014. But we have to take care of it, says journalist John Sirico, “You have aging infrastructure, lack of maintenance, rising specter of climate change, and political tensions over whose responsible for fixing it, whose responsible for paying for it. This is an extensive system that really shows America at its greatest…it’s an architectural feat, but its decline is very much a symptom of where we’ve got as a society and as a country.” This circulatory system opened its first station in 1904, it serves 6 million riders daily (in non-COVID times), which is 1/3 of the nation’s entire mass transit capacity but it still using a signal system from the Great Depression era.

The Art of Making It depicts an unfair system, and how “being in the art world is like being Amish” i.e. its own cult with its own language where members recognize each other. Interviewing such luminaries as Anne Pasternak, Michael Govan, Helen Molesworth, Marc Glimcher, Kenny Schacter and the late Dave Hickey, they outline how galleries make the big decisions which lead to collectors and museum exhibitions, while we also meet a series of young artists. Lisa Davis, an artist who teaches at Yale (it is noted that one in five artists represented by the mega-galleries —Pace, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian, etc. — graduated from Yale MFA), cites that three of her former students who have achieved art stardom, Kehinde Wiley, Mickalene Thomas and Wangechi Mutu, weren’t necessarily her best students but had the most ambition. Hickey (Molesworth muses if “Hunter S. Thompson and Susan Sontag had a baby it was Dave Hickey”) declares “Art isn’t bought, it’s sold.”

The connection between art and capital is explored in a different way in White Cube. After Dutch filmmaker Renzo Martens’s 2011 film Enjoy Poverty, which exposed that Congo’s most lucrative export was images of poverty — more than gold, diamonds or cocoa — but the poor who were depicted saw no profit, was screened at Tate Modern, he noted that the institution was supported by the multinational Unilever (400 brands including Dove and Ben & Jerry’s), originally a Dutch company that made it’s fortune from African palm oil. He seeks a remedy so that the Congolese poor can benefit from the art world, and asks “So, I’m just wondering, is there any way for working people, for the working class, to benefit from art rather than being the victims of it? Is there any way for gentrification to be reversed?” He finds a plantation in Lusanga, formerly known as Leverville in the colonial era (named for the founder of what is now Unilever), gets the workers to make sculptures that are 3D-printed in London in chocolate, symbolizing palm oil and cocoa, both grown on the plantation, which are sold with the proceeds going directly to the workers. The artworks are shown at the Sculpture Center in Queens, where some of the plantation workers/artists travel, and then a building designed by Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and built by plantation staff is erected in 2017 called Lusanga International Research Centre for Art and Economic Inequality (LIRCAEI). In fact, Martens describes it as “The Repatriation of the White Cube,” the quintessential art space.

Filmmaker Sherman DeJesus’s takes a different journey in The Photograph using a portrait of his Curaçaon grandfather taken by Harlem photographer James Van Der Zee (1886 –1983), noted by a stamp on the verso “GGG Photo Studio/272 Lenox Ave.” (It was recently announced that his collection was jointly acquired by the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Metropoltian Museum of Art). The film is a portrait of Harlem and the dignified subjects Van Der Zee portrayed showing pride and humanity.

Korean artist Kim Tschang-Yeul (1929 – 2021) is The Man Who Paints Water Drops as depicted by his son, French artist Oan Kim. His exclusive subject after moving to Paris in 1969 at age 40 after a hard life. He was born in Japanese-occupied North Korea, fled to South Korea after being arrested for carrying a non-Communist pamphlet — actually a doodle he made at age 15 — where he studied art until the Korean War (1950-53) when he became a policeman. Francis Bacon, one of his favorite artists would say, “I’d rather paint the scream than the horror”; Kim started by painting the horror, then the silence. “Painting drops of water is my way of washing away all the memories, all the pain, and all the fear with water. To me, painting is an act of consolation for the souls of the deceased.”

Whereas National Geographic and Magnum photographer Steve McCurry became obsessed with color when he went to India, a turnaround from his B&W-only work, in McCurry: The Pursuit of Color. “To find an image, to find a situation, which speaks a universal language, I have this constant need…to put together a kind of photo album of our species before the world moves on and its shades get washed away.” He is best-known for the green-eyed “Afghan Girl” (1984).

In Krimes, artist Jesse Krimes was incarcerated in 2009 on drug charges, where his ability to make portraits of inmates and design tattoos was a currency — he was paid in stamps. He was able to send his artwork to the outside by rubbing the works onto slivers of soap (the symbolism of purity is not lost on him) used like Silly Putty, and applied onto playing cards, as well as using hair styling gel to transfer images to bedsheets, then cut into small pieces and mailed. Since his release, he co-founded Right of Return USA, a fellowship program to support previously incarcerated artists, and has received public commissions with a focus on prison reform.

The Plywood Project is a scheme to turn boarded NYC storefronts used for protection against looting during pandemic-era protests into public art to support the Black Lives Matter movement. A mentoring project for youth, it combines resources of the business community, nonprofits, government and public sector. Small Towns, Big Art is another public art scheme that follows the “Dripped on the Road” artist residency project. Since 2016, it has created 100 murals over 12,000 miles in over 20 cities in 15 states. Here, Indiana, PA, in the heart of coal country, is the site of murals depicting their past. It is also the home of actor Jimmy Stewart, whose hometown museum gets a mural. The project is green so uses SMOG Armor paint that captures pollutants and locks them in, and it stabilized a creek bank that was being eroded. (Another film about sustainability was Beyond Zero about the turnaround of Interface Carpet Tiles, a huge inadvertent polluter, that became a model for how businesses can change course and become a corporate model. At a company retreat at a large hotel in Hawaii, they used the facility as a practicum — water, energy, trash, food waste — to show wasteful ways to be improved.)

Grain focuses on the revival of analog still photography, a comeback from digital only. In 2012, the year Kodak declared bankruptcy, “1/3 of NYC photo labs closed, unable to compete with digital photography. Today, new analog labs emerge due to increased demand,” says Lucia Rollo of Bushwick Community Darkroom in Brooklyn. This is a phenomenon seen across the country in Knoxville, Nashville, Cleveland and Detroit as well as abroad. Some talk about the romance of the darkroom red light and smell of the chemicals, others the connection between the photographer and paper in the process of making a print.

Similarly, Film, the Living Record of our Memory, is about the preservation of film and video, which are disintegrating. Although many Hollywood studios did not value their films as assets to be preserved, a few places were foresightful including the Museum of Modern Art, British Film Institute, Gosfilmofond (Moscow) and Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin). Heeding Czech writer Milan Kundera’s warning that “the first step in liquidating a people is to erase its history” is the urge to protect our celluloid legacy. Orson Welles outlines the task: “Film has a personality, and that personality is self-destructive. The job of the archivist is to anticipate what the film may do — and prevent it.” Filmmaker and “film archeologist” Bill Morrison, who has made films using disintegrating film footage in Decasia (2002) and Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016), say these survivors are “our own rotting memories.”

Preservation was also in effect with Unity Temple: Frank Lloyd Wright's Modern Masterpiece, the architect’s first public building built in 1905-08. Made of pre-cast hollow concrete columns, textured plaster walls, sinewy bands of wood, the building both floats in space and is anchored to the ground. With Wright-designed stained glass windows and chandeliers, the building is quintessentially Prairie style and has been faithfully restored by Harboe Architects.

The top prize winner at DOC NYC was Once Upon a Time in Uganda, an enthusiastic portrait of “Wakaliwood,” the nickname for Ramon Film Productions, the small company in Kampala started by Isaac Nabwana, Uganda’s Quentin Tarantino, to make ultra-low budget action films. They hand-craft everything needed from production gear like mike stands to sets and props including guns and helicopters. (Another documentary, Aliens on Stage, about a stage version of the film Alien [1979] by bus company staff in Dorset, England, is distinguished by the DIY prop master who created the alien itself with its reticulated tail, hands with six fingers, and headpiece manipulated by fishing line.) VJs narrate the movies live, and titles include Who Killed Captain Alex?, Bad Black and Crazy World. The actors are local volunteers, and the action reflects the military influence of the world they grew up in ruled by military dictator Idid Admin from 1971-79 and successive corrupt leaders, hence Nabwana claiming he witnessed more violence during childhood than he puts into his films. An American who was enamored of these films, Alan Hofmanis, ends up acting in them and getting international coverage at the Toronto Film Festival and PBS Newshour.

It’s a sharp contrast to the restraints of You Can’t Show My Face. In Istanbul, Turkey “it is forbidden to record in the streets. Hip hop is forbidden, dancing is forbidden.” We see young people perform rap and hip hop on the street, usually with masks to avoid arrest. The film also collects street sounds — hawking vendors, tire rivets, water flowing — to complement the artists’ performances.

Both of these last films feel a world away from the golden touch of Mr. Saturday Night, a portrait of Robert Stigwood. A music impresario who represented The Who, Cream and Bee Gees, he ventured first into musical theater with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar before moving into film with Ken Russell’s Tommy based on The Who’s rock opera. Stigwood was looking for a property for his TV actor client, John Travolta, and scored with the runaway smash hit Saturday Night Fever, with music by his other client, the Bee Gees. A clever businessman, Stigwood retained the rights to the music, which Paramount, the studio behind SNF, was disinterested in, netting a fortune and a new business model.

There were a host of films about music, among them Dean Martin: King of Cool, Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, DMX: Don’t Try to Understand, Fanny: The Right to Rock, Listening to Kenny G, Omara (on Cuban singer Omara Portuondo) and Jagged (on Alanis Morrisette).

A series of films about borders included Openings: Gazes Beyond the Limit, a conceptual film about thresholds, boundaries, openness, and inside vs. outside, whether looking at architectural sites along the Via Emilia (the Roman trunk road in the north Italian plain, running from Rimini on the Adriatic coast to Piacenza and through Bologna) or a pop-up project in Ravenna, Italy or “universal design” in the Spirit of Stella maritime project to allow handicapped to set sail. Andrea Stella, who was paralyzed at age 24 and an avid sailor, says he can cross the ocean in this boat, but can’t get over a single step.

Mud Frontier: Architecture at the Borderlands, Cooper Hewitt’s first venture into film in association the Smithsonian Latino Center, features Ronald Real, an architect and professor at Univeristy of California Berkeley, who grew up in small-town Colorado and reaches back to its adobe and rammed earth architectural heritage in a 3D-printed building project in his home town. Three large cylinders open to the sky, Casa Cohiba (as in co-habitation) has pavilions for sleeping, bathing and sitting. He and his partner, Virginia San Fratello, had also made a Mexico/U.S. border project, the Teeter-Totter Wall which had bright pink plank see-saws stuck between the border wall, which Naom Chomsky called “architecture of violence.”

Native North American architects are highlighted in From Earth to Sky. “The elder,” Douglas Cardinal, designer of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington; “the first,” Tammy Eagle Bull, the first Native American woman in the United States to become a licensed architect who designed the Porcupine School; “the changemaker” Brian Porter, Anishinabek Discovery Centre; “the innovator,” Alfred Waugh, Indian Residential School History Centre; “the visionary” Daniel Glen; “the traditionalist” Patrick Stewart; and “the teacher” Wanda Dalla Costa. “Indigenous architecture is a reconnection with the past and trying to express an identity of a people through a modern medium, which is 21st century building materials. The building becomes embodied with the spirit of the community” says Waugh.

Matter and energy interact with natural forces to shape everything in the universe from atoms to stars produce and produce the vivid patterns in Phenomena. All were created in the laboratory: Energy, Matter, Waves, Light, Electricity, Magnetism, Gravity, Magnitudes, and Evolution.

Pulse shows us similar imagery but in the real world, here the Russian Arctic. This is also the setting for Life of Ivanna, a Nenet or Samoyad, who lives with her five small children in a one-room house with fabric walls and a chimney that is set on skiis in the tundra, which is pivoted during windstorms. It’s part of a cluster of similar homes, a frigid trailer park. When she needs to move the house any distance, reindeer and dogs pull. “Where shall I put my house?” she asks. It’s far more desirable than the Soviet-style housing blocks or the ramshackle house she occupies when visiting her husband in Dudinka City. The kids play at a house in mid-construction that they plan to move into until Ivanna says to the kids, “Let’s go to our home-home,” meaning the mobile home.

Mobile home parks are the subject of A Decent Home. The film opens with the words: “A federal Housing Act of 1949 pledged ‘a decent home’ for ever American family. It is still law today.” It explains that the largest number of unsubsidized affordable housing in the U.S. is mobile homes where 20 million Americans live. The dilemma is that although the homes themselves may be affordable, the land on which they perch is not, with rising “lot rent” and investment organizations like the Carlyle Group, Apollo Global Management and TPG Capital snapping up trailer parks. A chilling scene takes place at Mobile Home University in Chicago where students are told not to get to know clients’ names, it just about the land, not people. Their concerns are infrastructure, density, finance, and location and not the buildings themselves, and they bear no responsibly for any building violations. They are also told that gritty locations with liquor stores and sex shops nearby are advantageous to keep the population dependent.

A residential community that began as the Orange Blossom Trailer Park in the 1980s is The Villages in Florida, the largest retirement community in the world which is portrayed in The Bubble. Different from Some Kind of Heaven (2020) by Lance Oppenheim who grew up nearby, this film was made by Swiss TV with an outsider perspective. With 150,000 residents aged 55 and older, 54 golf courses, 50 swimming pools, 96 recreational centers, 3000 special clubs…and one playground, covering 55 square miles (almost the size of Manhattan) with plans to double in a few years, it is the fastest growing municipal area in the country. It’s also very Republican with most residents voting for Trump in 2016, and The Villages Radio station, broadcast from speakers attached to every street light, is a Fox News affiliate. The population is overwhelmingly white and wealthy. However, the local residents in the surrounding area and the Orlando Sentinal newspaper are critical of The Villages in its voracious water use, their ability to build on land in ways locals cannot and gating off municipal roads. People talk about a license to be selfish, feeling free to exploit their environment because they’ve worked hard all their lives and paid their dues. The Villages not only did not cooperate with the making of the film, but tried to discourage residents from participating.

Glen Eden collects all things with that name because the protagonist is Glen Eden Einbinder. He’s assembled souvenirs of displaying the name on a recording, vegetables and fruit, housing development, school, gun club, wine bottle, railroad station, park, resort, soda pop, Scotch and summer camp, all of which was put into an exhibition about portraiture.

Design made by people of differing abilities were presented in Let Me Be Me about autistic fashion design student Kyle Westphal at Drexel University (turns out he’s the grandson of the College of Media, Arts & Design’s namesake, Antoinette Westphal); and Feelings of Invisibility on Anne K. Abbott, who has cerebral palsy, cannot walk or communicate verbally but is an active artist who has her own business called Annie’s Dandy Notecard & Artwork. Compiled from hundreds of her diary entries and read by her best friend Mairead, the film shows how Annie can paint with her knuckles (her preferred subject is young male strippers) while sporting tattoos and a punk haircut. Another artisan is John Greenwood who makes violin bows in Greenwood. These are hand crafted, bending wood, forming parts and lavishing 40 hours on a 2-ounce musical stick. Equally dedicated to his craft is Ray & the Agave, caretaker for the Desert House at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. He works in a greenhouse tending the agave trees, even taking off a glass panel so the tree can grow taller than the building’s height. Load Cycle is literally turning humans into beasts of burden with Peruvian workers cleverly loading cargo on and off ships in backbreaking work defying physics. Animation is used to depict The Train Station where Native Canadian children were taken away from their families to attend school, a bittersweet tale where the maker’s mother walked miles to bring her food and comfort, and her father became Chief of the Stellat'en First Nation.

Another Kind of Knowledge: Portrait of Dorte Mandrup, Directed by Marc-Christoph Wagner and Simon Weyhe
Architect of Brutal Poetry, Directed by Ladislav Kabos
Battleship Berlin, Directed by Nathan Eddy
Beyond Zero, Directed by Nathan Havey
Breuer’s Bohemia, Directed by James Crump
Form + Place: Arthur Erickson, Directed by Mike Bernard
From Earth to Sky, Directed by Ron Chapman
Inside Prora, Directed by Nico Weber
Mud Frontier: Architecture at the Borderlands, Directed by Chris J. Gauthier
Openings: Gazes Beyond the Limits, Directed by Francesca Molteni & Mattia Colombo
Small Towns, Big Art, Directed by Bradford Devins
Unity Temple: Frank Lloyd Wright's Modern Masterpiece, Directed by Lauren Levine
What Does it Take to Make a Building?, Directed by Jim Stephenson

A Decent Home, Directed by Sara Terry
Aliens on Stage, Directed by Danielle Kummerm Lucy Harvey
All Light Everywhere, Directed by Theo Anthony
Art of Making It, The , Directed by Kelcey Edwards
Bubble, The , Directed by Valerie Blankenbyl
Dean Martin: King of Cool, Directed by Tom Donahue
Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, Directed by Dave Wooleym David Heilbroner
DMX: Don’t Try to Understand, Directed by Christopher Frierson
End of the Line, Directed by Emmet Adler
Exposing Muybridge, Directed by Marc Shaffer
Fanny: The Right to Rock, Directed by Bobbi Jo Hart
Feelings of Invisibility, Directed by Charmaine Kachibaia
Film the Living Record of our Memory, Directed by Ines Toharia
Glen Eden, Directed by Rebecca Blandón
Grain, Directed by Alex Contell, Tomasso Sacconi
Greenwood, Directed by Jason Outenreath
Jagged, Directed by Alison Klayman
Krimes, Directed by Alysa Nahmias
Let Me Be Me, Directed by Dan Cranem Katie Taber
Life of Ivanna, Directed by Renato Borrayo Serrano
Listening to Kenny G, Directed by Penny Lane
Load Cycle, Directed by Daniel Martínez-Quintanilla Pérez
Man Who Paints Water Drops, The , Directed by Oan Kim, Brigitte Bouillot
McCurry: The Pursuit of Color, Directed by Denis Delestrac
Mr. Saturday Night, Directed by John Maggio
Objects, Directed by Vincent Liota
Omara, Directed by Hugo Perez
Phenomena, Directed by Josef Gatti
Photograph, The , Directed by Sherman De Jesus
Plywood Project, The , Directed by Daniel Zambrano
Pulse, Directed by Darya Kuznetsova
Ray & the Agave, Directed by James Kozar
Train Station, The, Directed by Lyana Patrick
Welcome to Uganda, Directed by Cathryne Czubek, Hugo Perez
White Cube, Directed by Renzo Martens
You Can’t Show My Face, Directed by Knutte Wester

Light Snatcher: Tale of Light and Architecture, Directed by Charlotte Airas

Last and First Men, Directed by Jóhann Jóhannsson

Posted in: Arts + Culture

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