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Architecture and Design Film Festival at the Music Box

ADFF 2012 includes Pruitt-Igoe Myth, new Eames documentary.

Photograph: Jord den Hollander
Still from Mission Statements: The Architecture of Dutch Diplomacy, showing the Dutch embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The second annual Architecture and Design Film Festivalbrings 30-plus features, short films and events, including a special Pecha Kucha, to the Music Box (3373 N Southport Ave) Thursday 12 through Monday 16. Here are some of the most promising:

Unfinished Spaces The ADFF’s opening-night selection visits Cuba’s National Art Schools, modernist buildings that should be international icons but instead are crumbling into the encroaching jungle.

Designed in the early 1960s by Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi—at Fidel Castro’s request—the Havana campus was intended to serve students of dance, visual art, music and theater. But construction ceased once Cuba fell under Soviet influence, and Castro’s regime deemed counterrevolutionary anything that wasn’t prefab.

Directors Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray draw on historical footage as well as recent interviews—primarily with the three architects, who hope renewed interest in the National Art Schools leads to the campus’s restoration and completion. Students who attended the schools (which were used despite their decaying state) and various experts provide other valuable perspectives. Unfinished Spaces offers unique insights into life in Cuba as well as an introduction to an architectural masterpiece.

Mission Statements For 20 years until 2011, the Netherlands promoted its design and diplomacy abroad by commissioning embassies from progressive Dutch architects. Director Jord den Hollander examines the resulting buildings in Berlin, Germany; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (pictured); Maputo, Mozambique; and Paramaribo, Suriname, asking the ambassadors and their employees what they think about the architecture and the message it conveys.

The film is refreshingly candid: The Berlin embassy staff heaps snark on Rem Koolhaas’s design, which went four times over its budget. (American architecture buffs will draw parallels to the United States’ General Services Administration’s Design Excellence Program, currently embroiled in the controversy over Frank Gehry’s Eisenhower memorial.)

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth When it was shown at last year’s Black Harvest Film Festival, TOC Film writer A.A. Dowd praised this “thoughtful, engrossing documentary” about Pruitt-Igoe, a St. Louis housing project that became a symbol of modernism’s and public housing’s perceived failures. Director Chad Freidrichs lets his interview subjects, who include many former tenants, tell the real story.

Eames: The Architect and the Painter James Franco narrates Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey’s look at Charles and Ray Eames, the king and queen of midcentury modernism.

The Gruen Effect Victor Gruen hoped to re-create European cities’ bustling shopping districts in suburban America. Anette Baldauf and Katharina Weingartner’s fascinating doc explains how the socialist architect ended up inventing the mall instead.

Mendelsohn’s Incessant Visions Decades before Bertrand Goldberg, Erich Mendelsohn (1887–1953) believed real modernism could have curves. While director Duki Dror should have omitted the cheesy dramatizations of the German architect’s correspondence with his wife, his film shows us what makes Mendelsohn’s designs so visionary.

The Architecture and Design Film Festival runs through Monday 16 at the Music Box.

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