Ten years ago New York architect Kyle Bergman began designing his dream project: the Architecture & Design Film Festival. It would take another five years before his vision was transformed into reality. Now the fifth annual ADFF (October 16 to 20, 2013) spans more than 30 films -- selected from 250 submissions -- and towers over other domestic film festivals devoted to its theme.
Over five days at New York's Tribeca Cinemas, festival-goers can armchair-travel as far as Moscow, Helsinki and Buenos Aires and as near as Brooklyn, Cape Cod and North Carolina to explore issues in architecture, population, scale and urban planning. Curated by Bergman and Laura Cardello, the slate highlights the work of urban designers such as Jan Gehl and William Whyte, iconic architects including Antoni Gaudí, Richard Neutra, Tadao Ando and Paolo Soleri, and leading creatives such as fashion designer Paul Smith and environmental artist Patrick Dougherty.
Beyond the Q&As accompanying most screenings, ADFF rounds up architects, designers, industry grandees and filmmakers for solo and panel discussions. In New York, the Festival coincides with marquee architecture and design expo Archtober. ADFF also travels to Los Angeles and Chicago. (Information is posted at adfilmfest.com.)
FilmFestivalTraveler.com snagged Bergman for a quick chat in between screenings at the Tribeca Cinemas.
Q: What's your "design" for the Festival?
KB: The Festival is about creating a dialogue about design, and film is a great way to bring the professionals and non-professionals together. It's good for business, not just for an architect in the sense of economic business, but good for design and good for people. With better designed things in life -- in urban places, in buildings, in products -- it's better for humans. And really this is about making things better for humans.
Q: How does this inform your programming?
KB: We program the festival to be interesting to a wide variety of people, not just the design community -- but for people interested in design.
Q: What's an example?
KB: My Architect is a film that reaches everyone. One of the reasons it became so widely known is that it's really a son's search for a father, who happens to be Louis Kahn, a famous architect.
Q: What are your selection criteria?
KB: Some of (the submissions) are really interesting from a content perspective, but they don't have the human quality, or they're not going to be broad enough for a wider audience. We try to focus on films that are interesting across the board. A real goal of the festival is to up the design conversation. As architects, if we're just speaking to ourselves, it's not nearly as interesting. If it's a broader conversation, it's much more exciting.
Q: How have the themes of the submissions changed since the festival began?
KB: There are more and more films focussing on the creative process of design. One of the films we're showing is Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation. It's not so much about the Gaudí building itself, but about Gaudí's process and about the people who are building it now, given that Gaudí is not here. So it's really trying to look at how things are made, what the inspiration is, who the people are who are making those kinds of decisions and whom they're for.
Q: These issues get a workout in the documentary The Latin Skyscraper, about the secret history of the Barolo Palace in Buenos Aires. What's your take on this unusual story?
KB: It's a film about historic preservation. It's looking at the reasons why this building was created and what the connection is between Dante's The Divine Comedy and the architects and the people who commissioned the building. That film is like CSI meets an architectural film. It's really like a mystery that's being solved.
Q: These days the word "design" extends beyond aesthetics to encompass solutions for the planet. Got any films about the environment?
KB: Not this year, just because we didn't get any films submitted with that perspective. But we had a film last year about biophilic design. It's about, How do we learn from nature? It's not just about using environmentally sensitive products, which is a good thing, but what is really environmental?
One of the most environmental things you can do is build things of beauty that are meant to last. A design that lasts 100 or 500 years is inherently sustainable. If you build something that's only going to last 30 years, even if it's with green products, that's not really sustainable. The Acropolis is green, regardless of the material it's made of.