Next month, the Architecture & Design Film Festival will launch its 11th season in New York City. This year’s lineup of films showcases work that reflects society and history, highlighting untold stories of those who overcame adversity to shape the modern world. They are proof positive that while design films are often seen as niche, they don’t have to be.
“We’re thrilled that 2019 has yielded so many high-quality films about design that provide audiences with a look at influential people and places they may never have heard about before,” says Kyle Bergman, AIA, ADFF’s founder and director, giving a preview of some of the festival’s highlights.
Commemorating the Bauhaus centennial, ADFF:NY’s opening night film The New Bauhaus tells the story of László Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian artist and educator who fled Nazi occupation in 1937 to start what ultimately became Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology. “The film sends a strong message about the importance of a well-rounded design education,” says Bergman. “They wanted to create critical design thinkers, not just provide vocational training.”
As an architect who went down a nontraditional career path to launch the festival, Bergman sees immense value in interdisciplinary learning. “There are a number of films in this year’s program that highlight the importance of offering creative design education opportunities,” he says, adding that The New Bauhaus is one of many films that touches the intersections of education, historic events, and culture.
Masters of Modern Design profiles the lives and work of Japanese-Americans whose points of view were shaped by the post–World War II internment their families were forced to endure. The upbringing and education of notable artists and designers Ruth Asawa, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, S. Neil Fujita, and Gyo Obataheir took on a different form than that of their contemporaries. “The film shows that teaching art can be a way of dealing with stressful situations and how powerful design can be,” Bergman says.
Shedding light on the often-overlooked accomplishments of women designers, ADFF:NY’s closing night film, City Dreamers, depicts the accomplishments of Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, and Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA. These four individuals’ work in architecture, urban planning, and landscape architecture transformed the way American and Canadian cities will function for decades, and has set an example for generations to come.
“The ADFF programmers have been consistently frustrated by a lack of good films about female architects and designers,” Bergman says, adding that even though there still aren’t enough, City Dreamers may inspire more to come. Architecture and film are two industries similarly working to overcome problems of representation and gender equity. Bergman proudly notes that nearly 50% of this year’s selected films are directed by women.
As ADFF travels to many cities during the upcoming election year, it won’t miss the opportunity to make audiences aware of the ways designers are addressing social and environmental concerns. In addition to The New Bauhaus, Masters of Modern Design, and City Dreamers, more films touching on urbanism and sustainability—as well as winning films from the 2019 AIA Film Challenge about architects and civic leaders building in light of climate resilience—will screen at events across the country. “We hope that people who walk into one of our films this year leave with a better understanding about the important impact design has had on their lives,” Bergman says.