Architecture through a different lens

Words:
Pamela Buxton

ArchFilmFest 2017 is a completely different sort of film festival, showing architecture’s subtle role in in myriad well-known movies.

Concrete Love, a documentary on Pritzker Prize-wining architect Gottfried Boehm and his family, filmed over two years by director Maurizius Staerkle-Drux.
Concrete Love, a documentary on Pritzker Prize-wining architect Gottfried Boehm and his family, filmed over two years by director Maurizius Staerkle-Drux.

Somehow, Charlotte Skene Catling of award-winning practice Skene Catling de la Peña, has found time to co-found and run a biennial architectural film festival.

ArchFilmFest 2017, which closes this Sunday 11 June, certainly promises rather more than just Bladerunner, Metropolis, Belly of an Architect, and all the usual suspects that get screened every time anyone decides to hold an architecture and film season. Instead, the festival has a schedule of more than 60 hours of screenings per day, including documentaries, features, animations, drone footage, virtual reality plus symposia, installations and the winners of ArchFilmFest’s own film competition.

Skene Catling founded the festival with Manuel Toledo-Otaegui, who set up Latin America’s first architecture film festival, Arqfilmfest, in Santiago, Chile in 2012. Chile is the international partner of the inaugural London event, which takes place at the ICA and Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf.

‘There’s never been anything like this in England before, which is surprising as the two industries [architecture and film] are so strong,’ says Skene Catling, who has been particularly interested as a practitioner in using film to explore how architecture is represented.

‘There are so many different overlaps and obvious parallels. Architecture is used in film as a visual shorthand that contains so much about the plot and the character, even before a word has been spoken.’

Escapes de Gas, directed by Bruno Salas, considers the destruction of artworks made for the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development building in Chile after the Pinochet coup.
Escapes de Gas, directed by Bruno Salas, considers the destruction of artworks made for the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development building in Chile after the Pinochet coup.

She feels that while filmmakers appreciate the potential of architecture in their work, architects themselves can forget how powerful it can be from a spatial, narrative and atmospheric point of view.

‘A lot of developer architecture has become banal and soulless because there’s no narrative, sense of suspense or movement, or hierarchy of space. There’s no suggested script. It’s all rather vacant.’

ArchFilmFest however, will revel in the full parallels and convergences of the two creative disciplines.

The festival’s theme is Scale, showing films where the architecture, city or set design plays a central role. This includes works focused on a single room such as Room, the 2015 feature about a woman and her son held captive in a single space, and Louis Malle’s 1958 thriller Lift to the Scaffold. Films on a building scale include the Cary Grant classic Rear Window from 1954 and High-Rise, the 2015 adaptation of JG Ballard’s dystopian novel. City-scale films include Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), which discusses how the city has been represented in films, and Julien Temple’s documentary 2010 Requiem for Detroit, one of trio of Temple films on cities.

Requiem for Detroit, a documentary about the decline of America’s fourth largest city by director Julien Temple.
Requiem for Detroit, a documentary about the decline of America’s fourth largest city by director Julien Temple.

There will also be films made by and about architects. These include the UK premier of Concrete Love, a documentary about nonagenarian, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gottfried Böhm, his wife and their three sons, who are also all architects. Another premier, Escapes de Gas (Gas Leaks), considers the destruction of artwork at the UNCTAD III building, built in a collaboration of architects and artists during Salvador Allende’s government, after Pinochet came to power in Chile.

The festival’s Talking Heads strand features filmed interviews with architects, including a probing interview with Frank Lloyd Wright from the 1950s, which questioned the legendary architect on morality as well as architecture.

Also included in the programme is a selection of Chilean films, the 12 shortlisted films from the ArchFilmFest competition, and contributions from Bartlett students studying architecture and film. The scope is set wide, taking in screenings of work by companies using digital technology to further conservation and knowledge of buildings. Iconem takes drone footage of heritage sites in conflict zones in order to preserve records of threatened sites. Madrid-based Factum Arte uses scanning technology, 3D printing and craft techniques to ‘record’ buildings in hyper detail.

As well as films, the festival includes one off talks with directors, set designers and architects as well as the Double Take strand with Nigel Coates in conversation with architects about their chosen film clips.

The London event is, it is hoped, just the beginning. Skene Catling plans to hold ArchFilmFest every two years with a different international partner each time.


ArchFilmFest is part of the London Festival of Architecture 2017, which runs from 1-30 June, 2017

ArchFilmFest London, until 11 June, ICA & Bargehouse, Oxo Tower, London