Architecture film is "a genre in the making" as festivals multiply

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Cinema ritrovato by Fabio Duma

Architecture film is "a genre in the making" as festivals multiply

Architecture film festivals are booming, as filmmakers turn their attention to the genre, new events launch, and audiences grow.

2017 has been a particularly standout year for film festivals dedicated to architecture, with new festivals opening in London and Melbourne, and already established ones adding more dates and cities to their programmes.

"I noticed that increase over a number of years," Kyle Bergman, founder of Architecture and Design Film Festival (ADFF) told Dezeen. "And now, since there's more and more festivals about it, there's more and more films actually being made on the subject, because there's a great audience for them."

Bergman already runs screenings in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, which this year included a documentary about Australian architect Glenn Murcutt and a movie set among the modernist gems of Columbus in Indiana.

He will add Washington DC and San Diego to the ADFF festival roster for 2018. He said the popularity of architecture on film is "snowballing", with filmmakers being driven to produce by the demand for film festivals, and vice versa.

More festivals means more films, which means more festivals

ADFF started off in 2008. In addition to its solely architecture and design offerings, Bergman has also successfully lobbied larger film festivals such as the Chicago International Film Festival and Doc NYC to include sub-sections for architecture films.

"I think that really stems out of us showing, and other film festivals showing, that there is a real interest in this little niche," said Bergman.

"I'm not even sure it's established as a genre yet. But we're working on [it]," he added. "It's a genre in the making."

Across the Atlantic, London played host to the inaugural Archfilmfest in June 2017, a six-day festival exploring architecture through screenings, installations and workshops.

"To be honest I was really surprised there hadn't been one in London before we started. There's such an obvious relationship between architecture and filmmaking," the festival's co-director Charlotte Skene-Catling told Dezeen.

For Skene-Catling, the traditional drawings and renderings employed by architects had become staid in comparison to the avenues opened by employing cinematic techniques.

"Architects for so many years have represented buildings devoid of any kind of activity in them," she said. "People are always cartoon like or they are wiped out completely. Places are filmed or photographed completely empty. That's a very primitive approach to what architecture does."

Film can bring drama to architecture

Skene-Catling, the co-founder of architecture studio Skene Catling de la Peña, had been experimenting with using filmmaking in her practice and became fascinated with how the two overlap. She said film can push architects to design more exciting built environments.

"Buildings can be so incredibly powerful in creating an atmosphere. That's something that filmmakers seem to be more in control of than architects," said Skene-Catling. "There's so much architecture that exists at the moment that feels very devoid of atmosphere or emotion."

"Buildings need to have some of the drama of great films, so you have a beginning, a middle and an end. You have a series of events, you have drama, you have excitement, you have things that make your heart race," she said.

While architecture has played both a starring and supporting role in film since the medium began, technological advances have made it easier than ever to capture exciting and dramatic footage of the built environment.

Drone-mounted cameras have become particularly prevalent when it comes to capturing previously inaccessible shots, whether it's Hong Kong high-rises shot from above, Zaha Hadid's museum on a mountain-top, or footage of Robin Hood gardens pre-demolition.

Architects can learn from filmmakers

For its first London line-up, Archfilmfest functioned as a showcase for how buildings are sometimes more alive in the hands of filmmakers than the architects who first designed them.

Skene-Catling is keen to show that the symbiosis of architecture and film is very much the future. For students today, the boundary between the disciplines of architecture and film-making are increasingly fluid.

More universities are offering courses that train architects in filmmaking, and students are adopting new technologies such as CGI and 3D modelling with vigour. Of the seven students that the RIBA awarded its President's Medals to this year, three of the winners used short animated films as a central part of their project.

"They can start moving naturally between different disciplines. They have to become more fluid, more mobile," said Skene-Catling. "They have a way of strategising and diagramming, but also of representing ideas through visual media that includes film. That's very seductive, it's very convincing."

Established festivals keep getting bigger and better

In May and October, Sydney and Melbourne respectively hosted film and documentary screens alongside panel discussions, as part of ArchiFlix festival.

The success of this year's ArchiFlix, which was founded by business developer Sally Darling and producer Ron Brown in 2013, will see the programme expanded to include three-day festivals in Perth and Brisbane, along with the four-day festivals in Melbourne and Sydney, and satellite events in Adelaide and Hobart.

"The first ArchiFlix film night was held in 2013, with the audience demonstrating a real thirst for the inspiration and storytelling of architectural documentaries," Darling told Dezeen. "After a couple of years of these one night events, I felt the industry was ready for a festival."

The pair are set to launch ArchiFlixTV in the near future, offering a global streaming platform solely for architectural films.

While ADFF, Archfilmfest and ArchiFlix are relative new-comers and fast growing in the world of architecture film festivals, more established film festivals continue to go from strength to strength, as enthusiasm and awareness for this putative genre grows.

Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (AFFR) was established as a biannual architecture film festival in 2000, with a particular focus on architecture, film and the city.

In 2007, after a brief hiatus, the AFFR came back with a bigger programme than ever, with each edition centred on a theme exploring architecture and urbanism. Past themes include Think Big, Act Small, Time Machine, and City for Sale.

The 2017 AFFR was so successful that the organisers announced earlier this month that the festival would become annual instead of biannual. AFFR 2018 will be its 10th edition, and the foundation that runs it also organises screenings and events throughout the year.

Budapest Architecture Film Days was started in 2008 after its founders, already keen to bring the conversation around architecture and film to Central Europe, were spurred on by an encounter with AFFR co-director Jord den Hollander.

"He was very supportive of the idea of establishing a similar festival in this region," spokesperson Gábor Fehér told Dezeen.

Architecture films are alerting people to urban issues

Now in its 10th year, Budapest Architecture Film Days is organised by KÉK, the Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Centre, which is an independent organisation run by young architects and artists.

They chose film as a medium for its broad appeal, hoping to attract as wide an audience as possible.

"Our motto 'Do you live in a building? Do you watch movies? Good reasons to join us!' perfectly captures the principle behind the festival," said Fehér.

"[We're] making use of the medium of film as an egalitarian tool to converge people towards the topics of not just architecture, but also to various issues surrounding urban conditions and communities, neighbourhoods, and living spaces."

When they started out, awareness of how architecture and film could interact was limited. The first festival was held in a single room in KÉK's former headquarters.

Since then the venue has been Toldi, an art cinema with 250 seats. Today screenings are often fully booked out, prompting the festival to hold multiple showings.

As the audience has grown, so too has the number of films being made. Fehér has also noticed a growing trend for longer architecture films being made, suggesting filmmakers have more time and resources to dedicate to the subject of architecture.

"We are receiving more and more submissions each year to our annual call for films from filmmakers all over the globe," he said. "The cinematic scene of architecture and design is definitely going strong."

It all began in Florence

Marco Brizzi founded what was arguably the world's architecture film festival in 1997, which was Florence's Beyond Media event.

Beyond Media charted the new ways in which architecture and audiovisual tools were being created in relation to each other. Over nine editions, it documented how architecture and the media interacted.

The Florentine festival ran until 2009, spanning a period of immense change for the media and a time of rapid technological advances in filmmaking.

Screenings were at its core, with past line-ups including early videos from architecture notables such as UNStudio, MDRDV, Rem Koolhaas and the late Zaha Hadid.

The online audience for architecture films is also booming

Online, people can't get enough of architecture on video. Dezeen's total video views across all platforms have doubled to 60 million from last year, with a series on moving buildings racking up 17 million views on Facebook alone.

Netflix has been getting in the act too. Earlier this year the digital streaming service launched an eight-part series of documentaries profiling big names from the world of architecture, including BIG's Bjarke Ingels.

Architects have been enjoying their fair share of the spotlight too. Last year Dezeen sat down with Tomas Koolhaas to discuss his film REM, which was the result of following his superstar architect father around the world for four years.

Photograph is by Fabio Duma.