Visionary architects, conceptualists focus of film festival

The Architecture + Design Film Festival marks its eighth year this week, with a collection of documentaries looking at the impact of design on everything from our cities to our houses to the coffeemakers on our kitchen counters.

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This article was published 29/04/2019 (1321 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Architecture + Design Film Festival marks its eighth year this week, with a collection of documentaries looking at the impact of design on everything from our cities to our houses to the coffeemakers on our kitchen counters.

Festival preview

Architecture + Design Film Festival

May 1-5

Various locations

Still the only film fest in Canada devoted to issues of the built environment, the A+DFF offers five days of films. Many are screening at Cinematheque, but there also some free showings at venues across downtown.

Here are a few to check out:

The Black Museum (a free showing Wednesday at noon at the Winnipeg Art Gallery) is a moving exploration of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

As one commentator suggests, in architect David Adjaye’s bronze-plated structure, “the container and the contents are one,” the space embodying the darkness and light, suffering and resilience of the African American experience.

THE BLACK MUSEUM // Trailer from Signature Films Frankfurt on Vimeo.


City Dreamers (Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Cinematheque), from Canadian director Joseph Hillel, looks at some pioneering architects and thinkers: Denise Scott Brown, Phyllis Lambert, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Blanche Lemco van Ginkel are four women who have changed how we see cities, buildings and landscapes.

Their experiences also raise issues of gender in the design professions, as we see photo after photo in which each woman stands out among a throng of dark-suited men.


Rams (the free showing takes place at Stantec, at 500-311 Portage Ave., Thursday at 5 p.m.) is the latest addition to Gary Hustwit’s popular documentary design series (which includes Helvetica, Objectified and Urbanized).

This film functions first as a close personal portrait of German designer Dieter Rams, whose work with companies like Vitsoe and Braun had an enormous impact on mid-20th-century industrial design.

The film also quietly suggests that while many designers have copied Rams’ esthetics — cool, clean and white — they haven’t always picked up on his ethics, especially his belief that properly designed and constructed objects should last for decades.


An Engineer Imagines (Thursday, 7 p.m. at Cinematheque) is a lovely, lively homage to structural engineer Peter Rice. The visionary Irishman’s collaborative, creative and poetic work on such iconic projects as the Sydney Opera House, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Lloyd’s of London building — seen in beautifully photographed sequences — broke down preconceived divisions between art and science and between architects and engineers.

Rice’s work was “not just about ‘holding things up,’’ says one interview subject. “It was part of the architecture.”


Leaning Out (Thursday, 9 p.m.) looks at the work of Leslie E. Robertson, the lead structural engineer on the Twin Towers in New York, offering an intimate and emotional look at the human dimension of his work, both in the creation of skyline-changing structures and in the terrible destruction of 9/11.


Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus (Sunday, 2 p.m., Cinematheque) looks at the century of influence coming out of this Weimar-era school and its utopian belief that a fusion of art and technology could find a way forward after the horrors of the First World War.

While the word “Bauhaus” sometimes has us thinking about iconic and expensive chairs, the school’s truly lasting legacy was a spirit of interdisciplinary innovation in the service of social good, one that many designers now hope to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century.


The Human Shelter (Sunday, 4 p.m., Cinematheque) is an affecting and thoughtful film, which ranges across the globe looking for those hard-to-quantify factors that transform basic physical shelter into a home. Forget white-picket-fence tropes.

Filming on four continents, director Boris Bertram looks at the human search for home under sometimes extreme conditions, from refugees in Iraq trying to personalize their rudimentary tents, to a group simulating life on Mars in a biodome on a volcanic island, to a young woman living and working in a micro-apartment in busy, noisy Tokyo.

Watch a trailer for The Human Shelter.


Finally, there are so many reasons to see Wim Wenders’ masterly, moving Wings of Desire (Saturday, 9:15 p.m., Cinematheque, as part of the fest, and also screens May 8, 9, 11 and 12), now in a 4K restoration marking the film’s 30th anniversary.

Often seen as an example of the “city symphony” genre, it offers a visually astonishing exploration of a still-divided Berlin — its streets and buildings, as well as its people.

Wings of Desire is a beautiful tribute to the great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who died in February Bruno Ganz. (Andrew Medichini / The Associated Press files)

It’s also a beautiful tribute to the great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who died in February and whose role here, as an angel who yearns to feel the weight of mortal pain and joy, is a constant revelation of what it means to be human.

It’s a film that encourages you to see the world with fresh eyes, which is what this film festival is all about, really.

See the full schedule for all A+DFF films on the festival’s website.







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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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