Films for Design Aficionados
In conjunction with TechnoCRAFT, an exhibition at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that explores the fading boundary between the role of designer and consumer, curator Joel Shepard has organized a matinee film series entitled Something From Nothing: Films on Design and Architecture. The eight Sunday screenings cover a broad range of satellite subjects in the design universe, from the "contemporary crafting community" ('Handmade Nation,' September 5) to the avant-garde architecture of Rem Koolhaas (Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect, August 22).
I'm bummed I missed yesterday's screening of Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of Rural Studio, about the late activist's architectural education program in rural west Alabama... but I'm looking forward to upcoming films like Infinite Space, a cinematic profile of John Lautner (August 15), and The Greening of Southie (August 1), about the construction of Boston's first LEED-certified condo building, which Shepard describes as "an excellent, complex documentary about green building."
To whet your movie-going appetite, here's a clip from Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect:
I tracked down Shepard in his office at the YBCA to ask a few questions about the film series.
What is the connection between the film series and the TechnoCRAFT exhibition?
Well, all of the films in the series relate thematically to some aspect of the exhibition—some more directly than others. The only film program that didn't quite fit was the first one, "Refrigerator Fetish." It was a program of short, vintage educational and industrial films about design, from the mid-30s through the early 70s. I thought it was a humorous and clever way to begin the series, because it was exactly the opposite of what the exhibition is. It was all very dated retro stuff, and the exhibition is ultra-contemporary.
Tell me about the film selection process. How and why did you pick these particular films?
I spent a long time—on and off over a year—doing research, screening films, and discussing ideas with colleagues around the country. There are very few films truly about design (filmmakers, take note!), so I expanded the series to include architecture, motion/computer graphics, and handmade craft. All of these subjects strongly relate to each other, of course.
The films cover quite a range of subjects. Do you see any connections between these subjects, beyond the umbrella 'design' categorization?
It was very tricky to integrate all of these areas into a coherent series. I hope it doesn't come off as totally random, because it wasn't designed that way. I tried to cover a lot of different ground, but make the series make sense as a whole as well. I'm very happy with how it came out, and I think if anyone was able to come to all of the films in the series I think it would hold together as one rather sprawling program.
Do you personally have a strong affinity for architecture and design films, or was this a new subject for you?
I don't have a particular affinity for the subject, but I know it is badly under-documented in film and want to do what I can to change that. Also, we hosted the theatrical engagements of both HELVETICA and OBJECTIFIED, and they were two of the most popular films we've ever shown—dozens of sold-out screenings. So I know there is a real hunger for this material in San Francisco, with our rich and wonderful design and architecture communities.
Any films you wish you could have included but ended up cutting?
I had to cut THE COBWEB, which I really wanted to show. It's a Hollywood movie from 1955, in which the central plot device is choosing drapery in a mental institution! It stars Richard Widmark and Lauren Bacall.