Architecture & Design Film Festival 2020: What to Expect

The virtual festival will stream standout feature-length documentaries about George Nakashima, Charlotte Perriand, and Ryue Nishizawa, among others.

Making a Mountain

Under normal circumstances, the Architecture & Design Film Festival would be traveling across the United States to screen its impressive roster of art and architecture-themed films. Due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic, however, the festival has called off in-person screenings for the foreseeable future and gone completely virtual, meaning that its entire roster will be available for streaming. From Nov. 19–Dec. 3, viewers across the U.S. and Canada can catch 17 different feature films that touch upon topics ranging from environmental design and urbanization to the role of women in architecture.

One standout from this year’s roster includes George Nakashima, Woodworker, a feature-length documentary about the celebrated woodworker’s personal journey to become one of the American craft movement’s foremost figures. After studying architecture at MIT during the Great Depression, Nakashima embarked on a decade-long journey through Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia, where he worked as a modern architect before absorbing Shinto and Yogi spiritual teachings that would leave a resounding influence on his creative approach. He eventually returned to the U.S. to become a woodworker, where his method of integrating ideals of nature into woodworking continues to cement his legacy three decades after his death.

George Nakashima, Woodworker

Directed by John Nakashima, nephew to George, the film takes on a deeply personal tone. “When I began to research, I gradually discovered that Uncle George’s story was largely untold,” says Nakashima, who realized two decades after becoming a documentary filmmaker that no one had told his uncle’s story in the medium. “It became apparent to me that I had a good chance to make Uncle George’s documentary. I was making it for my extended family, my parents who were now gone, for Japanese Americans, for people who love nature and natural beauty, and for those fascinated by the countless forms of creativity. [George’s] was the story of a seeker, who actually found his answers on the other side of the world to life’s deep questions. He returned home armed with an entirely new perspective and new understandings. He brought to America, and in fact the world, a new approach to creating with nature through his own synthesis of his unique knowledge and beliefs.”

Other festival highlights include Charlotte Perriand, Pioneer in the Art of Living, which provides an up-close and personal look at the celebrated modernist architect and designer’s reflections on creativity and contemporary society. Escher: Journey Into Infinity, chronicles the story of the world-famous Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher through more than 1,000 letters, diaries, and lectures he wrote during his lifetime. From concept to creation, Making a Mountain dives into Bjarke Ingels Group’s visionary Amager Bakke in Copenhagen, which combines a hybrid waste-to-energy plant with a skiable slope.

Charlotte Perriand, Pioneer in the Art of Living

Each film program will include introductions by special guests and industry leaders, followed by a feature film and Q&As with those involved in its production. Bjarke Ingels will be on hand after the premiere of Making a Mountain for a conversation with the filmmakers Rikke Selin Fokdal and Kaspar Astrup Schröder. MoMA curator Paola Antonelli will introduce the screening of Tokyo Ride, which paints a freeform portrait of SANAA co-founder Ryue Nishizawa, who will appear afterward for a Q&A. Other renowned architects like Francis Kéré and Glenn Murcutt will host introductions for Short Films Program II: Inspired by Materials and Richard Leplastrier: Framing the View.   

It’s not the first time that the Architecture and Film Festival has gone virtual. Kyle Bergman, who founded the festival in 2008, launched the abbreviated ADFF:ONLINE in April shortly after the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States. He followed that up with ADFF @ NeoConnect to keep designers engaged during the canceled NeoCon trade fair. The success of both programs has motivated Bergman to keep up the virtual editions for as long as pandemic-related safety issues remain a concern.

Tickets for the festival, streaming from Nov. 19–Dec. 3, can be purchased here.

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