16 November 2018
by Marco Romanelli
Background: There was a time when architecture, interiors and things were not the subject of films, but the setting. They weren’t narrated in the first person; their job was to help narrate. What would James Bond’s daredevil dashes have been without the futuristic interiors inhabited by the baddies? Not much more than honest jogging! What would Last Tango have been without Haussmann’s Parisian architecture? Nothing more than the parody Last Tango in Zagarol. Or Fellini’s Roma without Rome? Rear Window without the courtyard it overlooked … how could Raymond Burr, killer, and James Stewart, detective, have had any interface? Things have changed recently (not that there is any lack of moving earlier examples, from Eames to Munari and Mollino to Gaetano Pesce): architects and designers, carried away by the poignancy of video musicals, won over by the YouTube philosophy, have decided that it was essential to tell their stories not just through design but also through “moving pictures.” Consequently architecture, furnishing and objects have all cast off their traditional role as “backdrops” or “stage sets” to become the actual stars of films, along with their authors.
A phenomenon born of niche cinema, and which remained just that for a long while (who remembers the 1983 International Architecture Film Festival in Milan?), it has experienced truly exponential growth over the last few years. From the amateur clips posted on Facebook or Instagram to the drones hovering around the city, every aspect of the works and every peculiarity of the protagonists of architecture and design is celebrated in film. The Milano Design Film Festival, now into its sixth edition, has become the undisputed spearhead of this phenomenon. Conceived by Antonella Dedini and Silvia Robertazzi in 2013, this year’s Festival included more than 60 works, with 15 hours of screenings a day for 4 days: auditoriums full to bursting and arm-wrestling needed to secure a seat.
As of next year, an award for the best film is in the pipeline, which means that this year each of us is still free to declare our own winner. Personally (but it would be good to know what you all think!), I propose a draw between Rams by America’s Gary Hustwit (European première at the Milano Design Film Festival) and Mara Corradi and Roberto Ronchi’s film documentary Non Abbiamo Sete di Scenografie. La Lunga Storia della Chiesa di Alvar Aalto a Riola (world première). Why these two? Because I believe that right now, at what is a politically difficult and creatively repetitive time, the moral lesson that can be drawn from these two films is priceless. The great Dieter Rams (who was present at the screening) reminded us that “we don’t need new things, we need better things” and that “making design also means making politics,” while the battle over the church at Riola was reminiscent of a period in which certain priests (specifically Cardinal Lercaro) and certain architects knew no fear (not so much Alvar Aalto, who never saw his church completed because of the way things proceed in Italy, but the moving Glauco Gresleri, tireless promoter of the building)!
P.S. In the time left between now and the 2019 edition of the Design Film Festival, addicts might well do some background reading with the highly documented book edited by Vincenzo Trione, Il Cinema degli Architetti, published by Johan&Levi in 2014.