06 November 2020

The design world seen on film, but from home

by Porzia Bergamasco, Scientific Curator MDFF

The final warning to switch off our smartphones comes as the lights go out. Silence. A second later, the outside world seems far-removed. Inside, different spatial and temporal relations are being forged. This is what happens in a cinema. Now into its eighth edition, though, the Milano Design Film Festival is experimenting with streaming. From 6th to 8th November. There’s no physical location, but the setting – a platform accessed via the website – is unique and dedicated. Real-life encounters are made up for by recorded interviews and debates, and three live Zoom events, also available once the festival is over. The enjoyable “interval chats” and “gossip” can be savoured as comments on the social networks. The screenings, on the other hand, will keep to a precise timeframe, during which there will be a choice of films – some also in replica. Basically, respecting the running order of a live programme. To take part, you need to be in attendance at that particular time. Thus that special alchemy that is created when people are all watching a live event together is preserved. Especially when it’s a film screening.

It will be different. But home videos have become a part of life and the MDFF documentaries will cast their own special spell over the viewers, gathering them up, wherever they happen to be, and transporting them around the world. Witnessing the transformations and the lives of cities, from Bergamo to Doha, Tokyo to Tripoli, Naples to Paris and Florence to Istanbul. Delving into the meanings at the heart of unusual projects and stories. Visiting the studios of architects and designers: Ryūe Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima, Snøhetta, Piers Taylor... Alongside the designers bent on implementing professional skills and opportunities for social and financial growth in places where these don’t exist, such as the PR5 collective and the designer Giulio Vinaccia, or the architects Michael Maltzan and Alexander Hagner who explore housing strategies for the homeless in Los Angeles and Vienna. Relishing the biographies of much-loved masters – specifically Tadao Ando, Bruce Goff, Raymond Moriyama and Charlotte Perriand – put together with ever-precious archive material. Some of it as-yet unseen. Sometimes taking new angles, as in the story of Olivetti. There’s much to be learnt. There’s much to be curious about. The documentary form – even when narrating design and architecture – takes different narrative directions, which often find their most fascinating and unsuspected expression in the space of a short film. Those selected for the 2020 edition are everything one might expect, including work by the filmmakers Laura Chiossone, Nic Bello, Alexandre Humbert and Mathilde Lavenne, to name but a few.

This year’s programme has been built around the word “Re-connecting.” Chosen in happier times, it makes even more sense in our current situation. A time of fracture and disruption. Of exploration. It also offers a magnifying glass for observing and reading the message contained in the films. A message for all, given that design on any scale – as we never tire of saying – has a place in everyone’s lives. Now, more than ever, it can provide solutions to live issues – from sustainability to transport, from health to work, from social interaction to teaching, from agriculture to food (a subject to which this edition of MDFF has devoted a section). There are plenty of topical investigations and experiences bound up with lockdown, which has obliged us to reflect extensively on connection. But most of all, “Re-connecting” suggests ways of trying to accept the complexity, and live through it, wreaking as little damage as possible. This year a prize, the MDFF Award, will be presented to the film that best succeeds in conveying all this, chosen by a jury composed of the architects Nina Bassoli, Marco Della Torre, Franco Raggi and Carles Muro. It is a “token” prize, designed to symbolically compensate for the difficulties faced by the entire film sector during this year of global health crisis, which has slowed down if not forced the closure of many productions altogether.

The festival was started in Milan and it is there that it is produced. A focus on the city will be maintained with the architects from the Barreca & La Varra Studio (also Guest curators of MDFF 2020), who will give a lecture presenting four of their projects – either completed or works in progress. Shining examples of architecture created with people and organic urban development in mind. However, the challenge for 2020 will be not just to keep this edition of a festival that is the only one of its kind in Italy free for everyone across the nation, but also to keep the spirit that animates an event such as a film festival alive in a digital experience. But experimenting is a basic response to the disorientation and unpredictability driven by this quantum shift. It will help us learn how to hybridise the technology at our disposal and work out the best way to use it strategically in the future. Not just in an emergency.

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