Five Films to Watch at the 2015 Architecture Film Festival in Rotterdam

It's only logical that Rotterdam, one of Europe's leading cities for architecture and architectural practice, has a biennial film festival. Since its inception in 2000, the city's homage to architectural cinema now claims to be the biggest architectural film festival in the world. Featuring over one hundred international documentaries, feature films and shorts—as well as debates, lectures and seminars—this year's festival plans to "provide a podium for discussing the city and future of spatial development." From cinematic journeys into the world of the illusive Böhm family to Zaha Hadid, Chinese ghost cities to London's Barbican estate, this year's programme circles around the theme of the Global Home.

With the eighth incarnation of the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (AFFR) opening next week (running from the 7th - 11th October 2015), we've selected our five top picks from this year's schedule.

With the theme Global Home, AFFR wants to highlight all the disruptive forces that make places and cities so interchangeable, where the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, and the streams of those in search of safe havens grow longer all the time. At the same time, AFFR showcases the fantasy and beauty and possibility of individuals to make any place on earth their own. —Jord den Hollander (Chairman of the AFFR)

'The Chinese Mayor'. Image Courtesy of AFFR

5. The Chinese Mayor (Zhou Hao)

It’s well known that local leaders in China are relocated every five years. Under pressure from above to achieve good economic results within their five-year tenure, they pull out all the stops and generally don’t shy away from making rigorous interventions. To attract investors, medium-sized cities in particular, of which there are dozens in China, must put themselves on the map in a distinctive manner. In The Chinese Mayor, documentary maker Zhou Hao spends two years following the 54-year-old Mayor Geng Yanbo (nickname: ‘Demolition Geng’) and his highly ambitious dream project to revitalize the city of Datong.

Zhou Hao spent almost two decades working as a director for CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, and has directed scores of short documentaries, as well as some longer films, among them the internationally acclaimed Last Train Home (which won an Emmy in 2011). His great skill in wielding a camera is clear in The Chinese Mayor. The camera records in an effective and documentary-like manner, but the individuals chosen to voice their views, the camera angles, the moments when the image turns black, the accompanying music – all these clearly tell the observant viewer that there’s more going on.

This film will show on Friday 9th October at 19:45 and again on Sunday 11th at 18:15. Text by Harry den Hartog, urban designer.

'Zaha Hadid, Who Dares Wins'. Image Courtesy of AFFR

4. Zaha Hadid, Who Dares Wins (Roger Parsons & Lindsey Hanlon, 2013)

Zaha Hadid always provokes strong reactions: she is visionary, headstrong and, at the same time, charming and extravagant. The successful feminine starchitect is profiled surprisingly carefully in this excellent documentary. British architecture historian Alan Yentob talks to her about her youth and evolution from an artist of paper concepts to an architect of seemingly impossible structures. Her star status affords her access to the greats of the earth. And not to forget, her projects are so beautifully shot that you have to see this documentary on the big screen, not on a measly monitor. Come on, this is Zaha!

This film will show on Thursday 8th October at 19:15 and again on Saturday 10th at 19:45.

'Barbicania'. Image Courtesy of AFFR

3. Barbicania (Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine, 2014)

Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine are the makers of Koolhaas Houselife, and have since made an impressive series of architecture documentaries. Barbicania documents a month of living and working on the Barbican Estate, the famous brutalist complex in London. How do people live in a built utopia? The stories of residents and other occupants offer a kaleidoscopic impression of this multipurpose complex and guide the viewer through the complex. A fantastic example of ‘peeking at the neighbours’.

This film will show on Saturday 10th October at 21:45. It will be the Dutch premiere and will be accompanied by a short of Barbican Urban Poetry by Joe Gilbert (2015) afterwards.

'La Sapienza'. Image Courtesy of AFFR

2. La Sapienza (Eugène Green)

For his latest feature film, director Eugène Green drew inspiration from two baroque architects from Rome: the mystical Francesco Borromini, whose work Green admires, and his worldly, more rational counterpart and rival, Juan Lorenzo Bernini. The result is a romantic drama that offers fresh insight into the struggle between the mind and soul.

In La Sapienza, reason is the opposite of mystique, Bernini the opposite of Borromini, Goffredo the opposite of Alexandre, and Lavinia the opposite of Alienor. The teenagers, unscarred by life experience, believe in true love, in the presence of ‘something that does not have a name’, in fate and spirituality. Their naive nature makes the elderly couple aware of what they have lost over the years. Listening to Goffredo and watching Borromini’s work, Alexandre manages to understand there is no need to temper the new generation. For the new generation has its own ideals: to create open spaces they can fill with light and people who feel closer to the mystical mind of Borromini.

This film will show on Sunday 11th October at 20:15. Text by Charlotte van Zanten, author and Creative Director of Roffa Mon Amour.

1. Concrete Love (Maurizius Staerkle-Drux, 2014)

An elderly man sits at the head of the table, arms folded. He looks stern. A middle-aged man is presenting a model. "What you’re doing is not good," says Gottfried Böhm (93). His son Paul Böhm (54) looks up, sits down beside him, folds his arms too and replies: "but it’s how I want it." Concrete Love is a documentary about the Böhms, a German family of architects, with Gottfried (1920) at the centre. Gottfried is the son, grandson, husband and father of architects.

This film is the fourth full-length film by young Swiss director Maurizius Staerkle Drux (1988). He spent two years following and filming the Böhm family, mostly in the residence-cum-studio by Dominikus Böhm, where work, private life and family are inextricably woven together. Concrete Love is a calm, observational documentary.

The festival will open with this film on Wednesday 7th October at 20:30, and will be shown again on Saturday 10th October at 17:45. Text by Christel Leenen, Art and Culture Scholar and Librarian at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam.

Find out more about Rotterdam's Architecture Film Festival here. You can download the full programme (PDF) here.

  • Title

    Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam
  • Website

  • Organizers

  • From

    October 07, 2015 12:00 AM
  • Until

    September 10, 2015 12:00 AM
  • Venue

    LantarenVenster Cinema
  • Address

    Otto Reuchlinweg 996, 3072 Rotterdam, Netherlands

Architecture Documentaries To Watch In 2015

Correction: in the text accompanying Concrete Love it was incorrectly stated that Gottfried Böhm is "the only German architect to have been awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize." Frei Otto was posthumously awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2015.

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Cite: "Five Films to Watch at the 2015 Architecture Film Festival in Rotterdam" 28 Sep 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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