From October 8 to 11, the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (AFFR) brings together 100 films about architecture and cities under the theme of “Global Home”. Chris Luth quizzes co-founder Jord den Hollander and the Festival’s director Wies Sanders on the background to this steadily expanding event which was initiated back in 2000 as one of the first film festivals dedicated to architecture – and he asks them for their insider tips in this years edition.
Why did you start an architecture film festival?
Jord den Hollander: We started 15 years ago with a congress on urban issues and showing some films about architecture alongside – the usual suspects: Blade Runner, Metropolis, The Fountainhead and Jaques Tati's Playtime. It was an immediate success and made us realise that films can give a different sense of our built surroundings. So we thought: why not organise a festival?
How did it develop?
Jord: We were immediately recognised by other organisations and cities that started to follow our work. So in 2009 we organised an international conference where we talked about how to set up a festival. Shortly afterwards festivals sprouted in New York, Florence, Denver and Barcelona. Someone who worked for us has now also set one up in Lisbon.
Wies Sanders: The AFFR has broadened the market. We even have an online database now that indirectly tells other film festivals: these are really interesting architecture films – show them!
Jord: We visit each others’ festivals and I show my films all-over. Architecture filmmakers need to show their work and in spite of the subject’s broad scope, their films are a niche market. Our festival and its spin-offs provide a platform, which is wonderful.
What makes architecture films a niche market?
Wies: Architecture films normally only have a chance to be shown at documentary film festivals, in which they are a specific genre, or on TV. If not selected, they end up on DVD and are occasionally shown in architecture centres or universities. Since we bring films from all over the world together in one festival, we actually expand their market, by joining audiences of students and professionals with other culture-loving festival goers. The latter make up almost half of our total amount of visitors.
Programming the AFFR, what kind of films do you look out for?
Jord: First of all, people are very interested in straightforward, hard-core documentaries about architects’ lives and work. These films are the easiest to find. Though sometimes beautifully made, they tend to be highly anecdotal. Secondly, there are films about very specific topics that can become metaphors for broader phenomena. A wonderful example is Grande Hotel (2010) showing how a prestigious hotel in Mozambique, dating from colonial times, has become a squatted, dilapidated refugee camp – shedding light on issues of an entire region.
Personally we are most interested in films that give a highly personal and artistic interpretation of our built environment. My favourite example is The Swimmer (1968), an unusual Hollywood film in which, on a lazy summer’s afternoon, a man decides to swim home via the pools of his affluent suburb, crashing garden parties along the way, cutting uncannily through a section of society.
Wies: These are the most difficult films to select. Another example is Don't Touch the White Woman! (1974), a surrealistic western set in the enormous open construction pit of Les Halles in Paris – very interesting for urban planners!
Who are your all-time favourite filmmakers?
Wies: I always forbid myself to say Tati, but it is definitively Tati. His combination of light-heartedness with a precise critique of modernism is unique.
Jord: Buster Keaton, because of his inspiring surrealistic worldview of one man against society.
This year you’ve chosen “Global Home” as the title of the festival. What can we expect from that?
Wies: People are becoming less rooted; feeling at home is no longer necessarily related to a specific place. Airbnb, laptops and coffee shops provide for a nomadic urban culture. Refugees spread over the world live in semi-permanent city structures. Complete villages are uprooted. These issues resonate in many contemporary films.
Jord: For example: we have a short film called Growing Home (2014) about a barber in Zaatari, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, that has started to function like a city over the years.
Any advice for our readers as must-sees of this edition?
Jord: Our opening film Concrete Love: The Böhm Family (2014) is my favourite. It is about a famous 94-year-old architect and his family. He not only shares a practice with his three sons, they also live in the same house. Completely different yet just as fantastic a film is The Chinese Mayor (2015) about one man’s struggle to improve the lives of the inhabitants of his country’s most polluted city.
In Double Happiness (2014) the Chinese literally copy a complete romantic Austrian village including the surrounding mountains and the inhabitants’ lifestyle. It questions what identity means if it can simply be copied. Fantastic film.
An Egyptian billionaire wants to buy a tiny Swiss village of farmers in Andermatt, Global Village (2015) to transform it into a luxury resort. It shows how money can disrupt places, acting as a pars pro toto for what is happening in cities like London.
Wies: The Babushkas of Chernobyl (2015) is my favourite. It shows that Chernobyl is habitable for certain people, in spite of the nuclear disaster of 1986. They not only survive, some even turn out to be healthier than their evacuated family members – because they feel at home not having been uprooted. Also, Rohmer in Paris (2013) is a remarkable debut that creates a new narrative out of old footage shot by the new wave filmmaker Éric Rohmer in Paris.
And I always love our shorts programmes; this year we have four beautiful compilations, one for each festival day. Finally, we also have two really large installation programmes with films shown in loops. One contains Jord’s film Cycling Cities (2015) spread over six screens.
If I can’t make it to Rotterdam, can any of the films be viewed online, too?
Wies: The majority of the films can only be seen at the festival, which is of course the main point of a festival like this: bringing people together in front of the big screen. Yet we have indeed experienced many people who were disappointed once they found out that they have missed their only opportunity to see these wonderful films, and so we created an online platform called Playtime where a small selection of our films will be available for a limited period of time. People can set up an account for free and watch 30 films per year.
Jord: But do come along: we're convinced that this is going to be one of the most outstanding festivals we’ve ever organised.
– Interview by Chris Luth
– Wies Sanders has a master in urban planning and works as urban planner, docent, author and advisor. Since 2000 she has been co-director of Urban Unlimited in Rotterdam, and since 2007 she has acted as managing director of AFFR.
– Jord den Hollander is a Dutch architect and filmmaker. During his education as an architect at the Technical University of Delft he developed a special interest in writing and filmmaking, and after receiving his master he studied scriptwriting at the London Film School. Since then he has combined both disciplines in numerous projects in his professional career. In 1990 he co-founded the AFFR.
Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (AFFR)
October 7–11, 2015