ADFF Finds Its Sweet Spot


One of the consistently uplifting stories of 2020 is the way arts organizations have carried on at a time when theaters and museums are closed and “live audience” is no longer a viable concept. “Everything’s different this year,” says Kyle Bergman, Founder and Director of the Architecture and Design Film Festival. “This is our 12th year doing the festival and for 11 of them they’ve been live events. We’ve never done a digital online festival. It’s like being a rookie all over again—which is actually pretty exciting.”

ADFF begins its digital program on November 19th and continues through December 3rd. In recognition of the changes we’re all making to our habits of cultural consumption, the festival allows ticketholders to watch the films and prerecorded Q&As at any time. “You can watch at 3 in the morning,” Kyle says. While he laments the loss of “coming together and that energy of watching a film in the same room,” he acknowledges there are benefits to a limitless screening schedule. “The upside of what we’re doing is that so many more people can watch. Anyone in the country can watch any time and we’re doing it over the Thanksgiving Holiday when people are hanging out at home.”

As always, ADFF’s selection of films offers a window on the built environment and intriguing glimpses at its builders. Particularly welcome this year is its usual world tour. With 7 North American premieres and films from Japan, Brazil, Canada, Finland and elsewhere, it’s the vacation none of us have been able to take. The highlights? As soon ask a conductor for his favorite instrument. “Well you know. I like them all,” Kyle says. “Putting together a film festival is like putting together a big dinner party. You try to have a little something for everyone.”

Pictured right: Festival Director & Founder, Kyle Bergman

Pictured below: “Tokyo Ride”


Among the treats this year are “Tokyo Ride,” a drive around that city with architect Ryue Nishizawa; “A Machine to Live In,” a contemplation of utopian ideals and futurist thinking as embodied in Brazil’s built-from-scratch capital Brasilia; “Aalto,” a look at the modern master Alvar Aalto with an emphasis on the influence of his unsung partner in design (and wife) Aino; and “Hollywood Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story,” which chronicles the career of the African American architect responsible for some of the movie capital’s landmarks—who often wasn’t welcome in the restaurants and hotels he designed.

Each of these films illuminates a concept Kyle Bergman credits with inspiring him to start a design film festival: the connection of specialized professions to human stories that speak to everyone. “In 2003 ‘My Architect’ came out,” he says. “The film Nathaniel Kahn did about his father, Louis Kahn. When that came out it was nominated for an Oscar, and the thing that was brilliant about it is that the architectural community loved it because it was about Lou Kahn and the wider audience loved it because it was really just a son’s search for his father. It brought the non-design community and the design community together. That’s the sweet spot of the films that we’re looking for at ADFF.”

A few years later Kyle launched his film festival, bringing together two abiding passions. “There are so many similarities,” he says of architecture and film. “They’re both collaborative. They’re both a balance between art and science. They’re both storytelling.” And they both rely on a creative leader to awaken the creativity of others. “Kind of like LeBron James,” he adds. “He’s a great basketball player, but what he does is make his whole team better. I think that’s what good architects, good designers and good filmmakers do.”


In a period of enforced isolation, it’s good to be reminded of how we as individuals fit into a larger picture and of how communal effort can be a source of hope. ADFF’s 2020 is surely a case in point. “The whole film festival world is moving to a digital platform,” Kyle says. “All of us are talking to each other. There’s a learning curve the industry is going through right now that’s so rapid and so interesting. People are sharing advice and sharing information trying to do things the best way possible. Next year we’ll do the festival the normal way and after our season of live events we’ll do an online version. It will be much easier the second time around.”

Pictured above: “Aalto”

Pictured right: “Hollywood Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story”

All photos courtesy of ADFF.

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