Architecture is the Star of This Film Festival

When Matt Pearson, a young associate architect in Norfolk, Virginia, began hosting a film series at Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Co., the firm where he works, he certainly didn’t expect that, a year later, the series would become a public festival, running as part of the state’s annual Architecture Week.

Titled “Architecture + Film,” the film series runs from April 5-May 31 at the Naro Expanded Cinema, an old, art-house theater in Norfolk. That a commercial theater like the Naro believes it can successfully sponsor such a festival, as opposed to an academic institution or a non-profit, is evidence of the growing popularity of design and architecture in even less-noticed cities like Norfolk, a military town more famous for its aircraft carriers than its buildings or cultural offerings.

The inclusion of some of these films might not be obvious, says Pearson. But to him, all eight of the movies either feature architecture or architects, or are enhanced by being viewed with what might be called an architectural eye.

For example, in the German movie Run Lola Run, a viewer can notice the way the protagonists move through a world of cleanly defined European social architecture, of “clean buildings, clean streets, and clean corners,” according to Pearson, that contrasts with the more disordered American landscape.

In Hudsucker Proxy, the Coen Brothers’s stylized mythic story of industry, that viewer can see how a fabulous art deco skyscraper serves as a visual metaphor for the fabulous heights to which Tim Robbins ascends in wealth and power, then sinks to morally.

The other movies chosen are more to be expected. The Oscar-nominated My Architect, which has been packing in audiences around the country, opens the festival. Playtime, a 1967 send-up of modern architecture by French director Jaque Tati, features elaborate sets that are surprisingly contemporary in appearance.

William Jones, a professor of American culture at nearby Virginia Wesleyan College, will introduce each film, while local architects and academics will lead each post-movie discussion. Barry Moss, of Tymoff & Moss, will talk about The Fountainhead, the 1949 movie based on Ayn Rand’s novel and that stars Gary Cooper as lone-wolf architect Howard Roark. Ronald Kloster, a professor of architecture at Hampton University, will spearhead a discussion about Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, released in 1936, and which shows Chaplin disappearing into the giant cogs and gears of a dehumanizing, machine-made future. Tench Phillips, owner of the Naro, Pearson, and a few others chose the film roster.

In addition to the Naro film festival, Architecture Week in Virginia includes a dozen or so other events, such as a bicycle tour of Richmond, a lovely city packed with historic buildings and districts. There are also more off-beat events like “Brick, Block and Stone,” where participants go to a quarry outside Richmond and watch stone being mined with explosives, and then watch masons shape the rock, and “CANstruction Build-Out,” where teams build structures out of cans.

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