Modern architecture, like modern art, has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Though I can appreciate the clean lines and minimalist, uncluttered spaces, they’ve also never been spaces I’ve wanted to live in but on a tour through West Vancouver a few years ago, I had a realization that “modern” architecture, as applied to Vancouver, means something much different than what I had envisioned in my mind. In many aspects it is still about minimalism and open spaces but it’s also about communing with the nature around you and living in a space where the outdoors feels like an extension of your living quarters. Turns out this approach to modern architecture, though not exclusive to the west coast, has really taken a hold here and Coast Modern explores the architecture and ideas that have developed from LA to Vancouver.
Peppered with interviews of prominent modern architects, writers and the individuals that call some of these spaces home, directors Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome have pieced together a fascinating and beautiful account of the movement, its importance and why it never quite took hold. With the sentiment that “Modernism is a beautiful failure,” Bernard and Froome introduce the pioneers of the movement, the Case Study Houses that caused such a stir of attention but never quite took off and explore the modern ideal with a focus on the human connection. It’s not just about the beautiful homes but what they instil in the people that live in them. There’s a feeling of wanting to be part of nature, of living a healthier life when you surround yourself with so much nature and tranquility.
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Change is constant and many of the technological advances of the last century have significantly changed our way of life but there’s a feeling, especially as our parents and grandparents get older, that we are the last remaining connection to a world and a way of life that will soon be relegated to pages of books and scenes from photos and videos. Soon no one will remember what it was like to live without TV, never mind not being able to access it on the go and it seems that with every step forward in technology, the memories of the past fade even faster.
Justin Simms’ Hard Light is a deeply personal film about a time long ago; a time that many have forgotten but in remembering the past, it’s also a look at what we’re missing in today’s world. Newfoundland author Michael Crummey seems determined to remember that old way of life and Hard Light is a combination of re-enactments and interviews with Crummey, a story as much about the filmmaker, who at the end of the film admits to Crummey that his novel “Hard Light” changed his life, as it is about the author whose writing is the result of his inner struggles with finding himself in a world that seemed to be passing him by.
In the interviews, Crummey shares details about his life growing up in Newfoundland, of his relationship with his parents and grandfather and how his memories and experiences shaped the adult he wanted to be. It’s fascinating hearing Crummey discuss his life as a wonderer after leaving home to pursue writing. He was willing to do anything, including own nothing, in order to do what he loved and it took him decades to realize that in his choice of nomadic living, he’d failed to really live, to stop and enjoy the moments and people in his life. Listening to Crummey speak was both soothing and inspiring, and I found his observations on life and how communities and families are changing interesting and insightful.
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There’s a great scene early on in Brishkay Ahmed’s feature documentary debut Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan where Ahmed speaks with a couple of guys on a Vancouver street. She asks them what they think of the Burqa and their responses are surprising, both saying that the practice of the burqa is unnecessary. Things get stranger when Brishkay travels to Afghan and the surrounding areas and is told, on more than one occasion by a number of highly respected men, that the burqa isn’t even a traditional Afghan garment. So how does such a constricting piece of clothing come to be so important to a culture to which it was imported? The answers aren’t easy or simple but Ahmed sets off to find out and what she discovers along the way is shocking.
Walking the markets of Kabul, watching men coming in and out of a small burqa shop, we learn the details of how the garments are made and we see men, many of them traveling from afar, buying burqa’s for their daughters and wives. Seeing educated men speak of the burqa and its purpose and importance to the culture, it quickly becomes apparent that the controversial garment is a long engrained symbol of control and not some cultural norm long practiced by the people. Ahmed travels the world digging up the history of the burqa, it’s origins and how it eventually came to Afghanistan and her discoveries are eye opening not to mention unnerving.
Though it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that a garment forced on women under the guise of religious necessity is so popular among men, there’s a sense from Ahmed’s interviews that many men aren’t even aware that the burqa isn’t a necessity but rather something that has been forced on the culture from external sources. It’s fascinating, and scary, to see how long this process has taken and how totally it has entered public consciousness.
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As HotDocs takes over Toronto for a few days, Vancouver’s very own documentary film festival DOXA will open its doors to nearly two weeks of fantastic documentaries starting May 4th.
The festival always presents a great assortment of titles and this year’s event, which will screen films throughout the city, has on offer a variety of titles appealing to a wide range of audiences and a number of world premieres to boot. Among some of the most exciting titles are Michael Bernard and Gavin Froome’s mid-length Coast Modern (trailer) which delves into the best examples of modernist architecture from Vancouver to San Francisco, Vanishing Point (trailer), a fascinating look at two northern communities and the elder who finds herself straddling her traditional life in Northwest Greenland and the Inuit community which has embraced changes that have had a great impact on their way of life and among a few other premieres is Brishkay Ahmed’s debut Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan (trailer), a look at the history of the Burqa and its importance in today’s world.
Other titles I’m particularly interested in checking out include General Orders No. 9, the trailer for which I’ve gushed about in the past, Catherine Scott’s Scarlet Road (trailer) about Rachel an advocate for the legalization of the sex trade, a graduate student and a sex trade worker whose large client base is in the disabled community and a number of the shorts programs, most notably “In the Third Place” which rounds up a number of interesting titles including the classic Heavy Metal Parking Lot.
Loads more titles, along with screening schedule and ticket information, can be found at DOXA.