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Architecture & Design Film Fest comes to Canada

Russell Hixson
Architecture & Design Film Fest comes to Canada
ADFF — Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, registered landscape architect, chats with others on a jobsite. Oberlander is one of the subjects of “City Dreamers”, a documentary running at the Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF). The festival has now expanded from the U.S. and will be stopping in Vancouver and Toronto.

The Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF) is heading north to Canada. The festival, which aims to bring the public and the design community together, will showcase its program of documentaries in Toronto and Vancouver.

The festival was founded in 2009 by Kyle Bergman and has been running in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and New Orleans.

Bergman explained that it was a no-brainer to add Canada to the festival stops as its cities have a great design and film culture.

“There is this great intersection between architecture and film,” said Bergman. “Film is a great way for us to expand what we talk about and what excites us as architects, and our conversations are exciting and internal but film is a great way to expand that conversation.”

Bergman says the festival previews about 350 films a year but to be selected they must not only be about design or architecture, they must have a have a human story that interests a general audience.

During its Canadian stops, the festival will be showing 27 films. The opening film, City Dreamers, is from Montreal director Joseph Hillel. It explores the lives of four trailblazing female designers: Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Denise Scott Brown.

The film will have a particular to Canadian audiences as Oberlander established a design firm in Vancouver in the 1950s and her work on the Children’s Creative Center at Montreal Expo ’67 led her to assist in drafting national guidelines for children’s playgrounds. She is also well known for her collaborations with architect Arthur Erickson on Robson Square and the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology.

“They are all trailblazers,” said Bergman. “Their stories are amazing. Through their whole professional lives they were almost always the only women in the room and they persevered through all sorts of challenges. It felt like an important story that should be told, and these four people who are highlighted are really impressive.”

While the festival doesn’t program themes, Bergman said several films focus in on the issue of house and the idea of “home.”

“PUSH” by Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten explores skyrocketing housing prices and lagging wages making some major cities increasingly unlivable for average working people. The documentary follows Canadian Leilani Farha, the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, as she travels the globe, trying to understand who’s being pushed out of our cities and why.

The festival will also feature panels, special presentations and interviews with directors and subjects, like Canadian Architect Douglas Cardinal, Australian Architect Liam Young Gertten and more.

Cardinal is the subject of “Douglas Cardinal: Architect of the Future” which explores his life as An Anishinaabe raised in Blackfoot territory. Cardinal and his curvilinear designs have been used for monuments to Indigenous culture in the U.S. and Canada.

Bergman said he began planning the festival in 2000 after watching “My Architect”, a film about Architect Lou Kahn made by his son Nathaniel about his father’s career and family legacy. Bergman said it is a great example of a film hitting the sweet spot of diving into the world of architecture while still remaining engaging for laymen.

“We really wanted to do a festival that would bring together design professionals and non-professionals and have the dialogue become stronger,” said Bergman. “If a larger part of the world understood what we did better, we would have better clients and a better built environment. The goal is to make a more beautiful world.”

The festival will be running Nov. 7-10 in Vancouver at the Vancity Theatre and Scotia Dance Theatre. Then it will head to Toronto Nov. 14-17 at the TIFF Lightbox Theatre. More information about the featured films and event details can be found at


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