Architecture and Design Film Festival Vancouver highlights the beauty of the built world

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      The Georgia Straight is a proud media sponsor of ADFF Vancouver 2023.

      Imagine you’ve been tasked with finding two people to run a film festival about architecture and design. Who would you pick? If your first thought was “a film expert and an architect expert,” then congratulations: you’ve nailed the duo behind the Architecture and Design Film Festival Vancouver.

      Co-producers Leah Mallen, who runs All In Pictures, and Anne Pearson, former architect and owner of design store Vancouver Special, have been running ADFF Vancouver since 2018, bringing urbanism and design films to city screens. 

      “We’ve had films about graphic design, about engineering, about fashion, about music, design of a sustainable carpet, and photography,” says Mallen. “It’s really quite vast.”

      The two women first met over a decade ago, when Mallen was working on Coast Modern, a film about West Coast design and architecture. She filmed in Vancouver Special, where Pearson used to run architect parties to bring together Vancouver’s design community.

      Coast Modern showed at the Architecture and Design Film Festival’s New York event in 2012. Mallen kept in touch with festival director Kyle Bergman; and, when she pitched a Vancouver expansion, Mallen teamed up with Pearson to capitalize on her industry knowledge.

      The festival soft-launched in 2018, and ran its first full slate of programming in 2019 (the same year the Toronto iteration also started). While there is a separate Architecture + Design Film Festival (A+DFF) running annually in Winnipeg, the market for these films in Canada can be pretty small. 

      “A lot of films about design—they don’t necessarily get programmed into big festivals like Hot Docs or Toronto International Film Festival,” Mallen explains. “If you do, they tend to get lost in the sea of other documentaries; and if your film isn’t about huge social issues, you don’t tend to get as much publicity.” 

      But architecture and design, while something of a niche in the film industry, isn’t just about aesthetics or engineering. The built environment is all around us, and it impacts us in every facet of our lives. The subject matter is rich for discussing serious issues, be it gentrification, climate crisis, or affordability. And every film at ADFF has a deep human story attached, whether it’s profiling an architect, exploring resistance through design, or diving into the community that makes a place.  

      ADFF Vancouver 2023’s opening night film, We Start With the Things We Find, focuses on pioneering shipping container architects LOT-EK to examine reuse and supply chains.

      “We picked an opening night film that has a very strong sustainability message, because we feel like that really resonates with Vancouverites,” Pearson says. “It shows all of the different possibilities of what a creative profession can look like, what a partnership can look like, what an architecture firm can look like, but also what you can do when you take architecture on as a global climate crisis issue to solve.” 

      For Vancouver, the movies that connect the dots into larger themes often generate the most interest. Some films have panels after them to capitalize on discussion, which can help viewers see the city through a different lens—or, for architects in attendance, think about how to imbue important ideas into their own practice. 

      “If you go to a film, it generates a discussion that can lead to people being more informed about their city,” Pearson says. “If you watch a film about gentrification in Copenhagen, then you can see how that might relate to Vancovuver and how we can learn lessons from other cities.” 

      That’s not a random example: Best in the World, showing at ADFF Vancouver 2023, examines Copenhagen’s transformation into one of the world’s most liveable cities, with an emphasis on who has been excluded. 

      “Even if each individual film isn't about Vancouver, then at least we're generating a dialogue and a narrative and a conversation around those issues in this city,” Pearson adds. “That's really important to me.”

      Architecture and Design Film Festival Vancouver 2023

      When: November 9 to 12

      Where: Hollywood Theatre, 3123 West Broadway, Vancouver; Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street, Vancouver

      Admission: Tickets available online