Architecture & Design and the Power of Film 4

Tulsa Foundation for Architecture Hosts ADFF:Tulsa

Tulsa is perhaps most beautiful when late afternoon sun bathes the city in honeyed light. Every line and surface is elevated to something extraordinary. Or so it seems when you love a place. Rising dramatically along the gentle curve of a river, Tulsa possesses a power to draw an emotional response. Stories of fortunes, won and lost, are told by Tulsa’s skyline. The city’s central core is an amalgam of structures made for worship, and architecture built by the gods of energy and oil.

“I was not prepared to see how much great architecture you had,” offers Kyle Bergman, festival director and founder of the Architecture & Design Film Festival, based in New York. Bergman was introduced to Tulsa in recent months by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture. TFA and Bergman’s ADFF are part of a special collaboration, ADFF:Tulsa that will screen more than 20 documentaries at Tulsa’s historic Circle Cinema, April 20-23.

“When you go to a place, you have a sense if it feels right. If it feels good,” Bergman says of his Tulsa visits. “It is a positive energy that I have been exposed to in Tulsa.”

Bergman may be tapping into the enthusiasm for Tulsa that TFA has proliferated through its downtown architecture tours. Three years ago a group of 45 tour-takers was considered a good Second Saturday tour turnout. Now, TFA turns people away when numbers for its bi-annual tunnel tour breach 950. Other tours are limited to a couple of hundred, and they sell out fast.

“We strive to engage people and organizations in order to build a culture of appreciation for Oklahoma’s architectural heritage and great potential,” says TFA Executive Director Amanda DeCort. “Tulsa has responded with an overwhelming appetite for what we have to offer.”

That developing interest, Bergman believes, makes ADFF a good fit for Tulsa. “I think the missions of TFA and the Architecture & Design Film Festival are perfectly aligned,” he says. “Our missions are trying to enhance the level of understanding of architecture and design, not only to the profession but to a wider audience.”

Tulsa entrepreneur and TFA benefactor George R. Kravis II shares Tulsa’s taste for good design, as well as a hunger to explore the genius and ingenuity that are evident in cities around the world. He came to know Kyle Bergman’s film festival during a trip to Chicago, and thought it might connect with Tulsa’s creative spark.

“We have the Circle Cinema, which has always included films on architecture and design in their program mix, and the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, which has made us aware of our architectural heritage,” says Kravis. “There is a built-in, educated audience in Tulsa, proud of their city and eager for the ambitious programming ADFF will bring.”

If you take a downtown stroll with George Kravis, you’ll be treated to an historical anecdote at almost every corner. His father, Raymond Kravis, a former business partner of Joseph P. Kennedy, and George’s mother, Bessie, raised their family while living for a time at the historic Mayo Hotel. George became the youngest radio station owner in the country, founding Tulsa’s KRAV and KGTO. His fascination for gadgets of all types led to his passion for collecting industrial design objects, and later to his book, 100 Designs for a Modern World. Pieces from his collection have been on display at a special exhibition this past year at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum located in the Upper East Side’s Museum Mile in Manhattan. It was due to Kravis’ longstanding TFA board involvement and the Raymond and Bessie Kravis Foundation that TFA was able to retain Bergman to curate its festival.

ADFF:Tulsa also was an opportunity to engage another organization that has benefited from George Kravis’ support. In 2004 he co-founded the Circle Cinema Foundation with Clark Wiens, making it possible to restore the 1928 ground floor of the Chilton Building in the Kendall-Whittier area and return the space to a cinema home. Wiens credits the hard work of many and community support for the Circle’s success. Every day he challenges himself “to do better in fulfilling our mission of ‘community consciousness through film,’” he says. “The Architecture & Design Film Festival is a natural fit for Tulsa, a city known for Art Deco and other architectural landmarks,” adds Wiens, “and then to host it in a fully restored 1928 cinema house!”

Wien’s love affair with film began as a child in California. His father was too old, at age 41, to serve in World War II, but he knew how to run a projector. The US Government and Mobil Oil hired him to show films in the evening hours to farmers as a way of energizing them to do their utmost in supporting the US at home. “He showed them war films and talked about the war effort afterwards. He would see people leave at night, hear tractors start up, and find the workers out in the fields with flashlights — plowing. He told me, ‘That is the power of film.’” Wiens believes in film’s ability to make lives better “for ourselves and for everyone else.” He is excited about the combination of film and discussion that is the hallmark of ADFF programming.

Bergman was impressed immediately with the Circle Cinema and its vibe. “I was not expecting such a great theatre. A fantastic theatre,” enthuses Bergman. An architect by profession (who doesn’t own a TV), he says, “I love going to films. I watch a lot of documentaries about everything. Political documentaries. I watch a lot of classic films over again. I see a lot of new films. I like popular films. I like seeing them in movie theatres. It is like a two-hour mini-vacation.”

As an undergraduate, Bergman studied both architecture and film and couldn’t decide which one he wanted to pursue. “I ended up going towards architecture,” he recounts. “At that time I didn’t really realize how similar they were. Making architecture and making films are actually very similar in that they are both storytelling. Film is clearly storytelling, but when you make architecture, it also is storytelling. You do it by every choice you make. Look at Frank Lloyd Wright. He was a master storyteller.”

The films Bergman has slated for Tulsa brim with stories. Windshield: A Vanished Vision is about a well-heeled East Coast couple from the 1930s who admires the work of the young West Coast modern architect Richard Neutra. When East meets West on the shores of Fishers Island, New York, the result is remarkable, but the story ends in tragedy.

Another film centering on Neutra concerns a house he designed for a working-class government employee in 1959. The project began a friendship that lasted for the rest of the architect’s life. The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat, about building a home and a friendship, is directed by Mike Dorsey, who will be in Tulsa for a Q&A following the film.

“Some of the films are incredibly visually arresting, some are visionary, and some are lighthearted and fun. Anyone with an interest in sense of place, community engagement, revolutionary thinking or the creative spirit will find at least one film that speaks to them,” says DeCort. “Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island is our opening film, and clips I’ve seen from it are stunning,” she exclaims. “Bold vision; strikingly modern architecture. I can’t wait to watch the entire documentary in the theatre!” The hour-long documentary is a beautifully shot film about awe-inspiring architecture constructed on Newfoundland’s rocky shore. One of its directors, Katherine Knight, will come to Tulsa for the duration the festival.

Among other special guests will be Paul Makovsky, Editorial & Brand Director for Metropolis magazine. He will give a talk and also field questions after Gray Matters, a film that details the fascinating life of architect and designer Eileen Gray.

Included in the festival are films that explore a range of disciplines. Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey, examines the exceptional life and work of Mexican-American photographer Guerrero and his collaborations with Frank Lloyd Wright and sculptors Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson. Fall Winter, Spring Summer, Fall: Five Seasons with Piet Oudolf takes film-goers into the world of the most influential garden designer of our time. Yarn is about the wildly creative work being done through knitting and crocheting.

Eero Saarinen: the Architect Who Saw the Future is Eric Saarinen’s film about this father, the architect of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, New York’s TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Virginia’s Dulles Airport, and modernist pedestal furniture like the Tulip Chair. The director of photography for the film, Eric will be at the Circle Cinema to interact with audiences following his film’s screening.

A special event during the festival will be a talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Goldberger after a showing of Getting Frank Gehry. Goldberger was the long-time architectural critic for the New York Times and now writes for Vanity Fair. He is widely acclaimed for his book Why Architecture Matters, and his recent Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry. Presented in collaboration with Booksmart Tulsa, Goldberger will sign books in the Circle Cinema lobby.

“I think one of the important things we try to do is show films that are interesting to the design profession as well as to anyone interested in architecture and design,” says Bergman. “So, our audience is typically 50% design professionals and 50% other people — doctors and lawyers, plumbers and teachers and automobile mechanics. When we program films, we look for those that are interesting to the design professional but also have a human story, so that anyone coming to these films will feel moved and connected to the films they see. ADFF is meant for a wide range of people. You don’t have to be an architect or design professional to enjoy them. They are for everybody.”

The films, along with the panel discussions, social events and conversations with the filmmakers provide an opportunity to awaken people to the prevalence of design around them, not only to the rich architecture Tulsa is fortunate to have and wise enough to preserve, but to the beauty and poetry of design that enhances our lives at every turn. Surfaces and line bathed in light, and more.

“ADFF:Tulsa is about design, and of course it is about architecture, but it’s also about community,” says DeCort. “Tulsa Foundation for Architecture embraces Tulsa and shows others how to appreciate our community through all of our tours and events. The films we’ve selected have so much to offer a wide audience of people. The festival is a fantastic vehicle for TFA to connect with new people and to connect in a new way.”