5 Films to Catch at the Architecture and Design Film Festival

An architecture-obsessed film fest might just be the perfect fit for a city of real estate fiends.

I’d argue that our local pastime isn’t watching hockey, but rather the real estate market—so the architecture-obsessed film fest coming to town this month feels incredibly on point.  From November 9 to 12, the Architecture and Design Film Festival (ADFF) is back in its fourth year, this time showcasing 15 local and international documentary films along with guest speakers and directors Q and As to celebrate and examine design in architecture, housing, urban planning, real estate and even fashion. The films and events for the fest are all taking place at the Hollywood Theatre and the VIFF Centre. For some guidance on what to watch, we’ve architected the perfect viewing guide designed to go with your popcorn. 

woman standing by tree in shadowCredit: ADFF Still from Outside In

1. Outside In 

Saturday November 12 at 6:30 p.m.

Have you ever wondered what effect being displaced from nature has on our overall well-being? This Vancouver-made documentary certainly has and is looking to biophilic design for answers. Directors Danny Berish and Ryan Mah interview renowned architects (like local hero Michael Green) and examine hard science in order to weigh in on the physiological toll we pay for our concrete jungles and discuss ways that biophilic design can make it better. This film also gives you a glimpse at building your own biophilic home from the ground up, as interior designer and mother, Jennell Stanley, builds her own health-conscious home for her young family. It’s relevant, local and all about getting back to nature.


Black and white; Young man staring at camera with crowd in backgroundCredit: ADFF Still from Building Bastille!

2. Building Bastille! The Tangled and Improbable story of the Opera Bastille 

Saturday November 12 at 2:30 p.m.

This feature-length documentary brings to life the hard-to-believe-but-very-much-true story of Carlos Ott and how the Opera Bastille came to be in 1982 France. The story is an interesting one rife with comedy. Take a half-billion-dollar project, a blind competition, an architectural challenge, an impossible deadline, and a case of mistaken identity and then mix it all together with two warring political titans. The result? An engaging must-see film that we had to put on our list. It starts with new socialist President Mitterrand opening a blind design competition to build an opera house. The jury selects their winner—who they think is prominent American architect Richard Meier—but (surprise, surprise) is in fact unknown and inexperienced Canadian architect Carlos Ott. Intrigued? I know I am. 

Richard Henriquez flying a deconstructed airplaneCredit: ADFF Still from Richard Henriquez: Building Stories

3. Richard Henriquez: Building Stories 

Thursday November 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Friday November 11 at 12:15 p.m.

This Vancouver-made film, directed by West Coast Modern auteurs Gavin Froome and Michael Bernard, is a 30-minute look at the life and legendary work of local, award-winning Canadian architect Richard George Henriquez, known for founding Henriquez and Todd with Robert Todd in 1969 (the precursor to today’s Henriquez Partners Architects). With an award collection that could rival Katharine Hepburn (including the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal in 2005, the Governor Generals Medal in 1994 and the Order of Canada in 2017), Henriquez has been influential in the Canadian architectural landscape, and indeed right here in Vancouver—notably, Vancouver’s Gaslight Square, Sylvia Hotel Tower and BC Cancer laboratory. This film looks at his influences and his focus on memory and history in his approach to his work. 


Woman back turned in trenchcoat staring at hill landscape
Credit: ADFF Still from Fashion Reimagined

4. Fashion Reimagined 

Wednesday November 9 at 7:30 p.m.

This film follows Amy Powney, designer of the London brand Mother of Pearl (insider tip: it’s currently sold at Vancouver’s Secret Location) and her noble quest for ethical and sustainable fashion design that goes all the way up the supply chain. Having grown up with environmental activist parents on a remote eco-friendly homestead, Powney sets out to create a truly sustainable collection, and in the process, uncovers a deeply destructive production cycle that includes deforestation, animal mutilation and farmer suicide. If you like a modern-day David and Goliath story with a strong female lead, you’ll definitely want to watch this inspiring 92-minute UK documentary that takes an honest look at the price of fashion.


Maija Isola working on a paintingCredit: ADFF Still from Maija Isolo

5. Maija Isolo: Master of Colour and Form

Friday November 11 at 12:00 p.m.

This Finnish film follows the life and artistic work of Maija Isola, one of the first designers of Marimekko (the beloved Finnish design brand known worldwide for its vibrant and original prints and colours). With 38 years and 500 prints under her belt, Isola’s brand revolutionized Finnish homes in the 1950s and ’60s and went on to influence fashion and design in cities like New York, Tokyo and (you guessed it) Vancouver. Made up of archive material, new fictive footage, animations and film clips, this 90-minute film takes us inside the life and inspiration of this iconic Finland artist and her colourful influence on fashion and design.