Learning from Fiction Program

What can we learn from fiction?
A lot. Just as much as with reality

In film, it is not always easy to acknowledge if we are watching a documentary or a fiction film. The mode of production may give us a clue. If there is a film-schedule from beginning to end, it is a fiction, if there is not, than it is a documentary. However, this is not always a fully reliable lead. The style of the film may be confusing, either purposefully or not. Is it a fiction, or is it a documentary? A fiction always has some documental aspect in it and a documentary always has someone ‘playing’ in front of the camera. In that sense, even cinéma vérite, the well-known documentary style developed by filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch (1917-2004), is fiction. The fiction of creating a narrative that either shows truth or creates it.

In the last decade, in the aftermath of TV-series Curb Your Enthusiasm (USA, 2000-) by Larry David and The Office (UK/USA, 2001-2013) by Ricky Gervais, both mainstream television and film have fully embraced the hybrid format creating mockumentaries (fictional works in a documentary format) and docudramas (reality-based works in a fictional format). When seen for the first time, some of them make us go back to Orson Welles’ radio broadcast experience, in 1968, where the dramatized narrative of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds (1898) about an alien invasion, actually generated a real reaction from those who were listening who took it for a real event.

Our understanding of ‘fiction’, featuring the motto of Arquiteturas’ 6th edition, aimed to encourage bolder, more creative and playful submissions. To an extent, we have achieved this. Several films being exhibited can either be classified as documentary or fiction. Others, it is almost impossible to decide.
Columbus (2017), our warm-up film is perhaps the most obvious fiction film of this edition. It tells us about a love story set in Columbus, Indiana (USA) using a irreprehensible geometric framing, inspired by architecture’s exactitude.
Our opening film Before My Feet Touch the Ground (2017) is a good example of a hybrid format. It is a documentary against gentrification and the rise of house-prices in Tel Aviv, told by Daphni Leef, simultaneously leader of the movement in Israel, main character and director of the film. It is a protest film about a phenomenon that many cities are experiencing all over the world and therefore, a relevant one.

Architecture is always about creating fiction. But what happens when fiction clashes with reality? Not only film but also architecture has a fine line between fiction and “reality”. Is creativity at stake if architecture chooses to engage more with “reality” than with fiction? Up to what extent should architecture engage socially? Is that relevant? The films we have selected aim to contribute to generate some reflection about these questions. Ultimately, architecture by creating fiction defines our reality. It is a powerful skill that should be used wisely.
This year, we will exhibit biographies on architects Tadao Ando, Francis Kéré and Alfredo Jaar (who will be presenting a conference); films on the experience of urban lived space (Istanbul Echos, All I Imagine, In the Bubble, Greater Things); on the experience of being a refugee then (Red Trees) and now (Exodus); on modern architecture (Experimental City, A Spa. Architecture of Zawodzie and The Body and the Modernist City); on the market house bubble in China (Dream Empire); on the collective experience of urban design (Do More With Less, Die Laube); on the influence of video games on urban planning (Gaming the Real World) and; on the problem of scale in architecture (Pop Aye). The short films being exhibited both stand on their own and perform as an appetizer or an intermezzo.

Closing this year’s edition, we exhibit Moriyama San (2017) directed by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine about Yasuo Moriyama, the “urban hermit” who lives inside a house built by Ryue Nishizawa – one of the two founders of Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architecture studio SANAA back in 2005. The film fully embodies this edition’s motto by showing us Moriyama creating his own fiction within the space that Nishizawa created – an architectural fiction – through film. Three narratives intertwined. At the end of the day, it is hard to decide whether we are watching a fiction or a documentary, but contrary to what happened during most of the 20th century, nowadays, we do not have to decide. We can just enjoy and that is what we hope you do!

Diana Soeiro

Philosophy Research Fellow at Universidade Nova de Lisboa