Austin x Design: Gary Hustwit's lastest design-centric doc, Urbanized, explorescities and their inhabitants
Last night, as part of the month-long Austin x Design series, the Drafthouse hosted filmmaker Gary Hustwit and documentary, Urbanized, in association with SXSW, AIGA Austin, IDSA Austin and AIA Austin.
In a surreal moment, as Hustwit was making his introductory remarks at the 7 pm showing, he also broke the news about the death of Steve Jobs. Audible gasps signaled that many of us had yet to learn of the sad loss. An avid social media user (@gary_hustwit), he referenced the fact that the Twitterverse was on fire about the news (possibly presuming that we hadn’t yet heard because of the phones-off protocol). But on a more somber note, he acknowledged the impact that Steve Jobs had had on his own creative pursuits, thanking him for essentially inspiring him to produce a series of films dedicated to design’s impact on humanity at every scale.
While his first film, Helvetica, was about the influence of an iconic typeface on communication, his second, Objectified zoomed out and looked at product and industrial design. As Hustwit’s third and newest design-centric film, Urbanized was created as an homage to cities and the people who occupy them. Watching the documentary was somewhat akin to taking an architectural history course—but consolidated into an enjoyably informative 85-minute narrative.
Both academic and accessible in its discussion of current issues facing the world’s growing urban populations, the film’s case study format led viewers on a fast-paced tour of major global cities from Bogotá to Copenhagen. Touching on numerous angles of today’s urban design dialogue—from sustainability to sanitation and public transit—the documentary features critiques and commentary from architects, planners, citizens and thought-leaders. Urban design is presented as a (mostly) well-intentioned solution to these puzzling problems.
When asked what his favorite city was during the post-screening Q+A, Hustwit gave an appropriately vague response, at once acknowledging his love of Austin (although it was his first non-SXSW experience) and genuinely adding that he finds something to appreciate about every place he visits.
Even though the 2.5-year project led him through the highs and lows of urban development (think Mumbai slums) he remains hopeful for the future of cities, citing increased citizen involvement as the saving grace. Admittedly done with the design documentaries—creating the idea of a trilogy helped give him a "necessary stopping point"—he left the door open to pursue possible narrative or fiction-based projects.
According to the Urbanized website, the film will eventually also air via special television broadcasts, and will be released in digital formats and on DVD.