Heather Purcell Leja of Design OnScreen talks architecture and modernist preservation

How have architectural film festivals in other places come together? Is Design OnScreen asked to bring a pre-chosen set of films, or do you curate?

It goes both ways -- in some places we've been asked to curate the films. We try to make the film (choices) the best and most recent, but also films that appeal to that particular community or region where they're being shown. We did that for New Zealand and Venice. We presented their first ever architecture film festival as part of the Venice Architectural Biennale. But in other cases, general film festivals and other architectural and design film festivals will ask to be allowed to screen some of our films as well as make suggestions about films we have gotten to know. We're not just promoting our own films; we like to see the very best. The ones that we think are higher quality we promote so they can be seen as widely as possible.

Does Design OnScreen have a new film or festival in the works right now?

Yes. Right now we're doing fundraising for a film on modernist architecture in Houston. That might fall into the unsung places category -- people say, oh, Houston has good architecture? (Laughs.) But they really do, and they have a strong foundation -- it is a classic post-war boomtown in the U.S. and it is all taking place in the context of a city that has no zoning. So anything goes -- it really is the wild west.

We're working with a very talented filmmaker named Sam Wainwright Douglas, who is based in Austin. He did a film a few years ago called Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio that was very well-received and had a PBS run. His father is an architect in Houston, so he has a particular knowledge and entrée into houses there.

We've gotten a grant from the Graham Foundation in Chicago, which funds architecturally-related projects. The Houston Architecture Foundation has also given us a grant, and Design OnScreen will be providing about a third of the funding. We have to raise about $35,000 to make that film happen. Something we like to do is work with a local non-profit in whatever community we're either staging a festival in or making a film about -- there's a local non-profit called HoustonMod that is dedicated to helping people learn to appreciate and go to see good modernist architecture in the area. We're working with them on applying for grants and also identifying the experts there who will consult on the film and make it as good as it can be.

Houston as a hub for architecture. Who knew?

It might be one of the lessons people take from these films -- whether it is about Palm Springs, or Long Island or Houston -- what is my community have? Do I know? Can I find out and care and get involved? Then they usually see that there is a group already there they can work with. It is one of the most rewarding things about what we do: with the films and the screenings, because we partner with local entities, it helps to strengthen the local design community. It brings out people who are connected, say, on the internet. It brings them out to meet other people who care about architecture and design in real time. They can exchange business cards, have a drink, and hopefully projects grow from there.

Catch the three remaining films in Design OnScreen's Architecture + Film series through Friday, September 28, at the Denver filmCenter. At 7 p.m. tonight, there will be a showing of Detropia, a look into the past, present and future of Detroit through the lens of a sustainable culture. For more information on Design OnScreen's work, visit the organization's website.

Location Info


Sie FilmCenter

2510 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Film

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