My Architect

Director: Nathaniel Kahn

Topic: Personal journey toward an understanding of the enigmatic life and work of Louis I. Kahn; filmmaker is son of the influential architect, who maintained three committed relationships and three separate families.

Financier: Exec producer Darrell Friedman from the Associated Jewish Federation in Baltimore was a linchpin in assembling financing, raised entirely from individuals and foundations such as the Pew Charitable Trust, Weinberg Foundation and Philadelphia Foundation, among others; filmed over five years with several stops to raise more money.

Budget: Not disclosed, but “very modest,” according to director.

Shooting format: Buildings shot mostly in super-16mm, interviews in Beta SP, limited use of DV; blowup to 35mm done at DuArt using Arri Laser for tape-to-film transfer.

Why it made the list: As much a story about an American family — or triple family — as a film about architecture; Kahn succeeds in tracing an emotional connection to each building, subtly humanizing and drawing out the spiritual nature of the imposing structures while exploring his complex, unresolved relationship to the contradictory man.

Memorable scenes: Footage of the Salk Institute not only conveys the monumental quality of Louis Kahn’s designs but shots of the filmmaker rollerblading in the building’s courtyard inscribe a link with his late father and with the man’s work. In another scene, Kahn visits his aunts in Maine, who offer a refreshing counterpoint to the film’s architectural appreciation with their pragmatic view of the subject as a family troublemaker. Arguably the most moving moment is architecture professor Shamsul Wares’ eloquent summation of Kahn’s legacy to the infant democracy of poverty-stricken Bangladesh via his ambitious capital building, completed after the architect’s death.

Distribution/broadcast status: Theatrical distribution via New Yorker Films in association with HBO/Cinemax; HBO has cable rights.

Exposure to date: Opened in New York and Philadelphia in November, setting new house records at Gotham’s Film Forum, where its run has been extended; expanding into other key markets in January. Premiered at New Directors/New Films festival in New York and won awards at Philadelphia, Chicago, Silver Docs/AFI and Hamptons festivals.

On making the film: “One of the things I love about documentary is the leap of faith involved,” says Kahn. “You’re going out without a story; you have just a feeling. I always remember that wonderful thing Cassavetes said: ‘If you know what your movie’s about before you start, then you probably shouldn’t make it.’ The most compelling documentaries are the ones where you make discoveries along the way. I guess the idea for this film began when I was 11 years old and opened the newspaper and saw that according to my father’s obituary, I didn’t exist. It’s been rattling around in my head since then and it’s a mystery I wanted to unravel. I wanted to tell an uplifting story that’s about love and forgiveness, and reaching across the distance that separates people. And I so hope that audiences feel that.”

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