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The Documentary Edge International Film Festival runs from 4-15 May in Wellington at the Roxy Cinema Miramar. The Infinite Happiness is screening Thursday 12th at 6pm. Details at www.docedge.nz
The documentary consists of a series of segments about the residents of a building called the 8 House designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. Each segment was preceded by appealingly designed title screens which included a diagram marking the relevant areas on a drawing of the building, the number of the day of filming, and the names of the people involved. The title screens and the slightly different scores for each segment ended up being some of the most enjoyable elements of the documentary for me. I also particularly enjoyed the last segment of the film which was shot on the first day of filming and was a series of simple static shots of the interiors of various apartments, some of them with their residents pictured as well. Other memorable moments included a segment in which the self proclaimed ‘village fool’ unicycled with a camera all the way from the top of the building to the bottom, and another titled ’the burden of success’ in which one resident talks about the stress of having thousands of tourists over the course of only two particular months disregarding his privacy and peace. These were the moments when the documentary most made itself known as socio-architectural portraiture and having at least this genre clarity gave me something to latch on to.
The use of segments to structure the film was effective in its simplicity, but I have no idea why they weren’t presented in chronological order of filming. There didn’t seem to be any narrative or argument that was being developed and the only thing that connected the lives of the subjects was the building itself. I found myself hungering for any kind of interweaving between the segments and the people. It was a collection of mostly charming but also incredibly inane snapshots. The frequent appearance of dogs, cats, birds, sheep and cows made me wonder if happiness is a glorified collection of youtube videos. I wanted to know why the documentary was being filmed specifically at this point in the life of the building.
From what I can gather from the reading that I have done since seeing the film, the filmmakers are trying to move away from the romanticisation of innovative architectural projects and are interested in blurring the line between video art and documentary. Incredibly what they have done is reinforce the romanticisation of an architectural project while minimising its innovation in space and social connectivity to the point where I’m barely convinced it was worth making a documentary about. I can’t help feeling that I might have loved this 85 minute documentary if it had been a 30 or 40 minute piece of video art. It would also be interesting to compare it with other films in the series entitled ‘Living Architectures’ which was acquired in full by MOMA in April of this year. As it is, I can safely recommend this documentary to you if you are interested in Danish architecture, the sociology of spaces, the documentary film genre, or if you have actually lived in this building.