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Urbanized - a documentary by Gary Hustwit - a review

Let me start out this monologue by saying that I really loved the movie Helvetica by Gary Hustwit. People have said to me, “What? An entire movie about a font?!?”. Yes. It was a movie about a font. It was such an amazing movie that I ended up buying a copy for my Mom.

Following up on the success from Helvetica, Gary Hustwit put out Objectified, a movie about manufactured products and the people who design them. It was also pretty darned good. Not quite as great as Helvetica, but I was still a fan. When I heard that Gary was doing a third movie in this trilogy, I immediately bought tickets to the screening at Kabuki Theater here in SF.

The movie is Urbanized. A synopsis from the Urbanized site:

Urbanized is a feature-length documentary about the design of cities, which looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers.

My thoughts on the movie?

I enjoyed it. It was in the same style as both Helvetica and Objectified. Great soundtrack, beautifully shot scenes of some of my favorite urban cities. It must have been a hell of a trip around the world to get some of these shots. The storyline was similar to past movies. Lots of interviews with influential people from architects to city planners. I especially loved the Brasilia set. The movie was informative, but not condescending. It definitely had some laughable moments like when the Brazilian architect who had designed 23 cathedrals proclaimed that he is actually an atheist.

But I do have one complaint (come on, you knew it was coming). My criticism of the movie was that it needed about 20 minutes cut out of it. And that 20 minutes was the final story about Stuttgart 21, an urban redevelopment project, and the gathering of the citizens against the government. Whilst it was an interesting piece it felt misplaced and, frankly, it brought the mood of the film down. I walked out of the theater not remembering what the final message of the movie really was because it had focused so much on the police brutality and killing of old trees that I was lost.

Honestly, I think that that storyline could have been put in somewhere in the middle of the film. On the flipside, there was a really inspiring interview with the former mayor of Bogato, Enrique Peñalosa, who is now a consultant on urban planning. He gave concrete examples of working strategies to bring better public transportation and bike routes to the city. It was really eye opening and provocative to think about how these strategies could be implemented in our own local environments. I really wish that the movie would have ended in an upbeat where the audience was left thinking that changes can be made and how they might be a part of that change.

All in all, I would still recommend this movie to people. Gary always does a great job of highlighting mundane subjects into something of beauty and Urbanized is no exception.

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