The art world loves its iconoclasts, and this year's selection of films for the Art, Architecture + Design (AA+D) series for the Newport Beach Film Festival brings forth several documentaries highlighting creative visionaries who broke the mold in ways controversial or inspirational. Starting in 2009, the AA+D series has screened roughly 60 such films, many of them making their West Coast premiere at the festival.
For the past six years, AA+D programmer Leslie Feibleman has selected the films, as well as those for the festival's partnership with Orange County Museum of Art, Cinema Orange. One of the biggest pleasures Feibleman derives from curating the series, she says, is the chance to gain insight on new subjects. “There's a variety of different subjects every year, so every film brings in a new audience or an audience that's curious about the subject matter of the film and wants to know more,” she says. So even those who don't know Richard Neutra from Richard Serra can find something enticing to watch, as films relating to art, design, architecture, photography and fashion are included every season. Some of our favorites for 2014:
• The shortest film in the AA+D series is Obey the Artist, a documentary on graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, who provides special insight into his creative process and what has driven him to continue his art practice despite being arrested multiple times (even once before his own art opening). A must-see for all of OC's self-titled street artists.
• Fabergé—A Life of Its Own takes on the classically decorated eggs, from their beginning as tchotchkes for the Russian czars to their impossible survival under the Soviet regime. Since then, Peter Carl Fabergé's creations have made their own journey through Europe and abroad, and this documentary discusses their timeless allure throughout the years.
• Eugene Tssui, seen by many as an eccentric because of his far-out designs of homes and buildings, is the subject of Kyung Lee's documentary TELOS: The Fantastic World of Eugene Tssui. Considered a misfit in his own community, Tssui is a radical free-thinker whose résumé makes Thomas Edison look like a loaf: clothing designer, world-class athlete, architect, critical thinker, even musician. His latest project is designing Telos, a futuristic-shaped community center for people to visit and learn about “evolutionary architecture” in Mount Shasta. Coincidentally, Telos is also the name of the mythical subterranean city underneath the city's surface—um, yeah. Tssui's quirky buildings have garnered him attention and controversy, but Lee's film gets to the heart of Tssui and his creative passion.
• Geoffrey Madeja's documentary Citizen of the Planet profiles Paolo Soleri, an elderly architect and philosopher with a utopian vision that some call genius and others chaotic with his overly elaborate, futuristic urban design that claim to have better impacts on the environment. Having studied under Frank Lloyd Wright in his youth and becoming a fixture in the media for his outlandish ideas, Soleri is revered by many and scorned by critics. Madeja's well-shot film takes a humanistic approach in discovering just how much of a dreamer Soleri actually is. The answer is a lot, but his passion for design and ecology has inspired thousands of architecture students over the years.
• Director Diana Agrest was formerly a member of the very collective of critical-thinking architects from the 1960s that she chronicles in her film The Making of an Avant-Garde: The Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies 1967-1984. Coming together in New York, architects from the States and around the world gathered for the exchange of ideas that launched a more challenging and artistic architectural practice in hopes of veering away from the discipline's commercial endeavors and conventions. It's a who's-who of some of the biggest names in architecture of that era, and somehow, the interviews Agrest captures of her colleagues discussing design and theory early in their careers make architecture seem strangely sexy and cool.
• The 1960s brought America the Pop Art movement, but the lesser-known Chicago Imagists produced their own brand of countercultural artwork that divided the art world in disgust and admiration. Leslie Buchbinder's documentary Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists highlights the circle of artists who culled their influences—including blues, comics, pinball-machine art and cartoons—to make surreal and influential work. Though unappreciated by art enthusiasts outside of the Second City, it inspired the work of later artists such as Jeff Koons, Gary Panter, Chris Ware and Amy Schulman. Ware's own admission of directly stealing some of his drawing style from the Imagists is a juicy, impressive moment.
• Impossible Light is the festival's cross-over film into the Cinema Orange series, telling the story of Leo Villareal and his team of artists, engineers and producers working together to build the light installation adorning Oakland's Bay Bridge. Jeremy Ambers' doc gets into how they pulled off a feat that involved 25,000 LED lights. From finding funds to securing public permits, not only does Impossible Light serve as an impressive document of amazing public art, but it also shows future artists looking to do similar work how irrelevant the word impossible is to their creative dreams.