Sundance + Slamdance 2022 (Design Observer)

Susan Morris

March 4, 2022

This year’s Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals, usually held in Park City, Utah were entirely virtual, and the effects of COVID were felt in the offerings both in overt and subtle ways. Loss, frustration, submission, intolerance, reassessments and calamity are mixed with survival, honor, care, perseverance and ingenuity. Institutional portraits, vanished worlds, invention and horror are some of the themes that showcased design and the built environment on screen.

The most architecturally aware film was After Yang by the American-based South Korean filmmaker Kogonada, not surprising after his first film Columbus (2017) set in the haven for mid-century Modern architecture in Indiana fostered by J. Irwin Miller of the Cummins Engine Company. In the new film, he presents a post-apocalyptical world a few years hence, where his implied question is “How do you consider the future”? His answer is by using a distinctive 1962 “tract house” Eichler Home in Chestnut Ridge, NY designed by architects Claude Oakland (Anshen + Allen) and Jones & Emmons, one of only three built outside of California where they flourished, as the main location. With flat roof, large glass sliding doors, and spacious courtyards, the physical space feels both Asian and Scandinavian (employing the Danish concept of hygge for contentment) as interpreted by production designer Alexandra Schaller, which sets the tone for this story about a “certified refurbished” android or technosapian named Yang who has stopped working. He is considered a member of the family composed of an interracial couple and their adopted Chinese daughter to whom Yang connects her Asian heritage. The tranquil home with all rooms facing a central courtyard, features distinctive lighting fixtures — a kitchen wall with horizontal light rods punctuated by a diagonal light slash, a geometric chandelier, a Noguchi-like paper-shade, fireplace lighting that is also a heating source. A self-driving car the father Jake (Colin Farrell) drives in his quest to get Yang repaired, utilized a Toyota Sera hatchback with butterfly doors and glass roof canopy that was only made for the Japanese market from 1990-96 which afforded Kogonada’s preference for shooting these scenes reflected in the glass, as we pass through tunnels which turn green when he drives beneath parks or blue to signify a waterway. Pottery used at home or in Jake’s stylish, minimalists tea shop, is by Japanese brand Kinto, or hand-thrown by artists, and no plastic was used at all by the art department to reflect a plastic-free world. We glimpse a cityscape with parabolic skyscrapers and an expansive dome, which could be from our time or the future. The director aimed for Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu’s (1903-1963) style of precise compositions, symmetry and tranquility. The film won the Sundance Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.