Sometimes all it takes is a little imagination to make your city a better place to live in, at least this is the underlying message of “CROSSROADS: Building the Resilient City”, a captivating and though-provoking short film that recently premiered during the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021 (SBAU 2021). Written and directed by Seoul-based, German cinematographer and photographer Nils Clauss and Oslo-based, Irish filmmaker and videographer Neil Dowling, the film is inspired by the SBAU 2021’s theme of the same name which aims to promote more responsible urban growth. Unfolding across five mega cities across the world – namely, New York, Seoul, Mumbai, Paris and Nairobi – the film looks at the urban experience from the perspective of local people. Interweaving humour with contemplative scenes that turn the architectural backdrops into silent cast members, the film evocatively illustrates the necessity of creativity and imagination in order to survive and thrive at the interface of a changing world.
Short Film | Color | 1.90 (17 x 9 VIDEO) | 14' 14" | S. Korea, Paris, Kenya, India, United States | in English, Korean & French with English and Korean subtitles | 2021
A CONTENTED production in association with SEOUL BIENNALE OF ARCHITECTURE AND URBANISM 2021.
Executive producer GREEN KIM & JEONGWOOK CHA
Producer NILS CLAUSS
Director NILS CLAUSS & NEIL DOWLING
Writer NEIL DOWLING, NILS CLAUSS
Director of photography, editor, colorist, re-recording mixer NILS CLAUSS
Composer YEHEZKEL RAZ
Additional music THE WORLD OF HAPPINESS by DAE-SOO HAN, MARCH FOR JUSTICE by TENCHER
Graphic designer DADEUM GEUM
Curated by French architect Dominique Perrault Held, the third edition of SBAU (September 16 through October 31) is structured under five thematic “crossroads” – Above/Below, Heritage/Modern, Craft/Digital, Natural/Artificial and Safe/Risk – in order to highlight the importance of interactions and the “cross-fertilization of expertise and approaches” in the face of the complexities that shape the built environment. Clauss and Dowling, who are co-founders of Contented, a Seoul-based production company specialising in commercial and promotional films, who also work on a variety of individual projects including documentaries, thoughtfully matched these thematic dichotomies with five corresponding cities. Different in character, development and living standards, each one facing its own set of challenges, all five cities nevertheless share the same underlying dilemmas as they rapidly expand (by 2045, the world's urban population will increase by 50% according to the World Bank).
Conceived as a creative documentary, the film eschews expert interviewees and explanatory charts and diagrams, focusing instead on local people and how the built environment that surrounds them impact their lives and their decisions. “We felt that it was important to make a film that looked at the human experience at these Crossroads”, the directors explain, “where the city is changing both physically and culturally, where technology, resources, inequality, population growth, all play a role in the mix of how people adapt and modify their habits and behaviours and shape their surroundings to fit the new realities”.
To say that filming in five cities around the world during a pandemic was a challenge would be an understatement. From strict covid-19 restrictions in Seoul due to the Delta variant, to communicating across different time zones, to securing locations in New York, Paris and Mumbai on the film’s budget, Claus and Dowling had to find creative ways to realise their vision. Working with a different team in each city in response to travel disruptions and logistical issues also meant that they had the additional task of implementing a uniform style across the five cities.
In Nairobi, the film takes on the Natural/Artificial theme focusing on artist Shiviske Shivisi and her “nature bus” project. By spray-painting one of the city’s “matatus” (privately owned minibuses that sprung up a few decades ago in the absence of public transport) and filling it with plants, she wants to educate the passengers about the environment – ironically for a city surrounded by wild nature, Nairobi sorely lacks green spaces.
In Seoul (Above/Below), the film follows train conductor Jaejin Park as he explores the city’s unnoticed underground spaces in order to highlight their role in the city’s daily functions as well as their potential in the city’s future growth, while in Paris (Heritage/Modern), we get to roam the streets with actor and aspiring tour guide Frederic Buret as he tries to share the city’s layered history and hidden charm with passers-by – not an easy task as most of them are glued to their smartphones. As humorous as Buret’s attempts to engage with strangers in Paris is Ishan Singh’s plan to escape Mumbai’s congestion and cacophony with the help of his virtual reality headset (Craft/Digital) – to the consternation of his mother.
Finally, in New York (Safe/Risk), the film tells the story of Carloyn Kang who in response to rising racist assaults against minorities in public spaces, created a safety alarm that can be attached to your clothes or bag and which alerts others if you are in danger. Quite simple in concept yet very impactful in its usefulness, while Carloyn’s invention encapsulates the creativity and imagination that is needed in order to tackle the urban, social and environmental challenges we are facing, just as importantly, her confidence and conviviality serve as a reminder that positive thinking is essential in building a resilient city.