The idea that architecture is capable of transforming cities and societies is widely accepted, but it is the actions of the people who inhabit and give meaning to architecture that carry the greatest weight in these processes. Where Life Happens, the 10th edition of Arquiteturas Film Festival harnesses the power of moving images as a tool for promoting architecture. As well as film screenings, the festival programme features talks, tours and installations, which act as a springboard for more in-depth discussions of the themes and research behind the films. In this conversation with Paulo Moreira, we talk about the role of cinema in disseminating architectural values, what the Canadian Center for Architecture brings to the conversation as a guest institution and how the city of Porto and its inhabitants are both location and protagonists of this year’s festival.
This interview is developed within the partnership with the 10th edition of the Arquiteturas Film Festival "Where Life Happens", held in Porto from June 27 to July 01, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
KOOZ What prompted the theme for this year’s festival? How does it approach and explore life in relation to the built environment and contemporary architectural practice?
PAULO MOREIRA Each year, AFF aims to explore the connection between architecture and society. Where Life Happens emerged from the idea that architecture goes beyond material and physical structures. In this edition, we place the relationship between architecture and people at the forefront of the programme, highlighting the discipline as the backdrop for human interaction. The festival features film screenings and incorporates debates, installations and tours. It emphasises that all voices are relevant and deserve a seat at the table. Architects and directors share the stage with individuals who inhabit the rooms, buildings or places showcased in the films. For example, the festival features films about the rehabilitation of Albergues do Porto, a shelter for homeless people and the iconic Mercado do Bolhão, in Porto.
Sara Nunes, "De Volta à Cidade: Mercado do Bolhão", 2023, ©buildingpictures
These film screenings are complemented by guided tours and conversations with film director Sara Nunes, the architect Nuno Valentim, and individuals who have a personal connection to the buildings, such as Laudelino Jesus, an employee from Albergues who experienced homelessness, and Paula Silva, a fruit vendor from Bolhão.
Another session focuses on the transformation of the Bairro Alto neighbourhood in Lisbon through the film Death of a City (2022), by João Rosas. This film sheds light on the lives and aspirations of those directly involved in the construction of luxury apartments in the area, particularly migrant workers living on the outskirts of the city. These stories provide powerful testimonies about the impact of architecture on daily life.
Where Life Happens emerged from the idea that architecture goes beyond material and physical structures.
KOOZ Articulated through three main sections—which span from the Official Programme to the Guest Institution Programme and Competition Programme—the festival indeed activates a network of spaces throughout the city of Porto. According to what parameters were the sites chosen? What is the relationship between the festival and the city?
PM When we took over the festival in 2021, we co-organised a transition edition with its founder Sofia Mourato, in Lisbon. We decided to move the festival to Porto, where we have a stronger base and an established network, as it was important for us that the festival was integrated into the ongoing discussions and collaborations at INSTITUTO, a cultural venue I founded in 2018 that hosts a cultural programme related to architecture and critical thinking.
Since INSTITUTO is not a cinema venue, we had to form alliances with local partners. We were fortunate to get the support of Batalha Centro de Cinema, the University of Porto and other institutions. Last year, the renovations of Batalha were not completed in time for the festival, but this year we are excited to have this emblematic cinema as a main venue, together with Casa Comum (run by the University), INSTITUTO, Albergues do Porto, Mercado do Bolhão, and Circo de Ideias. These diverse locations contribute to the understanding of architecture as a “stage” for life and dwelling. By joining forces, we aim to democratise access to architectural culture throughout the city.
This year we are excited to have diverse locations contribute to the understanding of architecture as a “stage” for life and dwelling.
KOOZ This year the AFF will partner with the Canadian Centre for Architecture as the “Guest Institution”. What defined the CCA as institutional partner for AFF’s 10th edition?
PM Before we started organising AFF, the festival featured a guest country. We decided to shift the focus towards engaging with entities that use film as a tool for architecture dissemination and research, rather than celebrating the film production of a particular nation.
The collaboration with the CCA started with ongoing conversations and a convergence of ideas. The CCA is renowned in Portugal for hosting Álvaro Siza’s archive and holding archives of important architects. However, it is also an institution dedicated to addressing contemporary issues and making architectural knowledge more accessible to the general public. This mission resonated with AFF and INSTITUTO generally, and it has always served as an inspiration for our work.
The initial seeds of collaboration may have been planted when we co-organised the festival in Lisbon in 2021, where the CCA had a film in the competition programme, What It Takes to Make a Home (2019), the first in a three-part documentary series conceived by Giovanna Borasi and directed by Daniel Schwartz. Although there was no Guest Institution section at that time, the idea began to take shape unconsciously. Like much of the work we do, it was a gradual, organic process.
Paulo Moreira with Giovanna Borasi at Batalha Centro de Cinema, Porto, in January 2023. Photos by Ivo Tavares Studio
Two years later, we are screening the world première of When We Grow Older(2023),—the final film of the CCA’s trilogy—and hosting a debate with Giovanna and Daniel, in the festival’s opening session. A wonderful outcome that exceeded my expectations! The Guest Institution programme also includes a session featuring rare finds from the CCA collection, such as Gordon Matta-Clark’s Conical Intersect (1975), an installation at INSTITUTO exploring the role of film as a curatorial tool, conceived in collaboration with Dyvik Kahlen and supplemented by ‘Lunchtime Toasts’ with various participants, and a debate on ‘Film & Publishing’ at Circo de Ideias. Through the Guest Institution programme, the public has the opportunity to perceive architecture from the perspective of its inhabitants and gain insight into the role of cultural institutions in public debates.
The public has the opportunity to perceive architecture from the perspective of its inhabitants and gain insight into the role of cultural institutions in public debates.
KOOZ This year’s open call received 183 submissions. Nineteen of those will be screened, organised into seven thematic sessions. Where do these films see life happening today?
PM The films submitted via the open call explore this year’s theme from different angles. The selection committee, coordinated by Sofia Mourato and comprised of Daniela Silva, Barbara Gocníková, Dinis Sottomayor and Vasco Mendes, proposed seven thematic sessions to organise the selected documentaries, fiction and experimental films: Futures, Symphonies, Memory, Empathy, Materials, Communities and Female Gaze.
Many of the selected films delve into the spatial and social inequalities that shape contemporary life, particularly within urban contexts. For example, 13 square meters(2021) by Kamil Bembnista and Ayham Dalal, explores the notion of refugee camps as places of both “care and control”; the Portuguese film Reconstrução (2022) by Francisco Noronha, raises questions about the significance of urban fringes; Neighbourhood Unit (2022) by Tono Mejuto provides a glimpse into the living rooms of residents in a social housing apartment block; and On the Margins examines the importance of spatial thresholds for intergenerational co-living.
Some films tackle the intersections between urban and political issues—such as Lines (2021) by Barbora Sliepková set in the post-socialist city of Bratislava, or Shafāfiyyāh (2023) by Batoul Faour, which explores the material politics of glass in Beirut. Other films emphasise the impact of architecture on human experiences and social interactions. For instance, Big Ears Listen With Feet (2022) by Bêka & Lemoine presents the daily life and practice of the deaf Thai architect Boonserm Premthada, who uses his body as a listening device, perceiving vibrations and resonances around him. Elisabeth Bruns’ 3xShapes of Home (2020) takes the audience on an intimate search for home, belonging and familiarity.
The jury, composed of Didier Fiúza Faustino, Cristina Monteiro, Francisco Lobo, Sara Nunes, and Nuno Coelho will award the best documentary, fiction and experimental films. There will also be a “Social Awareness” award, introduced since the festival moved to Porto, which aims to recognise films addressing social and spatial justice, equality and cultural diversity. Additionally, the audience will have the opportunity to vote for the “Audience Award”.
By including films and installations that encompass interdisciplinary spatial practices, the festival bridges the gap between different understandings of the discipline and stimulates critical discussions and dissonance.
Tono Mejuto, "Neighbourhood Unit", 2022. Competition Programme at the 10th Arquiteturas Film Festival "Where Life Happens". ©Tono Mejuto
KOOZ The architectural milieu is often criticised for the use of self-referential language and for only talking to an audience predominantly made up of other architects. How does the festival seek to expand the architectural discourse to engage with a wider audience? What are the opportunities which can arise in expanding “our” public? What topics, criticalities and opportunities do you hope will be brought to the surface?
PM Arquiteturas Film Festival aims to expand the architectural discourse and engage with a wider audience by using the power of film as a medium. The social gatherings encourage dialogue and create opportunities for engagement beyond traditional architectural settings. The CCA installation at INSTITUTO remains on display for one month after the festival, aiming to reach a broader audience, but hopefully also attracting those who are interested in conventional forms of architectural knowledge.
By including films and installations that encompass interdisciplinary spatial practices, the festival bridges the gap between different understandings of the discipline and stimulates critical discussions and dissonance. It embraces voices and topics that may be unknown or unrecognised within and beyond the architectural field.Film, as an approachable medium with which a wide range of people can relate, provides an opportunity to challenge architecture’s limited reflective stance. By presenting architecture through film, the festival emphasises its inseparable connection with daily life.
The conversations, talks, tours, and installations included in the festival programme serve as a platform for more in-depth discussions of the themes, processes and research behind the films.
The conversations, talks, tours, and installations included in the festival programme serve as a platform for more in-depth discussions of the themes, processes and research behind the films. The aspirations for these conversations are rooted in the belief that architecture should be a public concern and that engaging with a variety of perspectives is essential.
Paulo Moreira is a Porto-based architect and researcher. He graduated from FAUP (Portugal) having studied also at Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio. He completed a PhD at London Metropolitan University, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Lisbon. He is the founder and artistic director of INSTITUTO, and the director of Arquiteturas Film Festival. With his work on informal communities in Angola, he was a finalist in the RIBA President’s Award for Research 2019 and a recipient of the 2021 Grant to Individuals awarded by the Graham Foundation. Moreira is the editor of Critical Neighbourhoods – The Architecture of Contested Communities (Park Books, 2022).