Last time we wandered the halls of La Scala in Milan and juke joints of Memphis to discover (and hear) how music inspires the dynamism and identity of cities, essential foundations for the post-carbon cities of tomorrow. The fourth step takes us on a vision quest through Malmö and Minneapolis, two more POCACITO cities.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
There are 171,476 words in the English language.
The standard frame rate for the motion picture industry is 24 frames per second.
A two-hour film is worth the entire English language 1000 times over.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit exaggerated. But there is no doubt that motion pictures, ever since the Lumière brothers first filmed workers exiting a factory, capture more than just an event or a location, but express a vision, a sense of the possible. Films merge imagination and reality, which is what we will need to build the post-carbon cities of tomorrow: visions made real by placing them in the context of daily life.
Minneapolis may not strike most people as a cinema town. If you’ve already familiarized yourself with our POCACITO cities, you might wonder why we chose Minneapolis to talk about film than, say, Las Vegas (Casino, anyone?) or Detroit (Detroit Rock City, Dreamgirls, to start). But for one, we like surprises. And two, Minneapolis has royalty.
Prince’s songs and stage presence have indelibly altered the music landscape. But his iconic film Purple Rain, with the song of the same name, changed the way people look at the city of lakes. Prince’s Minneapolis—motorcycles, rock and roll, and a rebellious nature eager to confront the past—inspired a new generation to progressively reinvent the city in a non-Lake Wobegon kind of way.
A more nuanced approach to deconstructing Minneapolis comes from the Coen brothers. The siblings were raised in a Minneapolis suburb, and it is impossible for those of us who know the area well to not notice how their dark humor is used to break down the stereotypical, though often accurate, societal structures of the Twin Cities. True, Big Lebowski and O brother where art thou?, weren’t about Minneapolis, but Fargo and a A Serious Man certainly were, and they presented a mirror for the area that couldn’t be ignored.
Getting to the heart of the city doesn’t require a Hollywood studio. In a city filled with independent-minded doers and thinkers, Flying Pieces Productions led by Norah Shapiro is giving cinema lovers a view into the diversity of stories found in Minneapolis. Her feature-length documentary, If You Dare, about a theatre company that mentors at-risk youth captured imaginations about the potential of individuals, communities, and collaboration.
Seeing the city as it is while expressing its potential—this is how film can help us to develop the ideas for urban development that will lead to the post-carbon cities of tomorrow.
Minneapolis also has a series of film festivals that celebrate the changing face of the city. Cine Latino, Mizna (an Arab film festival), and Reelabilities (a New York-based festival about people living with disabilities that also took place in Minneapolis this past year) are increasing the vibrancy of the city’s image and expanding its potential.
Across the pond in Malmö, we find a similar effect from film festivals. The fifth Malmö Arab Film Festival took place in October this year, founding a discourse on social and political conditions that can take place in the universal language of film. Since 1984, Malmö has also convened BUFF, a festival for films focused on children and young people. And the Nordisk Panorama, a Scandinavian documentary and short films festival, has made Malmö its permanent home since 2013. These festivals place Malmö at the forefront of conversations about envisioning inclusive, sustainable societies.
If we use film to trace the evolution of Malmö, there’s perhaps no better place to start than Bo Widerberg’s Kvarteret Korpen, renamed Raven’s End in English. The 1963 film, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, depicts working class life in 1930s Malmö. Following the aspiring young writer Anders, the film posits the essentialist questions of every coming-of-age portrait, but the direction makes clear that the environment, as much as the protagonist, is facing these choices.
If we fast forward fifty years to the 2013 documentary feature Coping Mechanism from Phil Evans, we find miles of super8 film that capture the choices the city has made. The documentary goes inside the Malmö skateboarding scene, showing how the area’s enthusiasts took it upon themselves to develop space for their passions.
The city followed their lead and began working with the skateboarding community, collaborating to create a new vision of the future of Malmö. The film has been screened worldwide, serving as evidence of how skateboarders, or any community, can inspire an entire city to reimagine what is possible.
Cities are often the stars of the movies, showcasing the glamour and grit of high society and back alleyways, offering audiences the chance to escape from reality for a while and experience a bit of what could be. But when we leave the theatre, why not bring some of that with us? Why not make our vision reality? Building the post-carbon cities of tomorrow requires some fantasy, some audacity, and some humor. Where better to find those than in the world of film?