A Film that Touches the Soul

Coast Modern documentary finds new fans with impressive new DVD and downloads
A Film that Touches the Soul

Too many people let their passions get the best of them. We've all met, for example, that devotee of architecture who'll lecture ad infinitum about "the skewed geometry of the plan."

Filmmakers Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome don't do that, and that's why their film, Coast Modern, is doing well.

The film, which premiered in May 2012, has recently been released as a two-DVD set (the second disk provides additional architect interviews, among other bonuses), and has proven a winner on iTunes. In Canada, it came in as number two among paid downloads, and in the United States among the top ten, Froome says. It is available in several other countries.

A Film that Touches the Soul

But what's gotten Froome excited is the reaction from everyday folks at screenings—like the "great bunch of kids in Burlington, Vermont."

"It's a film that relates to real people with real lives, not just to architects," he says.

The film focuses on homes in California, the Pacific Northwest, and Canada, featuring interviews with homeowners, historians, and such architects as Ray Kappe, Michelle Kaufmann, and George Suyama. The camera roams, past families and their pets, through what Wallpaper magazine called "a mouth-watering array of domestic design."

"We wanted to make a film about architecture that would have an emotional context," Froome says. "We wanted to show that modernism is not an intellectual, white wall, unattainable aesthetic. It was designed on the West Coast for everybody—for children, for dogs, for insurance agents, for everybody."

Froome, who lives in an Eichler-like modern home by builder Bob Lewis in Vancouver, knows his architectural history. But the film, which was limited to 56 minutes because major funding came from a TV broadcaster, eschews detailed history for "bold gestures with short sequences," Froome says. "We made the case for preservation [of modern homes] in one sentence."

A Film that Touches the Soul
Coast Modern co-director Gavin Froome

With its imagery of water dropping, of fog and bay views and bamboo, the film has an Asian, meditative quality that is enhanced by the music, most of it composed by Bernard and Froome, who share a background in design and music.

Coast Modern makes the case that modern residential architecture of the West Coast kind—"woodsy, organic, accessible," Froome says, "not the stark International Style or the East Coast style"—is good for your mental health and for your soul.

That's why the film is selling even in such far-flung locales as New Zealand, Froome surmises. "People are just interested in subtlety and humility and things in life that can make things richer and deeper. Good architecture can, it can make your life better."

Froome and Bernard argue that modernism was a failure, at least in the marketplace. "These were not houses that people lined up to buy," one resident of a modern home says. "This was a moment in time, and not enough people loved these houses."

Modernism, however, remains relevant today, as Froome and Bernard will explore in their next movie, which will focus on urbandensity, Froome says.

With more and more people and less and less open land, he wonders, "Where do we go from here?" The question becomes, "How to make cities beautiful," he says, "how we can learn from modernism."

For more on the Coast Modern DVD and download, click here.

Photos: courtesy Twofold Films