Dutch Filmmakers Focus on Joe Eichler

'Welcome to My Eichler Home' is built around people who live in and love their homes, and welcome a small crew of Dutch filmmakers inside. They also welcome an international audience. Photos from the film courtesy of Robert Wiering

Brush up on your Dutch. But even if your command of the language is nil, check out this latest cinematic tribute to Joe Eichler and Eichler Homes, a work-in-progress documentary from a well-known film director from the Netherlands. (The password is KunstuurEichler@16.)

‘Welcome to My Eichler Home: The Lesson of Joseph Eichler 1900-1974,’ which focuses on ‘de Bungalows van Joseph Eichler,’ is only 24 minutes long in its current incarnation. And although it is in Dutch, most of the interviews are in English with Dutch subtitles.

This version was done for a popular TV program in the Netherlands, ‘Kunstur,’ “a series about art, design, architecture, and such,” says Robert Wiering, the director.

“These days I’m finishing the longer version. It will be about 45 minutes.”

“We hope to show the film on international festivals,” says Wiering, whose firm is Drijver Films. “We hope that the film will find its way to architecture schools around the world. We will probably make it available for streaming and downloading, perhaps via Vimeo.”

Although only a short version is available online today, a longer version should be available soon and may be shown in festivals.

He also says there will be an international version, either with English subtitles or English voiceover.

The film is a cheery affair, with a series of Eichler owners opening their front doors to Wiering, his wife and sound woman Marjolein Leemhuis, and Edwin Oostmeijer, a former journalist who works today as a residential developer in Holland and serves as the film’s host.

“Welcome to our Eichler home,” the homeowners say. It’s Dutch it’s “Welcom in Mein Eichler huis.”

In the film, Wiering says, Edwin is portrayed “as a developer himself [who] wants to find out who Eichler was and what his genius was.”

One of the families we visit in the film is headed by Brett Wickens and Coralie Langston-Jones

This is the second Eichler documentary to come along in recent years – but the first to show the strong interest internationally that seems to be developing around these homes. The first was ‘People in Glass Houses’ by Monique Lombardelli.

The cinematography in ‘Welcom’ is great, with aerial views, shots of Edwin crusing from the Summit, an Eichler high-rise on Russian Hill, to Upper Lucas Valley in Marin County, where many scenes are set.

We meet Dan Liebermann and Tibor Fecskes, architects who worked for Eichler Homes, and Jim Dougherty and Frank LaHorgue, both of whom worked for Eichler.

“It wasn’t just another house,” Dougherty explains of the appeal of the homes. “It was a way of life.”

The film also visits Eichler’s all-steel X-100 home in San Mateo Highlands, where the author of this blog discusses the history of the fabled home and even bangs the wall so viewers can hear the clang of steel.

Dave Weinstein, author of this blog and a talking head in the film, makes music with steel inside the X-100.

“In the longer version,” Wiering says, “there will be a very nice scene with Jonathan Braun about the pictures of his father Ernie. Due to the 25-minute format, I had to cut that out.”

“Also there will be a scene with the neighbors of Catherine Munson. They collect '60s furniture and explain the optimism of those days. They shine a light on that energetic period that seems to have come back now. So then and now come together, so to speak.”

The film came about in large part as an outgrowth of a series of annual tours Edwin has been leading to Northern California since 2010. The author of this blog has also been involved with the tours, helping lead portions of them in Berkeley and, at times, San Francisco.

Edwin always brings about 22 Dutch architects, landscape architects, planners, and similar professionals – a different group every time. For more than a week they tour mostly mid-century modern architecture, from the Peninsula as far north as The Sea Ranch. Eichler homes are always a mainstay of the tour, and the tour itself is called ‘The Summit.’

In 2013 Wiering was on one of Edwin Oostmeijer's tours. Here Edwin interviews architect Jack Robbins in the home Robbins designed for his family in Oakland. Robert is photographing them. Robbins passed away this summer.

Over the years Edwin came to know many people associated with Eichler, and became good friends with Eichler’s longtime sales woman and Marin real estate broker, the late Catherine Munson.

Wiering decided to make 'Welcom in Mein Eichler Huis' after accompanying Edwin on the 2013 tour. “On the trip that Edwin organized, I was intrigued by the Eichler story. I saw the resemblance between Edwin and Joe as developers; so there is a hook with the Netherlands,” Wiering says.

Edwin says: “Robert shot a short footage interviewing Catherine Munson while we were visiting her house, only a few months before she passed away.”

Munson’s death gave a sense of urgency to the filmmakers, and it was warranted. Since filming 'Welcom,' other people they interviewed have died as well.

Robert Wiering and Marjalein Leemhuis do a shoot at the X-100. Photo by Dave Weinstein.

“I realized that we had to start filming as soon as possible, regarding the age of some key persons,” Wiering says. “We didn’t have the funding complete to do it, but we did it anyway. As you probably know, in the meantime, we also lost Tibor Fecskés and Daniel Liebermann. We feel lucky that we had the opportunity to portray these wonderful persons.”

Wiering has been a producer and director “for a major broadcasting company in the Netherlands, the VPRO,” for more than 35 years.

“I made fiction and nonfiction programs,” he says. “Children's programs that were instructive and funny. I made big budget drama and also no-budget drama. I worked with the best actors in our country. I made science programs, about human behavior. I made a series called the ‘Netherlands from Above,' that was copied from the format ‘Britain from Above.’”

“The soundwoman was Marjolein Leemhuis, my wife for almost forty years. She used to be a producer and took lessons in sound from one of the best craftsmen we worked with.”

He has been an independent filmmaker since 2013.

“Right now I am preparing a documentary about Tiny Houses. Yes, we have started to have that here too.”

He hopes the Eichler movie will be shown where fans of Eichlers can see it, adding, “A screening at the San Rafael Theatre would be great.”

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