Nick Cabelli for

Frei Otto: Spanning the Future. United States. 2016. 60 min. Dir. Joshua Hassel

The architectural output of Frei Otto [1925-2015] consists of learning from the forces of nature to construct immense lightweight structures in the form of curving parabolic volumes before the age of computer assisted design. Whereas most of the built environment remains standing because of forces of compression, as most often seen in a vertical wall supporting floors of a building, Otto’s most successful works employs tension to keep buildings standings, in the same way a bridge or tent stays up. This documentary offers a didactic portrait of the career of Otto through interviews with architects and academics, including one of the last interviews Otto gave before his death.

Focusing on his built works from the ‘60s and ‘70s—including the German pavilion at Expo ’67 and the Olympic Stadium for the Munich games of 1972—the experts and narrator investigate Otto’s work from structural, aesthetic and ecological perspectives. Highlighting how his lightweight structures operate at a nodal overlapping of engineering experimentation, architectural forms, and natural energies, Frei Otto: Spanning the Future is an inspiring portrait of an architect, researcher, educator for which experimentation in architecture would hopefully lead to a more peaceful and sustainable inhabited world.

Science Fiction from the Past. Germany. 2o16. 6o min. Dir. Uli AumUller.

Continuing on the theme of the power of nature, the second film in this double bill is a curious and charming behind-the-scenes reportage of the production, rehearsal and world premiere of Czech composer Miroslav Srnka’s 2O15 opera South Pole. Performed by the Bavarian State Opera, this contemporary opera focuses on the 191O-1911 race to the South Pole by Robert Scott’s team of Englishmen and Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team. To match the vastness of the Antarctic polar desert where this ‘race’ transpired, Srnka’s composition employs superimpositions of glacial tonal shifting, a powerful but unsettling massive slab of music from the orchestral pit which overwhelm and envelope the opera performers and audience in a blizzard of sound to match the sublime power of the Antarctic continent. Cinema-goers unfamiliar with avant-garde or contemporary classical traditions which bend and break musical conceptions of melody, harmony, rhythm and metre will be doubly treated!

Science Fiction from the Past is a mature and sleek postmodern film whose self-awareness resonates well with its subject matter and approach. Going beyond a mere concert film of the opera [which this film is not], Science Fiction from the Past is a wonderful documentary which becomes a powerful work of art-inspired media in its own right. Blending rehearsal footage, interviews with the composers, directors, designers and performers, and footage from the premiere, the best part about this film is how it offers windows into the creative processes which collaborate in the creation of opera. Laying bare some select fly-on-the-wall moments and comparison of scenes in the rehearsal and final production, Science Fiction from the Past is a beautiful and visceral experience which embodies its subject matter perfectly: where the opera South Pole is about translating the polar experience to an indoor stage, music and libretto, the film is about translating the experience of creating opera to another medium. Science Fiction from the Past success is two-fold in this regard, offering both a fascinating window into the creative process and also a self-reflexive examination of the documentarian’s infinite choice for the unit of narration in their works.


Frei Otto: Spanning the Future and Science Fiction from the Past are screening as part of the FIFA Grand Panorama program as a double feature on Friday 31 March 2o17 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture [CCA] at 18h15 [festival screening no. 79]. Tickets and information are available at