Janet McAllister: Ruins, tourists and dashed dreams

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A scene from 'Unfinished Italy'. Photo / Supplied
A scene from 'Unfinished Italy'. Photo / Supplied

"I haven't finished anything in my life. I have trouble finishing my sentences," says the narrator of the 34-minute documentary Unfinished Italy, presumably director Benoit Felici.

In contrast, Newmarket's Rialto Cinema had trouble starting films one at a time last Saturday. Several Resene Architecture and Design Festival sessions had to be restarted as the audience could hear two films at once, blowing the day's scheduling out by nearly the length of Unfinished Italy.

Felici's sparse, slow, elegiac ode to disappointed dreams in the form of never-completed motorways, grandstands and waterways had to compete with an unseen film's fast, upbeat American and British accents, unpoetically discussing "applying methodologies" and averring with certainty: "design can help us solve difficult problems ... global problems like poverty."

The mash-up was amusing. While Felici confessed he "fell in love with the fragmentary, aborted, unfinished", an Anglophone was telling us that if he was not immediately "in love" with his first solution to a problem he'd move on to the next.

(He should throw his rejected, unfinished ideas towards Felici's tenderness.)

Unfinished Italy is paired with Modern Ruins, the second documentary about Detroit's decay on Auckland screens within a month. Yet neither Modern Ruins nor the Documentary Edge fest's Detropia get close to answering why the fascinatingly unthinkable decline of a large modern city has been allowed to happen. What's Western civilisation anyway? Instead the Detroit meta-narrative is: Ooh yeah it's bad, but hey, young white artists are enjoying the cheap rent. Here, at the end of the world, we learn to be vultures.

In Modern Ruins, artist Scott Hocking points out he's stacking broken marble tiles in Michigan Central Station like he stacked wooden blocks when he was a kid; a local ruins tourist grinningly likens climbing the walls of an abandoned slaughterhouse to playing on his childhood jungle gym. In a city with no future, adulthood is eternally delayed: you either play or you die, largely depending on the colour of your skin. (Unfinished Italy touches on unfinished lives too: a family erected barbed wire around the unfinished bridge which serves as their back yard, to thwart would-be suicides attracted to the ultimate metaphor of wasted potential.)

But then, in contrastingly fresh and healthy Denmark, they're playing too: an incredibly athletic parkour gang (a training discipline using movement evolving from military obstacle-course training) can be seen defying gravity in urban space in My Playground. All the parkourers interviewed are delighted by a new parkour training park - which looks like an adult-size jungle gym. But a dedicated park seems to pervert the anarchic ethos of parkour's city takeover. A large part of the sport's fun is repurposing old designs; hopefully someone will go to the park and just sit, picnicking, on the apparatus. That's a true parkourer.

Resene Architecture and Design Film Festival, to May 22: resene.co.nz/filmfestival

- NZ Herald

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