• Sansculotte/Wikimedia Commons
  • Richard Neutra, who designed this Los Angeles residence, is one of the architects profiled in the film.

Tonight at 7:30 PM Chicago Filmmakers kicks off a new ongoing series of documentaries about architecture and technology called REdesign. First up is Coast Modern, an hour-long piece about modernist architecture as it developed on the west coast of North America. The movie argues that west-coast modernism is distinguished by its sensitivity to nature, presenting buildings that show the influence of nature and oftentimes blend in with their surroundings. Directors Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome display a smarter sense of place than I’m used to seeing in movies like this, honoring the physicality of certain locations by tracking around and through them rather than cutting between static images. (As to be expected in an architecture documentary, however, the phrase open space gets thrown around with the sort of effete wonder with which New Agers say om or chi.) But what really distinguishes Coast is its philosophical underpinnings. Early on one of the talking heads points out that the period in which Homo sapiens lived outdoors was hundreds of thousands of years longer than the era that followed, leading him to posit that organic-looking architecture may reflect a subconscious desire to recapture humanity’s roots. This thought hangs over the rest of the movie—the architectural portraits often feel interrogative rather than expository. “Can you draw serenity from the design of your home?” the movie seems to ask, making it something of a companion piece with Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux, which is also playing in town this week.