21st Annual ByDesign Film Festival Explores Dynamic Intersections of Design and the Moving Image

February 25, 2021

March 19–28, 2021

Presented by Northwest Film Forum and Design in Public

Seattle, WA — February 25, 2021 — Seattle-based organizations Northwest Film Forum (NWFF), a nonprofit community hub and film center, and Design in Public (DiP), a strategic initiative of AIA Seattle, join forces once again to present the 21st Annual ByDesign Festival. Integrating the missions and visions of both organizations, ByDesign Festival is a cross-cultural exploration of people, structures, and ideas at the intersection of design and the moving image.

ByDesign’s film program, composed of nine feature films and one short film package, collectively dissects the intentions and industries that produce our habitative environments. The festival also celebrates the efforts of those who continue to reassert human subjectivity and sustainability as integral considerations in design work. Using a cinematic lens, ByDesign criss-crosses the world to listen to new harmonics between design thinking and the concerns of daily life.

The film programming in this year’s festival has a strong emphasis on the body, the natural world, and the digital world,” explains Northwest Film Forum Executive Director Vivian Hua. “Those concepts inform all of ByDesign Festival 2021’s explorations of movement and music, environmentalism and displacement, and excursions into neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

NWFF Artistic Director Rana San adds, “As the restrictions of the pandemic wear on and emotions wear thin, our spatial relationships are narrowing and becoming more rigid. ByDesign offers an invitation to disrupt this digital disillusionment. Treat yourself to some of the things we miss most at home—travel to Brasília and Addis Ababa, reinhabit your body (go ahead, press pause and take a dance break!), and dare to engage in creative experimentation.

The 2021 festival is the second year in a row to be presented in virtual space, with programming available to viewers on a sliding-scale, pay-what-you-can basis of $5–25, with no-fee community tickets upon request. All film programs will be available for viewing throughout the entire festival, allowing festivalgoers to tune in when their schedule allows, no matter the timezone. Half of the film programs are available globally; half have some regional viewing restrictions.

Full festival program of feature and short films can be found below!

Film Program

A Machine to Live In

(Yoni Goldstein & Meredith Zielke, US & Brazil, 2020, 87 min, in Portuguese & Esperanto with English subtitles)

A Machine to Live In unfolds like a feverish prophecy. Exploring the imaginative and material process of building one’s own “utopia,” the film draws upon vignettes and stories from architects and builders to document Brazil’s history of UFO cults, pyramids, monuments, and futurist projects, which have forever been embedded in the city’s architectural design. Co-presented with the Center for Brazilian Studies at UW!


(Mo Scarpelli, Italy, 2019, 86 min, in Amharic with English subtitles)

Displaced by condo developments and struggling to make ends meet, an imaginative young Ethiopian boy processes his isolation and displacement by creating an alternate identity as a ferocious lion (anbessa). A testament to resiliency that pushes the boundaries of standard nonfiction form, Anbessa gently probes the young boy’s interior world, through sweeping camera work and quiet moments filled with light.


(Henrique Pina, Portugal, 2020, 50 min, nonverbal)

Fusing dance, architecture, cinema, and music, BODY-BUILDINGS presents six distinct choreographies presented at six architectural sites in Portugal. Each segment is a feast for the senses, presented by a different word that encapsulates a theme: VOID, DAWN, BEAST, TAME, DUSK, and MEMORY. Co-presented with Velocity Dance Center, this film is preceded by a new short film commission from Amanda Morgan with The Seattle Project!

Built Beautiful: An Architecture & Neuroscience Love Story, With Narration by Martha Stewart

(Mariel Rodriguez-McGill, US, 2020, 78 min, in English)

Guided by recent developments in neuroscience, Built Beautiful presents ideas, architects, and researchers who have a scientific interest in the built environment’s impact on societal health and individual well-being. Using a wide selection of trends and patterns from all over the world, the documentary reflects on past architectural choices and highlights the emerging paradigm shift towards more human-conscious design. Narrated by Martha Stewart!

Havana, from on High

(Pedro Ruiz, Canada, 2019, 79 min, in Spanish with English subtitles)

Through intimate character studies with the city’s roof-dwelling residents, Havana, from on High sheds light on colorful perspectives regarding family, religion, politics, work, and more simply, the rich complexities of being Cuban. Co-presented with Seattle/Cuba Friendship Committee!

Making a Mountain

(Rikke Selin Fokdal & Kaspar Astrup Schröder, Denmark, 2020, 51 min, in Danish & English with English subtitles)

Can a waste treatment plant become the site of spectacular architecture and recreational urban space, complete with a ski slope on top? With his visionary project Amager Hill, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels boldly believed the answer was yes. Making a Mountain is a cinematic construction site symphony that follows the project through stages of completion, all the while questioning: how much ecological change can an architectural vision bring?

Taming the Garden

(Salomé Jashi, Switzerland, Germany & Georgia, 2021, 91 min, in Georgian & Mingrelian with English subtitles)

A visually poetic documentary, Taming the Garden slowly reveals the unfortunate beauty to be found in the calculated reappropriation of nature. When a powerful and mysterious man excavates massive 100-year-old trees from the coastline of Georgia, the country’s residents are left with conflicting feelings about wealth, progress, and their lands. Co-presented with the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco!

The American Sector

(Courtney Stephens & Pacho Velez, US, 2020, 68 min, in English)

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked a powerful turning point in the history of the Cold War and offered prospects for a reunified Germany. It also began a new chapter in the life of the wall itself. Over the past three decades, this powerful symbol of freedom has migrated piece-by-piece, all over the world. In The American Sector, filmmakers travel across the United States to seek out these fragments of history, and find themselves encountering all walks of life along the way. Co-presented with Goethe Pop-Up Seattle!

Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another

(Jessica Sarah Rinland, UK, Argentina & Spain, 2019, 67 min, in English, Spanish & Portuguese with English subtitles)

With an elephant’s ivory tusk as its main protagonist, Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another meditates upon the tactile nature of museological and ecological conservation, by inviting viewers to reflect upon the representations and embodiments of objects through various materials, disciplines, and institutions. Co-presented with Jacob Lawrence Gallery!

Within | Between | Among: Short Film Program

A short film program exploring ByDesign’s central themes of one’s relationship to personal and collective identity, as shown through dance, environmentalism, artificial intelligence, surveillance, music, life, and death. Co-presented with Jacob Lawrence Gallery & Velocity Dance Center! Available only in the US


Chanel | Sharing all my colours with you
(Arjen Schotel, Netherlands, 2021, 8 min, in Dutch with English subtitles)

In Chanel | Sharing all my colours with you, Dutch-Surinamese dancer Chanel Vyent removes society’s imposed straitjacket and steps outside — to freely explore her body’s relationship to architecture, shape, color, and form. Co-presented with Velocity Dance Center!

(Stefano Santamato, Italy, 2020, 16 min, nonverbal)

Over the course of a single night, rain and wind tore down 14 million trees in Northern Italy, transforming a lush mountain region into an apocalyptic landscape. TROIANE tells the tale of 400 tree trunks that were retrieved and transported to the opposite end of Italy, where they played one last role: as the backdrop for a famous Greek tragedy. Ending in a city on fire, TROIANE symbolically links the historical fall of Troy with the current climate change catastrophe.

Recoding Art
(Bruno Moreschi & Gabriel Pereira, Brazil, 2019, 15 min, open captioned in English)

What makes art ART? Digital media researcher Gabriel Pereira and Brazilian artist Bruno Moreschi seek the answer to this question by using commercial artificial intelligence products to analyze contemporary art. Glitches, errors, and unexpected readings emerge, in addition to algorithms that turn artistic subjectivity into capitalist byproducts. Yet perhaps the true surprise is when the filmmakers at last involve Amazon Mechanical Turkers — remotely located “crowdworkers” who can be hired to perform tasks that computers are presently unable to do.

(Farhad Pakdel, Canada, 2019, 11 min, nonverbal)

A speculative fiction which anticipates a near-future reality, Frames follows a woman as she walks through Montréal, being surveilled and tracked every step of the way. Each movement she makes is logged and interpreted by the city’s system, but is it drawing an accurate picture of who she truly is?

Symphony of the Body
(Mónica Ruiz van Hattem, Netherlands, 2019, 15 min, in English)

A soulful ode to the body’s ability to claim space and generate warmth amid the cold and overwhelming architecture of Rotterdam. Can an interaction between two men, presenting softness with dance and music, break the rigidity of steel and stone?

Flower Punk
(Alison Klayman, US, 2019, 29 min, in Japanese with English subtitles)

Japanese artist Azuma Makoto has tantalized the world by launching bonsai trees into outer space and plunging floral sculptures to the bottom of the ocean. Flower Punk takes a hypnotizing look into Makoto’s process, illuminating his punk rock ethos and honoring his deep contemplation of the life and death cycles of flora. Co-presented with Jacob Lawrence Gallery!

About Design in Public

Founded in 2011, Design in Public is a platform for bold design conversations. We believe that design is for everyone and that inclusive co-design practices are essential to shaping an equitable Seattle. We collaborate with diverse communities, architects, designers, civic and business leaders, nonprofits, artists and activists to generate solutions to complex social, cultural and ecological challenges that affect all of us.

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1515 12th Ave,

Seattle, WA 98122

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