Helvetica

helvetica Last night I went to see Helvetica, the feature-length documentary about typography and the most famous typeface of them all, Helvetica. I had been looking forward to the film for quite some time, and was really excited to hear it was coming to Edmonton. The event was put on by the Alberta chapter of The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.

Every review I had read about the film had been glowing, so my expectations were pretty high. The film wasn’t disappointing, but I have to admit, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting either.

I think I was anticipating something like Freakonomics but for typography, a fun and interesting look at the impact of Helvetica on our daily lives. Instead, the film focused more on the history of the typeface, and really only discussed the impact of Helvetica on the design industry. Designer Paula Scher made the bold claim that Helvetica caused the Vietnam and Iraq wars, but that was a close as we got to the impact outside the design world. There were one or two segments with company logos, but the discussion of corporate adoption of Helvetica was fairly limited.

All of the people interviewed in the film were in some way involved in the design industry. I think it would have been much more interesting (and entertaining) to have balanced the interviews with some “outsiders” who could comment without really having a position. The designers seemed to either love or hate Helvetica.

That said, as a documentary about a typeface, Helvetica was quite good. A little long for those of us who are not enamored with design, but still quite good. I particularly liked graphic designer Michael Bierut, who always had the funniest comments and anecdotes. Without his segments, the movie would have been seriously lacking in the chuckle department.

Bottom line: if you’re interested in design, you’ll probably enjoy Helvetica. Otherwise, you might want to think twice.

Bring Helvetica to Edmonton!

Clearly I need to redeem myself after my last post, so here’s something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while. I really, really want to see the documentary Helvetica. Never heard of it? Here’s the description:

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.

It’s fascinating to me how widespread the typeface has become. I also find it hard to grasp just how much of an effect Helvetica has had on my life. It’s one of those things that is easy to overlook. A documentary about a typeface might sound odd at first, but I think it’s a great idea. From the Director’s Statement:

Why make a film about a typeface, let alone a feature documentary film about Helvetica? Because it’s all around us. You’ve probably already seen Helvetica several times today.

The film has been screening around the world since the premiere at SXSW back in March. Had I been paying attention, I would have gone down to Calgary to see it when it played there in May. Just a few days ago it played in Vancouver. Richard Eriksson who I met at Northern Voice went to see the film there on Tuesday, and he said it was great. There are screenings listed right through November, but Edmonton is not on the list. I can only hope that we’re included in the “lots more” down in the coming soon section.

So for the Edmontonians reading this – would you go see Helvetica if it came to our city? If so, do you “work with a film festival, museum, cinema, or arts group” or know anyone who does? Let me know! I’d be happy to do whatever I can to help bring the film to Edmonton.

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