TINY: A Story About Living Small

TINY: A Story About Living Small (Directors: Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith): Tiny home: a living structure that can range anywhere from 60 to 500 square feet and is typically in the 120 to 200 square foot range. Tiny homes are usually built on flatbed trailers, which make them both easily mobile and qualifies them as “temporary structures”, allowing for compliance with zoning laws and building codes.

Tiny home living is a growing movement embraced by people wishing to make a smaller environmental impact, for financial reasons, and because they generally just want to simplify their lives. Christopher Smith aspired to such a lifestyle, so shortly before his 30th birthday, he purchased a five acre plot of land in Colorado and subsequently set about building his own tiny home, with the assistance of his girlfriend, Merete Mueller. The pair decided to document their experience for a short film, but further explorations into the tiny home movement saw the project, aided by a successful Kickstarter campaign, expand to TINY: A Story About Living Small‘s now 62 minute running time.

The co-directors, neither of whom had any building experience, soon come to find that even extra small-scale house construction is more challenging and time-consuming than they expected. Most of the construction work is actually done by Smith, who frequently relies on instructional YouTube videos to guide him and doesn’t come close to completing the project in the four month period originally estimated. Very few of the construction-related obstacles encountered are shown, to the film’s slight detriment (Smith admitted in the post-screening Q&A that they were mostly edited out). There’s a lot of people out there who, like me, possess less-than-stellar handyman skills and showing more of those trials and tribulations would have made Smith’s building experience a little more relatable, as well as added an extra level of small intrigue to the proceedings. Even still, by the time the project is completed, the tremendous sense of accomplishment felt by the amiable Smith and Mueller makes for a satisfying payoff for the viewer as well. An interesting side story also develops as the home takes shape involving the couple’s questionable future together, due to Mueller’s desire to pursue her writing career in New York City.

Interspersed with the scenes showing the couple’s building project are interviews with other tiny home dwellers and tours (very short tours, naturally) of their diminutive abodes. There are repeated testimonials about how much happier they all are with their downsized manner of living and the freedom it allows them, financially and in other ways (such as maintaining a clutter-free existence that relies just on essentials). A couple of different tiny home residents talk about working for years at white collar jobs that took up most of their lives and left them unfulfilled, leading them to reexamine their priorities and make the big change to living small.

Smith and Mueller’s delightful documentary provides an insightful look into the fascinating tiny home movement, with thought-provoking discussions on the meaning of “home” and how that concept fits into the context of the ever-changing American Dream.


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This is a very late leftover from Hot Docs but I’m posting it now because I want to give people access to the recorded Q&A as well as to let you know that you can buy the film on DVD and Blu-ray from the official site.

Objectified (Director: Gary Hustwit): Gary Hustwit was always going to have a hard time following up Helvetica. The sheer novelty of a documentary examination of a typeface would be hard to top. Instead, Objectified simply takes the first film’s approach and broadens the viewfinder. Instead of looking at pieces of text, Hustwit aims his camera at the everyday objects around us. Who designs them, and what goes into the process?

As in the first film, the camerawork is fantastic, teasing out gorgeous details in objects we often take for granted. And the interviews are just as solid and cover a fair spectrum of design philosophies. It’s no longer a novelty, but the film is solid and enjoyable. And it hints at the larger issues that trouble the best designers. That is, do we really need more stuff? What good is a beautifully-designed object that just ends up in a landfill somewhere? I would have liked to dig even deeper into these issues but I do think Hustwit makes a real effort to address the runaway consumerism that is the underlying problem with design fetishism.

I have to draw particular attention to the exemplary job Hustwit does of building a community around his films. His use of the web to promote and sell his work is nothing short of amazing, and if he ever decides to stop making films himself, I think he has another career teaching filmmakers how to connect with their audiences.

That being said, I have no desire for him to stop making such beautiful and thought-provoking films. He’s promised to wrap up his design trilogy with his next film, though he’s given no hints yet about the film’s subject. But I can say with confidence that if you liked the first two, you’re sure to enjoy the next one.

Official site of the film

Here is the Q&A with director Gary Hustwit from after the screening:

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Duration: 19:20


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Helvetica (Director: Gary Hustwit, UK, 2007): This was THE hot buzz film of the festival, and a lot of people didn’t get in to see it who wanted to. I’m still a bit baffled that there could be that many font geeks in Toronto, but I suppose that since we all use computers now, everyone knows what Helvetica is.

Gary Hustwit is the co-founder of Plexifilm, and has been involved as a producer in the making of a number of documentaries, but for his first project as a director, he chose to explore the legacy of Helvetica, a font which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Despite its age, it seems as popular as ever, appearing in logotypes for companies as diverse as Toyota, American Airlines, Target, Crate and Barrel, and American Apparel, to name just a tiny fraction. What has allowed Helvetica such longevity, where other more recent trends (like the grunge fonts of the mid-90s) have flamed out already? Opinions differ wildly.

According to some, Helvetica feels like the final version of sans serif typography, and attempts to improve upon it just fail. For others, the arrival of the computer and the installation of default fonts just means that people are lazy. If you thought a bunch of well-dressed graphic designers arguing over a typeface would be boring, you’d be ever so wrong.

Spanning several countries, Hustwit’s film takes us inside the studios of such leading lights of design as Matthew Carter, Erik Spiekermann, Massimo Vignelli, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Stefan Sagmeister, and David Carson. If these names mean nothing to you, you’ll still mostly enjoy the film, a beautifully-designed thing which is punctuated by real-world examples of the font in use, shot in rich high-definition and set to a wonderful soundtrack. You may just tune out all of those designer concepts and controversy.

And if you do know the names? Well, font geeks, not only are you in for a treat, but this fall, Mr. Hustwit will have a wonderfully jam-packed DVD to sell you.

Here is the Q&A with director Gary Hustwit from after the screening:

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Duration: 14:12

Q&A with director Gary Hustwit from the Hot Docs site

Official site for the film


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