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Life without father

Filmmaker tells the story of his dad, architect Louis Kahn.

By David SterrittFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / November 14, 2003



"I dislike the term 'documentary film,' because it's come to mean a lot of things that are limiting," says Nathaniel Kahn, whose new movie "My Architect" happens to be a documentary. "It connotes a news story or an academic, intellectual study."

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For this reason, Mr. Kahn joins other modern documentarymakers who prefer "nonfiction film," if any label at all is needed.

"It's about real events," he says of his nonfiction movie, "but first and foremost, I wanted to tell a good story."

The good story Kahn tells in "My Architect" is about his real-life quest for deeper understanding of his father, fabled architect Louis Kahn, whose death in 1974 left many unanswered questions.

Nathaniel was a boy when his father died, and was just dimly aware of the facts, rumors, and legends circulating about the famous architect's life.

He pursued the truth by making this movie over five years, visiting acclaimed Kahn buildings, and interviewing people who knew him.

In the process, he cleared up some mysteries and discovered others. Central to his inquiry were questions about the elder Kahn's domestic life - or rather lives - since he turned out to have three families at once, two of them (including the one filmmaker Kahn comes from) with women he never married.

"My Architect" is obviously a profoundly personal film, but it's also a smartly conducted tour through the world of building and design that Kahn towered over during the most successful phases of his career.

We see his greatest achievements, lovingly captured by cinematographer Bob Richman, and we join director Kahn in visits with such fellow architectural giants as I.M. Pei, Frank Gehry, and Philip Johnson.

All of which makes this one of the most brilliant and touching nonfiction films in recent memory - quite an achievement in a year that's also given us "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Stevie," among others.

"An architect builds buildings and makes places," filmmaker Kahn says, "so [making] this film was like a pilgrimage to the [locations] where my father poured his soul and energy and love.

"I wanted not just to film the buildings, but to use them [as if] we were visiting a monument or temple."

He has succeeded superbly well.

Not rated; contains adult themes.

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