The maker of a film showing at Campbell Hall tonight toured the globe visiting the works of one of the 20th century’s greatest architects, not only to study the buildings themselves, but also to discover the father he barely knew.
Nathaniel Kahn spent five years making “My Architect,” a film he says “raises the ghost” of his father, famed architect Louis Kahn. Nathanie – a screenwriter, actor and director whose mother was one of Louis Kahn’s two mistresses – knew his father only through brief, periodic visits. The 116-minute film chronicles Nathaniel’s journey to his father’s buildings from San Diego to Bangladesh and includes interviews with Louis’ colleagues and personal acquaintances along the way. It will show at 7:30 p.m. and cost $6 for the public, $5 for UCSB students.
Nathaniel Kahn said he is excited to have the film shown at a college because his desire to make it began during his days as a student at Yale.
“All of us, in our lives, have questions about our origins and our parents, and college is a time where a lot of those questions, maybe because you are on your own for the first time, they become very important to you,” Kahn said.
Through interviews with people who were close to his father both personally and professionally, Nathaniel Kahn, who was 11 when his father died in 1974, encounters a wide range of emotions toward his father. One of his colleagues describes Louis Kahn as “doing God’s work,” while a former city planner of Philadelphia angrily says having a Kahn building in the city would have been “a tragedy,” and that Kahn “just didn’t understand” the city’s architectural needs.
Former lovers and friends characterize Louis Kahn in the film as a “nomad,” an artist who had little use for money or possessions. Nathaniel Kahn said his ideas about his father changed dramatically in the course of making the film.
“My vision of my father was really a child’s vision,” he said. “He was a hero to me, also sort of a semi-mythological figure, who came into our lives, then would sort of disappear. By making the film, he became a man to me, a real person.”
The Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., the Philip Exeter Academy library in New Hampshire and the capital buildings in Dhaka, Bangladesh are among the sites visited in the film. Nathaniel Kahn said his own lack of a formal background in architecture caused him to shoot the buildings in a more accessible manner than he might have otherwise.
“I approached them as a filmmaker,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to shoot for the architects in the house, but for the audience in general. I just tried to find a personal way to connect to each place.”
In one of the film’s most personal scenes, Nathaniel Kahn confronts his mother, the architect Harriet Pattison. Kahn zooms in closely on her face while he asks if she was ever angry with his father, and if she agreed that he had treated her poorly.
“That was the first time we had gotten into those things,” Kahn said. “Sometimes making a film can allow you to ask those questions that are really hard to ask.”