Like Nathaniel Kahn, Tomas Koolhaas has made a film about his father, the celebrated architect, but this is no intimate family portrait – Rem himself gets only a supporting role. Instead, Tomas turns his lens on the buildings themselves and the lives taking place in and around them
Rem will offer a visceral experience of Koolhaas's buildings, zooming in on details and capturing their imposing forms from afar. But it will also linger on the individuals who construct and use the buildings, trying to convey how this architecture affects their daily lives. In the short teasers released so far, moody, slow-motion shots depict the colourful Beijing street life unfolding below the futuristic towers of the CCTV headquarters, or the focused construction workers spreading concrete at the De Rotterdam complex. One poignant clip features a homeless man talking about spending time in the Seattle Library, which has been a pivotal shelter and sanctuary. "The homeless man who comes into a building every single day is going to have a much better understanding of its reality than any sort of rendering or animation can give," Tomas says.
The cinematic influences for Rem are, he admits, pretty wide-ranging. He cites the documentaries Babies (2010), which follows a year in the lives of four babies from around the world, and The Carter (2009), about the rapper Lil' Wayne. These two films resist the conventional narration and interview format and emphasise freer visual storytelling. Tomas's aim for Rem is similar. It will unite Koolhaas's geographically scattered buildings not chronologically or thematically, or by dissecting the psyche of their designer, but by exposing their human component in an atmospheric, experiential style.
"There are so many interweaving narratives," notes Tomas, recounting the cascade of political and economic crises that are "inextricably caught up" in his father's recent projects, from the spike in homelessness in the US to stalled projects in Dubai. "I could make a movie about each one of these buildings, or about just one construction worker," he says. His interest in the broader socio political stage and its nameless players suggests a deliberate lean away from the hero-worship of much popular architectural discourse. In this sense, then, it's fitting to name the film Rem, bringing the larger-than-life architect down to a more human level.