Toronto 2011 Review: URBANIZED

Urbanized is a documentary about the effects of architectural planning and the build up of cities all over the world, travelling to vastly different global locales and exploring an issue that resides there, whilst talking to a lot of architects and city planners.

rating: 3

Making a feature documentary involves walking a very fine line. It has to be concise, feature length and essentially feel like it was worth the whole time you invested in it. At the same time it has to make all of it's points and preferably be balanced in its approach. The best documentaries always make you think. That's why I already waxed lyrical about the sheer quality of Werner Herzog's latest venture into documentary filmmaking. This second documentary I saw at the festival though, couldn't quite escape the feeling that it wasn't suited to a feature length. Urbanized is a documentary about the effects of architectural planning and the build up of cities all over the world, travelling to vastly different global locales and exploring an issue that resides there, whilst talking to a lot of architects and city planners. This is all very interesting and some of the varying accounts from professionals are rather humourous in their blunt nature. One architect in particular is very memorable as he recalls that he has built 23 (amazing looking) churches, yet he is a complete atheist. The fact he delivers this with an entirely straight, matter of fact face elicited a laugh from everyone in attendance. However, the problems with Urbanized come from the fact that as you are settling into the sumptuous images and stylings of a particular location and enjoying the stories being told by various professionals as well as your interest being buried in the issues at hand, you're suddenly yanked violently away to a new locale to discuss something entirely different. The jarring dissonance is exemplified further when some of the segments just aren't as interesting as others and it's entirely mystifying why the one venture into the UK is very light and really quite pointless. It doesn't address anything uniquely British, merely spends time with a certain organisation that are doing something that could be done anywhere in the world. Due to each segment feeling very surface level in addressing a lot of the issues and problems inherent in city planning and population growth as well as cultural shifts, it leaves the whole film feeling very light and not all that informative. This is definitely a concept that would have benefited from the treatment of a television series, spending an episode in each locale. Ultimately Urbanized is an interesting and entertaining documentary that raises a few issues without really appropriately addressing them. The whole film feels like a preview to a more ambitious and informative product. If this concept was ever turned into a television series based on the merits of Urbanized I would certainly give it a watch!
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