Monday, June 16, 2008

Rem Koolhaas in Lagos, Nigeria

I watched Lagos: Wide / Close (2005) over the weekend. I'm not sure if I should call it a documentary, just a "film," an "interactive" film, although the interaction is limited, or an essay. It felt more like an essay, or even just an interview. Lagos consists of Koolhaas talking to a couple of different interviews about his research in Lagos Nigera, part of the the Harvard Project on the City. Koolhaas says he went to Lagos because demographic predictions say Lagos will be at 24 million people and the third largest city in the world by 2030. He wanted to to investigate how the city was dealing with the 12 million it has now: on first-glance, not well, but upon further research, Koolhaas noticed that the city's inhabitants were using Lagos' modernists design in creative and productive ways, even though the population far exceeds the infrastructure's capacity.

What really struck me was Koolhaas' comments on his reactions and his personal experiences; very similar to my experiences in Nairobi and Africa generally. He said that the dangers people raised prior to his going were incredibly exaggerated; he saw the expected poverty but he was not depressed by it. Instead, he was energized by the intelligence, creativity, and vision of the people he met. He also fell in love with the place; I wonder what drives this attraction--is it spectacle? is it exoticism?--because Lagos, Nairobi, and places like southern Sudan aren't the kinds of places one would expect to fall in love with.

Visually the piece was a bit like the Qatsi Trilogy: slow fly-overs and drive-throughs, although no speed-up or slow-down techniques used. A few interesting mirror-image shots that revealed interesting patterns. One brilliant shot a train pulling into a station, then pulling away, followed by the tracks almost instantly being covered over by the thousands and thousands of people moving in that market-transport area.

I found some Flickr photos of Lagos; check out the film (got it one Netflicks) if intrigued.


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