I’m always on the lookout for movies having to do with suburbia. I recently ran across Radiant City at a local library and found that it had earned some recognition at film festivals (including the 2006 Toronto Film Festival). Here are my thoughts on this 2006 “mockumentary” set in the suburbs of Calgary:
1.If you have read any critiques about suburbia, you are likely to see it discussed in this film: sprawl, too many cars that everyone is dependent on, lack of community where no one knows their neighbors, too much private space and not enough public space, no activities for teenagers, a lack of mass transit, health issues (obesity), a lack of walkability, big box stores, wasted land, the solution of New Urbanism, and on and on.
1a. A number of anti-sprawl experts (or “stars”) are featured including James Howard Kunstler and Andres Duany.
1b. There are a number of “statistical interludes” throughout the film that deliver facts about the horrors of suburbia.
2. The film tries to set up fictional family storylines to follow. I didn’t find any of these to be compelling as it seemed like the characters were simply there to break up the facts of the documentary. One of the storylines, of a father who is acting in a satirical musical about suburbia, is particularly obvious.
3. The many shots of the Evergreen neighborhood outside of Calgary are both beautiful and jarring. The homes featured in the films are on the edges of suburban development so there are plenty of open fields (mostly dirt), empty lots filled with construction equipment, single-family homes built very close to each other, concrete sounds barriers and highways that cut off views and walking, and beautiful skies (we are told at one point that the mountains are off in the distance – you could see them if the guy next door would open his front door so you could see through his house).
Overall: you can find the same critiques in many other places. I don’t think the fictional storylines added much as the main point seemed to be the commentary of the experts and the statistics that are meant to get viewers to question their assumptions about suburban living. If you already are opposed to sprawl and suburbs, your likely to find this film preaching right to you.
(This film was well-received by a limited number of critics at RottenTomatoes.com: the movie is 93% fresh with 14 out of 15 positive reviews.)