Three Walls

Three Walls

****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

This is a documentary about 'systems furniture'. The most common deployment of systems furniture is in a configuration known as 'the cubicle'. This is a documentary about the cubicle.

This is, in fact, a fascinating documentary about the cubicle. One of the interviewees describes them as 'a strange surface', and they are right. We'll ignore the 'fourth wall' aspect in that everyone who speaks speaks to camera, and focus on the three in the title - we meet various cubicles, various cubicle-dwellers, even glimpse those who assemble them.

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The cubicles are in strange places. They have stairs, they have vents, the spaces depicted are amazing - more so when we get secondary shots of them at the end, people in their working environments. We learn the jobs of the motivational speaker, of the architect involved in the birth of systems furniture, can see the work of those who assemble cubicles, hand-smoothing something like felt onto something like a wall. We know one of them "puts points on things", scoots her chair over for meetings. In one office a photocopier looms over a sleeping dinosaur.

There are yoga instructors and ergonomics experts offering advice on desk-survival, all punctuated by some lovely visual moments. Glass meeting pods, monitors emerging like birthing of monoliths, Ikea-esque office hellscapes, rotary desks, empty chairs, panpipey structured background noise. The notion of 'action office furniture', non-orthaganol environmental stimulus to communication, and then, "like crystals forming", the cubicle.

This is brilliant stuff, Zaheed Mawani has a keen eye. For all the rolled up sleeves and respirators of the assembly line and the gew-gaws of office-fairs, it's the act of looking at a working environment that's stunning. In these spaces they become background, but Three Walls has us look at them. They become landscape, colour and form. Sometimes documentary is about going somewhere and looking at something, but the best gives us new ways of seeing what we are already surrounded by - Three Walls is one of these.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2012
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A documentary about the development of the office cubicle and the melancholy atmosphere it has created.

Director: Zaheed Mawani

Year: 2011

Runtime: 26 minutes

Country: Canada, US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2012

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