Film Review: CITY DREAMERS (USA/Canada 2018) ***

City Dreamers Poster
City Dreamers is a film about our changing urban environment and four women architects, inspiring trailblazers with over 60 years of experience each, who are working, observing and thinking…See full summary »


Joseph Hillel


Bruno BaillargeonJoseph Hillel (co-writer)

CITY DREAMERS is a small little documentary that opens in the equally little cinema complex, the Carlton Cinemas for a limited run.  The doc would appeal to a smaller audience as well, not to the masses.  The target audience in this case, would be architects and city planners, more particularly female ones at that.  

The film celebrates women, inspirational women who have done their fair share of changing the world through their work and city landscapes.  Hillel’s doc is one of information and insight.  Hillel’s doc focuses on four women architects from different cities.  One of them (when interviewed) prefers to use the word aspirations instead of dreams, as what is eventually designed and constructed has to be real and effective not just an unrealistic dream.

The film’s four featured female architects from different backgrounds are:

Phyllis Lambert

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

Denise Scott Brown and

Blanche Lemco van Ginkel

Phyllis Lambert (who when interviewed speaks in French), who hails from Montreal, Canada has spent most of her career as a city planner advocating for the preservation of historic properties.  She talks of Old Montreal when it consisted of burnt out buildings.  She also aided in the preservation of old historic buildings and the founding of the heritage society that prevented developers from tearing down beautiful old architecture.  The plan of the expressway were also diverted and redone. These are illustrated by looking at the old and new locations of the expressway on architectural blueprints.

Vancouver landscape specialist Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, in contrast, designs elaborate green spaces, which are now vanishing thanks to cities building upward instead of outward.  She talks of the need of parks to complement housing.

In the United States, Philadelphia, Denise Scott Brown talks about Philadelphia’s notably black and low income South Street. There are images of these poorer and dilapidated buildings.  Yet these people fight against change.  The government at the time was afraid of ensuing riots if their buildings were torn down.

Lastly, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel was one of the first female professors of architecture and engineering in the world, and her world renowned firm was committed to creating sustainable, pedestrian friendly environments since 1957.

Each is given equal importance and screen time.  These women talk about their aspirations, their work and what moved them in their respective careers.  One could also see that these architects, now in their senior years, have completed so much in their lifetimes.  They have entered University at a time when females were generally left out of higher education.  They did marry and also talk about their husbands and their influences.  At the time blueprints are literally blue prints, prints on blue paper.

A lot of the doc contains archive footage and home movies provided by the subjects.  The subjects are also interviewed and they speak candidly on camera.

What is lacking in Hillel’s doc is a clearer narrative and to have some direction as to where the doc is heading.  As such, CITY DREAMERS seem loosely strung together, in a way that any order of the presentations of the subjects would not have made any difference.  The positive side of this is that he lets the women tell their stories in an unobstructed way.