SXSW 2021 Review: Mau

Year: 2021
Runtime: 77 minutes
Directors: Benjamin Bergmann, Jono Bergmann

By Joan Amenn

Design: a plan or drawing; the act of conceiving a plan or drawing

Bruce Mau singlehandedly expanded the definition of the word design from referencing something small like an edgy looking teapot to a plan of action on an epic scale. He revolutionized what design can be and what it can do to address some of the world’s most urgent problems. It’s not easy being a revolutionary, and this documentary will no doubt frustrate some who won’t agree with his approach.

Mau came from a traumatic childhood amid the wilderness of Canada. As someone who had only his own resilience and mental capacity to rely on at an early age, it is understandable that he believes deeply in humanity’s ability to create positive change. As he points out, most of the world lives surrounded by human constructs of urban environments and organized societies. What was constructed can be destructed and reconstructed. This is an extreme oversimplification but points out his deep faith in his own unique flavor of humanism through design.

The documentary gives an overview of some of Mau’s projects but they seem to have often had only limited success. Mau himself stresses in the film that he bases his work in “fact-based optimism” but it seems as if more than just facts are needed for his clients to fully embrace his vision. In the case of his redesign of the roads for Mecca so that more people can access the shrine in greater safety, the overview of his plan sounds fascinating but was ultimately turned down. The reasons given are not clear but the fact that he is not a Muslim was hinted at as being a cause for concern. And yet this had to have been known when he was brought into the project so this does not sound genuine, but the film does not delve further.

Mau is an engaging and witty speaker who has a strong family of a supportive wife and children. He can be very persuasive but the film seems to try too hard to sell his world view when just letting the man speak for himself would be enough. Ultimately, “Mau” is an engrossing entry into the mind of a man who struggles to help the world reach it’s potential but the work of a lifetime cannot be encapsulated in under two hours.

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