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About Program

Helvetica is a feature-length documentary about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.

Helvetica is a cinematic exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day.

Interviewees in Helvetica include some of the most illustrious and innovative names in the design world, including Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset, Michael C. Place, Norm, Alfred Hoffmann, Mike Parker, Bruno Steinert, Otmar Hoefer, Leslie Savan, Rick Poynor, and Lars Müller.

“The real achievement of the film is the way it sharpens your eye in general and makes connections between form and content, and between art and life.” — Chicago Tribune

Helvetica had its World Premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007. The film subsequently toured film festivals, special events, and art house cinemas worldwide, playing in over 300 cities in 40 countries. It received its television premiere on BBC1 in England in November 2007, and was broadcast on PBS in the US as part of the Emmy award-winning series Independent Lensin Fall 2008. It was subsequently broadcast on networks in 15 other countries. Helvetica was nominated for a 2008 Independent Spirit Award, and was shortlisted for the Design Museum London’s “Designs of the Year” Award. An excerpt of the film was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

About the Typeface

Helvetica was developed by Max Miedinger with Edüard Hoffmann in 1957 for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland. In the late 1950s, the European design world saw a revival of older sans-serif typefaces such as the German face Akzidenz Grotesk. Haas’ director Hoffmann commissioned Miedinger, a former employee and freelance designer, to draw an updated sans-serif typeface to add to their line. The result was called Neue Haas Grotesk, but its name was later changed to Helvetica, derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland, when Haas’ German parent companies Stempel and Linotype began marketing the font internationally in 1961.

Introduced amidst a wave of popularity of Swiss design, and fueled by advertising agencies selling this new design style to their clients, Helvetica quickly appeared in corporate logos, signage for transportation systems, fine art prints, and myriad other uses worldwide. The inclusion of the font in home computer systems such as the Apple Macintosh in 1984 only further cemented its ubiquity.

Gary Hustwit

Gary Hustwit is an American independent filmmaker and photographer. He may be best known for the Design Trilogy of documentaries, which examines trends in Euro-American graphic design, typography, industrial design, architecture, and urban planning.

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