Nathaniel Kahn delved into his father’s past in his 2003 Academy Award-nominated documentary “My Architect,” and stepped into his own past last week by visiting Germantown Friends School.
“My journey toward making films began here,” he told the Media Studies students in Meg Goldner Rabinowitz’s class on Monday, Feb. 23.
Kahn is a GFS “lifer” (he started in Kindergarten and graduated in 1981) and the son of architect Louis Kahn, who designed innovative modern buildings in Philadelphia, across the country and around the world.
The famous architect was a mystery to his son and died when Kahn was just eleven years old. The award-winning film “My Architect” depicts Kahn’s odyssey to understand his father through the work he left behind. In the film, Kahn uses the lines, spaces and shadows of his father’s work to illuminate the emotional trail he follows by visiting his father’s buildings and talking with people who knew him.
During his GFS visit, Kahn taught the students about the emotional, artistic, technical and business aspects of making films. Early in his filmmaking career, Kahn worried about criticisms and rejection and as a result his work was “too safe, too polite.” He learned to overcome some of those fears and advised the young filmmakers in the class to, “go with great courage and excitement, and if you are not at least a little bit afraid then you are doing something wrong.”
Kahn told the students to keep journals or take pictures or make films – even with just a smart phone, which he considers a wonderfully “spontaneous” tool – in order to discover and capture the details of their lives.
“Stories come from an emotional place within you,” he said, “but you need to take enormous risks and be willing to fail and to look like an idiot, and to go deep to find the story that you really want to tell.”
Kahn believes that the best films involve improvisation.
“Art is experimentation,” he said. “There are different ways to make a film and they are all valid, but what is important is the emotional experience.”
He taught the students about the technical ways the structures films to amplify drama, and encouraged them to learn the “language of film” to tell stories that entertain and impact audiences.
“Films have a beginning, a middle and an end – just like life,” he said. “And if you play around with that you can make something very transcendent.”