Filmmaker Lucia Small has endured a difficult relationship with her father, architect Glen Howard Small. So, it surprised her when Glen asked if she would tell his life story. Lucia agreed and the result is the terrific, offbeat documentary "My Father, the Genius."
Glen knew from an early age that he wanted to be an architect - but not just any architect. He wanted to change the way we live by making our dwellings more ecologically friendly. Unfortunately, Glen's obsession with architecture left little room for family. He divorced Lucia's mother and was largely absent from the lives of their three daughters.
Glen Small's career got off to a roaring start by winning notoriety for his early designs and co-founding the Southern California Institute of Architecture. In the film, Small's ex-students laud him for his "hands on" approach to teaching. Along the way, he designed his magnum opus - the biomorphic biosphere.
Then things went bad. The "biomorphic biosphere" was never built. Small was fired from his faculty position. Several relationships crumbled. He attempted to start over by starting his own architecture firm, but he attracted few clients and his heart wasn't in it, anyway. At the time of the filming, Small was desperate for money.
My Father, the Genius explores Small's overarching ambitions and the twisted relationships that arose as a result. In a striking scene, the viewer sees a 1976 film of Small speaking during a meeting with other architects in which he makes brutal comments about the other attendees and their work. Small's three daughters all have negative feelings about his absence from their lives, but their father is less-than contrite, noting at one point that "families come and go." The viewer's heart breaks for Small's daughters. Also, the viewer begins to understand how he sabotaged a promising life.
The film is consistently interesting and the viewer is left with a lot to think about after it ends. I recommend My Father, the Genius.