Director's Statement

Why make a film about a typeface, let alone a feature documentary film about Helvetica? Because it's all around us. You've probably already seen Helvetica several times today. It might have told you which subway platform you needed, or tried to sell you investment services or vacation getaways in the ads in your morning paper. Maybe it gave you the latest headlines on television, or let you know whether to 'push' or 'pull' to open your office door.

Since millions of people see and use Helvetica every day, I guess I just wondered, "Why?" How did a typeface drawn by a little-known Swiss designer in 1957 become one of the most popular ways for us to communicate our words fifty years later? And what are the repercussions of that popularity, has it resulted in the globalization of our visual culture? Does a storefront today look the same in Minneapolis, Melbourne and Munich? How do we interact with type on a daily basis? And what about the effects of technology on type and graphic design, and the ways we consume it? Most of us use computers and digital fonts every day, so are we all graphic designers now, in a sense?

So let's just say I had a few questions, and I thought making a film would be a good way to answer them. I also thought that looking at Helvetica's "career" would be a good structure to look at the past 50 years of graphic design, and a starting point for some interesting conversations in the film. And hopefully the film could make people who aren't in the design trade think twice about the words that surround them, and the effect that typefaces have on the way we process those words.

I definitely did not want to make a film that had 75 people all saying one quick sound bite about Helvetica, all chopped together. Since there really haven't been any great documentaries made about graphic design and type, I wanted to try to focus on the interviewees in the film as much as the subject matter. People like Wim Crouwel, Massimo Vignelli, Hermann Zapf, Matthew Carter... these are incredibly talented, knowledgeable, humble people, who each deserve an extensive documentary about their careers. And there are so many younger designers doing amazing work today as well, work that hasn't been celebrated in documentary form yet. So I hope that in this film you'll be able to get to know some of these people a little, see some of their work, and then hear their thoughts on type, and, of course, Helvetica.

-Gary Hustwit, New York, July 2006


About the Director

Gary Hustwit is an independent filmmaker based in New York and London. He has produced six feature documentaries, including I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the award-winning film about the band Wilco; Moog, the documentary about electronic music pioneer Robert Moog; and Drive Well, Sleep Carefully, a tour film about the band Death Cab for Cutie. Hustwit worked with punk label SST Records in the late-1980s, ran the independent book publishing house Incommunicado Press during the 1990s, was Vice President of the media website Salon.com in 2000, and started the indie DVD label Plexifilm in 2001.

Hustwit made his directorial debut with Helvetica, which had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007, and has since screened in over 200 cities worldwide. It had its television premiere in the UK on BBC1, and will be broadcast in the United States on PBS in January 2009. Hustwit was nominated for the 2008 Independent Spirit "Truer Than Fiction" Award for Helvetica.

Hustwit is currently working on his next film, Objectified, which will premiere in spring 2009.

Filmmaker contact: gary (at) helveticafilm.com




















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Helvetica is now available as a digital download for USA iTunes users.


Helvetica is a Swiss Dots Production, in association with Veer.