Helvetica, The Film

Written by Typographica on August 6, 2006

Helvetica FilmHelvetica turns 50 next year and it’s getting a pretty fancy gift: a biopic. Helvetica, the first feature-length film about a font, will premiere in 2007. The official website launched today.

Now that you’ve all gasped and snickered, let me add that this will be no comic parody. Helvetica is serious stuff. It’s probably the most pervasive and well-known of all typefaces, and one of the more controversial — the perfect window through which to introduce general audiences to the esoteric world typography. As Director Gary Hustwit explains:

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 … 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?

The film is studded with the stars of typography: Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Michael Bierut, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Stefan Sagmeister, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset. Hustwit is no slouch either. His resume includes I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the 2002 film about Wilco, considered by many to be one of the best documentaries about a band and the music industry.

Helvetica Film Still
A scene from Helvetica shot at Manfred Schulz’ letterpress in Frankfurt.

A sneak preview of Helvetica will be screened at TypeCon in Boston on Wednesday, August 9th, as part of The Third Annual Typophile Film Festival. I’ll be there. Share some popcorn with me as we boo and hiss at the villain Arial, should he dare make an appearance.

See also: The Helvetica Meditations