When author Joshua Foer conjured up the idea to hold the world’s first international Sukkah design competition, Sukkah City, in 2010, the prospect of 650 people from more than 40 countries, many of them non-Jews, jumping at the chance to enter, or real luminaries in the field of architecture and design, people such as Thom Mayne and Ron Arad, eagerly joining the jury responsible for picking the participants, seemed as equally preposterous as the contest itself.
But, all of it came to pass, and the result of his efforts is experiencing new life with the upcoming release of director Jason Hutt’s eponymous film, centered around Foer’s Sukkah City that went up in New York City’s Union Square.
“We had 200,000 New Yorkers come through during the exhibition. I think this film is a continuation of that and is a great way to share the competition with those who couldn’t witness it in person,” Foer, the author of Moonwalking with Einstein, told The Algemeiner in an interview.
The conceit of the competition was to propose a modern take on the ancient structure, a three-sided booth with a thatched roof that Moses commanded the Israelites to spend time eating and drinking in to enjoy the final gasps of Summer, post-harvest, the week after Yom Kippur, before the heavy-duty agricultural work commenced again. What Foer wanted to do was create a forum to breathe new life into the ancient Sukkah; the documentary tells that story.
Hutt’s film widens the breadth of the competition, offering depth to what was, for most of those who walked through it, a brief exhibition of craftily-made, and unique Jewish structures, but without much of the added context that the documentary provides.
Foer said, “To most people, the competition was 12 Sukkahs in Union Square. But Jason’s film allows a whole other aspect of the competition to be experienced. Jason really captured the competition. There are scenes in the film that capture moments even I didn’t know about.”
The film follows every aspect of the competition, from the application process to the competition’s final stages— the Union Square exhibit. In between, the process by which the judges chose the winners—a sometimes heated and contentious undertaking, as well as the efforts of the winning contestants to pull off their designs, provides surprising narrative interest.
Hutt told The Algemeiner the opportunity to observe the architects at work was what drew him to the project.
“With the film you really have the opportunity to see how architects approach various design challenges. The film is not only about creativity, but also about how designers and architects approach the creative process,” Hutt said. “This competition had so many interesting and dramatic components involved. I knew a little bit about the history of architecture competitions, and applying the approach to the Sukkah just seemed like an extraordinarily cool idea.”
The film is screening in Union Square on Sept. 22, and at the JCC in Manhattan on Sept. 23 and 24.
Watch the trailer for Sukkah City, below: