Kumu Documentary: Skin of Glass
Dir Denise Zmekhol
USA 2023, 90 min
In English and Portuguese, with English subtitles
Introduction by Architectural Historian Grete Tiigiste.
A poetic and personal cinematic meditation on displacement, inequality and loss, Skin of Glass follows the film-maker Denise Zmekhol’s journey after discovering that her late father’s most celebrated work as an architect, a modernist glass skyscraper in the heart of São Paulo affectionately known as the Pele de Vidro (“Skin of Glass”), has become occupied by hundreds of homeless families.
The building was designed by the 32-year-old Roger Zmekhol, a Syrian immigrant to Brazil. Conceived in the vibrant era of bossa nova and Cinema Novo, and constructed in the early days of a US-backed dictatorship that would hold power for two decades, the building’s dramatic transformations mirror Brazil itself during eras of darkness, transformation and rebirth.
Zmekhol’s initially personal quest to reconnect with the father she lost at 14 forces her to face a growing global crisis: one in six people in the world are homeless. In the wake of a shocking tragedy, she ultimately connects with the building’s residents and comes to understand how São Paulo’s most vulnerable residents found shelter within a modernist icon of Brazil’s golden age of architecture. Delicately interweaving the personal and political, Skin of Glass is a searing portrait of a country in crisis captured through the story of a father and daughter and the built environment of São Paulo, where their lives, memories and dreams intermingle.
2023 Best Documentary Feature Film at the International Architecture Film Festival Barcelona.