Helvetica is an independent feature-length documentary film about typography and graphic design, centered on the typeface of the same name. Directed by Gary Hustwit, it was released in 2007 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the typeface's introduction in 1957 and is considered the first of the Design Trilogy by the director.
Its content consists of a history of the typeface interspersed with candid interviews with leading graphic and type designers. The film aims to show Helvetica's beauty and ubiquity, and illuminate the personalities that are behind typefaces. It also explores the rift between modernists and postmodernists, with the latter expressing and explaining their criticisms of the famous typeface.
Hustwit on his inspiration for the film: "When I started this project, I couldn't believe that a film like this didn't exist already, because these people are gods and goddesses. What they do is more than just logos and corporate branding - they design the type that we read every day in newspapers and magazines, onscreen and on television. Fonts don't just appear out of Microsoft Word: there are human beings and huge stories behind them."
Helvetica premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007. The film toured around the world for screenings in selected venues, such as the IFC Center in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Arts London, the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. Helvetica was nominated for the 2008 Independent Spirit's Truer than Fiction Award.
Bands and musicians that contributed to the documentary's soundtrack include Four Tet, The Album Leaf, Kim Hiorthøy, Caribou, Battles, Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake, and El Ten Eleven.
An edited version of the film was broadcast in the UK on BBC One in November 2007, as part of Alan Yentob's Imagine series. It aired in January 2009 as part of the Independent Lens series on PBS in the United States.
The film was released on DVD in November 2007 by Plexifilm.
The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in May 2008, produced by Matt Grady of Plexifilm. The limited (1,500 copies) edition includes Gary Hustwit's autograph. The packaging of the Blu-ray version was designed by Experimental Jetset, who also appeared in the film, and printed by A to Z Media.
Alfred Hoffmann, Eduard Hoffmann's son
Mike Parker Linotype's typographic development director.
Michael C. Place
The New York Sun editor Steve Dollar claimed the odd details and vocal asides made the movie more compelling than might otherwise be imagined.
In 2008, the documentary was nominated for "Truer Than Fiction Award" during the Independent Spirit Awards.