(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This 56-minute documentary written and directed by Vanessa Gould looks at origami, the art of paper-folding that has gone from a simple art of creating figures of animals out of paper to an explosion of styles and practical applications. The film looks at some of the major figures in creating origami and the vast array of applications in the real world of engineering, biology, and mathematics. The film sweeps viewers from intricately beautiful works of folded paper art to the submicroscopic origami of proteins, and it is well worth the trip. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

The documentary BETWEEN THE FOLDS, written and directed by Vanessa Gould, is being shown on PBS's Independent Lens series in December and January.

A personal note: I am a hobby origamist. I started folding toys out of paper by age six. Like many origamists I began with paper airplanes. Since then I got into many forms of origami, mostly still folding toys and mathematical ornaments. Over the years I have probably invented more than a hundred figures. But I have always gone from squares and/or rectangles and folded animals, spaceships, or perhaps abstract pieces. While I was folding simple figures this the field completely changed under me and seeing a film like BETWEEN THE FOLDS tells me much of what has been going on of which I had been ignorant.

This is an art form, but it is an art form that is restricted by mathematical rules. In the TED Talk cited below Robert Lang gives the four mathematical laws that restrict the structures that can be made using origami. Artists love self-imposed constraints and BETWEEN THE FOLDS shows the vast panoply of creations that can be made under those restrictions.

We see examples of people who start with wet paper to get more realistic contours when creating animals. Michael LaFosse makes his own paper and folds figures using the paper, sometimes wet. By making his own paper he can control the texture. But he basically is folding like I am, creating figures as realistic as possible. If there is a difference there is the complexity of his creations. Over the years figures have gone from seven or ten folds to dozens and then hundreds. Pangolins, for example, can be given realistic surfaces by tessellations of scales on their backs each individually folded.

The film continues on to show origami subjects following the styles of modern art, getting less realistic to find a greater truth in their subject. More abstract forms are found. Some are more complex, but Paul Jackson has made a study of abstract shapes that one can get with a single crease and just some flexing.

All of this is art, but so far it has little practical application. The simplest use is to use origami to teach geometry as a geometry instruction tool as Miri Golan does in Israel. (I have done this myself.) Origami turns geometric principles into a game. Tom Hull applies it to more advanced subjects such as number theory and higher algebra. Still it is being as just an illustration.

Martin and Erik Demaine, father and son professors at MIT, work on general theoretic questions like what shapes can be formed by folding paper and then making one straight cut. But their work has a practical side. They, Robert Lang, and others contribute to medicine, biology, natural sciences, and space. Lenses for space telescopes can be folded into packages small enough to send into space only to be opened up when they reach orbit. Science now applies origami to a broad range of applications from compacting car airbags so they too can be stored in a relatively small space, to DNA structure. Erik Demaine has made advances in folding the molecular structure of proteins to create drugs to use against toxic viruses.

As one folder makes the point, everything seems to fold. Geological pressure makes the surface of the planet fold. DNA folds and unfolds. Even when we speak the vibration of our voice folds the air. The science of what can happen when things fold is turning out to be a fundamental study of how our world works. Sadly at 56 minutes this film cannot cover to satisfying depth the origami-related art, technology, science, mathematics, and even philosophy. But what it does cover is well worth seeing.

This is a film that is intelligent, intriguing, and beautiful. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

A T.E.D. Talks with Robert Lang discussing practical applications of origami and new software approaches to solving origami problems is available at

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper