At the World Cinema Showcase, a typeface makes a star turn. By TIM WONG.

IN EXPOSING the inferior (but to the untrained eye, indistinguishable) typeface Arial for what it really is – an inbred phony – Helvetica champions and despises its own ubiquity. The most entertaining documentary of the New Zealand International Film Festivals last year, it makes a welcome comeback by virtue of its point of difference, paving the way for likeminded design documentaries interrogative of visual communication. Neutrally presented, yet fastidiously profiled, Gary Hustwit plays biographer in giving life and personality to the film’s eponymous lead character, before turning him/her over (the font is rather androgynous, so it’s hard to say) to a gallery of outspoken opponents and fervent supporters. In typographic speak, Hustwit’s talking heads – a fascinating array of practitioners, whose celebrated names are usually relegated to the pages of glossy design publications, but find a voice as part of the documentary’s enlightening and expert commentary – draw their lines in either positive or negative space. The only middle ground to be found is in the unconscious desktop publisher, an indifferent slave to the expediency of 12pt Helvetica beneath a letterhead, or throughout a lackadaisical résumé. For students of graphic design especially, lending an ear to such keynote speakers as Erik Spiekermann, Neville Brody and Stefan Sagmeister is invaluable: all engage with humour, cogency and great wit, although Raygun creator David Carson comes off as a hasbeen, while the inept Michael C. Place proves little more than a purveyor of shallow, inconsequential visual noise. Neither for nor against the Everyfont, Helvetica does have a purpose: to ensure its viewers think twice about the form, function – and perhaps even consequences – of the typeface they choose to use next.