Between The Folds, or Why You Ought to Watch a Documentary about Paper Folding


There are two main reasons to love Between the Folds, which is a documentary about origami. The first reason is that it's great. The second reason: it's short. With a 54 minute runtime, you have just enough time to fold some laundry, maybe eat some chips, and then you are all done. This film does not overstay its welcome, and that is a rare thing in documentaries, to watch something that wraps up right when it should.

So: origami. The art of folding a single piece of paper into a shape. For most of human history origami has been more of a decorative craft than an artform. Students use origami to make a little box, a little bird, a cute little jumping frog. That's it. But as the film shows, the art of origami exploded when a man named Akira Yoshizawa, started to push beyond the set forms to work on creating new and more expressive figures. Over the next 3 decades Origami moved from craft into science and art. The artists and scientists featured do some astonishing things to paper.

The film shows how each person who approaches the discipline chooses a different facet to focus on- one particularly charming segment shows a postmodernist origami artist who explores what can be done to a piece of paper using only one fold. Another artist is interested in making moving origami shapes, where the works literally fold and unfold themselves.  The movie works on that level alone, starting with a simple exploration of the range in contemporary origami, then demonstrating  the exponential growth in the form and finishing with hints of how the medium may come to be pushed as time goes on.

But then there is also very fascinating idea about artmaking deliberately embedded in the documentary. The filmmaker explores the idea that the overall limitlessness of art benefits from the many impositions of limits. If you look at making an art work about say, a bear, there's pretty much nothing that can't be done- a bear dance, a bear sculpture, a bear video, a bear painting, etc. But as you narrow down to a medium, then an objective, suddenly astonishing things happen. In origami the medium and objective might be, how do you make the most realistic bear you can (There's an incredible origami pangolin shown, which has rows and rows of perfect beautiful scales)? Then the next question might be, how do you make a bear using the least amount of folding, and expression- the minimum amount of manipulation needed to suggest bearishness. As an artist how do you use technique and materials to overcome the limits you set for yourself? What are you pushing beyond and why?

For non-artists, this documentary presents an approachable way to start working through how you should approach art. It says, "okay this is paper folding. Now, here is what a bunch of different people do with it. All of these people are trying to do something, and there is a great range in their objective and result." If you use that starting point to enter a gallery you can start to examine art with that mindset. In approaching an artwork you should be asking, "what are the limits the artist set for themselves with materials and methods? What do I think those things are trying to suggest? Does it work?"

And helpfully this film is available on Netflix Instant.


  1. We watched it! P. and I LOVED IT. "What are the limits of this art form?" That nerdle the turtle is my hero. Great rec.


    1. Sorry your comment languished in purgatory for so long! Thank you for commenting! I very much enjoy reading your blog and following along with your adventures.