Origami unfolded: “Between the Folds”

Paper hats, paper airplanes, and origami cranes seem like child’s play. The documentary “Between the Folds” demonstrates that paper folding is far more sophisticated than children’s games. This intriguing film about the elegant art of origami will play Sunday, Jan. 24, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre under the auspices of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society.

Director Vanessa Gould describes origami – from the Japanese for folding paper – as inspired by “our need to change things.” She interviews a variety of expert paper folders, including Michael LaFosse, the only origami artist who also makes his own paper.

As the name suggests, origami is thought by many to originate in Japan. In fact, the art of paper folding may date back to much earlier times in China. There are also paper-folding traditions in Germany and Spain.

Regardless of its true origins, origami involves no use of tape or cutting. The paper artist creates art out of a single piece of plain paper. It’s a metamorphic form that you don’t add to or take away from. When the paper is cut, the art becomes kirigami.

Eric Joisel is an artist of this medium who never creates the same piece twice. He compares paper folding to jazz, but even more so to the sonata or fugue. Dr. Tom Hull, with two degrees from UCal, initially used origami to create geometric forms in his research and now devotes himself almost exclusively to it. He says, “I’m having the best fun I’ve had in my life.”

The Japanese father of modern origami, Akira Yoshizawa, uses a wooden hammer to make the sharp creases that lead to unique paper forms. He was the first to keep the paper he works with moist. He also invented diagramming and has created more than 50,000 models.

In 1960, his diagrams relied on 20 to 30 steps. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the number of steps rose to 80, and now his elaborate diagrams use 200 steps.

Paul Jackson of Tel Aviv is a postmodernist paper folder. Describing paper as a very passive medium, he emphasizes how freeing its creative limits can be. Many of his designs go beyond representation into abstraction.

Chris Palmer works like a choreographer, and “Between the Folds” demonstrates how he transforms a paper tower into a flower. In contrast, the origami artists known as “les anarchists” work as paper crumplers and install their models outdoors as a way to consider the relationship between art and nature.

In Israel, origami is used to teach math. It serves as an educational laboratory, demonstrating the unity of all mathematics.

Erik Demaine, who entered MIT at the age of 12 and works there in the field of computer science, has become the top origami theorist in the world. He started out learning with his dad, Marty Demaine, a sculptor.

Mr. Demaine does origami because it’s fun. He calls it a melding of art and science. Some of the applications he’s developed include airbag design, foldable rocket lenses that can unfold in space, and the folding of human proteins as a means of fighting disease. “Its real beauty is its simplicity,” he says.

Who knew that those little paper cranes contained so much magic? You need to see the movie to appreciate just how remarkable origami can be.

“Between the Folds,” Sunday, Jan. 24, 7:30 pm., Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for M.V. Film Society members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, go to mvfilmsociety.com.