RIDM 2015 Review: The Unknown Photographer

This screengrab from the Unknown Photographer web site show the videos that can be watched even after the RIDM documentary film festival is over. (Since it is just a screengrab, clciking on the arrows won't do anything.

This screengrab from the Unknown Photographer web site show the videos that can be watched even after the RIDM documentary film festival is over. (Since it is just a screengrab, clicking on the arrows won’t do anything.

Like the Polar Sea 360° project, The Unknown Photographer has one component that you can explore with an Oculus virtual reality headset for the duration of RIDM, and several other parts that you can enjoy at home whenever you choose to do so.

The Unknown Photographer is a co-production between the National Film Board of Canada and Turbulent, with the financial support of Canada Media Fund. It was inspired by a thick album of World War I photos that was found in an abandoned building in Morin Heights. Some accounts say the building was a home, some say it was a barn, but in Looking For Fletcher Wade Moses, a film on the project’s web site, filmmaker Philippe Baylaucq says he found it in a sort of “haunted house” when he was still a teenager. That story is better yet, no? He felt it was a treasure that needed to be saved, so he took it, and eventually gave it to photographer Bertrand Carrière, who made Looking For Fletcher Wade Moses.

The album belonged to Fletcher Wade Moses, but despite lots of research into the man’s life, including talks with his daughter and grandson, Carrière was not able to determine if he had taken the photos or not. While he was interested in Fletcher Wade Moses, he was more interested in the photos and the landscapes they depicted. He was shocked by the devastation, with entire cities reduced to rubble. He realized that most of the photos had been taken in the last years of the war, on the Western Front. He went to France to see what those places looked like years later.

Precisely because it was impossible to identify the photographer (or photographers) the virtual reality part of the project is a work of imagination and conjecture. In fact, the narrator who leads us through the experience is unsure of just who he is or where he is, though he does “remember the war.” (Julian Casey provides the voice of the English version; François Papineau provides the French one.)

This barren battlefield is seen in the virtual-reality component of The Unknown Photographer.

This barren battlefield is seen in the virtual-reality component of The Unknown Photographer.

Considering the present date and when the war was (1914-1918) he could well be speaking to us from the hereafter. Participants in the virtual reality experience can choose their trajectory through their head movements and by moving a joystick. They can move through a barren landscape of blackened trees, climbing down into trenches or up hillsides. They can navigate a huge, dark, museum-like space, and drift through photographic cubes that tumble from the sky, a bit like Tetris. A strange figure, upright, with the antlered head of a deer, makes frequent appearances. What is he? Some kind of spirit animal? A shaman? An ancestral memory from our cavemen days?

The parts that can be watched at home include videos about the “Vest Pocket Kodak: The Soldiers’ Camera,” and “Postcards and Letters in Times of War.”

This is the setup for experiencing The Unknown Photographer in the UXdoc Space at the Cinematheque Quebecoise. Does it look like plugging into The Matrix?

This is the setup for experiencing The Unknown Photographer in the UXdoc Space at the Cinematheque Quebecoise. Does it look like plugging into The Matrix?

The Unknown Photographer, (Le Photographe Inconnu)
Directed by Loïc Suty
Country : Quebec
Year : 2015
Language : English, French
Runtime : 120 Min
Platform : Réalité Virtuelle / Virtual Reality (Oculus Rift)
Production : Marc Beaudet, Benoît Beauséjour, Claire Buffet, Louis-Richard Tremblay
Technical Direction : Osman Zeki
Sound : Martin Fish
Contact (Distribution) Élise Labbé, Office National Du Film Du Canada
e.labbe@onf.ca
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Norman Mclaren (Salle UXdoc), 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E. (For the virtual reality part)
(For the virtual reality part)
Visit unknownphotographer.nfb.ca for online components.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.

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