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.

RIDM 2015 Review: Polar Sea 360° is a virtual-reality voyage to the Arctic with a rich, detailed, online component, too

Screen grab from Polar Sea 360 web site. Clicking on it won't do anything!
Screen grab from Polar Sea 360 web site. Clicking on it won’t do anything!

Go to RIDM’s UXdoc Space at Cinémathèque Québécoise, put on the virtual reality headset, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the Arctic – except you won’t need big mitts and an extra warm coat.

You can look right, left, up, down or behind you; there’s always something to see. You might be in a helicopter, on a blue-sky, sunny day, hovering above ice, snow, glaciers and icebergs or somehow outside the ‘copter, looking into it at the pilots. You might be on the deck of a small boat, in the dining room of cruise ship, or riding through a small village on an all-terrain vehicle. On top of all that, you can see the aurora borealis shimmering in the night sky in its mysterious way.

For me, it was a fascinating experience and well worth the trip to the Cinémathèque, which is conveniently located mere steps from the Berri-UQAM metro. But that’s not all, there so much more!

Before and/or after experiencing the Arctic in this way, you can find a wealth of information, from many points of view, at the web site polarsea360.arte.tv  There is a video with several chapters, and a “magazine” with 10 episodes; some of these episodes also have short videos embedded in them, as well. During the main video, and many of the video segments, viewers can use the arrow keys on their computer to get a 360-degree view. (The project can be enjoyed on smartphones and tablets, too, but I used a desktop computer. If you have a virtual reality headset at home, you cam use that. too. The web site has links to three companies that sell them.)

Screen grab for the Polar Sea 360¡ web site shows Arctic ice bergs.
Screen grab for the Polar Sea 360 web site shows Arctic ice bergs.

Polar Sea 360° is an international project with participants from Canada, Argentina, Denmark, France, Germany, Greenland, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. They include Arctic residents, authors, amateur explorers, biologists, a Canadian Coast Guard officer, filmmakers, geographers, geologists, historians, photographers, a prof in international politics, sailors, sea captains, scientists, singers, and veterinarians.

Climate change, and the way it affects people, wildlife and the landscape, is a major topic of the videos and the texts. The trip offered by the French cruise ship Boréal would not have been possible in past decades, because the ice was thicker then. Increased access to the Arctic means more shipping, exploration for oil and minerals and the habitat destruction and pollution that can come with that.

We also learn about the DEW Line, the Franklin expedition, explorer Roald Amundsen, and Inuit history and culture, including the forced relocation of some Inuit to Resolute Bay to shore up Canada’s arctic sovereignty claims, the abuse at residential schools, the importance of narwhal and seal in the traditional Inuit diet, their hospitality customs, hunting methods, throat singing, traditional place names, historical routes, and the problems of the present day; Nunavut has highest suicide rate in Canada.

A graphic about Arctic sovereignty from Polar Sea 360. The international, interactive project combines information about ecology, geology, history, politics and more.
A graphic about Arctic sovereignty from Polar Sea 360. The international, interactive project combines information about ecology, geology, history, politics and more.

The waters being navigated in Polar Sea 360° are part of the famous, near mythical, Northwest Passage. Mention of it takes me back to Grade 6 history class. (You, too?) In those days, we didn’t learn much about the negative aspects of exploration and the imperialism that came with it. But we did learn about the Northwest Passage – for centuries, explorers dreamed of it and searched for it – a quicker way from Europe to the riches of Asia. The man (of course, it would be a man!) who found it would be rich, famous, admired, bring glory to his country, etc. It was a big deal then and it has become a big deal once again. Read more about the RIDM presentation of Polar Sea 360° here.

 

Polar Sea 360°

Country : Canada, Germany
Year : 2014
Language : English, French, German
Runtime : (up to you!)
Platform : Réalité Virtuelle / Virtual Reality (Samsung Gear Vr)
Website : http://polarsea360.arte.tv
Production : Irene Vandertop, Thomas Wallner, Stephanie Weimar
Artistic Direction : Thomas Wallner
Technical Direction : Scott Herman
Sound : Janine White
Contact
(Production)
Thomas Wallner, Deep Inc., thomas@deep-inc.com

Visit the UXdoc Space at Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E., from Nov. 12-22, 2015, from 11a.m. to 8p.m., to see Polar Sea 360° and other interactive presentations.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.