March 20, 2018 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
Created by award-winning documentary photographer and visual artist Michel Huneault (The Long Night of Mégantic, Post Tohoku) in collaboration with Maude Thibodeau, Chantal Dumas and Dpt., the immersive documentary Roxham will make its world premiere as a virtual reality (VR) installation in Particles of Existence, an exhibition of 10 first-class immersive works at Montreal’s Phi Centre from March 27 to August 12, 2018. As of March 24, the work (which is approximately 15 minutes long) can also be viewed in both English and French online in VR and 360-degree at nfb.ca/roxham. It was produced at the NFB by Hugues Sweeney. Combining sound and images captured on-site and based on 32 true stories, Roxham sensitively portrays the pivotal moment where asylum seekers are intercepted at Quebec’s Roxham Road—a normally quiet passageway between the United States and Canada that has seen the largest number of irregular border crossings in the country. Technology allows viewers to immerse themselves in this experience at the juncture of private and public that blends documentary rigour with contemporary artistic sensibility. Encapsulating today’s crises and conflicts—above all, the planet-wide migratory movement that’s come all the way to Canada—Roxham puts a human face on the confusing quest for a safe place. Montreal daily Le Devoir will feature a report on asylum seekers on Saturday, March 24, the same day as Roxham’s release online in VR and 360-degree.
About the work
Between February and August 2017, Huneault spent 16 days at Roxham Road, where he documented over 180 border-crossing attempts by individual asylum seekers from some 20 nations, including Eritrea, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan, Colombia, Turkey, Yemen, Guatemala, Haiti, El Salvador, Chad, the Philippines, Nigeria and Burundi. Roxham chronicles their experience as they are intercepted by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers.
A privileged witness to this moment of transition, Huneault captured the stories he saw unfolding before him and recorded the attendant sounds separately. It’s all there, live and raw: the slam of a taxi door at the New York State border, footsteps in the snow, the crackling of branches, the voices of asylum seekers and the RCMP officers, their discussions, the different languages, hesitations, changes in tone, the reading of rights, palpable confusion.
In his photographs, Huneault turns his asylum seekers into cut-out figures composed of multiple fabrics, rendering them anonymous to safeguard their identities. The textures we see are drawn from images he shot during the 2015 migrant crisis in Europe—blankets collected in Hungary, clean clothes offered to migrants in Austria, details of the tents erected for them in Germany—and serve as a sharp reminder that both events are part of the same historic narrative. Roxham Road has quickly gained symbolic status because it embodies the tension between the international responsibility to welcome asylum seekers and the duty to protect a national territory.
The immersive experience is divided into seven chapters, deconstructing the moments before and after the passage toward Canadian soil and forming the narrative: You cannot cross here; Do you speak English?; Please help us; Stop! You are in Canada; Sorry; Are you okay?; and Where are we going now?. Huneault narrates the overall experience. The interactive technology smooths the transitions between various points in the story and eases navigation, keeping the focus squarely on what’s happening at the border.
Roxham was created by Michel Huneault, with Maude Thibodeau and Chantal Dumas, and produced by the NFB in collaboration with Le Devoir, Phi and Dpt.
About Roxham Road
Since 2017, the number of asylum seekers arriving at Roxham Road has increased sharply, prompted by the politics of the Trump administration. Located on the Canada/U.S. border in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, Roxham Road has come to attention as the site with the largest number of irregular border crossings in the country: Close to 20,000 people were intercepted there in 2017, a record number.
Roxham at the Phi Centre as a VR installation and photo installation
Inspired by space travel, climate change and mass migration, Particles of Existence brings together 10 immersive experiences by such major names as Laurie Anderson, Chris Milk and Felix & Paul Studios. Roxham will be part of this exhibition at the Phi Centre from March 27 to August 12, 2018. A photographic installation will be held outside of the exhibition, featuring 16 photos from Huneault’s Roxham series accompanied by headsets playing a short audio loop. It will be displayed for free at the Centre’s Espace Plateau, providing background to his complete VR installation in the Particles of Existence exhibition.
About Michel Huneault
Montreal-based Michel Huneault is a documentary photographer and visual artist interested in development, trauma, migration and other geographically complex realities. Committed to a personal, humanist approach, he brings together still images and immersive elements in his work. Before devoting himself to photography full-time in 2008, he worked in international development for more than a decade. That career took him to more than 20 countries. Michel has a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of California–Berkeley, where he was a Rotary Peace Fellow studying the role of collective memory after large-scale traumatic events. He studied under and assisted Magnum photographer Gilles Peress at Berkeley and in New York City. His long-term project on the Lac-Mégantic train disaster won the 2015 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize and was published in book form the following year by Schilt Publishing as The Long Night of Mégantic. In 2016, he was able to deepen his research on migratory issues through the R. James Travers Foreign Corresponding Fellowship. The same year, his project Post Tohoku, on the effects of the tsunami in Japan, was a Prix Pictet 7 nominee and winner of a Prix Antoine-Desilets. His work has been presented in Japan, the United States, Canada and Switzerland.
For more information about Roxham and its creation team: mediaspace.nfb.ca/epk/roxham
To experience Roxham online in VR and 360-degree as of March 24: nfb.ca/roxham
Partial Electronic press kit: Roxham
* Videos, excerpts and other audio-visual material will be available as of March 22, 2018.
Sound clips are available on demand.
#roxham #roxhamvr #NFB #particlesofexistence
@nfb @Phi Centre @Le Devoir