Introducing ‘Rebuilding Notre Dame,’ an Intimate Look at the Cathedral Before and After the Fire
Dating back to the 12th century, Notre Dame is a cultural landmark steeped in historic as well as religious significance. The cathedral caught fire on April 15, 2019, resulting in the destruction of its trademark spire. Since then, this popular tourist attraction has been closed to the public, pending a laborious renovation effort. And today, people around the world can step inside its walls and witness Notre Dame before and after the fire, thanks to Rebuilding Notre Dame—a new VR documentary from TARGO, now available in Oculus TV on Oculus Quest.
“We wanted everyone to remember the exact feeling of powerlessness we all had when we saw the cathedral burning,” explains Director & Co-Founder of TARGO Chloé Rochereuil. Gathering news clips from different languages is a way to reflect how global this event was—all of a sudden, the entire world was concerned about the cathedral and watching the events unfold on live news. This had to be the starting point for us.
“This documentary is about how this cathedral will come back to life,” notes Producer & Co-Founder of TARGO Victor Agulhon. It’s really interesting how you’ve used modern day visuals to explain the cathedral’s history, particularly when juxtaposed with the absence of the spire following the fire. Do you see a parallel between the restoration during the 1800s and the efforts of today?
Chloé Rochereuil: When we filmed at Notre Dame a year ago, we never thought that the footage would become a historical document so quickly. We used this footage in the documentary to illustrate Notre Dame’s history and to acknowledge this change in nature.
Victor Agulhon: As in the 1800s, Notre Dame comes back at the center of the public attention. Notre Dame is back to being a symbol, a real stake for the French people. Now that Notre Dame has to be rebuilt, it’s our turn to be in charge of its future.
At one point in the documentary, you focus on the organ that remained in tact following the fire. Do you think it helps reinforce the theme of hope coming out of catastrophe?
CR: The fact that the organ and the rose windows have remained intact are exactly what we need: symbols proving that we have avoided the worst, that Notre Dame’s marvels have been preserved enough to be brought back to life.
How did you go about selecting the soundtrack for the piece?
VA: Notre Dame is a religious place, but it’s also the most visited monument in Europe. With millions of tourists visiting it every year, Notre Dame is a monument for everyone. It was important that the soundtrack reflected this diversity.
Then, whenever the viewer gets inside the cathedral, we picked songs that reminded us of the mysticism of the monument. We decided to close the piece on a mass celebrated inside Notre Dame to bring it back to life completely, with its natural soundtrack.
If people take one thing away from Rebuilding Notre Dame, what do you hope it would be and why?
VA: After watching the piece, we hope that people will have a privileged sense of belonging to Notre Dame, whether they have ever physically been there or not. CR: We hope that this experience conveys the beauty of Notre Dame, its fragility, and that it makes people reflect on the meaning of cultural heritage in our modern societies. The true hero of the documentary is the cathedral, still standing after a devastating fire—we think that it’s a sign of hope.
How do you think VR and AR will continue to impact the fields of travel, education, and preservation moving forward?
VR allows us to rediscover lost worlds and make them feel alive. VA: We hope that this documentary will serve as an example to show how important VR technology can be for travel, culture, and education: a way for people to remember, relive, and discover what is inaccessible. With Rebuilding Notre Dame, we are honored to have captured forever a singular moment in the history of the cathedral that future generations will be able to experience in VR.
What’s next for you?
VA: The next big thing for us will be to find a location where we can make this experience available to the audiences that are interested in Notre Dame, directly in France, close enough to the cathedral so everyone can enjoy it in virtual reality.
Jan 24, 2020 at 20:35