The city of Montreal in 1967 was facing a major shift. The 1967 Montreal Expo infused with imagery of modernity and futurism brought to the city significant urban megaprojects, such as the subway system, inner city freeways, the Biophespere, the Biodome, and the Turcot interchange. There was a proliferation of discourses of modernity and the city was the privileged space for the implementation of these discourses, highlighting effectiveness in urban planning as the primary source for proficiency and productivity in the city of the future. In 2007, after 4 decades of being created, the Quebec government announced forthcoming plans for the demolition and reconstruction of the Turcot interchange, affecting hundreds of citizens. They are now facing eviction as a consequence of the new design that the interchange needs, entire communities will disappear as a consequence of the interchange reconstruction. One of the questions remaining unanswered is, what will happen to those hundreds of personal stories that “will be lost in time like tears in rain”?, as the character, Roy Batty, stated in the film Blade Runner (Scott, 1982).
When reflecting about which medium should I use to better document and communicate such a complex social scenario -the demolition of the Turcot interchange and the displacement of hundreds of local residents, I realized about the constrictions of documentary filmmaking practices when approaching these complexities. I concluded that my research must also comment on the dominant conditions of production and consumption of documentary filmmaking practices. Feature documentary tells a very specific kind of story really well, which is usually a major-life changing event, taking us into a cinematic journey into the character’s life. However, those aren’t the only stories to be told. Alternative models for documentary storytelling are needed, beyond the conventional viewing conditions of cinema; such as fixed seating position, single screen and linear and fixed screen duration, all archaic legacies of 19th century spectacle conditions.
I primarily challenged conventional strategies of representation in documentary filmmaking practices, by examining the intersections between video art and documentary. My research process at large can be understood as an exploration of the nuanced and inevitable failure of the very act of representation. Instead of looking for accuracy and veracity in terms of representation, I examined the relationship between the everyday and contested urban spaces, focusing primarily in how discourses of modernity and efficiency, reflected on government policies of urban planning, have a profound effect on the life of residents. These residents are not only removed from the negotiations on the planning of the interchange, but also from envisioning their own material conditions for urban living, leisure time and time spend in commute.
I came to the conclusion that in order to convey this complexity, I needed to expressed it through a timeline, beginning from 1967, the year the Turcot interchange was opened to the public -corresponding to Zovilé’s arrival to Montreal- until 2012, the year that Zovilé and other residents faced eviction. The documentation of Pierre Zovilé was complimented with archival footage, photographs, maps and other archival material, meanwhile maintaining a process of close ethnographic observation of his everyday life and his surroundings, situating myself as a mediator between his personal memories and the historical process of displacement of the interchange.
In order to answer the question about how to investigate the relationship between individual memorialization and historical processes of displacement -the nuanced relationship between personal and cultural memory- I realized my research needed to use a wide frame of methods, such as: ethnography and oral history; analysis of content in media coverage of the reconstruction of the Turcot interchange; compilation of archival material hosted in local archives; investigation of archival footage from TV and film productions dating back to the decade of the 60’s; information about the inaugural Expo 67 and its repercussion in the city; academic research on critical perspectives on urbanism, postmodern geography, sociology of modernity and gentrification.
Pierre Zovilé helped me to investigate processes of individual memorialization in sites of displacement by allowing me to participate and document his everyday life. I spend several months visiting him at his loft, situated at 780 St-Remi Street, one of the confirmed places to be demolished to make space for the new interchange. I began a process of oral history with him, where he spoke about his early life in Europe, his arrival to Montreal in the 60’s until the present day, as he lives in constant uncertainty about his future due to the upcoming demolition of the building where he currently resides.
My incursion in this territory of cultural representation is informed by the reflections of Catherine Russell on Experimental Ethnography, as she says “that experimental ethnography is intended not as a new category of film practice but as a methodological incursion of aesthetics on cultural representation, a collision of social theory and formal experimentation” (1). My ethnographic representation consisted of a rather experimental approach to the compilation of notes, photos, video and audio documentation. I constructed a historical, subjective cartography of Pierre Zoville’s internalized processes of memorialization of his own displacement, providing me with a framework to research the complex relationship between public transportation, social housing, urban planning and local activism in contemporary urban landscapes.
Duration: 1 min.
(1) Russell, Catherine. Experimental Ethnography. The Work of Film in the Age of Video. Duke University Press, 1999. P: 11.