Cité mémoire : from Pointe-aux-Trembles to BarcelonaAugust 4, 2022
Interview conducted by David Lamarre with Martin Laviolette and Luci Tremblay
Since 2016, the various projections that make up Cité Mémoire illuminate several buildings in downtown Montreal. Last May, a 28th stop was added to the circuit. Entitled The Point of the Island, the installation signed Michel Lemieux and Michel Marc Bouchard is presented on the cobblestones of the Place du Village, in Pointe-aux-Trembles.
To learn more about this major techno-creative project, I spoke with Luci Tremblay (Director of Strategy and Development, H2Emotion) and Martin Laviolette (General Manager and Executive Producer of Montréal en Histoires as well as President and CEO of H2Emotion).
The questions and answers have been lightly edited to make the text easier to read.
To make something like La pointe de l’île at Pointe-aux-Trembles, how many artists and crew members does it take?
Martin: In addition to Michel Lemieux and Michel Marc Bouchard, when we talk about voices, technicians and translators, we are talking about a team of 25 to 30 people. In music, I name him because it was he who created all the music for Cité Mémoire, we have Maxime Lepage. What’s more, I told Maxime at the launch of Pointe-aux-Trembles that the music is really magnificent and that we should launch the album Cité Mémoire. He replied: “It’s going to be a double album”.
For The Point of the Island, there are no characters, but when there are, you also have to count the film crews, the actors, the actresses…
The complete credits of Cité Mémoire, when we launched our first 19 projections, had 400 names. When we put all our works end to end, it makes a four and a half hour film!
And how many projectors are we talking about for all these scenes?
Martin: I don’t know the exact number, but it’s close to 120 projectors. The majority are outdoors, but there are a few indoors. We have two paintings at the Reine Élisabeth and one at the Complexe Desjardins on the story of Dorimène and Alphonse Desjardins.
It is the largest video projection circuit in the world.
You recently presented a Cité Mémoire projection at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts in Barcelona. How did you adapt the work to present the history of Montreal outside of Montreal?
Martin: The one we presented is that of the courthouse. We chose it because it told four centuries of Montreal history. For this projection, the artists used images shot by drones all over Montreal. It offers a truly magnificent view of Montreal.
Usually it is presented over two sections of the same building. We had to modify it to show it on a single tower. The work was done by Normal Studio and Michel Lemieux.
We had two test nights before the screening. But during the tests, Michel saw that one of the projectors was unused. You can’t leave him an unused projector like that! He decided to take it to stretch the image all the way down the stairs at the foot of the building and thus make the river flow down the steps. We were dealing with a technical team there and when Michel told them what he wanted to do, they made a funny face, as if it were impossible. Eventually they did and it was superb!
And how were you received in Spain?
Martin: We did a television interview for the 6 p.m. news. We did 2-3 newspapers, including La Vanguardia, one of the main daily newspapers in Spain, plus the central pages of Diari Ara. We had extraordinary visibility there!
During the screenings, we could see drone images of the city of Montreal, but on a historic and recognized building in Barcelona. It was very beautiful, very poetic.
Luci: Seeing the amount of people filming with their phones was really impressive.
Martin: It was great visibility for us, Cité Mémoire, but it was also great visibility for Montreal. We are really recognized internationally. We hired a technical team on site and they were proud to work with Montreal designers.
Luci: About the strength of Montreal creativity… The first morning, we had a meeting at the UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). They were all saying how good we are in Montreal and at one point, there was even one who said — and I quote him — “We would like to copy you.”
Martin: And I said to him, “Hire us instead!”
In a context where, precisely, there will be more and more competitors all over the world, how can we support producers of digital experiences here so that they remain at the forefront?
Martin: It’s really the artistic quality that is everything. If we take Cité Mémoire: Michel Lemieux, Victor Pilon and Michel Marc Bouchard knew exactly how to touch people. I sometimes say it in the office: “If we are sitting here, it is because we have a work of genius in our hands.”
In our business plan, we had to change our images every two years. But here, instead of changing them, we add to them! We have plenty of other projects in Montreal. There are other things coming.
Martin: In Quebec and in Canada, we are starting to have more government funding programs. However, there are some programs that should be more responsive to development and innovation.
Sometimes, at the level of donors, it does not follow the logic of where we are at technologically speaking. Take, for example, tax credits. Unlike film productions, we are not entitled to tax credits for filming. However, we film at MELS with the same technicians. But since our screens are building facades or trees, we are not entitled to tax credits.
But at the same time, I’m not asking for pity. There are still a lot of programs.
For a project like Cité Mémoire, the square did not “fit” in a circle. It wasn’t like, “OK, we’re giving you 20 million.” It took a lot of administrative intelligence to put together the budget.
Cité Mémoire is an artistic project, but it relies on technology. How do you work with your technology partners to carry out these large-scale projects?
Martin: We have been working with the same suppliers for a long time. We are very loyal. VYV makes our interactivity. Altkey makes our app. The brand image is Paprika. Elevation does all of our technical management. Both installation and operation. These people have become friends. It must also be said that they believed in it. It took a long time to develop Cité Mémoire.
We just signed an agreement with Panasonic. For Barcelona, they helped us a lot with the equipment. They even brought in projectors from Belgium for the occasion.