Mixed-Media Experience ‘Noire’ Tackles Civil Rights Struggle With Literary, Theatrical Pedigree

Given the NewImages Festival’s remit to welcome diverse artistic voices into the immersive space, programing “Noire” was an obvious choice. An augmented reality adaptation of a lesser-known case from the Civil Rights era, “Noire” brought much pedigree to this year’s Paris XR showcase.

The project tracks the true story of Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl in the segregated South who refused to give up her seat on the bus nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. Colvin’s act helped kick off the Montgomery bus boycott, but her courage never quite got the same traction as that of Parks – in part because she didn’t make for as compelling a media figure.

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Ironically, that’s exactly what compelled French author Tania de Montaigne, who sought to explore that era – and its wider questions of racism and resistance – using figures untouched by hagiography. The author’s 2015 biographical essay would then inspire a theatrical adaptation directed by Stéphane Foenkinos, and then, after moving from page to stage, where else was there to go but the digital future?

“[The interplay between] Tania’s text and Stephane’s staging already created a kind of augmented reality,” said co-director Pierre-Alain Giraud at a NewImages panel. “We then wanted to place users within that play, allowing them to move through it – and to do so, we had to create our own grammar and staging. Nobody understood what we were doing, because it hadn’t really been done before.”

Working from a volumetric capture studio in Taiwan, the production team worked out problems on the fly, troubleshooting through trial and error, and inventing new techniques as they went along. “There, we discovered just how universal that story could be,” added Giraud. “Obviously, this island had its history with colonialism, creating a whole trajectory made Claudette’s story just as affecting for the Taiwanese.”

The mixed-media installation premiered at Paris’ Centre Pompidou last year before winning raves at Montreal’s Phi Center – where it has been programed since February. Next up is a slot at the Cannes Film Festival’s inaugural immersive competition in two weeks’ time – a prospect that gives co-director Foenkinos an ironic kick.

“I undertook this project as a way to get away from cinema,” he laughs. “I thought it was my way to leave that world behind. Now, all I’m waiting for is for Tania to pick up a prize!”

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