« La demande était pas mal corpo au début, » says Alain Farah with a laugh. He is anything but. Farah teaches in the department of French languages and literature at McGill. He’s also the author of a novel called Pourquoi Bologne that came out in French in 2013 and appeared in English in 2015 under the title Ravenscrag. The work tells a fractured, spinning kind of story about a writer called Alain Farah who works at McGill in 1962 and in 2012. In the novel, there are episodes, both in 1962 and 2012, where the character Alain Farah wanders around the McGill campus, clearly in bad shape.
So it made a kind of curious sense, from McGill’s corporate point of view, (because we may be corporate but we still like to play sometimes) to ask Farah to create a video tour of the campus for La Fabrique Culturelle – a cultural website that is an offshoot of Télé-Québec – with which McGill has an agreement to supply content.
The video, Inside McGill Inside My Head, that was created by Farah and his collaborator, filmmaker and photographer François Blouin, in response to the McGill request takes you on a tour of a campus that exists, as the title suggests, …inside my head. Maybe.
McGill's scary magic
« Ce n’est pas vraiment McGill, ce n’est pas vraiment moi, « dit Farah. « C’est McGill comme lieu d’étrangeté qu’on ne connait pas. Pour moi, comme pour beaucoup de francophones, McGill est très impressionnante, très épeurante. Mais il y a aussi une vrai magie, une atmosphère, qui est dans les lieux et dans les bâtiments qui est difficile à expliquer et qu’on voulait capturer. »
It is this strange magic that Farah and Blouin found in the buildings, corridors and tunnels of McGill that they photographed over a two-day period. The choice to make a video based on a photomontage was made by the director François Blouin.
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« J’avais juste le gout de ne pas faire de sons, » dit François Blouin. « On a travaillé à partir de la forme du photo-roman parce qu’on voulait entrer en dialogue avec les oeuvres qui sont nos modèles. Et, en particulier, rendre hommage au cinéaste Chris Marker. »
Farah and Blouin trade visual references as they speak about the video and point out the shot that mimics the sequence from Hitchcock’s Vertigo where Kim Novak stands under the sequoia tree. It is a collaboration that they hope will soon lead to a full-length version of Farah’s Pourquoi Bologne. This short video helped them gain a sense of how they will move along together on the longer piece and they are clearly pleased with the final product and eager to see how it will be received.
Towards the end of the editing process Blouin discovered that there were a couple of logos from a common commercial product that he had captured without noticing it, so he spent some time getting rid of them. « Y’a plus rien à effacer, » says Blouin with both relief and satisfaction.