michael naimark





Michael Naimark


What was to be a suspect-but-legal free stopover in Paris (for a Sunday dinner with a friend) turned into contact with an organization I had been stalking for a year.

Several years ago, UNESCO set up a division to designate "World Heritage Sites:" natural and cultural places of importance to be protected by their host governments. These sites are proposed by governments, and if selected by the UNESCO committee, the governments are committed to protect these sites. There are currently ~350 WH sites (about 30 of which have been designated "emergency list"). The Banff National Park is one of the 350 sites. So are Independence Hall, Stonehenge, Victoria Falls, and Baalbek (in Libya).

Last year, an independently-funded UNESCO group was created called "Project Heritage 2001" to document these sites. Project Heritage will document about 20 sites this year and 50 per year thereafter. It was originally photo-based (the Chairman is from the Agency Gamma), but now are considering movies and interactive. "Project Heritage" is non-profit and well-funded, mostly by La Caixa, a Barcelona-based bank foundation, with additional support from Kodak and French Telecom (who wish to have images and data available via network).

About a year ago, a small article about Project Heritage appeared in the NY Times. I got extremely excited, and went about contacting them to convince them to consider shooting for interactive, immersive, and modeling purposes as well as photos and video. (At the very least, for example, the photos should be taken with "spacecode" so that they can go back and reshoot. Etc. Etc.) No luck.

Then shortly before leaving for Hamburg, I faxed them again. The Chairman, Olivier Binst, contacted me for a meeting last monday afternoon. I delayed my return and invited Ricky Leacock to join me. Ricky is the retired founding head of MIT's Film/Video department (where Rachel taught for years). Before that he was one of the pioneers of cinema verite, having helped develop crystal-sync portable filmmaking equipment, and had shot intimate films of JFK, Louise Brooks, and Stravinsky (as well as "Monterey Pop" with his longtime collaborator Don Pennebaker). Before that he apprenticed with Robert Flaugherty (the "father" of ethnographic films). Ricky, 70 years old, is living the life of a Paris Bohemian, shooting, well, whatever he wants to.

We met with Mr. Binst. These guys are serious: 50 sites per year rivals National Geographic magazine.

The funniest part is that Ricky has been videotaping the pipe organ renovation at Notre Dame cathedral - 30,000 individual pipes, now getting computer-controlled - and has been sneaking around the Mean Priest who lives there who prevents such things. (I saw some of his footage. It's great. Ricky's also commissioned a Paris-based sound guru to make a very expensive microphone for his hi8 camera.) During our meeting, Binst mentioned Notre Dame as one of the sites currently being documented. And they are having the same problem avec Monsieur M.P. (Binst: "We decided something funny happens in your head if you live for years inside the Notre Dame.")

My theme was that Interval is interested in content-based issues driving technological development rather than vice-versa, and that representing threatened sites (ranging from natural to architectural) might be one of these. It was basically an innocent meeting with no promises made, other than thinking about possible collaborations, and ended very positive.

The press literature about Project Heritage, as well as a draft of the Heritage Site list and will leave them by my door. The list is pretty cool: Bulgaria has nine Heritage Sites . . .