“Stop! If you walk further, you’ll be arrested.”
“I know; I am really sorry. You have to help us; we are entering.”
The National Film Board of Canada‘s new interactive project Roxham is now online. You may see it in virtual reality or in a 360 degrees online at www.nfb.ca/roxham. Created by Michel Huneault, with Maude Thibodeau and Chantal Dumas, produced by the NFB, in collaboration with Le Devoir, Phi and Dpt., this project allows the viewer to explore the moments around 32 actual irregular border crossings.
Over a period of 16 days between February and August 2017, photographer Michel Huneault went to Roxham Road in Quebec and stood by the border separating Canada and the United States. Huneault documented 180 border crossings, in images and audio, during which migrants from more than 20 countries crossed from the United States into Canada to ask for asylum. In his personal statement, Huneault explained, “From that first day, I wondered how to document this historical moment without putting the vulnerable asylum seekers further at risk. I decided to mask their silhouettes using fabric I photographed in other places during the 2015 European migrant crisis—images of blankets in Hungary, clean clothing offered to migrants in Austria, or details of tents set up for migrants in Germany. Using this fabric protected their identity and reminded me that this too was part of the same story.”
The photographer continued, “Roxham Road is quickly becoming symbolic. This intensely personal moment—when people choose to change their life by crossing an invisible line—is also, essentially, a public moment with political and legal debates surrounding it. Yet, these people aren’t ‘illegal,’ and neither is their border crossing. In 1951, Canada signed a convention to welcome all people who present themselves to authorities seeking asylum, no matter where they arrive. Thus, this crossing is irregular but not illegal, and these individuals are asylum seekers—completely legal. Nevertheless, during this brief moment, the international responsibility of welcoming asylum seekers clashes with the duty to protect a national territory. Confusion reigns, and the tension is palpable. Language is a barrier in itself; emotions run high.”
In addition to the online experience, a virtual-reality installation is being presented at Phi Centre in Montreal from March 27 through August 12, as a part of Particles of Existence, an exhibition of 10 immersive works. Along with the VR installation of Roxham, Phi Centre is also presenting a free exhibition of 16 photographs from Michel Huneault’s Roxham series with headsets and an accompanying sound track.