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‘Life Underground,’ Aboveground and Online

Filmmaker Herve Cohen's new project is an immersive media environment, a series of documentary films and a web-based experience.

An immersive media environment, a series of documentary films and a web-based experience, filmmaker Herve Cohen’s Life Underground invites visitors on a journey through the subways of the world and the deeply personal stories of over 40 passengers.

Listen: Life Underground: Meet Subway Riders of the World

Filmmaker Herve Cohen’s Life Underground, explains Jourdan Aldredge, “showcases how this documentary filmmaker can use a traditional medium [film] in a nontraditional way by creating an interactive exhibit that allows audiences to seamlessly travel between 13 different subway stations across the globe. At each stop, audiences encounter three different stories of people from different nationalities, orientations, and worldviews for a broader appreciation of the whole. To read the full article, click here

Life Underground is a web-based experience accessible now on computers, tablets and mobile phones,” says The Courier International. “Online at Life-Undeground.com, users can create his or her own itinerary from one city to another, choose a theme such as old age or love, or simply click on one of the characters to discover his story. Each of the portraits, often funny and intimate, is the result of a chance encounter with the director.”

“On a train, you have a lot of time to look around at people and wonder,” Cohen tells Sandra Ignagni. “Who could this person be? Why are they carrying flowers? Who is she going to see? Or, you wonder about people’s stories when they have anxiety on their face. I’m sensitive that way—curious—and wanted to engage with people and ask them questions. But, of course, [as a passenger] I would never do that! So I imagined a documentary in which I could move beyond my fantasy and actually talk to people. [This project has] changed my life—being able to use my intuition, reach out to people and follow my curiosity. In making this documentary, I’ve been able to explore our common humanity.” To read the full interview, click here.

“We were a team of two people,” Cohen tells Ignani. “I was filming, and I had another person [who acted as an] assistant/translator/sound recordist with me.

“I would look around at people and wait for inspiration, for someone who struck me as intriguing. We would then approach potential participants and explain the project and ask to film them—and most of the time, people were actually quite flattered! So we would ask to film each person in the subway, and then we’d request to interview them at a quiet location after the journey. That was a bit tricky. People would agree to be filmed on their journey but wouldn’t necessarily have time for the interview afterwards. And, of course, sometimes people don’t agree to be filmed at all.

“We spent five days in each city, where we would film a minimum of 10 people. I think we averaged around 15 passengers per city.” To read the full article, click here.

“For most of the production, I primarily shot on a Sony a7S II — which because of its small size people wouldn’t usually pay much attention to me,” Cohen tells Aldredge. “At each city, I had an assistant, who would also serve as translator, working with a Zoom H6 to record ambient sounds and the interviews.”

“The Sony a7S II really is about as inconspicuous as they come. However, Cohen’s genuine nature and artistic approachability allowed him to connect with people and film the interviews in a meaningful way,” Aldredge says.  “As you watch, people open up about their dreams, their fears, their anxieties, and the other aspects of their daily lives. When you watch several at the same time, these stories begin to blend together in a way that is both soothing and fascinating.” To read the full interview, click here.

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