ARTE, Zed, CuriosityStream exploring “Sacred Spaces”

Zed's Christine Le Goff tells realscreen about the challenges behind documenting some of the greatest monuments to four of the world's major religions.
June 14, 2016

CORRECTION: 1:17 p.m. EST – The production companies listed for the projects Building the Great Cathedrals and Secrets of the Parthenon were incorrect in the original version of the story.

French producer-distributor Zed is teaming with Franco-German network ARTE and U.S.-headquartered factual SVOD company CuriosityStream on a project that puts the spotlight on the architectural wonders of four major global religions.

Sacred Spaces (to be available as 4 x 90 minutes, 4 x 52 minutes, and 15 x 26 minute episodes) will bring 4K cameras into some of the world’s most revered religious constructions, in an effort to, as Zed producer Christine Le Goff frames it, tell the story of “great movements of civilization that led to a transformation of sacred architecture and an evolution of beliefs.”

To comprehensively cover the architecture of four major global religions, the series will examine spiritual and cultural landmarks including myriad temples in Asia (such as India’s Meenakshi Temples, pictured), the mosques of Islam, synagogues through the Middle East and Europe, and churches and cathedrals that span several eras.

While principal photography isn’t set to begin until the end of the year, ARTE and CuriosityStream have come in as coproducers, and Zed will be attending Sunny Side of the Doc to drum up interest and look for pre-buys. For Le Goff, who is producing the series with Floran Sax, rolling the cameras will mark the next step in a process that has already taken years, following her work on such projects as Secrets of the Parthenon and Building the Great Cathedrals – both of which were produced by Providence Pictures, and coproduced with ‘Nova,’ ARTE France and Telfrance.

“The development of the project has been going on for a couple of years,” she tells realscreen via email. “This was the time necessary to really understand [how] we were going to deal with such a big story, and raise the financial means to achieve it. We plan to deliver the first two episodes at the end of 2017, and the next two in the spring of 2018.”

Le Goff cites the “very hard choices” necessary to choose the monuments featured and crafting the story lines for each episode as key challenges for the project thus far. But after choosing the architecture to feature, and weaving their stories together through the narrative, gaining access to them during turbulent times has also proved daunting.

Zed's Christine Le Goff

Zed’s Christine Le Goff

“I had not fully realized at the start of this adventure, the huge impact of international politics on what I consider a cultural project,” she offers. “Our world is going through a major crisis of civilizations. At its heart, religions, and by extension their monuments, have become the focus point of tension. We all remember the mausoleum destruction in Mali.

“To name only a few, there is war in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Libya … All countries with major monuments that are – or were – a tribute to the genius of man as a builder [and] monuments that are also essential in the story we want to tell,” she adds. “We have had to work with those limits.”

From Burmese pagodas and temples to Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, and from Mecca to Mont St. Michel, Le Goff, Sax, and their team of directors – including Veronique Legendre, Celia Lowenstein and Bruno Victor-Pujebet – are hoping that their efforts will help viewers see these monuments with fresh eyes. To that end, beyond the clarity of 4K that the project promises, there is talk of a virtual reality extension: “This calls for VR and we are working on developing it right now,” says Le Goff.

In the meantime, the team is working to ensure that it comprehensively captures the architecture and the stories behind it, even in the midst of an uncertain geopolitical climate.

“This is exactly why we are doing this project now,” Le Goff maintains. “It is clear that ignorance of ‘the other,’ and of its beliefs, is a major cause of chaos and war. We have never been so close to disaster. I believe that as documentary filmmakers, we have a responsibility to transmit knowledge and a sense of history.

“The times we live in have happened before,” she concludes. “Same chaos, same crises, same result. Documentaries such as these are useful memory tools.”

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