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Retrospectives for the future

Lifelong biography aficionado Christian Aubert has lived to see technology revolutionize the accessibility and longevity of his work.

“I grew up before TV,” he recalls. “We spent a lot of evenings around the table, with me always asking my mom and dad and grandparents what it was like when they were kids.”

Curious about the predecessors he never got to know, he’s long regretted the loss of family stories and memorabilia to the ravages of time.

“Most people probably don’t even know the names of their great-great-grandparents,” he laments. “A lot of people do family trees, and put in a lot of effort... but in the end there’s names, places, dates, very little in between. A lot of time is spent preparing photomontages set to music and that kind of thing... but within a couple of generations, they’re just people – you don’t really know who they are.What I like to ask people is: what if those people could talk to you?What would you like to know about your own great-great-grandparents? We like to say we give life to that family tree.”

It wasn’t long ago, he notes, that “only the most fortunate” had the means to produce and archive a video memoir of their own, while the traditional written memoirs and photo archiving prove “too daunting for most people,” according to his experience. But now, technology has put the tools within reach of everyone. “I started about seven years ago with biographies, and shifted more and more to video,” he says. Aside from the logistical improvements (interviews are typically filmed over a full day or half day), “you literally see who the person is – you transmit more than the words.”

He stresses the value of shared characteristics that are lost on paper: “You see their essence, pick up their body language, hear their voice. Also, we find it’s important to do [the interview] in their mother tongue – with subtitling if necessary – so besides helping communicate we can maintain a bit of the cultural heritage.”

Finished bios run mostly between three and five hours,with the longest clocking in at over seven, according to Aubert’s recollection. Of the editing process, he says, “So far, everybody leaves in everything.”

“This isn’t an interview that has to fit into an hour for the Biography Channel,” he jokes. “You get the whole thing.”




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