Behind the Scenes: The Notre-Dame Reconstruction

Legendary show Des Racines et des Ailes first launched in 1997. This March on TV5 Monde USA, audiences will be going behind the scenes of the Notre-Dame cathedral reconstruction and discovering the hidden treasures of the French Riviera. We talked with the show's host, Carole Gaessler, to find out more.
© Freeway Drone

France-Amérique: Des Racines et des Ailes was one of the first heritage shows ever made in France…

Carole Gaessler: Fifteen years ago, a show called Ushuaïa was discussing how to protect nature. Today, everyone is mindful of the subject. We created the same awareness about heritage. When the show launched, we realized there was an urgent need to save heritage sites that we had sometimes failed to protect. Nowadays, numerous magazines promote the same message. If we inspired a movement then that can only be positive !

What do you mean by the term “heritage”?

We go further than just visiting the Château de Versailles! Pizza has Unesco World Heritage status, and there is a wealth of intangible heritage made up of expertise, gastronomy, agriculture, and more. Among the things that constitute a country, I include architecture, nature, crafts, cuisine, and language. Heritage is also everything that unites us a nation, our “roots.” Our shows feature different segments about people who devote themselves to saving and restoring our heritage in a time when globalization, the virtual world, and the economy are tearing down our borders.

Do you still make unexpected discoveries?

We are not surprised by the heritage, but certain moments inspire particular emotions. For example, entering Notre-Dame after it was ravaged by the fire, and having the privilege of being at the top of a major monument. I also conducted a one-to-one interview with the director of the Louvre in a room where the Mona Lisa was the only piece of work on display. Thousands of people come to see it, but at that moment we were alone with the painting. These are unique experiences. We try to convey this feeling of privilege and exclusivity when we walk up to the top of the spire on Amiens cathedral, or when we open a secret door at the Château de Chantilly.

You began filming the episode about Notre-Dame long before the fire…

We were investigating why Americans love Notre-Dame and we had discovered that French volunteers were travelling to New York to raise money for its maintenance. If you looked closely, you could see that the cathedral was already in a sorry state! The love Americans feel for this monument is linked to World War II, but also to a certain vision inspired by movies and religion. I was shocked to see how much of France they saw in Notre-Dame. We were filming on the day of the fire. Two days earlier, I was scouting in the midst of the wooden framework known as “the forest.” We were shown crumbling statues and the effects of time and pollution on the flying buttresses. When the first images of the disaster were broadcast, I was still on air presenting the news on the France 3 channel. It was unthinkable.

How were you able to film such exceptional footage after the disaster?

We had already developed a relationship of trust with the curator and were able to visit the interior and see the start of the restoration work. Even in our initial investigation, we were trying to show that the cathedral needed funding and a major renovation.

The other episode this month is focused on the French Riviera. What are you going to show us?

We try to find a monument, a region, and a theme for each show. For example, in this one we asked “What is the Riviera?” This setting is where luxury seaside tourism began in Southern France, around Nice. We will show the brightly colorful architecture and the mutual influences between France and Italy on both sides of the border. This episode is a mid-season stroll to make viewers want to discover this charmingly old-fashioned coastline.

How is Des Racines et des Ailes continuing to reinvent itself after more than 20 years on television?

We are modernizing while preserving our original identity, the beautiful images, the contemplative scenes, and the high standard of information we provide. We visit places that we have never featured, or we look for different angles, such as the Promenade des Anglais in Nice applying for Unesco World Heritage status, and the Mose Project attempting to protect Venice from the rising water levels. We can also examine the same monument through the eyes of a curator, a craftsman, or a historian sharing anecdotes. There are countless ways to tell stories!

=> The episode about Notre-Dame will be broadcast on TV5 Monde USA on March 4 at 8:30 pm EST and on March 7 at 3:55 am EST, and the episode about the French Riviera on March 11 at 9:30 pm EST and on March 14 at 4:30 am EST.