A one-hour session to view the latest in cutting edge film technological was simply not enough time to enjoy the features that Raindance had on offer at the VR Arcade. I really had no idea what I was going to be walking into, but the Hospital Club was certainly dressed up as some sort of space-hub from a sci-fi movie. The VR headsets were placed in an ordered fashion around the room to create a conveyor belt of futuristic discovery.
Having only managed to witness three VR films, I would be keen to relive the experience to discover more about the capabilities of this new form of filmmaking. My first film, titled In My Shoes: Dancing With Myself immediately placed me in a realistic swanky London restaurant, where the protagonist Jane talked to the user about taking deep breaths to avoid an epileptic seizure. Of course, this was unavoidable as you are forced to undergo a blackout and its repercussions. Jane Gauntlett’s autobiographical film experience was unbelievably believable. The resolution of the film’s screen could’ve been better, but that will of course improve with the development of Virtual Reality. As an introduction to VR, it was exemplary.
Oscar Raby’s Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel was also an educational feature, instead throwing the viewer into a retelling of the 1916 Easter Rising from the viewpoint of someone involved. It was interesting for sure, blending some colourful video-game style visuals as well as black-and-white photographs from the period which float around you throughout the story. Again, the graphics could have been better, but one particular moment when you are faced with a smoking door was fantastic – almost a more modernised version of the sensationally 80s Knightmare, and certainly more immersive.
Finally, the ‘VR Drama’ Ctrl., which was one of the strangest 20 minutes of my entire life. I clicked on it by accident on the VR headset. The viewer is given a walkthrough of a video game which is chess mixed with Robot Wars, whilst also watching the player, Liam, via webcam, as an abusive relationship between his mother and her boyfriend is played out through sound clips. The game that Liam plays becomes a metaphor for his attempt to overcome his awful stepdad, and he plans to move away with his mother by winning the game’s jackpot, a game which is commentated by a vulgar version of Ant & Dec. Ctrl. is long, but visually impressive and combines many elements together so that you’re constantly bombarded with stimuli and fully immersed in a weird computer-based world. The drama that unfolds is similarly well handled.
Playing around with Virtual Reality is something that everyone should be keen on. With further development, these interactive experiences could become the future of short film, and I certainly only felt disappointed that I couldn’t have stayed for a couple more hours at the very least.
The VR Arcade at this year’s Raindance Film Festival was one of the most exciting events I’ve encountered. As Elliot’s explained most of it above, I’ll simply jump in with my own experiences, rather than recount the futuristic scene we entered.
I managed to squeeze in 5 VR films during the too-short hour we were allowed with the headsets. I began with Home: An Immersive Spacewalk Experience and was immediately blown away. It was the only headset that was accompanied with two Vive controllers, which allowed me to have hands during the experience. To crawl around the ISS and conduct a spacewalk was quite simply phenomenal. The graphics, whilst not quite there yet, were impressive nonetheless. The ability to use your hands during the spacewalk was greatly appreciated, and increased the immersive aspect of Home. The technology itself is just incredible, and with a few more years, I can’t see there being a more awe-inspiring experience than an updated version of Home.
For the next films, I lost the use of my hands and was left simply to watch in full 360 degree awe. 6X9 A Virtual Reality Experience Of Solitary Confinement was produced by The Guardian to try and simulate, as you might guess, the experience of solitary confinement. Whilst 9 minutes is certainly not enough to even begin to convey the horrific consequences of such an experience, having various tales narrated by former prisoners was quite stunning. Not quite as breath-taking as they’d pitched it, 6X9 is an important foray into a useful educational tool.
Across The Line placed you beside a young lady who was attempting to get an abortion in a US health clinic. Initially being comforted by the nurse, the film then takes you back half an hour to when your guide was attempting to enter the clinic. A horrible experience and a testament to the unfortunate bravery these women need to have, Across The Line was deeply unnerving.
Witness 360: 7/7 was a delicately handled story of one survivor’s experience of the 7/7 attacks. The nature of this film left it open to being perhaps ill-advised, but the director luckily thought better than to simply reimagine a terrorist attack. The film was narrated by a woman who had been caught up in the attacks, and she told the story not only of the event, but of her struggle afterwards. The film actually received a deeply emotional response from me, as I just about managed to swallow my tears before they blurred the screen.
I finished the incredible hour with The Rose & I, a charming, dainty, and beautiful short which provided a much needed peace to finish the intensity of the prior pieces. Filled with beautiful colour and sound, The Rose & I showed a small man, living on a tiny comet just above Earth, discovering a rose for the first time and simply enjoying its beauty. A wonderful end to an astonishing hour.
Whilst the graphics and interactivity of VR isn’t quite there yet, the arcade at this year’s festival was an incredibly exciting introduction to the genesis of this new technology.