Tag Archives: reality

In the midst of advanced old-school technologies, old-school tech interactives can still pack a punch

An AI-generated trans drag show, a dystopian game about digital “security” and an almost pornographic immersive VR piece about gay saunas in Taiwan. These were some of the pieces at the recent CPH:DOX interactive program, where vulnerability and marginalized narratives emerged as a theme.

There were experiments with the latest technologies, like using Minecraft to catalog and release invisible archives from behind the walls of authoritative regimes. But three of the narrative pieces that had the most power to channel vulnerability and bring the viewer in a “dialogue” with other voices were actually the pieces leaning more old-school in their technologies.

HE FUCKED THE GIRL OUT OF ME, Blacktransarchive.com/WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE THAT ARE NOT and AS MINE EXACTLY were three pieces that use older technologies and in-the-room interactivity to engage on one-on-one levels.

Old can be just as good…


originally published on XR Must

Virtual reality brought me into the world of a strong Roma woman

What did I know about Roma? Like many people, my assumptions came from films. Beautiful ones, like the documentaries Toto and his Sisters and Spartacus and Cassandra. Both films take you into a world of Roma through adolescents and those trying to help them move out of their stifling situation. These stories show Roma as poor and “gypsies”, who live among drug use and petty crime or wear colorful clothes and perform in circuses.

When we started to think about making a virtual reality film about Roma, it was with the idea to transcend these clichés. Roma face tremendous discrimination across Europe. Could we make people feel a connection to Roma, to transcend their perceptions and engage on a personal level? And without resorting to stereotypes?


…originally published for UNDP Eurasia

#Cinelove: 2015’s Memorable Documentary

I’ll dispense with the musings of year’s end, looking back, etc… and cut straight to the point to offer up the most memorable non-fiction films I saw this year.  My list cuts a wide spread across styles and subject matter, but I think the common denominator is that all the filmmakers approach their subjects with a pure desire to tell the story.

Camilla Nielsson goes behind-the-scenes of the political process in Zimbabwe in this expertly crafted film about the making of a constitution. She and her editor manage to take a potentially dry subject and make it fascinating, absorbing, and touched with humanity.

Last Days of Freedom

Still from Last Day of Freedom.

Still from Last Day of Freedom.

The most memorable film of the year for me was this incredible short. Made by two artists, the film combines visceral animation, intricate sound design, and an intimate story in this emotionally powerful journey.  It’s the heart-breaking recollections of a man who discovers his brother has committed murder and must decide what to do. Being that I run a short documentary festival, I suppose it’s not surprising that it’s at the top of my list.  But it truly rivals any feature for a full, powerful experience. (Directed by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman)

Heart of a Dog
I don’t love personal films and I don’t love dogs, so it was utterly surprising to me that I was enraptured by Laurie Anderson’s touching essay film. It’s not a traditional narrative, but instead washes over you with imagery, animation, music and, of course, Anderson’s lulling narration.
Cartel Land
In Cartel Land, sometimes you just can’t believe what you’re watching. Director Matthew Heineman says the film unfolds the way that he discovered the story and you can only imagine what it was like to be him as the filmmaker. Cartel Land’s incredible access gives you a different view of the fight against the Mexican drug cartels and gives thought to a big question: who is the good guy?

Spartacus and Cassandra
Ever fall in love with a film?  I felt myself doing just that while watching this impressionistic fairytale. Two Roma children are taken in by a young trapeze artist in a circus on the outskirts of Paris, and while it touches on hard aspects such as parents, legality and education, it also celebrates love and imagination. (Directed by Ioanis Nuguet)

Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to his The Act of Killing is quieter, more intimate, and in my mind, even more powerful.  It’s one man’s journey to confront his brother’s killers during genocide in Indonesia. It’s also a testament to the fact that social impact films can be cinematically beautiful.

Tocanda la luz
Charming and thoughtful, this verité film follows the ebbs and flows of life for three blind women in Havana. The women share their lives, fears, loves, and struggles for independence with us. (Directed by Jennifer Redfearn)

P.S. –  I define #cinelove as “to fall in love with a film in that way where it captures your heart through its beauty & humanity.”

– Karen Cirillo

Watching the watchers – how VR can be a participatory experience

This past winter, virtual reality “exploded” at Sundance. VR technology is not new thing, but in the first part of this year it seemed as if every other film-related article was about it.


Clouds Over Sidra screens at Davos. Photo: Socrates Kakoulides

I’ve always been a bit skeptical. With most new formats and technologies, I find that people get really excited about the bells and whistles, but don’t spend as much time focusing on quality content. It takes a little while for the “fervor of the new” to die down, and for people to realize that just because something uses a new technology, it doesn’t automatically mean the finished product is actually interesting.

I had my first experience with VR at last year’s Tribeca Interactive, when I saw Nonny de la Peña’s Use of Force. It’s an immersive VR experience, where the viewer is observing a deadly beating of a migrant by Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s chilling. I mean, I’ve seen dozens of docs about border and migrant issues and am well-read on the subject. But this was gutting. You’re watching this altercation, and the fellow observers “on-screen” are yelling to stop and trying to intercede, but there’s nothing that they – or you – can do. And you feel so at a loss. It is in your face, and you are powerless. And you realize that people of color face situations like this every day, and not just on the border.

Returning to Tribeca Interactive this year, I saw another piece that blew me away. It was Chris Milk’s Clouds over Sidra, which follows a twelve-year-old in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. Unlike the animated Use of Force, this is documentary footage, taking you on the streets and into homes at the camp. You feel like you’re there. Maybe it was so striking because I have been there, and it captured the essence, the presence, so well. It brought it all back. Would it have the same poignancy for someone who was witnessing it from the outside.

Both of these pieces show the potential for a new kind of journalism – sharing reality with viewers through a visceral immersion that writing or photography can’t provide. But what makes this possible is the very thing that VR is often criticized for – that it isolates the viewer from others and the experience is only possible as a solitary experience.


Birdly installation. Photo: Museum of the Moving Image

I do see this as an issue, but wonder how different this is from so many other platforms. Does watching Netflix on your phone with headphones not do the same thing? Viewing something on your computer, even without headphones, is still mostly only for single consumption. And say you could create “theaters” for VR exhibition – would a bunch of people sitting in a room with headsets really be very different from wearing 3-D glasses? Even though the glasses don’t make it a personal experience, just the presence of something that stands between you and your neighbor adds a level of distance.   The difference with VR is people can usually affect what they see by the movement of their heads, making the experience no longer collective, as a 3-D movie would be.

But recently I discovered an interesting angle of “crowd participation” for virtual reality material. A few months ago, I visited the Museum of the Moving Image’s Sensory Stories exhibition, a diverse collection of virtual reality and interactive pieces. When you first entered the museum space, the Birdly installation was set up. You don a headset, lie down on a platform and get strapped into wings, which control your movement onscreen. And thus, you have the chance to be a bird flying over Manhattan, dipping between buildings and soaring over Central Park in the wind (a.k.a. a fan).

Here’s the funny thing – being in line (which of course was quite long) was almost as fun as being in the installation. Watching the movements (something flailing, sometimes smooth) of others and experiencing the reactions of what they were seeing (smiles, exclamations of wonder, pleas of help because they were about crash) was enjoyable as its own “experience.”

Another section had four stations featuring immersive experiences – including Evolution of Verse (another piece by Milk) and Herders. Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael’s Herders is an amazing fly-on-the-wall observation of a community of nomadic yak herders in Mongolia. You have 360 degrees to observe the landscapes or the family in their yurt. Like Sidra, it brought back memories for me and captured the essence of place, particularly in details – the vastness of the landscape, the ceiling of the yurt.

I generally am moved more by the reality pieces than animation or graphic demonstrations, but Evolution of Verse is filled with magical moments. And as I sat waiting, I was again caught up in people’s experiences. You see their heads turn and lift and feel their sighs of wonder as they are watching. There’s a dynamic moment where something special happens on screen and observing viewer’s reactions over and over from viewers is kind of magical. Especially because I hadn’t seen it yet. What were they seeing? Would I feel the same way? When I got to that moment in the piece, I had the same reaction as the others, and felt like I was sharing something with those viewers, even if we weren’t watching it together.

So, in a weird way, there IS a communal aspect to VR, in the sense that the process of watching something becomes an installation of its own.

– Karen Cirillo