The second instalment of VR Days wows attendees at NEXT
by Ernesto Leotta
- CANNES NEXT: An array of cutting-edge VR projects, selected by the IDFA and NEXT, captivated the audience until the end of the day, when the highest-grossing Indian VR film was screened
Amsterdam's IDFA, the world's biggest documentary festival, presented two morning showcases of VR documentaries, all cherry-picked and introduced by Caspar Sonnen. Sonnen, the new media coordinator at IDFA Doclab, the IDFA's digital art section, also moderated a well-attended panel soon after the screening, where the audience engaged in an interesting Q&A session about the VR works they had just seen.
"Virtual reality is a life-changing phenomenon for most of us working in the audiovisual field, and everyone is ready to make the most of it," started off Sonnen. "But we must not be too impatient. When I hear questions about VR's business model, all I can think of is watching the Lumière brothers introduce the cinematograph and asking them, 'Looks great! But what about the money?' It's too early for an answer."
He then gave the floor to two of the creators of the selected VR docs, asking them about the main differences between traditional documentaries and VR ones. "It's a less invasive technology, allowing you to give more space to the people when shooting," said filmmaker and UN advisor Gabo Arora, "but a downside is that things must be done in a more choreographic way, to make sure that the 360° camera gets everything." Arora directed Waves of Grace, a touching, fully immersive project about Ebola, in which the viewer is gently guided through the dark and bright times of the life of Decontee, one of the few survivors of the disease in Africa, right up until her recovery and her decision to look after other victims, as she can no longer be affected.
Another socially committed and beautifully crafted VR experience about a female survivor is Witness 360: 7/7, about the 2005 terrorist attack on the London Underground. The audience can relive that tragic day from the point of view of a lady who managed to save herself from the explosion. Its director and producer, Darren Emerson, stressed the importance of sound in virtual reality, saying, "A voiceover usually gets the viewer through the story, but sound is what makes the presence felt. Maybe, as VR evolves, there will be more sounds and noises, and fewer voices. We'll find out together."
The day continued with NEXT's very own international selection of VR films, complete with a commentary by Michel Reilhac; they included disruptive projects by young directors from Great Britain, Israel and Kenya.
Finally, the evening screening of the first-ever Indian VR blockbuster was the icing on the cake for this two-day journey into the VR universe. Baahubali: The Beginning by SS Rajamouli was unveiled in the K hall of the Palais des Festivals, featuring a 30-minute fight scene.