Yoana Pavlova explores a Binary New World
by Giampietro Balia
- At Sarajevo, journalist, researcher and sociologist Yoana Pavlova discussed the state of VR, paying particular attention to the challenges that the Balkans face
On Saturday 20 August, the Sarajevo Film Festival closed its focus on virtual reality (VR) with an in-depth look at the iffy state of this new industry in the US and the EU in order to better understand and keep on top of the challenges that professionals must deal with in the Balkan region. Journalist, researcher and sociologist Yoana Pavlova recalled how everybody thought VR was going to boom in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2016 that people began to look at it as something more than a mere experience enhancer for gamers. By December 2015, almost no one had tried VR, but things are rapidly changing, and film festivals the world over are paving the way for a new application of VR in cinema: Sundance’s New Frontiers programme, the EFM at the Berlinale and the Cannes Film Market’s NEXT programme have all introduced their audiences to VR, while Tribeca has announced that it will have a competition for VR films next year, Toronto has programmed five VR projects and Venice will premiere the 40-minute virtual-reality feature Jesus VR – The Story of Christ (read the news).
While the US tries to merge cinema and business, France is more interested in having the technology to serve culture, rather than having its culture be part of the technology. The CNC and ARTE are deeply involved in the VR scene, financing it, organising debates and documentaries, and raising awareness about this new medium. France Télévisions already broadcast the Roland-Garros in VR, opening up a new frontier of broadcasting sport events in a way that nobody ever thought possible. Paris, together with Berlin, has become the pivotal point in Europe for the development and theorisation of VR. La Gaîté Lyrique serves as a place where one can attend hackathons and digital events such as the Kaléidoscope World Tour, sponsored by WIRED and Wevr Transport, which took place in March and dealt with virtual-reality films, art, games and immersive experiences. Paris is trying to lead the way and develop more mentorship programmes, incubators and venues such as the Forum des Images, where the Paris Virtual Film Festival took place.
But what about the Balkans? How does the creative turmoil currently affecting Europe impact the region? Pavlova argues that cinema is already in a recession, so VR will have a hard time putting down roots in the Balkans. Furthermore, state funds are getting smaller every year, and the economy is neither solid nor big enough for private investors to think about joining the discussion. Also, the know-how is still too poor to start a real, active community, so individuals have to travel to Paris, Berlin or even New York to study the medium, and that requires a financial substratum that is still missing. That then leads to a demographic problem: whoever wants to advance in this field is forced to leave the region, and even after acquiring the experience needed to come back and invest what he or she has learned abroad, a series of cultural and financial limits prevent him or her from doing so – the films that travel abroad and are invited to Western festivals are rejected in their own countries because they are not recognised as a real Balkan point of view. This leads us to the real issue that demands to be solved before anything else: who are we? And what is our message?