Industry Report: Virtual Reality
The 13th IDFA DocLab new-media programme announces its winners
- Prizes for Best Digital Storytelling and Best Immersive Non-fiction Experience were awarded to the crème de la crème of this year’s projects at IDFA DocLab
Initiated 13 years ago, IDFA DocLab is not only a laboratory for transmedia documentary projects that defy categorisation, but also a space for experimenting with exhibition strategies themselves. Erecting location-specific installations, expanding solitary experiences into public spaces, blowing up smartphone screens onto walls and projecting 360-degree videos onto the dome of the planetarium, the curators of DocLab, together with the artists, try to find a way to bridge the gap between individual experiences and the common, shared space for exchange that the festival represents.
This year’s edition was held under the theme of “Domesticating Reality”. The theory of domestication describes the cycle of appropriation that we apply to technology, starting with wonder, moving on to utopian and dystopian projections, and finally complete transparency, when the things that once sparked the imagination become as natural and mundane as our underwear or smartphones. Capturing various elements of our daily lives with the aid of VR, AI, video, audio and software, the DocLab makers all strive to defamiliarise our shared conditioning, lifting the lid on the processes behind domestication when it comes to inequalities, alienation, conflicts, ecological catastrophe, fake news and technological dependency.
In that spirit, the festival opened with a video of none other than Richard Nixon himself. Using deep-fake technology, Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund became the puppeteers of the late American president, having him not only warmly welcome the DocLab crowd, but also read his backup speech prepared in the event of the Apollo 11 mission ending in failure. Painstakingly merging Nixon’s infamous concession speech with the performance of a mocap actor, the team behind In Event of Moon Disaster called into question the credibility of our historical records in the age of advanced digital manipulation.
Descending from the political heights to the privacy of a hospital examination room, Victoria Mapplebeck – a BAFTA-winning writer, artist and director – presented yet another form of defamiliarisation in a very personal account of illness, The Waiting Room VR. Facing a dreadful diagnosis, Mapplebeck gets hold of a 360-degree camera and uses it like a selfie stick, uncompromisingly pointing it at her own face and naked body in a state of powerlessness and exhaustion. The Waiting Room VR subverts the default use of 360-degree video, not only by steering clear of anything spectacular, but also by trapping us in a sphere of alleged freedom, where all of the choices and movements lead to a confrontation with a vulnerable body, diagnosed with and treated for a disease. Weaving together intimate imagery with family story, private conversations and historical reflection, Mapplebeck creates an essayistic diary in a medium that rarely allows us to get so uncomfortably close, despite being praised as an empathy machine.
Both Vast Body 22 and Only Expansion work as catalysts for the user experience, producing unexpected outcomes from familiar forms of input. Vast Body 22 employs a depth camera and a pattern-recognition system to create an uncanny mirror mimicking all of one’s gestures through an assemblage of movements and choreographies performed by other people of differing ages, genders and races. Flexing your body in the wildest manner, you are always matched by an algorithm that confronts you with an image of another human being that already assumed your pose, sometime and somewhere else. Duncan Speakman’s Only Expansion also plays with the temporality of experience, while literally inviting you on a journey through the city. Equipping yourself with an inconspicuous black box and a pair of headphones coupled with ultrasensitive microphones, you venture into town, letting a series of instructions guide you through the experience. Strolling through the streets, you allow your perception to be conditioned by some pre-recorded soundscapes and cues, but most importantly, by a constant influx of surrounding noises that get modulated, amplified and transformed in the black box hanging from your shoulder. With limited means, Speakman peels off the layers of familiarity from your surroundings, investing them with attention, appreciation and a sense of fragility in the face of impending ecological crisis.
The winners of the 13th IDFA DocLab are:
IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling
The Waiting Room - Victoria Mapplebeck (UK)
Special Jury Award for Creative Technology
In Event of Moon Disaster - Francesca Panetta, Halsey Burgund (USA)
IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-fiction
Vast Body 22 - Vincent Morisset (Canada)
Special Jury Award for Creative Technology
Only Expansion - Duncan Speakman (UK)
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