Festival opens doors to virtual world

GABRIELLE ZGRAJEWSKI

Following a sell-out debut year in 2017, the Australian Virtual Reality Film Festival (AVRFF) has wrapped up another successful event at Brisbane Powerhouse, keeping fans of the virtual reality genre up to date with the latest technology.

Virtual reality headset

A visitor to the Australian Virtual Reality Film Festival tests out a virtual reality headset. Photo: Vast Yonder

The AVRFF, which ran from August 21 to 26, put the world of virtual reality in the lime-light by showcasing some of the leading virtual reality (VR) film directors from around the globe and promoting up-and-coming technology.

The festival is organised by Brisbane-based Vast Yonder, which is the organisation also responsible for other successful events such as the Brisbane Street Art Festival (BSAF), QUBE Effect (a contemporary youth music competition) and the Jungle Love Music and Arts Festival.

Vast Yonder founder Lincoln Savage said the aim of the AVRFF was to showcase creative works that rely of virtual reality technology, and the festival is the only event in Australia to focus on virtual reality storytelling.

The event allows artists, directors and film makers to present their works in an environment that promotes their industry, as well as being a space to create discussion and hype around virtual reality technology and its impact on the world of electronics.

Australian Virtual Reality Film Festival panelists

Panellists discuss the virtual world and its possibilities at the Australian Virtual Reality Film Festival. Photo: Vast Yonder

Mr Savage said the purpose of the festival was to give the public access to VR technology and virtual reality films, as well as to help industry professionals “come together through panel discussions and workshops to create conversation around the technology of virtual reality”.

“VR is quite new technology, despite it being created in the ‘60s, and [it is] only now becoming quite commercially accessible; anyone can get hold of a [VR] headset,” Mr Savage said.

“There’re artists using this technology to create works [that are] genuinely quite inaccessible [to the public] and there [aren’t] many ways to get hold of the works,” he said.

One of the particular works showcased at the festival was Inside Manus (2017), a film by director Benjamin Richards.

Described as taking the audience “behind the razor-wire of the Manus Island immigration detention center” in order to experience the stories of three refugees, the film was created to help the public understand the harsh conditions at the Manus Island center.

Created in graphic novel-style 3D animation, the story follows three detainees, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, 25, Imran Mohammad, 23, and Amir Taghinia, 24, and tells the story of each person in their own words.

The 3D visuals that accompany the story bring the Manus detention center to life and help capture what it was like to be on the island.

Manus Island film still

A still from Inside Manus (2017), one of the films featured at the Australian Virtual Reality Film Festival. Photo: Vast Yonder

“We couldn’t go into Manus with cameras to document what was really happening there behind this cloak of secrecy, so these three men’s testimonies were recorded on mobile phones surreptitiously, and to give their stories the full impact they deserve, the immersive medium of VR was chosen,” Mr Richards said.

Mr Richards said virtual reality had the potential to become the future of journalism, philanthropy and policy making, if it was used to enable viewers to “experience” issues in a realistic manner, allowing them to make decisions about their beliefs based on these experiences.

He said he believed virtual reality was currently the most powerful medium available to create a subversive and empathetic experience.

“[It’s] the viewer versus the witness, because as viewers we are really very detached by events on TV,” Mr Richards said.

“The closest thing to being there – being virtually there in VR – has the impact of being a witness, being unable to turn away, and that is truly powerful.”

Mr Richards said one of the reasons that virtual reality wasn’t yet as popular as it could be, was that some of the earlier experiences of virtual reality involved poorly produced VR content and low-quality productions, which had created poor first impressions of the technology.

He said AVRFF, however, showcased a carefully curated selection of high-quality films, which allowed the public to not only experience compelling content, but enabled them to envision future uses of virtual reality technology.

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