Today we shine a light on FIVARS 2016 selection “Invisible” – an extraordinary short film by director Lilian Mehrel created for immersive 360 video playback technology that is full of heart and nuance.
We spoke to director Mehrel about this special work:
Invisible is a short virtual reality film that takes a 360º look at what it means to feel invisible – or seen – through a minimalist live-action narrative.
Our story begins and ends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, introducing us to three characters with varying experiences of being acknowledged. We hear their thoughts as we flow from a museum guard – whose job is to be invisible – bantering with a nearby sculpture, to an artist and new mother of twins recalling the first time they looked at her, to a lonely trans girl perceived mistakenly by all but a blind woman.
The film is inspired by Lana Wachowski, and the story she revealed at the HRC Visibility Awards. This trans woman we know as the cinematic visionary behind The Matrix was almost lost to the world once. Struggling with how the world saw – or didn’t see – her, she wanted to disappear. She went to a typically-empty train platform to jump. On that day, someone happened to be there. And because that stranger looked her in the eye, and didn’t look away – she is still here.
We are also inspired by eye contact as a striking affordance of virtual reality. When a character in 360º video looks at the camera, it feels as though they are looking directly at the viewer. This virtual eye-contact affects viewers unexpectedly. Our viewer is free to explore with their gaze, as they swivel in the headset; they may choose to peer deeper into the character’s eyes, or to look away in curiosity. They may choose to feel invisible, or seen. Sometimes the viewer is caught between two characters gazing at each other. As the viewer engages the film with their choices, they will discover deepening dimensions of the story. With this early foray into narrative virtual reality, the viewer is able to affect what they see in the space, but not what happens – akin to the act of recalling emotional experiences. Emotional reality is our guiding light; we aim to blend the cinematic and life experience, where virtual reality may thrive. We are also playing with the mundane and the profound, balancing tones of humor and gravity in our virtual reality, as in life. How can VR give people dimension? We’d love to inspire viewers to take a look.
Lilian Mehrel creates film & TV, illustrated books, and virtual reality. She is a writer/director with a fresh sense of humor and vision. She is interested in surprise moments of human connection – hoping to inspire viewers to look for such moments in life. Her films have premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won her awards including ABC/Disney, the Marcie Bloom Fellowship, Alfred P. Sloan, the Science & Entertainment Exchange, and the Nancy Malone Directing Award. With a PD Soros Fellowship for New Americans, she is an MFA candidate at New York University’s Tisch Graduate Film in Directing & Writing.
Lilian was born to a Kurdish-Iranian mother and German-Jewish father, sparking her life-long experience of multiple worlds. From Miami public school, she went to Dartmouth College, where she was awarded a Senior Fellowship. She wrote and illustrated a 226-page family memoir. Her stories reveal the underlying universalities she sees between people, shaped by her work connecting youth from conflicting countries. Lilian’s work includes creating a James Franco behind-the-scenes series, videos for Vogue, and a collaboration with Within’s virtual reality films and the Portals project at the United Nations, as the Shared Studios Storyteller. She created one of the first virtual reality narratives – haunt – which played at Tribeca’s Interactive Playground.
The FIVARS Festival of International Virtual & Augmented Reality Stories – Canada’s original and largest immersive technology storytelling festival – is very pleased to present DEFROST Episodes 1&2 – a Feral Dog Production – as part of this year’s selections. This unique first-person perspective 360-degree serial fiction is directed by none other than Hollywood legend Randal Kleiser. His directing credits include, Grease, which is still the most successful movie musical ever made, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, The Blue Lagoon, Summer Lovers, Flight of the Navigator, White Fang, Big Top Peewee, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, North Shore, and the 1996 AIDS drama It’s My Party.
Working in 70mm 3-D, he directed Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, which ran for over a decade at the Disney Parks in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, and Paris. With George Lucas, he produced the online course, USC School of Cinematic Arts presents the Nina Foch Course for Filmmakers and Actors, and at present he serves on the Sci Tech Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the Directors Guild of America, Kleiser chairs the annual Digital Day presentation and serves on the National Board.
We had the opportunity to ask Mr. Kleiser about his inspiration for his Virtual Reality project DEFROST:
“I wrote the screenplay for DEFROST in 1968 after reading Robert Ettinger’s book, ‘The Prospect of Immortality.’ He was the founder of the Cryonics Institute and his book was about freezing humans until a cure is found for their ailment, then reviving them using nanobots to repair their cells.
“My script lay in suspension itself until I put on an Oculus Rift in 2014. I immediately saw the potential for narrative storytelling with actors. A light went on and I defrosted my screenplay and adapted it to this new exciting medium. When I told my friend – producer and actress Tanna Frederick about the project – she jumped up and helped me to launch it.
“I called upon actors Carl Weathers, Bruce Davison, Harry Hamlin, Veronica Cartwright and Christopher Atkins to help bring the story to life. Since then, we have completed production on the first season of DEFROST, outlining cryonics patient Joan Garrison’s adjustment to reanimation in the year 2045. We plan to release these 12 five minute 360 degree stereoscopic episodes in early 2017.”
DEFROST Episodes 1 and 2 make their Canadian premiere at the FIVARS Festival in Toronto September 16th-18th 2016.
5-channel 360° video-Performance
Choreographer and Performer: Laura Stokes
Composer and sound designer: Soosan Lolavar
Director and media Designer: Nima Dehghani
Decompensation is a performative VR piece that attempts to recreate the psychological stages which refugees pass through when moving and settling into a new social/cultural context over the span of many years:
Early Arrival, Destabilization, Exploration, Return to Normal life, and Decompensation.
the failure of an organ (especially the liver or heart) to compensate for the functional overload resulting from disease.
the failure to generate effective psychological coping mechanisms in response to stress, resulting in personality disturbance or disintegration, especially that which causes relapse in schizophrenia.
In this participatory piece, the notion of “Displacement” is communicated through music, performance, and 360-degree video.
The viewer experiences three different presences:
1. Seeing other participants
2. Becoming a participant
3. Immersion in the virtual world of the performer.
An immersive perspective provided by virtual reality is hoped to inspire an empathy for the displaced individual. Therefore, VR aims to function as a type of empathy machine in which the immersive quality enables a sensory experience.
The work displaces the viewer in order to contemplate the displacement of the refugee. The immersive experience provided by virtual reality can increase empathy, through sensory experience. By activating the body and the senses, virtual reality brings new topologies of emotion, pleasure, and passion to the landscape of interaction.
Laura Stokes is a Pittsburgh-based movement artist and educator. Her greatest curiosity is how artistic movement practices and creative physical play affect the human condition from early childhood through adulthood. She aims to help integrate creative artistry and physicality into the educational world by dissolving dichotomies around the role of the body in learning. Laura’s collaboration with visual media artist Nima Dehghani on Decompensation, was her initiation into the world of choreographing dance for virtual reality.
Other most recent projects include: El Eswitch, a choreographed solo exploring the dynamics of code-switching in language and culture; co-creating and teaching The Contact Lab, workshops in Contact Improvisation with Jean-Paul Weaver; and her ongoing dedication to developing innovative creative movement classes for children. Laura holds a B.A. in dance from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.
Nima Dehghani is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and architect. Born in Tehran, Iran in 1986.
Humans, communication, individual conflicts and social discriminations with allusions to politics, have been the subject of most of his works. With a background in architecture and theater, he strives to build the most comprehensible virtual venues to convey his thoughts, to focus on the notion of displacement, home, diaspora and the purest relationship between human and space: Migration.
Nima works predominantly in the medium of performing arts and digital media and his goal is to find the most effective ways to influence the audience using new media. His research revolves around the core of Middle Eastern studies, social behavior in online networks and performativity of social actions.
Nima got his BA’s in Architecture from University of Science and Technology in Iran, and then moved to the US to get his Master of Fine Arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University with emphasis on digital media and performance.
Most of his past works have been performed or shown in Iran before 2013, and after that mainly in the US and different festivals in Spain, UK, Belgium, Czech, Georgia, and Germany.
As a playwright and director, Nima has won several awards, the last one before he leaves Iran was “The best young director of the year” in 2012.
Decompensation screens at FIVARS 2016 September 16-18th, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.