Category: Spotlight

I have always believed that VR or its cousin 360 videography do not have to be full of bombast to make their entrance into the broader audience. In fact it is often the quieter, more nuanced experiences that truly underscore the power of this medium and it relationship with presence. Shivani Mulekar’s “Sanctuary” is one such piece – exploring the conditions of life for a refugee family in Canada and the simple day to day life living in a Church awaiting their fate.

These spotlights are designed to not only accquaint you with the stories themselves, but also the people making them, whose journey often as interesting as their work. Shivani Mulekar is a researcher and talent scout. She works independently sourcing stories and developing TV show concepts. Prior to being a VR filmmaker, Shivani worked with TV networks in India creating award winning TV series. She holds an MFA degree in Documentary Studies from Ryerson University. Sanctuary is her first project in VR.

Marie-Espérance Cerda is an award winning video producer (NextMedia DigiAward, Montreal Remix NFB-INA Prize Winner) and an accomplished photographer. She completed Ryerson’s Master of Media Production program, where she produced two immersive and interactive 360-degree virtual reality video journalistic reports. She has worked in West Africa with organizations such as Abode Youth Projects and throughout Canada as a video journalist for The Canadian Press, exploring the stories that make up cultures.

FIVARS had to opportunity to interview Shivani in advance of the world premiere of Sanctuary at FIVARS 2017:

Shivani Murekal

Shivani Mulekar

Tell us what inspired the creation of your project?
Shivani Mulekar: Being an immigrant myself and living in Canada for nearly 10 years, I strongly believe in the issues of immigrants and refugees. When I learnt about the Juhasz family and the issue of sanctuary, it piqued my interest. The concept of sanctuary was new to me and I wanted to create awareness about the issue of undocumented immigrants. The use of 360-camera gave me an opportunity to immerse the audience right into the centre of the story. 360-camera gave me an effective tool to create spatial storytelling.

Tell us about how the production came together
Sanctuary was self-funded. It was made on a meagre budget and Vinit Rajan provided complete funding in-house. My friend Marie-Esperance generously supported me by sharing her camera as well as agreed to be the cameraperson for this project. I managed post-production independently. I learnt to stitch and used AutoPano to stitch the images. Editing was completed using Adobe Premiere.

What did you discover in the process of making this piece?
The biggest discovery during this process for me was realizing the importance of VR and its impact with spatial storytelling. 360-cameras change your complete perspective and take you way beyond the traditional rules of filmmaking. This filmmaking process was such an eye-opener in terms of what a technology can do to your storytelling and how it can impact in immersing your audience.

What would love to try next?
I would like to merge VR with AR to present my next documentary. I was exposed to the AR world of holoportation. If given an opportunity, I would like to develop my next project in VR and merge it with AR for its exhibition.

Do you feel there is a need/value to festival like FIVARS? Or will they eventually become a part of the regular entertainment landscape?
I believe festivals like FIVARS have a strong value in today’s VR market. The festival not only creates a breeding ground for upcoming VR artists to collaborate and exchange ideas but it also offers an opportunity to share each other’s work. Exchange of ideas is key for the future of VR.

FIVARS Runs Sept 15-17 2017 at House of VR in Toronto, Canada
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I still remember when I first heard from Blake and Maira – who were still out in the jungle shooting the project that would become Songs of the Vine. I was very happy to see it accepted into the festival as I had just been reading The Cosmic Serpent – a study of ayahuasca and its history in the ancient cultures of South America. I was excited about the opportunity to ask some questions of these intrepid storytellers whose interests intersected my own in sacred ritual and spherical photography and its power to create a palpable sense of presence.

Maira_Blake_Director_Headshot FIVARS: Tell us about the journey that led you to this subject?
Maira and Blake (directors of Songs of the Vine): The journey began in 2014 when Maira’s sister first visited the Temple of the Way of Light, a world-class ayahuasca healing center located in the Amazon Rainforest outside of Iquitos, Peru. After her profoundly positive experience, she returned to the Temple in 2015 with Maira, who underwent a similarly transformative and healing experience. Maira then introduced Blake to ayahuasca when the two of us returned to the Temple in January 2016.

After Blake experienced the medicine himself, together we decided to pitch a multimedia project to the Temple, which included a series of virtual reality films focusing on the traditional healing modalities of the Shipibo (an indigenous group native to the Peruvian Amazon who’ve been working spiritually and medicinally with ayahuasca for centuries). After they accepted our project proposal, we returned in the summer of 2016 and spent ten weeks living in the jungle, regularly participating in ayahuasca ceremonies, filming educational VR videos, and recording an album of the Shipibo curanderos’ (healers) ikaros (medicine songs).

FIVARS: Have you tried the ceremony yourself?
Previous to filming this project, we had both visited the Temple as guests seeking healing, and participated in a number of Shipibo-led ayahuasca ceremonies. Our experiences in ceremony inspired us to propose this project and build a new platform to spread the message of the medicinal power of ayahuasca. When we returned to film in the summer of 2016, we participated in ceremonies weekly. Our personal transformations with ayahuasca, under the invaluable guidance of master Shipibo curanderos, deeply informed the mission and process of the projects we’d been commissioned to create at the Temple.

Shipibo elder reviewing a 360 Video experience in the Amazon

FIVARS: Do you see a correlation between psychotropics and VR as a phenomenon in the culture?
Many believe entheogens have been a part of human culture since before recorded history, so we don’t see their use as a current “phenomenon,” just a continuation or evolution of their role in society. However, there is definitely a correlation between the states of consciousness that VR and psychedelics can induce, in a sense that both can enable shifts in perspective that can radically alter an individual’s perception of themselves and the world around them.

In some respects, the psychedelic state of consciousness induced by ayahuasca and other entheogens can be thought of as an advanced, neurochemically activated augmented reality, which pre-dates human technological advancements in virtual and augmented reality by hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In this way, humanity has a tremendous amount to learn from the plant kingdom about augmenting human consciousness and perception to facilitate personal and spiritual growth.

FIVARS: What is your background in documentary, filmmaking, storytelling and/or spherical video?
Maira’s background is in sound design, acousmatic music composition, animation, and multimedia video art. Blake has been working in the VR filmmaking space since early 2015. We felt that VR was an especially fitting and powerful medium to immerse viewers in the Amazon Rainforest, to learn about ayahuasca from Shipibo curanderos and experience their medicine songs.

Maira in the Amazon filming Songs of the Vine

FIVARS: Talk a little about the making of and behind the scenes. Audio, Color correction, editing…:
Making Songs of the Vine was one of the most meaningful experiences of our lives, largely because it was inextricably intertwined with very personal and transformative healing processes that we underwent over the ten weeks we spent together living and working in the Upper Peruvian Amazon. It was also an extremely challenging experience, as we took on all the roles and responsibilities of a very ambitious and technologically intensive project, while also embarking on spiritual journeys that transcended the day-to-day work we had been commissioned to do. We literally put our sweat, tears, and vomit into making Songs of the Vine – and grew so much in the process.

There was something strangely dichotomous about crafting a film about such ancient and natural forces with cutting-edge technology, but somehow, we managed to find a balance in the creative process, and miraculously, all of our equipment survived two and a half months in the extreme conditions of the Amazon Rainforest.

Since returning to the Bay Area last September, we’ve been working together through the post-production process. Blake focused mainly on the visual side of the project, working through the stitching and color correction, while Maira focused more on sound design and mixing the multitude of audio recordings she captured. However, we very much shaped the film together through the editing process, and continually refined the film until it became the final piece that it is today.

FIVARS Runs Sept 15th-17th at House of VR in Toronto, Canada. Get ticket now.

TORONTO (August 24, 2017) – FIVARS, The Festival of International Virtual & Augmented Reality Stories — Canada’s first and original VR/AR showcase — returns to Toronto September 15 -17 for its third year. FIVARS showcases a new wave of filmmakers and content producers who push the boundaries of virtual reality cinematography. The three day experience takes place at the House of VR (639 Queen St W) from10am-7pm daily.

The festival features top of the line VR technology and can accommodate 20 or more stations at a time on HTC Vive, Gear VR and Oculus Rift in addition to custom experiences. FIVARS carefully selects material that will not induce motion sickness and has partnered with SubPac to add tactile feedback to every station to enhance each story.

FIVARS showcases the best in cinematic VR and received over 200 entries, selecting the top 20 to bring to Toronto.This year FIVARS features VR films from Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea, United Kingdom, USA, Argentina and Peru.

“We are always looking for what represents the vanguard in VR while demonstrating a unique approach to the medium itself, ” says founder and executive director Keram Malicki-Sanchez. “We want to represent the spectrum of ideas, themes, genres, voices and territories.”

This year the festival will be held at the 2-storey House of VR at Queen and Bathurst. Tickets are sold in 2 hour blocks for individual days and grant the purchasers a wristband that can be used for access to talks (1 hour special presentation daily) with producers, directors, distributors and special guests, and a paper ticket with 40 minutes of viewing time that can be applied to the catalog of choices.

Tickets can be purchased at FIVARS Eventbrite for $40CAD + HST per 40 minutes of viewing material. FIVARS only allows ages 13+ for VR but the AR experiences can be viewed by all ages with a ticket purchase.

The official selections for the 2017 FIVARS Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories have been finalized and announced.

All selections must have been released within September 2016 and September 2017. The adjudication panel had to make some very difficult choices with over 250 excellent entries from all over the world. The final selections represent offerings from 14 different countries in all genres and platforms.

They fall into several categories and are all in competition for People’s Choice, Best Passive Experience, Best Interactive Experience, Impact Award and Grand Jury Prize.

The FIVARS 2017 Selections are, by category and in alphabetical order:

Programming line-up:

360° Viewing Experiences

A Little Love, Director Alton Glass, USA, 8:49 (Canadian Premiere)
When a successful hardworking mother finds herself too busy to make her daughters 8th birthday party on time – the girl makes an unusual wish, sending them on an unforgettable and eye-opening journey.

An Obituary, Director Jean Yoon, South Korea, 12:56 mins (North American Premiere)
Ki-un hears of Sang-Woo’s death and attends the funeral only to receive an email from his presumed deceased friend warning him not to come.

Ashes to Ashes, Director Ingejan Ligthart Schenk, Netherlands, 10:52 mins
A surreal, tragicomedy about how a dysfunctional family handles the dying wish of their grandfather. Seen through the ‘eyes’ of the deceased this short VR film gives a unique point of view on a bizarre set of family relationships.

Asteroids!, Director Eric Darnell, USA, 8 mins (Canadian Premiere)
Mac and Cheez are back with their robot sidekick Peas, this time on a dangerous, deep space mission. Disaster strikes as they are attacked by teeth-gnashing space bugs careening asteroids.

Dolphin Man, Director Benoit Lichtí, France, 10:15 mins
Experience freediving in the footsteps of Jacques Mayol and begin to understand what the underwater world has to offer us all.

Dreamtime 4K Stereoscopic, Director Jonathan Sims , USA, 4 mins (World Premiere)
DREAMTIME is a meditation on imagination and the unknown, and is the first cinematic use of Deep Dream to achieve a VR experience, placing you within a dream that is half human and half machine.

Extravaganza, Director Ethan Shaftel, USA, 5:45 mins (Canadian Premiere)
Busy executive (Paul Scheer) tests a VR headset that promises to be the future of entertainment… but is actually anything but forward thinking. Can technology change society for the better, or does it magnify our worst traits in new ways?

Gladiators in the Colosseum, Director Joerg Courtial, Germany, 6:05 mins
Drop into Rome 80 AD in the centre of the Colosseum surrounded by 50,000 cheering spectators as you witness Gladiators fight to the death, all while Emperor Titus looks on, waiting to pass his final judgement.

Guardian of the Guge Kingdom, Director Bin Huang, China, 7:12 mins
Meet Pasang Tsering, a 28-year-old Tibetan who follows his heart to be a guardian of Guge Relics and Guge culture, giving up all the favorable conditions of urban life.

IORANA Rapa Nui, Director Damián Turkieh, Argentina, 4:03 mins
Travel to the mysterious Easter Island, discover its ancestral culture, know its traditions and live the music of the most isolated place in the world with 3D spatial audio as if you were really there.

Kiss Me, Director Ryutaro Nakamura, Japan, 5:43 mins (World Premiere)
The new age of music videos is here. A 360, fully immersive take on the music video genre with the latest VR & 3D sound technology.

Miyubi, Director Félix Lajeunesse & Paul Raphaël, Canada, 40 mins
A Japanese toy robot – inhabited by you, the viewer – is gifted to a young boy on his birthday. Over the course of a year, you’ll experience a hilarious and endearing interactive story. Starring Jeff Goldblum, P.J Byrne, Emily Bergl, Owen Vaccaro, Richard Riehl, Ted Sutherland and Tatum Kensington Bailey.

My Brother’s Keeper, Director Connor Hair and Alex Meader, USA, 10:56 mins
“My Brother’s Keeper” is a Civil War inspired narrative that pushes the boundaries of immersive storytelling while remaining anchored in historical fact. It is the story of two estranged brothers who, fighting on opposing sides, unknowingly reunite one last time on the battlefield at Antietam.
Directed by the FIVARS 2016 winner of the Grand Jury Prize Connor Hair

Rose Colored, Director Adam Cosco, USA, 14 mins
Victoria’s personal A.I., Klive, is only doing what his programming considers will benefit his user. It’s his job to make sure she’s happy, no matter what, but deep down, Victoria knows something is amiss.

Sanctuary, Director Shivanya Mulekar. Canada, 8:11 mins (World Premiere)
A VR Documentary that captures the life of the Juhasz family who has been seeking sanctuary in a Canadian church since November 2014.

Songs of the Vine, Director Maira Clancy and Blake Montgomery, Peru & USA, 15:27 mins (Canadian Premiere)
Shot over the span of two months in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, ‘Songs of the Vine’ immerses the viewer in the depths of the Amazon jungle, exposing them to the medicine songs and perspectives of Shipibo healers, and illustrates an ancient but increasingly relevant dynamic between humans and nature.

Submerged, Director Nishtha Jain, India, 8:10 mins
Climate change and defective government policies are precipitating one of the largest exoduses of migrant labor in the world.


Alteration, Director Jérome Blanquet, France, 18 mins
Alexandro volunteers for an experiment carried out to study dreams in this poetic trip into the future. He can’t imagine that he will be subjected to the intrusion of Elsa, a form of Artificial Intelligence who aims to digitize his subconscious in order to feed off of it.

The Cooties, Director Josh Gladstone, USA, 3:30 mins
You are in control of the content, in this one-of-a-kind live-action VR music video. The more you look around, the more things change.

The Dream Collector, Director Mi Li , China, 12 mins (North America premiere)
Join an ordinary old man and an optimistic dog living in a garbage dump, picking up the ‘garbage’ people that have been abandoned.

Floresta Encantada, Director Ygor Marotta and Ceci Soloaga aka VJ Suave, Brazil, 15 mins (North American Premiere)
Journey through an enchanted forest filled with magical characters that leads you to a shamanic experience.

The Golden Note, Director Chris Forde & Cedrik Portron, France/Canada, 36 mins (World Premiere)
Follow the Quest of Frenchman Jerome as he travels to Toronto in search of his father’s secret…

Halcyon, Director Benjamin Arfmann, USA & Canada, 5-50 mins
When the CEO of the world’s leading Virtual Reality company is murdered in VR, Detective Jules Dover is pulled down a rabbit hole that could threaten the very fabric of real life. Set in the year 2040, Halcyon is a futuristic murder mystery that explores the dark side of VR.

HooDoo, Director Catherine Salkeld, UK, 6:30 mins
Follow along on the adventures of Claw, a simple cat exploring a mysterious fragment of a forgotten world. With the help of the audience, will Claw get through his journey in one piece?

In His Presence, Brenda Colonna , USA, 15 mins (World Premiere)
A prayer and meditation app to spend time with a photogrammetric Jesus.

Manifest 99, Director Adam Volker, USA, 10 mins
Journey into the afterlife aboard a mysterious train inhabited by a murder of crows in this ominous and eerie virtual reality experience.

Manimal Sanctuary, Postopian Games, Canada 10 mins
Play an elder god, half coral reef half cthulhu, that surrounds Toronto Island. After the rest of the world has been devoured, the quirky Islanders provide you with your main food source, emotions.

Meta-Dimensional, Michaella Vu, USA, 6:31 mins (World Premiere)
After the death of their secretly brilliant father, two erratic sister’s discover a headset that allows them to dimensionally travel discovering their mysterious past.

UTURN, Director Ryan Lynch, USA, 10 mins (Canadian Premiere)
What happens when a young female coder joins a male-dominated floundering startup that’s deep in an identity crisis?

Under Neon Lights, Director Jono Brandel and Zach Richter, USA, 5 mins
Under Neon Lights is an interactive, colorfully animated VR music experience for The Chemical Brothers’ song “Under Neon Lights”, featuring St. Vincent, A psychological and physical coming-of-age story, Under Neon Lights is framed around a girl whose world builds in neon color as she runs through the different environmental stages of her life.


Pacha’s Pyjamas, Director Allah El Henson USA, Book
After an asthma attack, Pacha’s mother gives her a pair of magical pyjamas. When Pacha goes to sleep, the plants and animals on her pyjamas become her guides on a dream adventure.

Priya’s Mirror, Director Dan Goldman, USA/India, 10 mins
When Priya and her flying tiger Sahas come upon a castle sheltering women burned by acid attacks, she helps free them from their victimhood by confronting Ahankar, the demon-king who’s told them their scarred appearances have no place in society.

City of Ghosts, Director Olivier Asselin, Canada
City of Ghosts is an interactive, 360-degree mobile augmented reality film experience that allows users equipped with a smartphone, tablet or AR glasses, to interact freely in real space with life-size 3D virtual characters ? all within an elaborate scenario and even across several locations. City of Ghosts invites visitors to make a journey through time to relive a story of love, death, ghosts and technology all in glorious augmented 3D animation mixed with real places.

In 2016 the winners were
People’s Choice Award – Best Immersive Spherical Video
Title: Help
DIR: Justin Lin
Country: USA
Production Company: Google Spotlight Stories

People’s Choice Award – Best Interactive Experience
Title: Pearl
DIR: Patrick Osborne
Country: USA
Production Company: Google Spotlight Stories

Grand Jury Prize
Real by Connor Hair
Title: Real
Connor Hair and Alex Meader
Country: USA | RT: 12m46s
Production Company: Perception Squared and Spliced Films

In 2015 the Winners were
People’s Choice Award – Best Immersive Spherical Video
Title: Sonar – A 360° Experience
Director: Philipp Maas, Dominik Stockhausen
Germany | 6m9s
Production Company: Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg GmbH

People’s Choice Award – Best Interactive Experience
Title: Apollo 11
DIR: VR Immersive Education
Ireland | RT: 19m
Production Company: VR Immersive Education

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