The four IFFR Pro x VR Days projects selected for Cinemart 2019 were pitched 29 January to the great and the good of the VR sector attending Rotterdam 2019. All four are eligible for the inaugural HeYou Media Award, valued at €1,000.
Estonian Rein Zobel (director) and Kalev Smidt (producer) pitched their 10-minute €75,000-budget Albrecht’s Gift, told without dialogue, about a detective who has an extraordinary sense of the world - any smell, sound or touch can ignite vivid images of different places and worlds. "I feel that there is a real hunger for narrative fiction," stressed Zobel. "And VR is a very powerful story-telling medium, and we want to jump at the opportunity to do something that has never been done before and at the same time develop the medium and find the story-telling sensibilities. This film-noir style mystery is also an opportunity to mix this tradition of old school filmic cinematic language with the new medium."
Zobel discussed which countries he would turn to for co-production support, in essence thinking locally: "We are open to all co-production deals and options. Probably more in the Nordic and Baltic region. We are talking about this dystopian Soviet times environment…so we don’t need special effects in Estonia to create this bleak environment."
José Celestino Campusano's 7-minute Bolivia profunda, budgeted at €90,000 of which two-thirds is already raised, promises an anthropological record of the country's indigenous people with no intervention into their lives. "I love traditional cinema but the normal spectator is quite different from the spectator of VR, who is more of a witness and [an explorer]," commented Campusano. "So when we want these witnesses to stay with the picture and the scene, we have to be kind to them, we have to make them feel comfortable. And actually, the artist is not just talking to the intellect of the spectator but, which is much more interesting, to the instinct or the intuitive part of him or her."
Producer Paulina Portela described her initial reaction to previous Campusano's film works. "I was shocked… his true histories from the communities are very current and honest… and when I saw [how] audiences reacted, I decided to produce this one." The film is entirely shot, she confirmed, and she is seeking a co-pro partner to help with the edit, sound and post-production.
The UK director/producer team of Tupac Martir and Lilian Hess pitched their 30-minute Cosmos Within Us, a highly complex, multi-sensory VR immersive fiction which tells the story of Aiken, a sixty-year-old man who dives into memories of his childhood in an effort to preserve them against his swiftly progressing Alzheimer’s. With a budget of €460,000, the team has just over 10% (€50,000) in place.
"The whole point is that we are trying to help people understand and get a little bit of an insight into what happens to someone going through Alzheimer’s, whether that is a family member, a friend or somebody who has passed away, and by doing that we want to get close to the NHS (National Health Service, UK) and the Alzheimer’s Society so we can be a window into what is going on in people’s lives," commented Martir.
The scale of the project is very ambitious. "We are at the moment 65 people at different levels. We have the viewer who experiences it, the [numerous] musicians who are live, a voice-over live actor, a live actress grandmother – you are watching yourself in the third person, and then you realise you are in the first person – and then we also have The Shadow Man, stolen from my first opera, who operates around you… and then there is the element of me because I am actually directing the piece live, in front of everyone’s eyes."
Ostensibly there is just one viewing participant but producer Hess commented how they may be looking to attract two different levels of the spectator, the person experiencing the VR whose entry ticket would be more expensive, and an audience that could fill an auditorium viewing from the outside, paying a lower tarif.
Nathalie Mathe's 20-minute Wallada (budget: €350,000) promises to tell the fascinating life story of Princess Wallada, daughter of the last Umayyad caliph of Córdoba, who became the most famous poetess and political figure of her time. She opened the first literary salon in Europe and her tempestuous love story with the grand poet Ibn Zaydoun became a legend which is still alive today.
Mathe described hers as a story about creativity and resilience, "and I believe that in the face of destruction the only possible act is the creative act, and that is what this story is about…" As extremism increases around the world, she argues, we need stories “to remind us of our common heritage.” She also reminded the audience that this is a story that has never been told internationally before.
Her potential audience is art lovers and anyone who loves interactive and cultural VR, and the Arab and Spanish communities. She is particularly looking for an executive producer to take on the project to free her to concentrate on directing duties.
At the end of her address, Mathe was offered a number of institutional contacts by audience members confident of their potential future involvement/investment.
Photo in header: HeyYou Media Award winner Tupac Martir and Lilian Hess