An exciting element of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival is the chance to experience current innovations in the realm of Virtual Reality, in terms of storytelling and tech, and get a sense of the medium’s potential.
The Protectors: Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes
Probably the most high profile VR work receiving its premiere at Tribeca is Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow’s The Protectors: Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes. It’s one of 24 projects from six countries in the Virtual Arcade section of the festival, now in its second year at Tribeca.
This National Geographic VR doc not only informs but also allows the viewer to get a sense of what life is like for several rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park.
Once you put on the VR headset, headphones and even a camouflaged body pack just to get further into the spirit of it, you’re taken through tall grass that seems like it’s beating against your face, right under a landing helicopter and on a heavily armoured mission to protect the park’s 1,300 endangered elephants from determined ivory poachers. Thrust into this world, we’re given a sense of how intense these men’s jobs are and their urgent need to protect these beautiful animals.
There’s a tense, thriller-like aspect to the doc as the rangers search the land for poachers that echoes the atmosphere of Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. One sequence takes the viewer into an area where recovered ivory is collected, which left me feeling utterly transported to the park. There’s also a suitably harrowing sequence where the viewer is taken right up close to a decomposing decapitated elephant. The sight of the maggot infested corpse is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s a powerful moment that gets across the brutality of the poachers and urges anyone watching to pay attention to the plight Garamba’s elephants.
As well as a call to action for the world to help, the film serves as a tribute to the rangers who often risk their own lives to help prevent the slaughter of elephants.
“The world’s park rangers are truly unsung heroes, serving as the last line of defence between endangered wildlife and extinction”, says Bigelow. “Their job is a deadly race against time, fraught with danger, and without them the elephants’ extinction is all but certain.”
Following its premiere run at Tribeca, The Protectors: Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes will be released on Within on May 1, then YouTube and Facebook360 starting May 8. For more information, visit natgeotvpressroom.com.
Kathyrn Bigelow and her co-creator on the project, Imraan Ismail will take part in a Tribeca Talk on Saturday April 22nd to discuss their work.
Elsewhere in Tribeca’s VR Arcade, Kevin Cornish’s Remember: Remember, merges science fiction with horror elements and poses the question: ‘if our minds are a map of every memory we’ve had, what do we become if those memories are stripped away?’ Set against the backdrop of an alien invasion, the viewer is locked in a cell by a former lover. In this cinematic experience the lines between what’s real and imagined become increasingly blurred.
Talking With Ghosts
Among the illustrative VR projects is Talking with Ghosts, comprising four short ghost stories by four different artists, all of whom are new to VR. Hand painted using Quill software, the comic book like shorts allow the viewer to explore the stories at their own pace. Ric Carrasquillo’s The Reservoir was particularly enjoyable, focusing on a couple struggling to hold on to their relationship together while playing a surreal game of crazy golf .
While many works make a strong impression with cinematography and graphic effects, the VR films in Tribeca’s Stroyscapes section are unexpectedly emotionally potent.
Draw Me Close
Receiving its world premiere at Tribeca, is the beautiful Draw Me Close, a collaboration between the UK’s National Theatre and the National Film Board of Canada. In the first chapter of what will be a longer work by playwright-director Jordan Tannahill, the viewer becomes an active participant in a compelling memory of a now adult son vividly recalling an evening with his mother in his childhood home. In the wake of her terminal cancer diagnosis in the present day, the memory takes on a particularly moving resonance. The viewer, or more accurately in this case the participant, essentially becomes the young child for the duration of the experience. Using touch, as well as sound and visuals to stunning effect.
It’s an impressive work that showcases the potential to merge VR with an immersive theatrical experience to tell stories with a genuinely emotional impact. The visual world is created with beautifully rendered simple line illustration rather than photorealistic graphics, which I found freed my imagination to fill in the gaps and allowed me to feel even more drawn into the world of the work, like the difference between reading a novel and seeing a screen adaptation.
For more on Tribeca Immersive and to purchase tickets, visit the official Tribeca website here.