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7

projects curated
by

Paisley Smith

2019/12/13

Paisley Smith is a Canadian filmmaker and virtual reality creator based in Los Angeles, California and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Smith is the director of Unceded Territories, a “fun, weird, and totally gorgeous” (ScreenAnarchy) collaboration with First Nations artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, that explores the connection between climate change and colonization by pitting a destructive “Super Predator” versus the environment. Unceded Territories had its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival Immersive 2019, and was made with support from Creative B.C. and the Sundance Institute and Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Smith is also the director of Homestay, (National Film Board of Canada, Jam3) an interactive VR documentary that deals with cultural understanding and loss. Homestay has screened internationally at IDFA DocLab, Expanded Realities at the Open City Doc Fest (London), Reel Asian International Film Festival (Toronto), and the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Immersed 2018, where it won the BC Spotlight Audience Award. Homestay is the recipient of “Best XR for Change” at Games for Change Festival 2019.

The Personal is the Political

It’s no secret that I love personal stories. I love to really know my friends and the people I meet. I’m a bit of a snoop. Can’t help it. I love looking in people’s junk drawers. I love looking at people’s collections – stamps, miniature dog ceramics – you name it, I love it. Nothing thrills me like the chance to stop at a garage sale. Anything that reveals more, that lets us get a closer look. I just want to know what’s happening beyond the “VR” projection that we put out into the world. ‘Traditional’ documentaries like “Stories We Tell” directed by fellow Canadian Sarah Polley have impacted me immensely. Polley tells her family story through film recreated archival ‘home video’ footage. The line between the real and the imagined are blurred.  I’m drawn to telling personal stories because it connects me with other people. When we share our own experiences with others – the good, the bad, the vulnerable – it opens up opportunities for people to reflect on their own lives and share their own experiences. Personal stories have real power to make an impact in the physical world. Kent Bye of Voices of VR describes how VR is a mirror to our own experience. We can use it to reflect our own life and possibilities back at ourselves. We can move through other people’s perspectives. I don’t think this is exclusive to virtual worlds – games, interactive documentaries, books, and film can offer this personal connection and space for reflection. 

Here are personal stories (across platforms) that have impacted me over the years: 

_Welcome to Pine Point

"Welcome to Pine Point" profiles an abandoned mining town in Canada’s Northwest Territories, drawing on the memories of its former inhabitants and showcasing the ephemera they saved.

Welcome to Pine Point was my first taste of interactive documentaries and totally got me hooked. I first experienced Welcome to Pine Point at DOXA Film Festival 2011 while participating in the Kris Anderson DOXA Youth Connexions Forum for emerging female filmmakers (where I made this little film). Welcome to Pine Point was like looking into a shoe-box of photos, video footage and personal history combined. It’s the story of growing up, revisiting your childhood, and how things you think will always be the same, change.

_Assent

Assent allows audiences to engage personally with the events and emotions of the Caravan of Death, through my father's eyes, and mine.

I experienced Assent by Oscar Raby and Katy Morrison at the Sundance Film Festival 2015, when we were there with Project Syria (directed by Nonny de la Peña). It combined personal memory with the ability to walk through and explore family history. The exhibition space was designed to look like Oscar’s teenage bedroom, complete with posters and a vintage computer setup. You sat down on his bed, or at his desk and entered Oscar’s personal experience. Through Oscar’s virtual world we step into his father’s perspective as an army officer when the “Caravan of Death” comes to his regiment following the Chilean coup of 1973. It’s personal, it’s powerful, and shares a horrible experience that has forever impacted their relationship.

_Dys4ia

An autobiographical game about the decision to start hormone replacement therapy.

My friend and collaborator Milan showed me this autobiographical game, Dys4ia, while I was working on Homestay. At the time, I was grapling with telling the story of Taro’s death by suicide and trying to find a way to share this complex experience with an audience in a clear way. Anna Anthropy powerfully creates understanding and empathy in the player by sharing her personal story in Dys4ia. It shares with the audience the experience of gender dysphoria and hormone treatments through short games like navigating the dangers of the bathroom.

_That Dragon, Cancer

An immersive, narrative videogame that retells Joel Green’s 4-year fight against cancer exploring themes of faith, hope and love.

I first heard of That Dragon, Cancer when I was knee deep in research and development on Homestay. It was created by Ryan and Amy Green to honour their son, Joel, who passed away from from cancer. The game also shares their deeply personal experience of processing his death. Like the creators, I too was trying to process death and make sense of loss through interactive media. I wonder if it worked for them? I know the experience creating Homestay and sharing the experience of loss with audiences has made me (and my whole family) feel less alone and more connected with people. It’s definitely been therapeutic and helped us heal.

_K-TOWN’92

When the LA riots/uprising/civil unrest exploded in 1992, images of destruction beamed across the globe with little context as to why these events had occurred. We hope K-TOWN‘92 offers a path to better understand Los Angeles before and after 1992.

K-Town ‘92 is an interactive documentary created by American documentary filmmaker Grace Lee, that deals with the LA uprisings of 1992. Lee, of Korean heritage, frames the documentary with the question “Who gets to tell the story?” K-Town’92 allows audiences to click on and isolate juxtaposing interviews from 1992 and 2017 and archival footage. Multiple perspectives exist in the same frame. The interviews are powerful and passionate from a range of perspectives. The audio is triggered by the placement of your cursor. You have the ability to silence, or amplify, the voices of the people telling their story. How you navigate the documentary shapes the story you leave with. Lee emphasizes that “these images profoundly shaped my understanding of race in America and the need for people of color to tell our own stories.”

_Carne y Arena

Carne y Arena is a conceptual virtual reality installation by Alejandro G. Iñárritu’ that explores the human condition of immigrants and refugees.

I’d classify this VR experience as a magical realism documentary. You can read my full reflection and play by play of the project here (https://bit.ly/2PjNmwI). The whole project - entry room, holding cell, virtual experience, reflection space - is experienced solo. It’s extremely personal as you are alone with your experience of what you see, hear, and feel. You connect with other people’s stories deeply in a dark corridor where you come face to face with the people whose stories are shared in the VR experience. You realize the faces you are seeing are the same individuals who traveled with in the virtual world. By pairing the animated narrative VR experience with the actual, true stories of immigrants and refugees from Mexico and Central America who have crossed the border into the US, the experience is brought home for the audience. Suddenly what is ‘just a film’ is real. You can’t make up the emotion and feeling that comes through when they look you in the eye and share their story.

_4 Feet: Blind Date

"4 Feet: Blind Date" is an Argentinian virtual reality film that explores disability and sexuality, inspired by lead writer Rosario Perazolo Masjoan's own experiences as a disabled person.

The purists who read this will say it’s not a documentary. They are right - It isn’t. But I think it’s rooted in truth enough to sneak onto this list. This VR film was written by Rosario Perazolo Masjoan based on her personal experiences (listen to her TED Talk). Delfina Diaz Gavier plays Juana in the recreation of Rosario’s story. It explores her life as an 18-year-old in a wheelchair. exploring sexuality and dating. Through playful animation, Juana’s vivid imaginative and internal life are revealed in 360 degrees. Sharing the virtual space creates a deep personal connection between the audience and Juana. The audience is immersed in her space, and experiences her journey with her, witnessing how disability and sexuality are viewed by the people around her. Read more about the creative team’s attention to detail and creative process here.

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28 playlists, a changing roster of prominent documentary makers, festival organizers, technologists and critics sharing their top picks.

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