VR is the future of documentary, or at least it’s the present of Hot Docs 2017. Maybe the future of a recent past. To watch a VR documentary at HotDocs this year, you have to sign a waiver. Also, don’t expect all of them to be running.
But I did manage to see a few I wanted to.
THIS IS WHAT THE FUTURE LOOKED LIKE is possibly the most apt use of virtual reality in film: one dead innovation depicted through another that’s dead on arrival. The geodesic dome and its inventor Buckminster Fuller are profiled briefly as you get to stand in, near, and around many geodesic domes.
The most thrilling parts of it were finding the boom operator and realizing for the first time that I could neither see my feet nor my hands. It’s a quiet movie. A kind movie. A still movie.
I came away from it knowing no more about geodesic domes than I did before. Sure was pretty, though. TWO AND A HALF STARS
Don’t tell anyone, but I kept the headset on and kept watching another short. THE FASTEST RIDE is about a woman attempting to set a land speed record on a bicycle out at the Utah salt flats. VR is very new, as you can tell by the fact that people are still learning how to frame shots for it.
You fly over basecamp off to one side. Turn around and it’s empty salt flat behind you. Most angles are best watched straight on, checking your blind spot as often as you do when you drive. Then again, I’m a pretty inattentive driver.
That said, Denise Mueller is a force to be reckoned with. I found myself chanting “ride, ride, ride, ride” as she made her attempt. I wanted her to succeed and that must have been the movie. THREE STARS
Again, don’t tell anyone, but I kept the headset on and skipped FISTFUL OF STARS because I don’t want an existential crisis before lunch, thank you.
I skipped ahead until I found CHASING CORAL: VR. Submerged in the ocean, swimming with schools of fish, reduced to a floating point in a massive, merciless environment: beautiful experiences tarnished by grief for our planet.
You can read the safety notices on the ceiling of a golf cart as you’re taken out to sea. The cramped, tight spaces of land giving way to wide open water, leading to the devastating presentation of the bleaching of the reefs.
As film frames before and behind your eyes overlaid on top of the 360 environment.
It’s good, don’t get me wrong. But I am waiting to see it as it’s meant to be seen. To feel that grief, that devastation out loud in public with everyone around me. THREE STARS
Is there a future in VR for documentary? Is there a future in isolation? We watch Netflix to talk to our friends. We have parties for Game of Thrones episodes. Betting on solitude ignores our need to connect and be connected at the expense of movies themselves. In other words: like, no, man.