WVRF @Festival Tous Écrans, Geneva International Film Festival


Festival Tous Ecrans, is a one-of-a-kind event in Europe, offering a full panorama of the best current feature films, television series, made-for-television films and interactive documentaries since 1995, but this year Virtual Reality took the stage in a wide range of events including: a HACKATHON, a workshop dedicated to science and interactive storytelling; VIRTUAL TERRITORIES, where virtual reality has completely redefined digital creation and the entertainment industry, and of course let us not forget; THE FULLDOME, a 12-metre wide geodesic dome.

This impressive Digital Garden was a focal point for this year’s Festival where we experience some of the most extraordinary immersive and sensory creations of the week. WVRF (World VR Forum) was involved with the WORKFLOW PROGRAM, a series of round tables and panels focusing on the manner in which new technologies can affect the creation, distribution and reception of images.

As Founder of WVRF, I was moderating Immersive Journalism: Virtual Meets Reality. My distinguished panel included Chilean-born artist Oscar Raby from Australia, where he is a multimedia artist who uses virtual reality to tell stories and runs an award winning VR production studio in Melbourne; Chloé Jarry, New Media producer for Camera Lucida in charge of transmedia and cross media development and Boris Razon, a journalist, and head of digital stories and transmedia at France Television, experimenting with different forms of transmedia narrative worlds and developing new types of web programs; Zillah Watson from the UK’s BBC, leads future content and storytelling projects for the BBC research and development, including VR and immersive journalism; and Gabo Arora, United Nations Senior Advisor and co-director of Clouds over Sidra and director of Waves of Grace who unfortunately was delayed in American and did not make the panel. Gabo and his work with filmmaker Chris Milk has certainly been the keystone for my involvement in VR and led to the creation of WVRF.

Using a technology to generate empathy towards a story demonstrated to me that VR filmmaking can prompt an increased global response to the ongoing conflicts and problems in the world. VR is not just for gaming anymore.

Like the introduction of radio or television, in their day these new delivery systems changed our feelings about the world we live in. VR will fundamentally change the landscape of how we experience many stories, but where does Virtual Reality Journalism fit? How are real events reconstructed in a virtual environment? Where is the boundary between journalism and video games? What are the rules? Do we have to have a filter to violence? By being involved with the news do we lose the analytic side of the story?

With this technique, we all agreed the audience is at the heart of the action while the story is being told. The lack of distance between audiences and images creates a powerful feeling of immersion and identification with the topic at hand. There are so many applications for virtual reality, but we are just starting to scratch the surface. As more journalists recognize it as a viable platform, virtual reality will become common practice as a storytelling medium. As with all emerging media platforms, VR presents opportunities in education, industry and leisure, but it also demands serious ethical consideration.

In some cases, traditional ethics contested over decades will help inform our judgments, but in others, the very immersion itself prompts questions we have not yet tackled. I do agree the future of Virtual Reality is going to become a significant part of all of our lives, but the stakes increase with its use in journalism, specifically because the news is so often about capturing people’s most difficult moments. As for those already experimenting with virtual reality the future is in their hands, but the biggest issue they will have to address is; there are no rules right now.