Stepping outside the box and into VR

19 November 2020

Bringing together VR, film, dance, music and art, FourbyFour is a brave new project that not only provides much-needed employment opportunities for artists but has opened up the options for a much-loved film festival. Ara Jansen reports.

Extreme times call for hugely creative measures. For longtime film festival director Richard Sowada, 2020 has been the time to consider the essence of film and how it could look now and into the future.

Collaborations and conversations later, the result is FourByFour, an ambitious virtual reality (VR) project which unites film, art, performance and music in four short films.

Produced by Revelation Perth International Film Festival, in association with Tura New Music and Co3 Contemporary Dance, the four-minute films explore space, art, history, story and architecture in a high-concept, multidisciplinary collaboration of physical expression and digital technology.

“In this business you don’t know what going to happen next,” says Sowada, Revelation Festival’s director and FourByFour executive producer. “You have to play as many cards are there are in your hand. You have to keep looking around and moving forward. It can be really scary.”

… the idea came from some discussions around the fact that the dance community has been one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was also a driver for Sowada to consider something new and outside the box. In this case, it was taking the first steps to Revelation commissioning and producing new work in collaboration with Co3 Contemporary Dance and Tura New Music.

Through funding from Lotterywest’s COVID-19 response grants program, Revelation was able to work with local screen artists, composers, musicians, choreographers and dancers, as well as arts facilities and organisations, to produce this unique collaboration.

Sowada says the idea came from some discussions around the fact that the dance community has been one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. He started talking to the Art Gallery of WA, PICA and the State Library of WA about ways they could make work in which the dancers could interpret stories about their buildings, locations or collections. That was the origin of the idea.

“I take my hat off to Co3 Contemporary Dance and Tura New Music for coming on board as collaborators and producers because this really was an experimental collaboration that hasn’t happened this way before.

“The point of the project is not necessarily the final output – which is of high quality – but to establish a different kind of network and different collaborations as well as providing a high level of professional development.

“It’s a test not so much of innovation but of ingenuity and resilience; how you can keep producing international quality work in this time and make it work into the future, which is what we’ve been exploring.”

A still of ‘PublicReading (II)’, shot at the State Library of WA, choreographed by Serena Chalker and filmed by Justin McArdle. Pictured is dancer Storm Helmore.

Around 40 people have been part of FourByFour, including local choreographers Claudia Alessi, Serena Chalker, Scott Elstermann and Emma Fishwick, composers Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan, Alice Humphries, Lachlan Skipworth and Rebecca Erin Smith and VR filmmakers Lauren Brunswick, Justin McArdle, Brodie May Rowlands and Stephanie Senior.

With four venues to work in, the challenge was to keep the teams as tight as possible, using a modular idea, whereby pieces could be easily slotted into each other. Each four-minute film was made by four people in situ (a dancer, filmmaker, choreographer and composer), with production people working virtually from around the country.

Using spaces in the Perth Cultural Centre including the WA State Library, Art Gallery of WA and WA State Theatre Centre, FourByFour is divided into four movements in which musicians, choreographers and VR filmmakers come together to interpret an aspect of the space, explore unseen locations or discover unexpected connections.

“This is immersive storytelling and it’s something I’m passionate about. It’s also about bringing people into this world to show them how you can tell a story in a 360-degree way.

“This is different from traditional filmmaking, where it’s often only one point of view … you also have to understand space, architecture and psychology. How is someone going to move through this space?”

“This is different from traditional filmmaking, where it’s often only one point of view. This way you also have to understand space, architecture and psychology. How is someone going to move through this space? You have to surprise the audience.

“VR is a whole new dimension of looking at an image. It’s like scuba diving for the first time. This is a chance to really explore a space. Once, you were fixed to a spot, now you can now look around.”  

The immersive films will be launched at the XR:WA Conference and Expo, which happens from 3 – 6 December across the Perth Cultural Centre. It’s WA’s major annual screen conference for computer gaming, VR and everything in between. After the launch you’ll be able to see the works online, and the VR versions at the venues.

“A project like this has made us commissioners of content. That’s an experiment for us. This expands what the notion of a film festival is. It allows us to contribute to the industry and community in a different way. It’s a big step for us and a different step for cultural organisations generally.”

FourByFour runs at the XR:WA Conference and Expo, 3-6 December 2020.

Pictured top are (front) dancers Scott Galbraith, Storm Helmore, Jo Omodei and Mitchell Aldridge with the rest of the creative team involved in FourByFour. Photo supplied.

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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