(Photo via twitter.com/BlackStarFest)
Immersive technology (XR) is now rearing its futuristic head at film festivals, thus changing the landscape of visual storytelling.
This year’s BlackStar Film Festival unveiled its first panel discussion on XR technology and the opportunities for filmmakers of color in making immersive content. The four-day festival — now in its eight year — showcased the work of filmmakers and artists of color last weekend, screening more than 100 films and featuring a series of discussions with industry leaders.
During the “Securing the Bag with Immersive Storytelling” discussion held on Friday morning at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art, festival goers got the inside scoop on the world of immersive technology and what it takes to break into the industry.
Here are some key pieces of advice we learned from the discussion:
Creating entry starts with education
Featured panelist Alton Glass, filmmaker and cofounder of the virtual reality technology studio GRX Immersive Labs, noted that access to the XR industry can be challenging, especially for creatives of color. The first step in creating access to XR, Glass said, starts with educating students on the ins and outs of immersive technology and storytelling.
With GRX, Glass and his team are “creating new experiences on how to expand storytelling.” He recently partnered with Facebook on a pilot program for students at HBCUs that teaches students how to create their own XR on-campus college experiences.
“Virtual reality may not always be about telling a story. It may be about an experience you want to share,” Glass said. “We’re teaching students about creative entrepreneurship, how they can use these tools and how to cross-platform their ideas into other areas.”
— BlackStar Film Fest (@BlackStarFest) August 2, 2019
It isn’t just about VR anymore
Virtual and augmented reality are in right now. It’s been estimated that nearly 171 million people use VR worldwide and the trend doesn’t seem like it’ll slow down anytime soon. But according to panelist Opeyemi Olukemi, executive producer of PBS series “POV” and VP of interactive at American Documentary, we shouldn’t solely focus on VR.
“In the last three years, there’s been a major focus on just virtual reality. In five years we’ll have new technology,” Olukemi said. “Technology will always shift. We’re really after focusing on creating a platform that is interchangeable to the technology that can run it.”
XR hardware is now more accessible
It’s now easier to get your hands on the hardware needed for immersive storytelling. Panelist Glass recommended smaller consumer cameras such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear 360 or the Insta360 can be prototyped to fit your XR needs.
“When I first started, I had to hack and make my own cameras. Now, it’s gotten so much easier to start to create,” Glass said. Now, he mentioned, software systems such as Adobe Premier have VR tools incorporated into its software for easier access.
XR should be more collaborative
Since technology is constantly changing, there should be an increase in collaboration between technologists in XR, according to Olukemi. She pointed out the importance of “people talking to one another” in XR spaces and how the power of collaboration will help the industry to grow.
“We need to know who are the players that will help us build and extend distribution beyond festivals,” she said. “If you speak to museums, libraries, art houses and whoever else is in this space, we can figure out ways in which we can build together.”
The panelists collectively agreed that the most important aspect of breaking into XR is, quite simply, funding.
Javier Torres, program director of the Thriving Cultures program at the Surdna Foundation, noted the significance of “closing the capital gaps specifically for Black and Brown creatives working in the immersive technology space.” Torres defined his funding strategy at the New York-based Surdna as a “radical imagination for racial justice.”
“We’re looking for ways to intervene now during a time where our digital and technological worlds are being built to ensure that we don’t continue to allow white, cisgendered, heteronormative, able-bodied men to embed their implicit biases into the algorithms that fundamentally control our lives,” Torres said. “We’re figuring out how we innovate beyond grant making while create spaces that tell our stories, preserve our histories and help us create a more just world.”-30-
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