Extraordinary Stories in Virtual Reality

Deeper, longer, realer: VR at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016

BFI Film Forever

There was some serious second-wave virtual-reality ambition on show this year at Doc/Fest’s ever-burgeoning Alternate Realities showcase – if you could get a headset to find out.

A great example of the new visual daring is Oscar Raby’s latest work for BBC Connected Studios, Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel, a beautifully crafted dreamscape documenting the bloodshed of Ireland’s armed insurrection of a century ago. You are invited to live through the memories of 19-year-old Willie McNieve, a rebel who fought against the British and later in his life recorded his memories of the events onto cassette.

Raby’s developing style – the piece is part-animation, part-sketchbook, part-gamer narrative – calls into question the very essence of memory and testimony, the landscape of dreams versus historical fact. In one sublime moment of reflection Willie says, “Ladies and gentlemen… I have taken the precaution of committing what I had to say to tape so that if I wasn’t able to say it to you in person, I could hand it to you in this instrument in which you now hear my voice. Thank God for technology.” One can only imagine his reaction to Raby’s immersive interpretation of his words. Easter Rising’s triangular universe is truly astonishing and offers fresh perspectives for immersive storytelling by putting the viewer at the heart of the action, able to peer around corners and through windows.