Virtual reality tech buffs are in for a treat this November.
Some of the latest works in virtual reality (VR) cinema and theatre will be shown at this year’s Digital November in Hong Kong, a series of events about French technology and content production organised by local partners and coordinated by the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau.
Hong Kong arts hub to push boundaries on what can be shown
According to Louis Bonneau, an audiovisual officer with the Consulate, VR is becoming a key market for the cinema industry in France and worldwide, though “in Hong Kong, we thought the VR market for cultural purposes is pretty small and limited,” he says.
“We felt that bringing this kind of content to Hong Kong would allow the general public to know more about French creativity in the field of cinema through new ways of telling a story,” adds Bonneau.
One of the highlights of Digital November is an immersive theatre performance that mixes live performance with virtual reality. The Cliffs of V, a VR production by French company Gengiskhan, is one of the first immersive VR experiences of its kind.
Set in a prison hospital in the near future, viewers, with VR headsets on, will share the life of a prisoner who is about to trade his eyes for years of freedom.
“At the beginning of the experience, you are in the waiting room of a medical centre,” explains Laurent Bazin, artistic director of The Cliffs of V.
“You are in the skin of the character who will give his eyes. It is important for us that you wait, you are a little anguished, the light is shooting down and the people are a little scary … we can’t say too much because it is part of the surprise. At the end you will see the actors again.”
Actors who appear in the film will interact with the spectators in person during this performance in the hopes of blurring the lines between the real and virtual world, according to Bazin.
“VR is not an image, it is a space. You must imagine that your spectator lives in the space you have built for him,” says Bazin.
“Compared with traditional movies you don’t have any frames. You have to guide the attention and sight of the spectator. If you want people to focus on my eye in the cinema, you can go closer. But with VR it’s not possible. You have to be more subtle, you can’t force them.”
Line Brucena, the producer of The Cliffs of V, was introduced to VR technology from friends who worked in the video gaming industry.
“There are no shot cuts and frames with VR, so we cannot work with this technology with a regular movie director,” said Brucena. “We had to find someone who knows how to use space and sensations in a completely different way”.
That’s why she approached Bazin, originally a stage director, to join the team to work in a hybrid way, between film and live performance.
“If you want your story to be more impactful, you must combine it with scenography and [live] actors,” said Bazin.
Brucena says one of the biggest technical difficulties in staging the production was “stitching” the images together, a process that involved meshing together the footage shot from their cameras to create a flawless 360-degree space for the viewers.
“When we shot the film in 2016, the technology was not mature at all,” says Brucena. “We are like the first people working with movies 100 ago.”
Brucena adds that the medium of VR was so new that they had to come up with new methods and technology to suit their needs.
“We are inventing the way we use these tools, they are evolving very, very fast,” Brucena says.
Despite the constraints that VR technology pose, the duo remain optimistic about its adoption by artists and filmmakers in the future.
“VR should not only be a social gaming tool because it is so powerful. We also need [artists and filmmakers] to put a soul inside,” Bazin says.
The Cliffs of V will be shown on November 17 and 18 at the Eric Hotung Studio at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.
Other than the theatre production, there will be a French VR film showcase featuring three award-winning French films with VR technology.
Alteration by Jérôme Blanquet will touch on the theme of artificial intelligence. I Saw the Future by François Vautier delves into Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of the future. Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness by Arnaud Colinart, Amaury La Burthe, Peter Middleton and James Spinney examines John Hull’s sensory and psychological experience of blindness.
“We hope to give the general public the opportunity to attend some of the best and latest VR French films,” Bonneau says. “They have been selected in major international film festivals, and it’s going to be the premiere in Hong Kong.”
In partnership with the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival, the VR film showcase will be open to the public from November 1 to 11 at Openground, 198 Tai Nan Street, Sham Shui Po.
Other events include the French Tech Tour China 2018 Immersion programme with French innovative companies organised by Business France and Bpifrance; the Hackathon on Corporate Social Responsibility: “Innovation Contest 4CSRtech” co-organised by Orange at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Clear Water Bay; and an E-Learning Workshop: Teaching French with digital photography at Alliance Francaise Jordan Centre in Jordan.
Digital November, October 26 to December 4.
Inquiries: 3752 9900