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Entries in Virtual Reality (2)

Friday
Feb232018

CARRIBERRIE

With: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Dubay Dancers, The Lonely Boys, Anangu, Joey Ngamjmirra, Mayi Wunba, Naygayiw Gigi Dance Troupe and Hans Ahwang. Narrated by David Gulpilil.
Writer: Tara June Winch.
Director: Dominic Allen.

Reviewed at the World Premiere, held at The Australian Museum in Sydney on Thursday February 23.

Rating: 5/5

Indigenous tradition dating back millennia melds with the future of fully immersive filmmaking technology in the breathtaking virtual reality mini-feature, Carriberrie. A faithful extension of the art and craft of the spiritual dance narratives it captures, this glorious film premieres at The Australian Museum as an integral part of WEAVE, a month-long festival celebrating First Nation and Pacific cultures.

Deriving its title from the word ‘corroboree’ as spoken by the Eora nation, the traditional owners of the land upon which the city of Sydney now stands, the 15-minute 3D/360° rendering of First Nation dance and music represents a deeply humanistic focussing of the VR lens. Director Dominic Allen has employed the Jaunt ONE camera (a custom-built VR rig offering unprecedented image quality) to capture not only the majestic Australian landscape from Uluru to The Torres Strait Islands to The Harbour City, but also the unique complexities and beautiful artistry of native storytelling in song.

A white Australian of Irish ancestry, Allen spent two years working with indigenous elders such as senior Kimberley Walmajarri woman Annette Kogolo and Marilyn Miller, Director of the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival and former Bangarra choreographer, to ensure authenticity and respect was afforded all the performers in the film. Several of the sequences, including the funeral performance “Kun-borrk Karrbarda” from the Northern Territory and a Kuku-Yalanji ceremony called “Mayi Wunba” that depicts the cultivation of Queensland rainforest honey, have rarely been glimpsed by the wider Australian population.

Contemporary First Nation culture is also represented, with contributions from the acclaimed work “Bennelong”, courtesy of the internationally renowned Bangarra dance company, and the anthemic rock song “The Hunter” from Lonely Boys, a six-piece band hailing from the Arnhem Land community of Ngukurr. A picturesque highlight is the all-women Dubay Dancers, of the Arakwal people from the stunning Byron Bay region of New South Wales, who dance a re-enactment of the seaside collection of yuggari (pippi) and jalum (fish).

Allen unites indigenous musical culture and the nations from which they hail with drone footage that frames the vast yet singular bond they share with the land, from deep within the red of the Outback to the green of the hinterland to the blue of coast. In and of itself much of this resembles high quality travelogue footage, to date one of standard uses of VR technology. In cohesion with the symbolic stories, however, the footage stirs with profundity.

The director’s other triumphant artistic flourish is his use of the 360° device, allowing the viewer to be at the centre of the dance rituals within the very environment from which they traditionally emerged. The sense of discovery one experiences with every turn of the head, with musicians in full flight and choirs in boisterous song often over one’s shoulder, will be revelatory to those new to the virtual reality viewing realm.

With Carriberrie, Dominic Allen, writer Tara June Winch and the production team have defined a new direction for the VR format – an affecting journey rich in ancient cultural significance, every bit as soaring as the viewing experience itself. It is a remarkable work.

CARRIBERRIE screens at The Australian Museum, Sydney, from March 2-27. Other states and venues to follow. Ticket and session times can be found at the venue's official website.

Sunday
Jun182017

MIYUBI

Stars: Owen Vaccaro, P.J. Byrne, Emily Bergl, Richard Riehle, Ted Sutherland, Tatum Kensington Bailey, Lindsay Arnold, Noah Crawford and Jeff Goldblum.
Writer: Owen Burke
Directors: Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael.

Screened at VR Experience Lounge 2 at The Hub, Sydney Town Hall, as part of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival.

Rating: 4/5

Both a sweetly nostalgic love letter to 80’s family rituals and a satirically acidic spin on the fleeting nature of consumer culture, the 40 minute virtual reality ‘feature’ Miyubi is at once warmly familiar and dizzyingly groundbreaking. The story of a toy robot whose life cycle lasts the attention span of a pre-teen boy, this captivating comedy-drama represents one giant leap towards a feature film future that includes unlockable narrative strands and 360-degree perspectives.

Once the goggles and headset are strapped on, the viewer becomes the titular android, a birthday gift for a precocious youngest boy (Owen Vaccaro) that is unwrapped to his unbridled glee sometime in 1982. Recalling the sibling dynamic of Spielberg’s E.T., his older brother (Ted Sutherland) is the wannabe-cool older brother stereotype, while doe-eyed moppet (Tatum Kensington) is the cute kid sister. Filling out the house is the increasingly desperate dad (P.J. Byrne), whose over-eager longing to be his son’s best friend is at odds with his job ‘s travel commitments; a mom (Emily Bergl), who has found the middle-class, wallpapered nirvana of her dreams; and, Grandpa (the wonderful Richard Riehle) whose fading memory and repetitive wartime recollections are testing everyone’s patience.

Miyubi’s journey unfolds as a series of reboots; during the downtime, the robot powers up, runs increasingly troublesome diagnostic checks, and re-emerges into a world in which his value as both a piece of hardware and a friend is waning. The plight of Miyubi echoes the emotional centre of Pixar’s Toy Story, in which Buzz, Woody and the gang are soon shunted for newer, cooler upgrades. At first the object of Grandpa’s derision and contempt (he fought the Japanese, he likes to remind his family, and now their technology is taking over his house), Miyubi and the old man soon bond over their impending obsolescence.

The beautifully rendered work is a collaboration between the Montreal-based Felix Paul Studios, whose principals Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael direct with seasoned skill (they recently inked a deal to explore feature-length VR opportunities with 20th Century Fox); and, humourist Owen Burke, one of the driving forces behind the Funny or Die troupe. His characterisations are pitched high, but the warm, more human moments are undeniably touching; one sequence, in which an airport-bound Dad dons a Rambo Halloween outfit to record a video message for his family, is very tender.

The larger question, of course, is how much of an expansion to the art and craft of cinematic storytelling do Lajeunesse and Raphael achieve via the use of virtual reality. The immersive element is certainly remarkable; sequences that take place in the boy’s bedrooms, set designed to recall pivotal influences in 80’s pop culture history, will stir the hearts and minds of Gen-Xers like no other film experience could (a Battlestar Galactica one-sheet autographed by the late Richard Hatch…I mean, Wow!). The physical reaction the viewer experiences are also without precedent; when a character reaches for Miyubi’s front control panel and inserts a music cassette, one’s tummy instinctively tightens.

The most intriguing advancement represents a melding of the traditional narrative and the tiered storytelling used predominantly in video games. By collecting three secret items, Miyubi accesses an implanted subconscious and is transported to the wondrously cavernous warehouse workplace of The Creator, played with typically eccentric charm by Jeff Goldblum. The sequence is not only a masterclass in richly detailed set design, but it also addresses the very essence of the cinematic ‘fourth wall’. To have Goldblum, deep in character, speak in extreme close-up directly into your eyes challenges the viewer to stay within the narrative, while experiencing a new form of celebrity interaction. (A further level, apparently representing Miyubi’s ‘happy place’, is spoken of by The Creator, but was not unlocked by your reviewer.)

As the medium advances, Miyubi will be looked back upon as a pivotal moment in VR development. A smartly written, emotionally resonant slice-of-life drama, it is an engaging, funny work. More importantly, it is a first for the new technology and represents a seismic shift towards the acceptance of VR films.