How Film Festivals Are Changing the VR Scene in South America

Graeme Manson, creator of the Netflix show Orphan Black, watching Contrast VR’s original documentary, I Am Rohingya. Photo: FeelXR

In October 2017, Contrast VR showcased both documentaries “I Am Rohingya” and “Oil In Our Creeks” at Vancouver International Film Festival and at RioMarket/Rio International Film Festival. Both events gathered professionals from the world of virtual reality from North America, Europe, South America and the Middle East. Here’s what we learned from these film festivals, and the growing potential of the industry in Brazil and South America.

Rio International Film Festival

Photo: Marina Calderon/R2

It has been over three years since I left Brazil. That might not seem like a long time, but it’s a period in which the virtual reality industry has quickly developed around the world. Yet, the VR scene in Brazil is currently in its early development stages.

There are incredible ideas and projects in progress, but what has been stopping Latin American countries from expanding faster are the difficulties in accessing the latest technology. However, talented and driven people are working to overcome the barriers by investing in ideas that can elevate Brazil to the list of countries that produce amazing VR/AR/MR and interactive content.

Photo (left): Maria Fernanda Lauret; Photo (right): FeelXR

Rio International Film Festival is the biggest Film Festival in Latin America and it has had over 4 million attendees in its 18 years of existence. This October, the event gathered thousands of attendees and personalities from the audiovisual sector.

It was an honor for me, as a Brazilian, to be part of this event that starts to bring international attention to the VR industry in South America. Priscila Guedes, the founder of FeelXR Studio based in France and in Brazil, and the organizer of the VR section of the event in Rio, spoke about how it all started for her: “At the Berlin Film Festival this year, I finally saw the beginning of important incentives for innovative startups to transition from the traditional film market to the film industry of the future.”

Then, through watching VR films from all over the world at Next, the VR innovation pavilion of the Marché du Film in Cannes, she realized how events of this proportion can stimulate creativity and turn VR projects feasible in countries like Brazil. “I thought that we could offer Brazil something similar, that would certainly start on a small scale but that could have potential to grow more and more each year from now.”

Maria Fernanda Lauret giving a masterclass on the production of 360 video at RioMarket. Photo: Marina Calderon/R2

On October 12th, the entire day was dedicated to unite professionals from the Virtual Reality field, bringing to Rio de Janeiro skillful and experienced professionals from different parts of the world.

Representing Contrast VR, I led a masterclass on Documentaries: From Traditional to Virtual Reality, showcasing both our original documentaries at the event’s first VR Film exhibition. The masterclass covered immersive journalism as a new way of storytelling, discussing every step of the process of creating a VR documentary.

The audience was engaged, and were most interested in the topics of how to identify good stories that are proper for the 360 space, the technical challenges of post-production and how to distribute content efficiently. I could tell that there are a lot of professionals from Brazil, both related and unrelated to the traditional film industry, who were willing to dedicate time to this new medium to produce content that matters.

Throughout other presentations, one of the recurring discussions revolved around the issues Brazilian/South American content creators face when it comes to access to technology. Fabio Hofnik, Executive Director at Hyper Brazil, mentioned that:

“For a couple of factors such as inflation/currency and political and economical restrictions, Latin American countries seem to have a hard time producing content. In Brazil, the biggest VR center is in São Paulo but when it comes to immersive audiovisual content, we are still at the mercy of high costs of equipment importation and to motivate interest from buyers and clients. Little by little we’ve been forming professionals to work on this market: there are language study groups, camera and post-production research. From next year on, this situation tends to get better.”

Looking up to the future of VR in South America, Priscila Guedes comments that “South American people in general are extremely creative and they will certainly be pioneers in a lot of new categories that are being created for narratives and VR Cinema. I believe in this promise that I am working hard to bring to Rio Film Festival 2018, it will be the biggest budget for awarding the competitive showcase of high-quality VR films that can be produced even without national public funds.”

Vancouver International Film Festival

Contrast VR’s Editorial Lead on a panel with RYOT Director Angel Manuel Soto on VR News and Documentary Best Practices. Photo: Maria Fernanda Lauret.

The Vancouver International Film Festival was a different stage than the Rio International Film Festival. Not unlike Rio’s event, the VR demos at VIFF were very diverse and showcased work from leading VR creators, technologists and companies that have been investing in innovative ways to use this medium — from interactive CGI based VR storytelling to VR documentaries and Cinematic VR.

However, it was interesting to note that many of the attendees were people who were either already working in the VR industry, or involved in some way or another. It was a space that lent itself to more established VR related individuals and companies, with an attendee list primarily from North America. Rio International Film Festival, on the other hand, showcased more attendees from different industries who were interested in the VR industry, but had not necessarily entered the space yet. It represented the promise of a growing industry. The attendees were also international, representing not only Brazil and South America, but also North America and Europe.

Conclusion

A considerable challenge for us as content creators is to expand our audiences to regions that go beyond the big poles of VR production. It is to reach populations that aren’t aware of many of the stories we cover around the world, and the people who wouldn’t have the chance to experience these stories in such immersive ways. We find through journalism an incredible chance to reach these people. In both events (VIFF and RioMarket), attendees repeatedly mentioned how powerful this medium is to tell stories and how important it is for us, as a media organization, to start setting this language as well as standards of ethics and best practices through our documentaries and social videos.

“In this moment in which the frontiers of journalism also bring elements from fiction through the virtual reality space, it is important to remember the importance of media companies such as Al Jazeera in being aware of the responsibility they have conveying such content. It is essential for these organizations to create a sense of presence and to make it clear to the viewers their role in these stories through experimenting new ways of interactivity.” — João Bernardo Caldeiras, Columnist at Valor Econômico.