Is there a particular video, film, campaign or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
Adam Curtis, Chris Marker
What motivated you to make your virtual reality project?
Testimony is an interactive VR documentary where viewers are placed directly inside the unfolding stories of five survivors of sexual assault and their journey to healing. The focus of the interviews is less on the abuse itself and more on the aftermath: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dealing with the legal system, it is an open stage for survivors to talk about what is often not discussed in the media.
When I first conceived of this project my main thematic was to challenge and confront people. Testimony surrounds you with the testimonies of sexual assault survivors. You literally can’t look away. I was interested in creating a deep listening space, and VR proved to be the best medium to do this. VR for me is a commitment— this stems from the fact that putting on a headset is a commitment to be in a dedicated space and be attentive. You are blind to the rest of the world and you give your full attention to exploring the content.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
The subject’s interviews were filmed with “flatty” 4k video using a Panasonic Gh4 DSLR
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your virtual reality video to help tell your story.
Subjects were filmed seated in front of black background, then edited and brought into Unity, with added interactivity so they appear as floating video panes constructed in 3d space.
The VR environment is designed in such a way that each interview subject slowly and almost imperceptibly moves towards the viewer as he or she listens to their testimony, and shifts away when viewers move their head to indicate they want to move on. This simple form of interactivity allows the viewer to ‘lean in’ to the listening experience and to disengage if material is too raw or discomforting.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
Testimony posed several conceptual and practical challenges – The first is a design challenge: how best to design an environment that serves as a comfortable and intuitive listening space for viewers to feel engaged with the content of the project without feeling burdened by the emotional intensity of it.
The second is an editorial challenge: how to find the right balance among the various storylines of the assault survivors testifying for the project. This requires making choices regarding content and duration and how to craft these into a three-dimensional story as embedded threads in virtual space.
I intentionally wanted this experience to be “story-less” and embody multiple stories and narratives, by letting sexual assault survivors tell their stories in their own words, the accounts are straightforward, so viewers have to fill in the gaps and make up their own narratives as they engage with the work.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this virtual reality video.
The most rewarding, surprising and humbling experience is by far meeting the survivors, having the chance to support their journey and form a bond with them and watch how they shed layers of their experience and open up.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
Take risks and never be afraid to fail. Create the unknown.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
My favorite part is capturing pieces of reality, people’s stories and watching how these unfold into meaningful capsules, always filled with surprises.
The creation of unique stories that did not exist before.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
Camera, or any other small recording device to not lose any precious moment that could be captured. Whether it’s a landscape, a sound-byte or an interview.
Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:
Testimony is an interactive documentary for virtual reality that shares the stories of survivors of sexual assault and their journey to healing.
What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?
Measuring impact with VR is complex , but as the project grows I receive much needed feedback on its impact, whether its peoples reactions when they take the headset off, needing a hug, or emails from survivors attesting for its impact and willingness to participate and have their voice heard to educational institutions inviting Testimony to campuses as an educational tool.
Since the project’s launch in April there had been thousands of downloads and much media attention of the project and a participatory WebVR version of the project was developed to further highlight the impact, analytics and dissemination of this project.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this virtual reality video.
The process of talking to people and interviewing them was quite intense and amazing, and it’s something I didn’t expect. I’m not a therapist, but being a survivor myself, I contain people’s journeys — there’s this strong sisterhood and brotherhood emerging. If I’m a survivor, you’re a survivor, we can share our stories. I don’t think a non-survivor could have done this work.
What do you want audiences to take away from this video?
My hope is that, aside from being an interactive VR Documentary ,the project can also serve as a resource for survivors who are still healing to see what modalities have worked for others and to find solace in knowing others have had similar experiences and will offer a space for women and men to feel a sense of restorative justice and a site for education for an epidemic that affects us all.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
- What is the importance of these survivors’ stories being heard?
- What does it mean to view or face “difficult knowledge” publicly/ do you think people tend to shy away from it?
- How do you think the VR aspect of this documentary changes things for viewers?/Is it particularly important for a topic like sexual assault to be communicated through a VR experience?
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?
My ultimate goal was always to turn Testimony into something more easily accessible, s we recently launched a WebVR version of the film which is similar to the VR version in terms of layout and aesthetic—but it is participatory, so anyone can submit their own stories in the form of video, audio or text into a growing database for social change.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
Invite Testimony for your campus as an educational tool
Spread the word about the project and invite more people to submit their testimonies
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:
An info sheet about the campus tour:
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