Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is set to launch a new immersive work that combines real-time VR with live performance and documentary.
Directed by Charlie Shackleton, Richard Misek, and Melbourne-based Oscar Raby, A Machine for Viewing is an experimental hybrid video essay told across three episodes, investigating the way in which we watch films today.
An initial interactive version of the work used virtual reality to pull an audience into the images, rather than having them viewed in a movie theatre.
Having been reimagined as a digital offering for MIFF, a film about the experience (filmed at the Astor Theatre) will premiere globally online on the festival’s YouTube channel from April 8. The new iteration follows a single cinema patron’s unique experience of viewing the original.
The concept for the work was inspired by the work of filmmaker Peter Kubelka who designed a “machine for viewing” theatre in 1970 by using controlled lighting in a movie auditorium to give the effect of the screen disappearing into the darkness.
Started four years ago as a research project by Misek, a UK-based film academic, the idea reached Australia after Melbourne VR production studio VRTOV was approached early on to lend its expertise.
Raby, the studio’s creative director, worked closely with Misek across a two-year-period on how to best bring video essays into the VR space, first deciding to transform them into 360-degree videos, before making them into a live performance.
He told IF the immersive product reflected his non-linear stance when it came to VR storytelling.
“My formal approach to VR has always been to replace or challenge linear storytelling that has cameras and timelines with non-linear narratives that are interactive and told in realtime,” he said.
“My stance, combined with the ‘what if’ conversations I had with Richard across the two years, led us to develop the project as a virtual reality, realtime, interactive live performance, where the performer is a spectator sitting with others inside a theatre.
“What’s going on in their head is then projected on the big screen.”
After presenting participatory iterations with VR headsets at Sundance Film Festival, the International Documentary Film Festival, and the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the events of 2020 and the subsequent restrictions on live performances prompted a rethink of the initial version for MIFF.
Raby said the upcoming film would document the evolution of the concept and acknowledge last year’s disruption.
“The crowds, film buffs, and cinephiles that you regularly see at MIFF are the ones that have the type of conversations we had in developing the project,” he said.
“I’m hoping they will appreciate the transformation of the piece from a series of films to 360 videos to the live performance that was meant to be shown at MIFF last year.
“We’ve worked with the festival to make sure the film is much more than a documentation of what we wanted to happen during the live performance, but also of what happened in 2020.”