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Fractal Time

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IDFA 2019: DocLab

DocLab, IDFA's home of innovation and experimentation, has selected seven new dynamic Dutch projects for its 2019 edition, all presented under the themed banner of Domesticating Reality. Nick Cunningham reports.

The Russian/English/Dutch-language 12-minute VR project Rozsypne, by Dutch Nienke Huitenga and Ukrainian-Dutch Lisa Weeda, sets out to combine the experience of war in Ukraine with the downing of Flight MH17, as seen through the eyes of the old woman Nina. She lives in the eponymous village where she tries to continue her daily life. Very soon she has the wreckage of a plane at her doorstep, and hundreds of bodies are strewn across the landscape. The VR piece is selected for Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction.

Weeda explains how, a little while after the airline crash in 2014, she was asked at a party in The Netherlands if her family in Ukraine felt any guilt concerning the tragedy. It seemed to her a stupid question as the Ukrainians were experiencing their own tragedy in the form of an ongoing war. Then at a hackathon in 2016 she met future collaborator Huitenga. "I told her about this story and how, as a writer, I really love to work with other media. I have done a photobook and did some transmedia projects for festivals. And Nienke said to me, maybe we can make this story a little bit more about perspective."

Huitenga explains how the Utrecht-based pair embarked on a VR together with tech artist Frank Bosma and developer Hans van Arken. "We are doing it independently and it is basically growing on blood, sweat, tears and happiness."

"The reason we chose VR has to do with the fact that we felt there should be a different way of experiencing a piece of history that has really impacted us," Huitenga stresses. "On the one hand words can create a world in your head, and television and news visuals can of course give you reference of a country that feels far away, but is actually not that far away at all. Kiev is just as far away as Madrid, I discovered when starting this project."

Adds Weeda: "When we were doing research on the MH17 crash we discovered that the nose of the plane came down near the village of Rozsypne. We also found out that, when translated, Rozsypne means scattered. For us as a team this was the best metaphor for this whole project. The plane was scattered and the lives of the people in the war zone in Ukraine are scattered and the lives of the families of the victims are scattered. This is what we are trying to bring together in this VR piece."

Julius Horsthuis' Fractal Time will be projected at Amsterdam's Planetarium. The enormous 11-minute 360 degree immersive experience is built from fractals, geometric figures built from countless repeated versions of themselves with no identifiable beginning or end.

"But they have many more interesting properties and one is that you can combine these formulas together and create these other worldly places," explains Horsthuis. "I use fractals as a shortcut to explore worlds that are existing in a mathematical reality. I don't create these worlds, I find them. And that is basically why I use fractals because they are the only way you can do that and actually be surprised by what you see, rather than regular CG where you have to input everything yourself."

The Planetarium will also host screenings of Dutch artists Metahaven's Elektra (Competition for Digital Story telling), described as "a cinematic merger of animation and live action that reflects on childhood and the embodiment of the past in the present, a visual essay on nodes and nets... a parable about the planetary dome in which the film will be projected."

The combination of live-action and animation is accompanied by a new piece by the young Canadian composer Kara-Lis Coverdale.

In nerd_funk (Comp for Immersive Non-Fiction and winner of the 2019 Film Fund DocLab Interactive Grant) Ali Eslami and Mamali Shafahi have created both a VR and a virtual identity that we can follow on Instagram for a "curated dose of contemporary digital culture."

"We decided to collect Instagram stories, which radically and very quickly changed digital culture, and what we did was to archive them in nerd_funk," explains Eslami. "Out of this mass of stories and information we wanted to create a spectacle and make a chapter-based VR experience, with each chapter focusing on the phenomena that we found most prominent within this mass of archive. We began to categorise the content - eg human body, parties, nature, all this stuff, and we found that we could create more curated content and experiences inspired by the content created within other people's Instagram activity."

Also in Immersive Non-Fiction Competition is Nadja van der Weide's Common Good: Look Inside, winner of a 2018 Netherlands Film Fund DocLab Interactive Grant.

During the Look Inside presentation your only guide as you enter a house is the voice coming through a pair of headphones, inviting you to look around. The house belongs to a stranger but nevertheless the work invites you to investigate how we can be open to real contact with others. While the voice makes you feel at home, you also become aware of the traces of the unknown residents (who, incidentally, didn't clean up before you entered). Experiencing the vulnerability of someone's most intimate space creates a tender context for reflection. The work also makes you query the nature of voyeurism, and how this particular voyeuristic adventure makes you feel?

Astrid Feringa's 18-minute documentary What They Destroy, We Will Build Again is selected for DocLab Spotlight. In Feringa's website she expresses the raison d'etre behind the work.

"In May 2015, IS militants occupied the ancient Syrian excavation site of Palmyra and demolished most of its structures, including the triumphal arch. As an ‘act of defiance' against this cultural censorship, the British Institute for Digital Archeology replicated the demolished arch. In April 2016, the life-size scale reconstruction was erected at Trafalgar Square, London, and has since travelled to several cities across the globe."

"The words of (then-) London mayor Boris Johnson (now UK Prime Minister), ‘what they destroy, we will build again', pose a binary narrative that presents... inexhaustible, idealistic construction as the solution to inexhaustible, idealistic deconstruction."

This installation therefore uses the recreated Arch of Palmyra as a case study "to excavate landscapes of power, and to talk about neo-colonial appropriation of heritage in an age of digital reconstruction and contemporary iconoclasm."

Like the 2018 DocLab experience A Dinner With Frankenstein AI, the Belgian/Dutch Artificial: Room One (Ontroerend Goed performance company) forms an investigation on the part of an AI, with the co-operation of flesh and blood beings, into what it is like to be human. Indeed, participants are invited to teach the AI how to become more human. Can the human and the AI develop an emotional relationship? And to what extent is this machine capable of evoking human emotions?

SEE NL Magazine #37 November 2019 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.



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