Documentary makers, film lovers and tech geeks will gather in a medieval town by the River Sheaf between June 10th and 15th. The Sheffield Doc/Fest: International Documentary Festival is a world leading and the largest documentary festival in the UK. Founded in 1994, the event has since grown very fast. It now does much more than celebrate the art and business of documentary; it has become a world hub for alternate realities.
In 1993 Sheffield was developing its media production base and its cultural industries quarter was expanding. It also had two universities, strong film journalism and media schools with a growing centre of postgraduate education at the Northern Media School.
Naturally, Sheffield became a hub for scientists and media professionals. The Festival created a world-leading programme of interactive media and virtual reality exhibitions and conferences some years later. DMovies talked with Mark Atkin (pictured below), the curator of Alternate Realities at Sheffield Doc/Fest.
“The basic idea behind Alternate Realities Summit was to get together everyone involved with interactive factual storytelling and virtual reality. We ran workshops all around the world, in Australia, Canada and Scandinavia, but we needed an event where everyone could meet every year. So in 2009 we set the Crossover Summit at Sheffield Doc/Fest”, explains Atkin.
As a former Head of Studies of the Documentary Campus Masterschool in Munchen, Germany, Atkin noticed that documentaries were not the only way to reach reality and hidden truths. “Virtual Reality and science are turning storytelling more powerful and they have been applied increasingly in films.”
Reality is all around
The Alternate Realities Summit will take place on Sunday June 12th 2016 at Crucible Theatre. It is a whole-day presentation that brings together experts from documentary film and broadcast, theatre, journalism, engineering and neuroscience. Panels vary from Artificial Intelligence and Storytelling to Opportunities and Challenges in Virtual Reality Journalism.
One of the highlights of the Summit is the panel “360 Sound for a 360 Experience”, in which audio engineers demonstrate how cutting-edge spatial audio is being used to create richer and more immersive Virtual Reality experiences. Atkin stresses that “sound design is becoming increasingly significant nowadays. In [the University of] Manchester, they have a center for innovation in sound, space and interactive art. They are developing projects that aims to coordinate your head moves according to the sound reception.”
I see dead people (and talk too)
The Alternate Realities programme will also introduce a social robot, Bina48 (pictured at the top), who can debate love, war and the universe. Bina48 was programmed to have her own spoken language and she communicates with holograms. There is also a virtual Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter, who answers all your questions about his experience in real-time. Atkin says that “we are changing the way we create history”, because in future we will be able to talk with dead people. Future generations will be able to interact with a memory of a Holocaust survivor inserted in a machine.
Alternate Realities includes also 12 Virtual Reality documentaries in the Site Gallery and The Space, allowing a depth of experience far beyond the limitations of the flat screen. Three docs take people on different parts of the migrants’ journey to find a safe haven in Europe. We Wait is Aardman Animations’ first VR film. It is set on a boat with a Syrian family in a desperate bid for survival. Home: Aamir (pictured above) leads the audience into the Calais Jungle, while Invisible is an experience inside migrant detention centres in the UK.
Apart from those activities Alternate Realities organised public exhibitions in two different venues. There is also a specialised market where it is possible to make partnerships and get funding from the international market for interactive, immersive and Virtual Reality projects, within the documentary, factual or hybrid genre.
DMovies will visit the Alternate Realities Market and bring to you the dirtiest novelties firsthand — as well as the best of the Doc/Fest. You can access the full programme of the Alternate Realities Exhibition and Summit by clicking here.