Virtual Reality Film At Sundance Immerses You In A Campus Rape

With the debut of Oculus Rift looming on the horizon this year, virtual reality films have been making a big splash at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

One of those is "Perspective; Chapter 1: The Party," a 12-minute film about a sexual assault at a college party by Rose Troche and Morris May. To view the film, you strap on an Oculus Rift headset that immerses you in a story described this way:

A young woman attends her first college party, her mind set on cutting loose and shedding the “shy girl” identity she’s struggled with since high school. At the same party, an awkward, but slightly charming young man is hoping for a similar reinvention. Add booze and misinterpreted signals, and two different stories emerge out of what happens during the night's events. Perspective allows viewers to experience the same encounter from two completely different points of view.

The first half of the movie tells the story from the man's perspective, the second tells it from a very intoxicated victim's. It was all shot in a day at a fraternity at the University of Southern California with actors. Though victim and assailant get equal time and (thankfully) an actual assault is not depicted, Buzzfeed says that the film leaves no question that a criminal act occurred.

Adam Vary of Buzzfeed says that watching a film in this way does feel new and intimate:

The intimacy was striking, wasn’t it? Not just in that the actors’ respective faces were in three dimensions and felt literally inches away from me, but in that I could look around at the the space at my own discretion. I’m the kind of video game player who needs to explore every inch of a virtual environment, and I was no different in this experience (despite how dizzy I felt when I was done). I picked up some telling small details, like how Brian’s friend never stopped watching Gina when I was in her point of view, or how much the people at the party seemed to ignore Brian’s antics when I was in his gaze versus how much I felt they were looking at Gina when I was in hers. The potential for that kind of detailed, experiential layering in storytelling is fascinating — and here, quite powerful.

Virtual reality first appeared on the scene at Sundance in 2012 with the film "Hunger In L.A." It depicts an actual event with real audio from the scene: a man waiting in a food line passes out when he goes into a diabetic coma and then chaos erupts. The film by Nonny de la Peña, a pioneer in immersive journalism, used audio footage from the event with computer animation. Viewing the film was a moving even disturbing experience for many of the viewers. She told Fast Company, "It’s shocking to me the number of people who were so upset that they couldn’t help this guy. I had one woman crying. I had one woman kneeling down and trying to talk to him telling him it would be okay. I had grown men trying to hold his hand."

There were 11 virtual reality experiences at Sundance altogether this year, including a film based on "Wild" that features Reese Witherspoon's voice. And there's more on its way. The technology has come a long ways since de la Peña's debut and even May told Buzzfeed the way "The Party" was shot is already outdated: "The way I shot [The Party], I will do nothing like that ever again. I mean, the next episode is completely different. The technology has advanced so much."

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