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VR stories provide immersive 360° experiences to KMB 2016 visitors

Urgent, yet ignored, stories from India’s hinterland are presented in a newly installed 360° virtual reality experience courtesy award-winning filmmaker Anand Gandhi at the ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) in the city.
 
As many as four short documentary films by independent filmmakers are being shown in the immersive experience set-up by Gandhi’s ElseVR initiative at the architectural pavilion in Aspinwall House. 
 
ElseVR is a platform by Memesys Culture Lab – founded by the Ship of Theseus director – that combines virtual reality, non-fiction filmmaking and journalism.
 
The documentaries, 6-10 minutes each, cover a range of pressing issues. They include India’s first VR film, Right to Pray, which deals with the ban on women’s entry at Trimbakeswar temple; Caste is not a Rumour, which highlights the story of Dalits and Muslims being beaten up by so-called Gaurakshaks; When Land is lost, do we eat Coal? which narrates the story of 24 million Adivasis who were displaced due to coal mining activities in Chattisgarh; and Submerged, which moves through the devastated landscape and vulnerable villagers in Bihar after last year’s torrential floods. 
 
“The ability and the desire to transmit knowhow, intention, and insight to others around us have co-evolved with humanity itself. Mixed reality is a huge milestone in that human project of record keeping, perspective sharing, empathising, and merging with the ‘other’, a project that began with the first cave painting, or even earlier,” Gandhi said.
 
To facilitate this immersion, the ElseVR booth has a pair of virtual reality headsets attached to cell phones that screen the films via an app. The experience allows viewers to not only watch but empathise with the characters in the stories through the 360° storytelling method that will redefine the relationship between story and audience.
 
“What virtual reality does is it really allows the viewer to enter into the story. You associate with the issues more empathetically than the news. You connect to the people and issues far deeper in VR than in two dimensions,” said Abhishek Lamba, an ElseVR team member.
 
“We don’t just have stand-alone films. The stories are supported with news articles as well. All the films have full length articles written by filmmakers, journalists, artists, among others. We have also associated with some organisations, including Amnesty International,” Lamba said.
 
The ElseVR experience will run up till the conclusion of KMB 2016 on March 29.
 
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