CFC Media Lab, NFB, and JustFilms | Ford Foundation partner to present creative doc lab focused on VR storytelling

Nine-day residency to explore immersive VR storytelling with 12 diverse creators from Canada and the U.S.

TORONTO, Oct. 5, 2016 — Virtual Reality (VR) is capturing the imagination of documentary storytellers, journalists and visual artists all over the world who are eager to embrace an immersive medium that pushes new boundaries in non-fiction storytelling.

To support, explore and share VR knowledge and experience, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), the Canadian Film Centre's Media Lab (CFC Media Lab) and JustFilms | Ford Foundation have joined forces to present an innovative, experimental creative documentary lab for diverse creators from Canada and the U.S.

Set to begin October 11, 2016, OPEN IMMERSION: A Virtual Reality Creative Doc Lab will bring together six Indigenous Canadian artists and six artists from the American South in CFC and NFB spaces in Toronto. Together, they will explore the possibilities of VR as a new storytelling platform.

"The pairing of Canada's top Indigenous talent with notable American artists from culturally diverse backgrounds will ignite a timely, new discussion on point of view and representation in a new storytelling medium," said Anita Lee, Executive Producer, English Program (Ontario Centre) for the NFB. "The notions of 'reality' and 'truth' have never been more nuanced with the expansion of new technologies, and therefore capturing and representing 'reality' never more interesting, especially in the hands of artists whose voices are not often heard in the commercial industry."

OPEN IMMERSION has been designed to immerse the participants in both the theory and practice of creating immersive, interactive media and to push the creative storytelling process. The talent and project lab will engage the 12 storytellers in an inspiring and rigorous hands-on creative development process comprised of keynote presentations, case study critiques, group sessions and peer collaboration.

"The OPEN IMMERSION Lab is our first foray with the National Film Board of Canada and the Canadian Film Centre. Our goal is to create a corridor of opportunity for visual artists to explore VR technology as the aesthetics of this new platform are being developed," said JustFilms Director Cara Mertes. "Even though it's very early days for VR, we are seeing how it can give socially-engaged storytellers a powerful tool to create immersive experiences with the potential to disrupt the entrenched social narratives that contribute to inequality."

The 12 artists participating in this lab come from a variety of disciplines in film, theatre, visual art, interactive media and more. The six Canadian artists are:

  • Scott Benesiinaabandan: An Anishinabe intermedia artist, Benesiinaabandan works primarily in photography, video, audio and printmaking, and currently is based in Montreal.
  • Kevin Lee Burton: An award-winning director, programmer and editor, Burton is originally from God's Lake Narrows First Nation in Manitoba, Canada.
  • Danis Goulet: An award-winning filmmaker whose short films have screened at festivals around the world, Goulet (Cree/Metis) was born in La Ronge, Saskatchewan and now resides in Toronto.
  • Nyla Innuksuk: A filmmaker originally from Igloolik and Iqaluit, Innuksuk is now working in Toronto on a variety of projects, including music videos, television series and her own documentary film about Inuit youth.
  • Lisa Jackson: An award-winning filmmaker working in both fiction and documentary, Jackson is Anishinaabe, has a BFA in Film Production from Simon Fraser University, and has completed the Canadian Film Centre's (CFC) Directors' Lab.
  • Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers: A Blackfoot and Sami actor, producer, filmmaker and curator from the Kainai First Nation, Tailfeathers divides her time between Vancouver, Canada, the Blood Reserve and Sami territory in Sweden.

The six American artists are:

  • Kai Lumumba Barrow: A New Orleans-based visual artist, Barrow sews together elements of interactive theatre, multimedia installation and performance to create "visual operas" that explore ideas of community, place and identity.
  • Michaela Pilar Brown: An image and object maker, Brown is a multidisciplinary artist using photography, installation and performance.
  • Kimi Maeda: A theatre artist based in Columbia, South Carolina, Maeda's intimate visual performances cross disciplines and push boundaries. Her ephemera trilogy is a collection of sand drawing and shadow performances that deals with memory, home and trans-cultural identity.
  • Tiona McClodden: A visual artist and filmmaker, McClodden creates work that explores and critiques issues at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and social commentary.
  • Jacqueline Olive: An award-winning multimedia producer and filmmaker, Olive founded Tell It Media in 2011 to create documentaries that tell nuanced stories of the people, places and cultures that make up our diverse world.
  • RaMell Ross: A Rhode Island-based artist whose work has been exhibited in the U.S. and internationally, Ross is currently a Research Affiliate at the MIT Media Lab and an Assistant Professor of Practice in Brown University's Visual Arts Department. He is in production on his first feature film, Idiom (Hale County This Morning, This Evening).

"The CFC Media Lab has a long history of designing and facilitating programs that offer a rigorous critique of the medium through knowledge immersion and prototyping," said Ana Serrano, Chief Digital Officer, CFC. "VR exists on a continuum of immersive and interactive media practices and storytelling. The participants of OPEN IMMERSION each come from diverse backgrounds and disciplines; they not only understand that continuum, but also bring their own ways of seeing and doing storytelling into VR. The results will enhance the ongoing and now-more inclusive conversation about what it means to tell an immersive and interactive story."

Read more about OPEN IMMERSION: A Virtual Reality Creative Doc Lab here.

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The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.