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Giving a new dimension to documentaries thanks to virtual reality

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The event LivePerformance360: VR highlights the full potential of virtual reality to offer new experiences.

This is the case with the immersive documentary Traveling While Black. The 21-minute Canadian-American co-production offers viewers an intimate look at violence against black people.

projected into reality

The story is based on the testimonies of workers who have lived experiences of racism. Virtual reality turned out to be the perfect way to present this story in a powerful way, raises Paul Raphaël, co-founder of Félix & Paul Studios

We realized that this would be a much more interesting approach than simulating violent scenarios says Paul Raphaël.

The project was born out of a collaboration between African-American director Roger Ross-Williams and Montreal-based virtual reality studio Félix & Paul Studios, which, among other things, has produced virtual reality experiences for Cirque du Soleil and MomentFactory.

The story of Traveling While Black is based on that of Green Book, this travel guide for African Americans, which inspired the film The Green Bookwinner of three Oscars, including Best Picture, in 2019.

There was a difficulty or a beautiful challenge I would say, to juggle between realism or pure reality, and the kind of lyricism, which according to us, makes it possible to elevate the real. »

A quote from Paul Raphaël, co-founder of Félix & Paul Studios

The scenes of the documentary take place in the mythical snack bar Ben’s Chili Bowlin Washington, known as a refuge for black people traveling to the United States and living in constant fear for their safety in the segregationist America of the 1960s.

Originally intended for the big screens, this virtual reality documentary allows viewers to hear the testimonies of members of the African-American community, by feeling physically at their side, in this emblematic restaurant.

The facade of Ben's Chili Bowl restaurant.

Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant in Washington was one of the locations identified as safe in the Green Book.

Photo: Felix & Paul Studios

An important subject

Recognizing the delicate aspect of the subject, Paul Raphaël explains that his team did not hesitate before getting involved in this project. We thought it was a very interesting subject, an important subject.

The documentary concludes with the moving testimony of Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old African-American boy shot dead by Cleveland police in November 2014.

Closing with the story of Tamir Rice was a way to wrap it up by bringing it pretty close to the present. It was the freshest wound in all that we captured […] What virtual reality creates is an even more direct connection with this reality explains Paul Raphaël, speaking of the empathic dimension of the experience.

Long-time partners, Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël of Félix & Paul Studios have oriented the activities of their production studio towards the field of virtual reality after realizing the full potential of this technology 10 years ago.

There is a transformative power in living instead of seeing. The simple fact of being in total immersion, with this medium, comes to seek the human on a level which is amplified explains Paul Raphaël.

Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice's mother, chats with another person over coffee in a restaurant.

The documentary ends with the testimony of Tamir Rice’s mother, surrounded by members of the attentive African-American community.

Photo: Felix & Paul Studios

The documentary Traveling While Blackwas nominated for an Emmy Award in the category of the best interactive program, in 2019, and won the award for the best immersive experience at the eighth edition of the Canadian Screen Awardsin 2020.

In addition to the documentary Traveling While Blackevent attendees LivePerformance360: VR will be able to see the animated film Marco & Polo Go Round, by Canadian director Ben Steiger Levine with the work of actors Léane Labrèche-Dor and Emmanuel Schwartz. A surreal romantic comedy that moves away from the conventional and brings reality into a dream world.

dinner partya co-production of Telexist, Ryot and Skybound and animation passengerdirected by Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine, are also among the films shown.

The event LivePerformance360: VR Salon is held until May 14 at space fishbowl of the theater company Boca del LupoVancouver’s Granville Island.

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