FARvr, A Documentary Series

The Future American Retrospective (FARvr) is an oral history and Virtual Reality (VR) Documentary project that aims to document and preserve stories, viewpoints, and timely issues of Americana.
The project consists of three points of public interaction (Capture, Experience, Share):
  1. Public availability of VR documentary resources. A mobile, high-end Virtual Reality capture system can be setup in almost any event or location, easing the complexity of capturing stories for FARvr.
  2. Public multi-channel VR installation piece. The FARvr installation is a way for groups of people to experience the oral histories and stories captured in VR. This mobile installation consists of multiple large monitors and surround sound so that 1-8 people can share the VR experience without the need for a computer or isolating VR goggles. See prototype, figure 1.1
  3. Online access to all recorded media and transcripts. All VR media, audio, and transcriptions will be available via an online repository for the world to experience and share. All media licensed in Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States (CC BY-SA 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

The Future American Retrospective: A Telerobotic VR Experience, is a documentary film & installation project that incorporates robotic camera control, Virtual Reality, and novel Documentary filmmaking techniques into a truly social experience intended question how our future-selves will reflect upon this uncertain time in history.

This work builds upon my recent applied research in robotics and my abilities as a traditional documentary storyteller. Emerging technologies will converge in the construction of the narrative. Creating new ways to document scenes, interviews, and group conversation in Virtual Reality, as well as creating an interactive and distinctive playback medium in the form of a robotic, multi-channel installation piece.

We are at a compelling period in this country’s history. Politics, technology, and disparate generations of Americans are shaping our future in ways that we could not even imagine ten or fifteen years ago. How will we look back at the political decisions made, our interaction with technology, and how we saw one another as a society of individuals? What does the diversity of our country have in common and are we all looking for the same refuge in our future?

The Future American Retrospective: A Telerobotic VR Experience, at its core, is a virtual reality documentary film that explores and presents these questions in unique ways. The project will question how people find their news and information, what sources and outlets shape their views, and ultimately how they feel about their future. I will sample a diverse pool of interview subjects, locations, and groups of seemingly dissimilar socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. This project will attempt to document the past-present while exhibiting it to our future selves as both a VR film and multi-channel installation piece.

Additionally, all technology developed for this project will have its construction documented and open-sourced under an “Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)” license so that future VR filmmakers can develop the technology further. Pushing the fledgling medium to a place that lives beyond the scope of this proposal.

This method in which the story will be crafted has its roots in Errol Morris’s Interrotron device. This innovative documentary approach has not only lent itself to the unique look in his films but more so the byproduct of his Interrotron technology humanizes the filmmaking process. My approach will turn his device on its end by completely removing the filmmaker from the process rather than embedding them into it. By creating anonymity and dehumanizing the filmmaking process, I intend to create a wall for the subject and filmmaker to hide behind. This technique will allow for pushing the interview process past traditional boundaries by creating a faceless, cold machine that a subject can berate, reveal, bully, and find solace behind metal and lens. The intent is to mimic online conversation and interaction in the real world.

This research method will explore how technology influences group-think in face-to-face environments. For example, the project could record and interview groups at an outdoor KKK rally as well as several members in their rural home. Inversely we would then travel to public housing in an urban area to gather discussion with minority youth communities. Anonymity will allow the filmmaker to engage with people and demographics that they would otherwise be uncomfortable approaching to interview. Inversely, the filmmaker would also explore how the public would react to the new VR recording methods that remove the human face from “real life” interactions.

As a way to uniquely craft this story, I intend to employ virtual reality (VR) cameras and robotic telepresence (telerobotics) as the film’s primary recording and playback medium. This, first of its kind approach will revoke the traditional human relationship between filmmaker and subject from the recording method. Interviews and environmental footage will be conducted by the Robocam VR Platform (Figure A.) and the interview subjects will never meet or see who (the filmmaker) is intrigued by their habits and curious about their future. The technology that interacts with its subjects, will, in essence, become the filmmaker itself. The only human involvement in the production of the project will be in the conducting of the interviews and edited narrative as a human intermediate device. Anonymity will be the device of both the filmmaker and the subject. Never the two will meet in the form of the flesh, emulating the virtual interactions and engagement of our age.

The installation experience will provide the viewer with 360° movements around the installation, allowing one to follow the additional narrative and direction that the robot provides. Participants may also choose to diverge from the robotic attention steering and choose their own screen and storyline to follow. An alternative medium will also be provided alongside the installation as traditional VR Documentary format (VR goggles). The production and post-production of this project will be completed in 2019 with an initial confirmed gallery commitment from the York College Art Gallery for a 2-month show in the Spring of 2019.

Media from the LGBTQ+Queens Project below