sheffieldA theme across a couple of sessions at DocFest in Sheffield, including the panel on US Trends that I chaired, was the impact of platform on content and how the means of delivery affects length, style, presentation and more.

Part of the festival highlighted new VR content and a couple of examples in that exhibition illuminated the point in a much more fundamental way than just title and immediacy.

We Wait by Aardman Animations & BBC Connected Studio placed the “viewer” in a group of Syrian refugees about to attempt a sea crossing – I put “viewer” in inverted commas as it felt very much like an experience. Whilst a scripted piece it used sound design and direction to exploit the affordances of the VR environment, moving your focus and surprising you.

The person waiting after me asked whether it was necessary to wear the lifejacket provided when you were about to immerse yourself in VR mask & headphones, in my opinion that physical prop did feel important in countering the sometimes slightly uncomfortable isolation of VR. An interestingly subtle effect.

By contrast a film called Home, the story of a migrant in the Calais Jungle shot in 360 gave you great access and a personal view, but the format added little. In fact the often raised POV, disembodied narration and VR headset combined to create a more dislocating experience.

That said, it was still another example of the multitude of films which embody DocFest itself – a gathering of committed and passionate filmmakers seeking to tell both ordinary and extraordinary human stories in engaging and affecting ways.

And another classy hotel window view for my collection.

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