Among the most popular experiences in 2018, THE SUN LADIES directed by Céline Tricart caught our attention. On a strong subject, passed by other mediums, the immersion takes us on the ground, alongside the Yazidi fighters. We met with the director about her film (and the next).
THE PAST – Becoming a storyteller
For as long as I can remember, no one could stop me from reading. It started as a child, when I used to hide under a blanket at night with a flashlight. At 11 years old, I co-wrote an adventure book called “the Cheops Case” and I never stopped being a storyteller since then. Twenty years later, I am now an independent filmmaker as well as an expert in stereoscopic and virtual reality technology. I’ve always been passionate about new technologies and how they can enhance storytelling and what’s the reason why I decided to specialize in stereoscopic 3D when I was at the Louis Lumière film school in Paris. My thesis short film “Reminiscence” was my first 3D film and won best short award at 3D Stereo Media festival in 2008.
In the years that followed, I worked on countless 3D productions both in France and the USA where I emigrated in 2013, including two movies from the “Transformers” franchise. The people of the 3D industry always knew that virtual reality was the next frontier and a lot of us jumped in the VR train very early on. A stereographer friend of mine made me try VR for the first time in 2014, it was with the Oculus DK1. A few months later, I tried Tilt Brush with the HTC Vive at Comic-con and I remember I was so moved by the experience that I cried in the headset.
In 2015, I started the production company Lucid Dreams Productions (link) to focus on Virtual Reality storytelling. I worked on dozens of VR experiences either as a director or a cinematographer. In 2017 I produced, co-directed and shot the VR film THE SUN LADIES about the women fighting against ISIS in Iraq. It was spear-headed by actress and activist Maria Bello and co-directed by conflict journalist Christian Stephen. It premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, followed by over 40 other selections in festivals, three international awards and counting.
THE PRESENT – Sharing a meal with the Sun Ladies
My current VR projects include both life action 360 video, and game-engine based VR experiences. In both cases, what matters the most to me is the story and how the audience experiences it. I believe VR is a first-person medium. I’ve never been moved by a VR film told through a third person point of view. I know other people do it, but that’s not what I want, personally. Therefore the priority for me as a storyteller is to craft a journey, to create what will become a lived memory for the audience.
When shooting live action 360 documentaries, this becomes even more relevant. I don’t try to make people feel like they’re “one of them”, but instead, I want to bring them with me, as documentarians themselves. In THE SUN LADIES for example, we are not putting the audience in the yazidi women’s shoes. Instead, they are, well, me. There’s one specific shot in THE SUN LADIES that everybody loves. It’s a very simple shot where you’re sitting at the table with the Sun Ladies having lunch. There’s chicken, rice and tomatoes in front of you. A woman passes some flatbread around. That’s it. Nothing special about this moment, there’s no stakes. Yet everybody remembers it and mentions it after seeing the film.
Why? Because I placed the camera exactly where I was sitting during lunch. That’s my plate you’re seeing in front of you. And you get to live the most binding, sacred moment for human beings: sharing a meal. Now you can go home with a lived memory of having had this strong connective moment with the Sun Ladies. I must admit I was not expecting this shot to be the most talked-about of the film, yet it is. That allowed me to learn a valuable lesson: In VR, it’s the small moments of shared human emotion that matter the most.
THE FUTURE – The future of (immersive) documentary
I’m currently working on a documentary series inspired by THE SUN LADIES about women revolting all around the world. It will be both a traditional linear series, and a VR series. These two medium allow me to tackle these important stories from different perspective, and through the use of both the 1st person point of view (VR) and the 3rd person point of view (linear). I’m also working on a project as part of the Oculus “VR FOR GOOD” program (link), this time fully immersive and interactive through the use of game engine.
I’m very excited to get to tackle the difficult task of balancing interactivity and emotion. That’s something that has been mastered in video games (“Last of Us”, “Journey”, “What remains of Edith Finch”… ) but we’re still figuring out how to do it right in VR. This is an exciting time for documentaries which have never been more popular. And VR is what every documentarian was dreaming about: A medium that can transport your audience into the world of your film, and have them meet face to face with your characters, look at them straight in the eyes and be emotionally connected to them. There’s a bright future ahead of us for VR documentaries.
More about Céline (link)