by Lizzy Holling
A caravan in the York Museum Gardens collected electrical activity firing in people’s brains to produce one of 18 billion possible stories. This was the screening site of The Moment, a film controlled by brain activity, and a bold way to highlight the changing nature of cinema at the 2018 Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF).
Film, like literature, is developing in unprecedented ways in the face of new technology. This year ‘virtual reality’ has boldly taken its place alongside ‘shorts’ and ‘features’ on ASFF signs and programmes. Richard Ramchurn, director of The Moment, explained, ‘as people watch the film small drops in attention will alter the signals and trigger a change in the story the film shows.’ Others have assessed the draw of the digital through the new VR Lab to consider how we live, work, and seek entertainment.
VR and immersive experiences have seen a massive surge in popularity and appear to be teetering on the brink of mainstream entertainment. As our digital and physical selves become increasingly indistinguishable, are people uniquely excited by sitting in caravans and controlling things with their brain? Or is there still a place for traditional filmmaking techniques in today’s digital world?
The Brothers McLeod, BAFTA-winning animators and filmmakers, gave a talk on their extensive portfolio, explaining how their style has evolved in the opposite direction: from digital to analogue. The short film Marfa was inspired by sketchbooks from a visit to the small Texan city. As the project evolved they tested out many styles from digital animation to CGI but, despite the time-consuming process, chose traditional methods to bring their sketches to life.
Each frame is drawn with ink and watercolour and then scanned in (as opposed to being drawn directly onto a tablet). The focus on expressive, hand-drawn creation continued as the duo handed out artwork during their talk, voicing the importance and rarity of physical engagement — something reflected in the enthusiasm of the audience. This immersive experience did not take place within the solo environment of an EEG headset, but through a collective appreciation that fuelled both artist and audience immersion in the media. As technology encroaches upon our daily activities there appears to be an ever-increasing value placed on an organic sketching style that represents immediacy and human connection.
The 8th annual ASFF pushed the boundaries of new technologies, demonstrating their accessibility, and potentially threatening to usurp those filmmakers showcasing more traditional methods. Yet, by mirroring debates sparked by all entertainment we consume today (like the beauty of a book versus the convenience of a Kindle), it suggests the new value of the human touch. VR has made it possible to sit back and watch your brain waves control stories but, as we begin to rebel against the technological through our sources of escapism, older methods still hold a key to immersion.