Explore ‘Alternate Realities’ at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016

Sheffield Doc/Fest kicks off this weekend and there’s loads on offer for those interested in the field of interactive documentary. Under the umbrella of ‘Alternate Realities’, the programme includes 14 immersive experiences in the Millennium Gallery and beyond, and 12 Virtual Reality documentaries in Site Gallery and The Space – plus talks, panels and more.

To navigate through this huge offering, i’ve compiled a list of must-sees for the next week.


Viva la Revolucion: Video Activism and Citizen Journalism
Crucible Adelphi
Sat Jun 11 @ 14.45

Not solely focused on interactive docs, this panel is tackling a number of questions about the different approaches to video activism, in both the UK and abroad. Moderated by UWE’s Steve Presence (Founder member of the Bristol Radical Film Festival and convener of the Radical Film Network) the panel features Shaun Dey, Aris Chatzistefanou, Alisa Lebow, Usayd Younis and Cassie Quarless.

One more thing: Check out Anna’s interview with Alisa Lebow about her ambitious project, Filming Revolution.

Love, War & Robots: (Wo)man and Machine, in Conversation
Crucible Studio
Sun 12 June 10:05 – 10:50

Not sure how you could miss the first android keynote speaker at Sheffield…  Director and producer Ramona Pringle (who is not a robot) is in conversation with Bina48 discussing love, war and identity.

One more thing: Ramona’s previous project Avatar Secrets is part of the Alternate Realities: Interactive Exhibition line up –  find out more about it in this interview with Ramona.

The Future of Virtual Reality
Crucible Studio
Sun 12 June 13:30 – 13:55

Jessica Brillhart, has been on stage at almost every interactive event so far this year. As Principal Filmmaker for VR at Google, it’s pretty obvious why. If you haven’t seen her present already, don’t miss out on this opportunity! She is at the forefront of developing our understanding, and the potential of virtual reality filmmaking.

One more thing: Have a read of Jessica’s Medium blogs to get an insight into her thoughts on, and experimentations with, VR filmmaking.

Interactive Theatre, Technology & Empathy & In My Shoes: Waking in Slough
Crucible Studio
Sun 12 June  17:30 – 18:00 

There’s a lot for i-doc makers to learn from the world of interactive and immersive theatre and Jane Gauntlett is well placed to give advice. Her project In My Shoes was originally conceived to facilitate communications between TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) patients, but has now been performed at multiple venues across the UK and even at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Her work sits in the intersection of empathy, performance, documentary and technology.

One more thing: You can get a taster of Jane’s work with this free download of In My Shoes: Suck it Up: a first-person documentary audio piece designed to place the audience member in the shoes of a US marine training for, fighting in and returning from battle.

Docs in the Newsroom
ITV Town Hall
Tue Jun 14 @ 14.30

Moderated by i-Doc’s co-director Mandy Rose, this panel brings together big players from the intersection of documentary and journalism. With Juliana Ruhfus (AlJazeera), Kathleen Lingo (NYTimes) Charlie Phillips (The Guardian) and Sarah Wolozin from MIT Open Doc Lab, who produced this recent report on the field. This panel will tease out what these new forms can offer the newsroom, how this work is produced and what commissioning opportunities are available for makers.

One more thing: Don’t miss Juliana’s project #Hacked: Syria’s Electronic Armies which is part of Alternate Realities: Interactive Exhibition line up.

Dig deeper with this free talk!
Tudor Square
Mon Jun 13 @14.30

Even if you haven’t got a festival pass – you can still enjoy this free talk on i-doc New Dimensions in Testimony, which is one of the pieces in the Alternate Realities: Interactive Exhibition. Part of the ‘Digging deeper’ series, where moderator Emma Cooper talks to producer Professor Stephen Smith about making this ground-breaking work that permits audiences to have a ‘virtual conversation’ with a Holocaust survivor. See the full schedule of free talks here.

One more thing: Learn more about the aims and thinking behind the New Dimensions in Testimony project:


Undoing Time

Media artist Sharon Daniel has produced some incredible interactive and participatory documentary works around the themes of social, political, environmental and criminal justice. Part of the Alternate Realities: Interactive ExhibitionUndoing Time is a multi-media installation of prison industry products linked to an interactive archive of interviews in which incarcerated men and women reflect on what it means to ‘do time.’

One more thing: Watch Sharon Daniel’s talk from i-Docs 2014 about here previous project, Inside the Distance and the ethics of co-creation.



Migrant and refugee stories in the spotlight

There’s a fair few projects having their world premiere at Sheffield this year, including two UK productions in the Alternate Realities: Virtual Reality Arcade which focus on migrant and refugee stories.

Commissioned by Sheffield Doc/Fest and Site Gallery for this years festival, Invisible takes the audience on an immersive journey into the uncertainty and despair of the UK’s immigration detention system. The project was directed by Darren Emerson, whose previous 360 documentary on the London bombings has been screened internationally over the past year.

One more thing: Hear more from Darren on the creative and ethical challenges of making 360 VR documentaries, in this interview.

The second project – created by Aardman Animations in collaboration with the BBC – is We Wait, a VR experience that takes you on a journey alongside Syrian refugees in a sea crossing. For a production company best known for Wallace and Gromit, this is a deep dive into serious storytelling.

One more thing: You can read more about Aardman’s VR collaborations with the BBC in this report from the VR World Congress, which was held in Bristol earlier this year.


Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel

VR and the BBC

We Wait isn’t the only BBC VR collaboration having it’s premiere in the VR Arcade at Sheffield. Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel – created by the BBC and award-winning virtual reality production company VRTOV –  allows you step into one man’s memories of 1916 and witness a moment that changed Irish history forever. The piece is directed by Oscar Raby, whose previous project, Assent, you may have seen at Sheffield a couple of years ago.

One more thing: Listen to the BBC Click coverage from i-Docs 2016, which includes an interview with BBC producer Catherine Allen on Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel. Catherine is also participating in a panel at Sheffield on Innovation in Archive.

Across the Line

Nonny de la Peña continues to produce incredible projects in the field of immersive journalism, often using real-life audio as the starting point for a project. Across the Line uses two modes of VR documentary – 360°video and computer generated imaging (CGI) – to immerse the audience in the intimidating scenario of seeking sexual and reproductive health care when anti-abortion extremists are protesting at clinics. It was co-directed by Jeff Fitzsimmons and Brad Lichtenstein, with support from Planned Parenthood.

One more thing: Watch this ‘meet the artist’ video from Sundance 2016, which features interviews with the project’s directors and gives insight into the production process.


A Night of Surveillance: The Supernerds Experience
Crucible Studio
Sun Jun 12 @ 20.00

An ambitious project that spans multiple platforms – The Supernerds Experience is on stage at Sheffield encouraging audiences to think about mass surveillance, privacy and data. Producer and presenter Georg Tschurtschenthaler will give insights into the original production and showing the audience just how easy it is to hack phones and tap into private data.

If you don’t have a festival pass, you can buy single tickets here.

One more thing: This trailer gives you a bit more of an idea what this transmedia project is about:

The Empathy Station

An installation thats part of the Alternate Realities: Interactive Exhibition, The Empathy Station combines neuroscience and VR to address the assertion that VR is an empathy machine. Co-director Jemma Desai said in an interview with the British Film Council:

“[At the Alternate Realities Summit] we’ll present some of the data collected from the demonstrations along with presentations from Nico Daswani (Associate Director, head of Arts & Culture at the World Economic Forum) and Clint Beharry (Director of Design and Technology at the Harmony Institute). We’ll be discussing the differences between empathy and immersion and asking if VR really is an opportunity for ’embodied’ relating across cultural, social and political difference.”

One more thing: You can read that full interview with Jemma here.

There’s so much more in the programme – the augmented reality version of The Enemy is there to experience, you can meet the makers of the award-winning Notes on Blindness, or you can get on a boat with John Lennon in Bermuda – enjoy!