For four days, April 19-22, the organizers of this year’s WAMMFest (hosted by Towson University, in Maryland, just outside Baltimore) presented a variety of short films – in traditional 2D and VR (virtual reality) formats – on a plethora of topics, all dealing in some way with women and/or characters of color and/or members of the LGBTIQAP community (and beyond). In 8 screening blocks over its duration – with as few as 6 and and as many as 10 short films in each program – the festival offered animation, documentaries, dramas and comedies. WAMMFest director Elsa Lankford (a professor at the university) proved herself adept at curating thematically diverse offerings, never allowing any one tone to dominate within each block: just as soon as we laughed, we would cry next, and vice versa.
The 5 VR movies were also impressive, though I remain a skeptic as to the medium’s ability to engender greater empathy than its more traditional visual counterparts (or even just a book). There are, for now, simply too many barriers to overcome to completely lose oneself in the experience, foremost among them the viewers, themselves, which are worn on the face, complete with accompanying headphones, constantly reminding us that we are watching an artificial construct. Don’t mistake me for a Luddite, however: VR is cool, just still far too gimmicky to be represent the definite future. I, for one, am far more able to enter another world through the power of my imagination, while reading, or while engaging with the moving image through a screen set up at a distance. That may change soon, once we design experiences that remove the intermediary device from the equation – such as the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation – or make the viewers more comfortable. Given the current vogue towards more VR, we are probably almost there.
For now, however, VR offers simply an interesting new way to tell stories that is neither better nor worse than traditional filmmaking; just different. I applaud WAMMFest for adding VR to its selections (this was the first year it did so), as it is a growing part of our cinematic landscape, as imperfect as the viewing technology may be. Here are the projects that played:
- Aftershock: Nepal’s Untold Water Story (Catherine Feltham, 8:56min)
- Born into Exile (Charlotte Windle Mikkleborg, 8:40min)
- Invisible (Lilian Mehrel, 6:51min)
- Martha (Diego Traverso, 2:17min) – a short selection from the AWAKE VR series
- Traces (Gabriella Arp, 7:37min)
My favorite was probably Traces, which best used the format in an innovative way, telling a documentary tale, complete with reenactments, of an elderly woman looking back at her childhood. All featured compelling stories of some sort.
WAMMFest kicked off its opening night with a visit from guest artist Sonja Sohn (Kima on HBO’s The Wire), who makes her home in Baltimore. She arrived after the first block of films and led a vibrant discussion of the current opportunities in Hollywood (and beyond) for women and minorities. It was an inspiring way to begin the fest. Overall, this was a good show, and I look forward to attending again next year.