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Virtual reality offers a huge opportunity for African filmmakers

The 2023 Joburg Film Festival has a dedicated space for virtual reality filmmaking.
Virtual reality offers a huge opportunity for African filmmakers

Africa has a habit of leapfrogging technological hurdles and coming out ahead of countries considered more developed – look at our adoption of mobile phone payments, mobile payments and internet connectivity solutions. We lead in proptech, we’re drawing massive investment in fintech and medtech solutions developed on the continent are being rolled out across the world.

Virtual tech, real applications

While virtual reality (VR) is still a novelty technology in much of the rest of the world, it is flourishing in Africa in the gaming, healthcare, mining, advertising and property industries and is being explored as a tool in education. The expansion of the tech will create its own value chain, which will help filmmakers transition more easily into VR production – giving our own storytellers the opportunity to innovate, dream, think and push boundaries on their own terms.

Africa has the opportunity to combine it with our own compelling stories and storytelling methods to position ourselves as leaders in its use. VR offers filmmakers the opportunity to make films in new ways, since immersion is a given. Harnessing the tech effectively will help develop the African storytelling narrative, giving our filmmakers ownership over both production and consumption and ensuring that our stories are told, our way.

Removing cost barriers

The rapid decline in cost of VR technology – both to produce and view films – gives African filmmakers an incredible opportunity too. As it becomes cheaper for consumers to adopt VR tech, it opens up immersive content consumption opportunities for anyone who has a headset and a compatible mobile phone – reducing filmmakers’ reliance on expensive cinema set-ups and the cost of encoding films to operate on the tech. Indeed, with piracy a rampant problem across the continent, delivering films directly to users without an intermediary has huge positive financial implications for filmmakers and producers.

The ability to use the same platforms and distribution methods levels the international filmmaking playing field, going some way toward levelling financial obstacles and giving the heart of filmmaking – the power of the story – a chance to shine. Since storytelling has been at the heart of African culture since the continent birthed the human race, we have a chance to lead by combining the available tech and our skills as storytellers.

VR at this year’s JFF

Four VR films are being showcased at JFF this year – two from South Africa and one each from the US and Taiwan – as part of the Exploring VR Experience.

Azibuye – The Occupation (South Africa) is a VR/360 degree which premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2020. Container makes visible the ‘invisiblised’ bodies enabling our consumer society, confronting slavery through an ever-transforming shipping container, the past becomes the present, the invisible become visible. Meta’s The Soloist is a ground-breaking two-part series following mountaineer Alex Honnold’s soloing adventures through the US and into the Alps. The Man Who Couldn't Leave integrates the stories of numerous political victims of Taiwan’s ‘White Terror’, told through the form of an undelivered family letter.

The Joburg Film Festival (JFF) kicks off across Jo’burg on 31 January, showcasing some of the finest films from over 35 countries across the globe, including 20 African premieres and 27 South African premieres, until 5 February. For more information on the Joburg Film Festival, follow JFF on Twitter @JoburgFilmFest, Facebook and Instagram.

7 Feb 2023 15:44