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“We Will Be Close Again Because Otherwise We Die”: Michel Reilhac Thinks about VR During Quarantine

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

It has almost become a cliché to discuss how the pandemic is VR’s big chance and accelerator.

Yes, of course, we are all overdosing Zoom zombies, and the online parties feel incredibly dull and flat after a few tries. So, yes, VR social platforms offer more: the sense of presence to one another, the agency in space together, the realness of the collective exchanges, the fun of dancing together. VR is a totally more complete alternative to distant presencing. The experience of being remotely together is far superior to any of the flat options.

But, as much as I am a huge fan and avid explorer of all the new frontiers that immersive is offering to us right now—social working, sharing, playing; hybrid creative new genres mixing different levels of reality; juggling identities by designing our avatars in different worlds; the spatial experience of realistically escaping the laws of the physical world—I have learned that VR cannot compare with physical reality. After weeks and months in the captivity of our dwellings, the last thing we want to hear is about another Zoom or another disembodied experience. We want flesh, to embrace, cuddle. We want collective dancing and partying, serendipitous encounters, smell, touch, sex, everything real, close and physical. I have learned that as much as I want to promote and explore VR in all its ways, it will still for a very long while remain a means of remote communication or distant connection. Physical will remain the only way to be sensorially in the world and with each other. Immersive helps us bridge this when we do not or cannot have it, and it does it in the most amazing ways.

Of course, we are going to enter a phase of redefining how we can manage trust and closeness between us humans. We are going to be more cautious with who we can enter into an intimate connection. But we will be close again because otherwise we die. And VR is going to be the most exciting, thrilling and efficient way of making do when physical presence is missing or when the real world cannot provide the same option. 

Our reality will now become more and more multiple-fold, with one base layer made of our physical world, and multiple layers made of the fantasy or surrogate worlds we will be exploring under made-up identities… I can’t wait.—Amsterdam, May 28, 2020

Michel Reilhac is VR curator for the Venice Biennale.

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