#1188: Emotionally Evocative, Virtual Eye Gazing with Ukrainians in Bombed Out Buildings in “Fresh Memories: The Look”

Fresh Memories: The Look is a 360-video about the war in Ukraine that takes the deceptively simple idea of having Ukrainian citizens gaze into a 360-degree camera within the context of a bombed out home, workplace, or school that’s juxtaposed against an audio design of this space when it would be at it’s most flourishing moment. The experience of straightforward concept is extremely powerful, emotional, and evocative. The use of a traditional Ukrainian folk song at the end was specifically recorded for this piece to great effect. I had a chance to catch up with Ondrej Moravec, who is the co-director on the Czech side and producer, as well as Volodymyr Kolbasa, who is the co-director on the Ukrainian side.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing and the structures and forms of immersive storytelling. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voices of VR. So continuing on on my 24-episode series of South by Southwest 2023, today's episode is with a 360 video piece called Fresh Memories, The Look, which is about the aftermath of the war in Ukraine. And so this is a co-production between a Czech director of Andrej Moravec, which I talked to him at Venice with his first piece called The Darkening. And then also from the Ukrainian side, there's a director, Volodymyr Kolbasa. And so this piece came together because they wanted to do some project around the war in Ukraine. And so What they did is they went to a city in Ukraine which was very much impacted by the war called Kharkiv and they found these different places that were bombed out. They took people who had some association with that place and then very simply had them look into the camera and you're looking into their eyes and you're hearing the soundscape of what that place sounded like when it was flourishing and in its full capacity of still existing rather than being completely destroyed by the war. A simple concept, but extremely effective in drawing this deeper emotional impact of connecting to the people and the effects of the war in Ukraine. And yeah, just the music that they selected of this Ukrainian folk song at the end was just really deeply moving. And so I had a chance to talk to them about this piece and their process of collaboration, how this piece came about, as well as also really beautiful installation that had this projection mapped on top of it that you stand around as you do this immersive experience. Really really deeply emotionally impactive and yeah have a chance to talk to both the directors of Andre and Volodymyr about their piece in their process So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the voices of VR podcast So this interview with Andre and Volodymyr happened on Monday March 13th 2023. So with that let's go ahead and dive right in

[00:02:10.785] Ondrej Moravec: So my name is Ondřej and I'm the XR director and producer and this is my second project. The first one was Darkening which was premiered in Venice last year and this is our new project about War in Ukraine.

[00:02:24.980] Volodymyr Kolbasa: I'm Volodymyr Kolbasa, I'm co-director of this project, and as this is a Czech-Ukrainian co-production, so I'm director, so to say, on Ukrainian side, Ondřej is director on Czech side, but this project was like our very close collaboration, so it was The idea was iterated a couple of times, and we worked together on the editing. So it was a very good collaboration. Well, it still is a good collaboration. I mean.

[00:02:58.242] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context to each of your backgrounds and your journey into making this type of immersive work.

[00:03:04.917] Ondrej Moravec: Well, I started as a programmer for a festival called One World, which is a human rights film festival. So I was interested more for the flat films at the beginning, but then we started to create the section of the VR or immersive pieces there. That was the first time when the interest caught me, like for the immersive stuff. So I started to do the selection for several other festivals around the Czech Republic. And then one day I decided that I don't want to be only a programmer, like festival programmer, but also the creator, because I studied filmmaking, I studied screenwriting, so I decided to step on the field.

[00:03:44.795] Volodymyr Kolbasa: I also have a background in, so to say, traditional filmmaking. So I'm a DOP, actually, like by education and trade. But at some point I also decided to try something new and I went to study in Germany, in the International Film School Cologne. And I had the MA, which was called Digital Narratives. This is actually where my XR background comes from. So my first project was actually also a VR project about Ukraine, but the development of it was ceased because the war had begun. But this new project started. Somehow it grew from it because Ondra, we joined our efforts with Ondra and now we are developing something new actually.

[00:04:39.415] Ondrej Moravec: I can add to something how we met because it was on the event called East Dock Platform. That's an industry event in March in Prague devoted to classical documentaries but immersive ones as well. And Volodymyr was pitching his project which you just mentioned, Wash the Shore, which is about one town which was flooded by the Russians, the Ukrainian town which was flooded by the Russians in the past. And he wanted to recreate that in VR. And in the middle of the pitch he said, and it was like two weeks after the beginning of the war, he said that he can't continue this project because he needs to reflect what's happening in his country. And it was kind of a very fragile moment of him, because he was on the big screen, you know, in the hall, connected from Ukraine, and I had an immediate feeling that we need to do something with that. It was really freshly after the time when the war started, so we had a first online meeting, and we decided that we want to do something. then we followed on emails and for a long time we were exchanging emails and discussing you know the things and we agreed on a collaboration but the first time when we met was actually in November last year when Volodymyr was able to leave the country and we met in Amsterdam at IDFA because we were pitching already the Ukrainian project above all here. Yeah, so that's how the collaboration started.

[00:06:01.841] Kent Bye: Yeah, I remember being at South by Southwest last year, just a few weeks after the war had started. And so, yeah, maybe you could elaborate on that from your perspective of being a Ukrainian, and the professional aspect, but also just the real aspect of having your country invaded, and then how you wanted to use your profession or your art to start to explore different dimensions of that.

[00:06:23.848] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Well, that's a big and small question at once, actually. So, well, I try to apply myself in a field where I have competence, you know, because it's not only Ukrainians, it's, as you see, people from many nations are now joining efforts to somehow bring an end to this war. And yeah, so I'm just doing what I can. I'm doing my best to help it actually. So I can't think about some details of how I use my experience. I think you can see it here basically. Because, well, actually one thing I can think of is it's been a year since the war had started, right? So Ukrainians are mostly already adapted to this new reality. So for us it's already not something unusual. So we know how to live under these circumstances. But I mean, one thing also we aim to bring to the audience is like, look, this reality exists. It's very different dimension and have a look at it. and probably, well, have understanding and ideally empathy to what is happening, because we all understand that Ukraine is, for example, super far from Texas, and it's impossible to keep track on everything what's happening on Earth. And this is our job to bring it forward, so to say.

[00:08:09.108] Kent Bye: And you had talked about this concept of the look. And maybe you could talk about how this idea came about, which is essentially this eye gazing in the sense of creating these virtual spaces. But it's in the broader context of the war in Ukraine. So yeah, where did this idea originate?

[00:08:26.550] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, we were like in a situation that we already started to work on our 6DOF thing, which we prepared the script and everything. And when we were at the beginning of this development, so we said, OK, this is a piece which we want to create, but it will take some long time. So in between, we want to create something like more simple. and to bring the message as quick as possible. So we decided to create a 360 film and I was thinking about what could be the best approach in it and what I personally like a lot in 360 films is when you can connect to the persons which the film is about in some way. I don't like much when people are talking on the 360 camera. For me in some way it feels super unnatural in some condition. But what works really well for me is when they just look at you. And so I decided that it would be a nice concept to kind of bring these silent looks from Ukraine, to the rest of the world and just to communicate on this level. It was kind of a tricky to, like, from the technical point of view, maybe Vladimir can say more because he was at the place when he was shooting with the people. And the concept was inspired by a famous artist, Marina Abramovich, and her project Artists Is Present, which was about looking into the eyes of people in the gallery space. So we decided to move this concept into virtual reality in very specific conditions, as it's a war on Ukraine.

[00:10:08.007] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could talk about the process of taking this idea and then how do you start to then find people, locations, and how did you start to collaborate at that point?

[00:10:17.393] Volodymyr Kolbasa: OK, yeah, we then iterated further with this idea and then decided to also add some sound design into it. So when you're looking into the eyes of the person, you kind of hear the sound of peaceful life, what was happening in that location. For example, if it's a school, you could see some sounds of school. One location is a bathroom so you could see a destroyed bathroom and the guy who was living there is standing there and we could see like sounds of someone is brushing teeth and stuff like that. So we were like iterated a couple of times that's how we got to this result we have. We also discussed about, as Ondrej mentioned, to have people talking or not have people talking. And actually, even during the filming, just in case some interviews were recorded, if we need it in the future, but actually it worked without them. and I really like the result. The film was shot during three days in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in some areas around it, which once it became relatively safe to go there, once the Russians were kicked away a bit, So, actually there was not a big problem to find those protagonists. Some we had already, because all three of us, the crew was three people, me, Vadim Mahitka and Vartan Markaryan. We are all from Poltava, Ukraine, and we are into arts and also film and video production there. And as we were all involved into volunteering since the beginning of war, we knew some volunteers at Kharkiv and those people actually helped us to find some protagonists. But I would say that probably 60% or probably 70% of protagonists we just addressed people on the streets because we knew our locations in advance. So we went to that locations and we were asking people around if there was someone connected to it. People were actually quite willing to, so to say, collaborate with us. You know, it's just, they were quite open. Even if there was this very weirdly looking camera, it actually looks like a sphere with two antennas, like, you know, something from 50 sci-fi movies. But still, like, you know, even old people, you could see, like, they've been through harsh things, and they were like, Okay, this stream won't kill me, so why not? Let's get into it.

[00:13:00.988] Ondrej Moravec: Maybe I can add just that it was interesting that it didn't took much time for them. So it was just we asked for five minutes of their time. So that's why they were keen to collaborate. But I have to mention that for some of the people it was quite difficult to look into the camera. Not only because it looks like as a weird creature, but also just because Vladimir, the place was motivating them. Like imagine that there is someone from the West or out of the country who you are trying to create an emotional connection. For some of the people it was difficult, so we had some few unusable shots when the person is still looking away from the lenses, you know, so even for them it was in this kind of difficult, but for the majority it was okay, let's say, so then we were able to cut it in a proper way.

[00:13:46.070] Volodymyr Kolbasa: And it was also another point that, well, it's obvious, but sometimes it's not, that it's a 360 camera, so we couldn't be there behind camera, so we had to hide. So the person was alone in the ruins in front of this weird thing looking into it, you know. So I think from this side it was like something peculiar to watch.

[00:14:07.180] Ondrej Moravec: But I think that maybe it was also good for them that they could really feel it, because they were not disturbed by any persons there, that they just looked into the camera and they could feel the emotions. But yeah, then telling them the instruction from behind of the corner of some ruins, it was kind of peculiar.

[00:14:24.831] Kent Bye: And did you have like a remote access to be able to see what the camera was seeing, to be able to help direct them?

[00:14:29.715] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Yes, yes, we had. We could watch it on iPad.

[00:14:34.622] Kent Bye: And did you also, because of the intimacy of what it means to stand there and look in someone's eyes, did you also say, hey, we're going to do a test run, and you look into my eyes? Or did you do that type of directing or coaching with people? Or did you just have them go and look into the camera?

[00:14:49.207] Volodymyr Kolbasa: No, we went straight into the camera, yes.

[00:14:52.896] Ondrej Moravec: It's an interesting idea maybe, but I think that it would be also difficult and probably not that working or maybe it would be working if I would be on the place, but I could not from the reasons that in the days when we were shooting the massive shooting started. But yeah, it's like looking from eyes to eyes to Ukrainians would not work that much I guess. So yeah, so that's why we came straightly to the looking to the camera and to the imagination.

[00:15:21.173] Kent Bye: Yeah, you had mentioned that the talking, that you don't usually like to have talking, but there is a scene that has talking, and I felt like there's a bit of a disjointedness of the idea or the theme. In some ways, that kind of took me out of it, but I'm wondering if you could elaborate on that particular interaction, and because you already have maybe a bias against talking, why that was included in the piece.

[00:15:40.158] Ondrej Moravec: Well, I think that with this there was an idea. We did not shoot much live action in terms of like just observing the people. This was one of the few excerpts which we had and we kind of felt that it's good to use it because by the end of the experience and we wanted to somehow move it a bit like and to tell you that and also the story of The last story, the last woman is a bit different also that she is not in the ruins but she is in the refugee center and in her super small room she's looking at you. So we wanted to tell by this shift of the style that it goes to the end or like Yeah, that it intensifies in some way. But of course, yeah, it was a long discussion between me and Volodymyr if we should include this or not, to be pure in this. But then we felt like that their conversation was very beautiful and very sadly beautiful. So we decided to include it.

[00:16:40.253] Kent Bye: Yeah, I really appreciated the aspect of being situated in a physical context that was clearly destroyed, but also hearing what that environment would have been like had it been fully in its prime of existence when it was not destroyed and still existing in a way that was functional for people. So it created this really interesting contrast between those two. I found, like, by being immersed in seeing the visuals but also hearing the sound, it created this contrast that really, for me, spoke to what was lost in that situation. So I really felt that was super powerful. So, yeah, I'd love to hear any further elaboration of how that idea came about to create that type of contrast.

[00:17:18.846] Ondrej Moravec: Well, yeah, we had more ideas at the beginning how it will evolve. We're thinking about some arc that the first person will be with a song, the second one will be with this sound design, which we have now all over the places, and the third one will be like just silent, like a pieta, you know. But then at the end of the day we decided that having these contrast sound designs all over the place, just with kind of emotional song at the very end was very much working, you know, so we decided to use this approach. I think that there was only, like, it was niche things, you know, for example in terms of For example, there is a scene in the hospital, damaged hospital, and we were thinking about that, OK, so you will hear the beeping of the machines. And for example, I wanted to use like this sound when the heart is stopped, you know, of the machine. But for example, for Volodymyr, it was already too much in some way. So it was about like finding these small nuances about how we want to tell some of the little stories by the sound.

[00:18:27.627] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Yeah, actually this example also describes our collaborations quite good because what is marvelous in it is that we have views from quite different points. So I'm inside Ukraine, Ondrej is outside Ukraine. So some things can be too much for me, some things can be too much for Ondrej, but it's crucial for us to find that balance so it works for the audience. for the audience outside Ukraine, but still has this, so to say, sincere look at it from inside of Ukraine. So this is how we move it forward.

[00:19:07.680] Ondrej Moravec: I think that that's the thing, you know, that I had a question sometimes like why it's not made by one director and I answered that it's about the thing that if it would be done by somebody out of Ukraine I would feel it that like just by me for example so I would feel that it's very unconnected from the content and because I'm not living there and for me this approach in documentary filmmaking is a bit Yeah, I don't like it that much. Of course, you can create documentaries from the countries where you don't live, but you need to really deep inside a lot, live there for a long time and everything, which, yeah, that's what I feel that would be a good approach, but which it was not possible by the time to happen to that. So I think that that's how the idea was created that me and Vladimir will be the two directors and that it will be kind of merged like some because from Vladimir what's felt is like the big need you know to tell the stories and there is a lot of a lot of emotions. From me there are less emotions but I think that this combination is crucial for the final piece so it's balanced. and I advise it to every filmmaker to do this, even though it's difficult, because we were arguing for things like, I want to do it this way, this way, but I believe that at the end of the day we came to the good result.

[00:20:26.382] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Yes, it was tricky because it's easier to find some kind of common point if we were somewhere in the same place, in Prague, for example, or in Ukraine, but we are divided by space, and so when you are doing all your work via Zoom, this is kind of a tricky part, but we managed. I'm really glad we managed.

[00:20:51.049] Kent Bye: Yeah, and for me the piece really kicked into another gear hearing the singing at the end and I'd love for you to maybe elaborate on the song that's being sung and how it's connected to both the culture and the country and maybe a little bit of the meaning of that song.

[00:21:06.863] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Well, the song was recorded especially for, that's a folk song first, And it was recorded especially for this film by the trio based in Poltava. The name is Stryboži Vnuci. And actually it's just a song about how the trees are blossoming in spring. And there was a lady singing that, OK, I was also young once, but now, like, I'm not that young. But I still kind of find joy in life, so to say. So it's a song about beauty and hope. That's why we put it there, and that's why we put it there, and then there we have our last protagonist, this old lady.

[00:21:58.080] Ondrej Moravec: I just add that it's also the nice contrast in the song like that because it's about like blooming thorns and this lady theme there which the whole film is about as well. It brings hope but also sorrow at once. And it was also the idea that we wanted to have like a traditional Ukrainian song. in the piece because Ukraine is well known by its great polyphony songs which are like a great heritage of all the region and we wanted to show that Ukraine is a place which has these very rich cultural heritages and to show it to the people as well.

[00:22:37.378] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's a 10-minute piece, and so I actually had a little glitch at the end of the first time, so I went back and watched it a second time, and then when I watched it a second time, I noticed that the song's actually playing in the background in almost a subliminal way at the very beginning, and I felt like, you know, by the time I got to the song, it really took an emotional turn for me to hear that song, and I was wondering if you had experimented with having the song play out throughout the entire piece, or if you felt like it gave more emotional valence to have the contrast of having more of the environmental sounds and then ramp up with the song at the end.

[00:23:07.278] Ondrej Moravec: I think that we kind of didn't want to use the song like through overall piece because it would not create the emotion which we wanted because what I believe that it's strong that it's very minimalistic all the experience in terms of sound and music there's no music actually just at the beginning we decided to give a like a small echo which is going through the ruins which you are about to see which tells you that maybe it will come again So we decided for this loop composition in music. I believe that if we would use more of the music, it would not work that much, because then you would be focused too much on the sound. We all know that music is very emotional, and it needs to be used very carefully in filmmaking, I think.

[00:23:54.332] Kent Bye: And so, what has been some of the reactions of people here so far?

[00:23:59.343] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Well, actually, some people went quite emotional. And what was interesting that very often men went more emotional than women. So I actually, I think it was three times yesterday that I was hugging a guy who was crying, literally. And this is, at that moment I nearly started to cry myself. I think it was for me the, so to say, the crucial point of understanding that we made something which actually has impact. So then I was like filling the tears, you know, on me. It was like, that was the moment.

[00:24:46.566] Ondrej Moravec: For me for example was a very intensive reaction today we with one lady who was watching it and she was kind of a very like wild in her expression very extroverted let's say and she said that when she watched the piece it was very uncomfortable for her to look at the people so she for the second story she decided that okay I will probably look away I will not look at her but then she found out that it's not a good approach that she needs to look at these people because they can't look away from what's happening at Ukraine so that was for me very powerful statement and she was very moved by that so it's yeah So, so far, the reactions are very, very powerful.

[00:25:32.848] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a AP reporter, I think his name's Mstislav Chernov, who did a documentary that was at Sundance this year called 20 Days of Maripol. And one thing he was saying was that really calling in this aspect of bearing witness and that these are images that are hard to watch, but they must be hard to watch. And so just inviting people to bear witness. And I feel like that's a big part of what you're able to do in such a minimalist way of you know, this simple concept but really well executed to have people situated in these scenes and you're bearing witness to people and their lives and you are able to read so much about the experiences that they've been through, you can only sort of project or imagine, but you're situated in this environmental context that is also bringing in all these other dimensions. So yeah, that concept of bearing witness was really quite powerful.

[00:26:21.093] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, I can just add to that. I haven't seen the film, even though I know about it, but you mentioned a very important aspect for me about creating films from war or from very difficult conditions. It's because we can approach it in a way that we will show the atrocities and all the bad things in a full scale. And it can be very effective in some way, but I believe that it can also create some kind of, you know, block for the user or viewer to accept the content. Because if it's too cruel, too violent, so then I think that a lot of people are like, you know, okay, I don't want to see this, this is too much for me. So for me, it's about finding the balance where it's still very, like, let's say dark as it is, the reality, but you are still able to absorb it. Which I believe that in our piece we were able to do it by the things that it's quite intensive and dark, but we are not like... using it just to create, let's say, fabricated emotions in this. That's, for me personally, very important. But, for example, that was one of the things which, with Vladimir, it's a bit different, in a way, that Vladimir is more open to showing more tough images, for example, which is understandable, of course. But that's what we were balancing.

[00:27:54.190] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Yeah, this is actually another thing that then you are somehow living in the context of war. What is tough for me, I mean, what is tough for Andrzej may not be that much tough for me. Because if you're seeing it, well, I'm lucky that my town, my city of Poltava is intact. Slightly bombed a couple of times, but actually no one was killed and we have no destruction and stuff like that. But still there are like, you know, down the road we have a couple of cities like Kharkiv and Aktyrka, which suffered quite a lot from the war, probably just 70, 80 miles from my place. And actually, and some things for me is just, okay, is it that much stuff? I just, being there in the context, I just don't understand that. That is, again, how our collaboration works, you know? Like, Andrzej is looking at it from Prague and says, like, well, yeah, that looks too much, you know?

[00:28:54.680] Ondrej Moravec: I think that, for example, for our next piece, The Sixth Dove, The conversation is even more intensive because we are showing some actual events which happened and we are recreating them in 3D. And for example, we had a lot of discussions about that we want to show the cruelty of Russian soldiers in some scale. And I was like, okay, we definitely need to do it. But for example, there's like hundreds, thousands of cases of raping. during the invasions and we were about how we want to show this in VR because it's like the medium itself is very intensive and you need to find a way how to show it because we want to show it in a way because it is reality which is happening but in a way which will be still somehow acceptable for the viewer and I think that we find a good way but you will see it later on this year hopefully.

[00:29:46.916] Volodymyr Kolbasa: I think the way we found it is kind of delicate in a way, so it doesn't shock you, but you get the understanding of what is happening.

[00:29:57.420] Kent Bye: Yeah, in the 20 Days of Maripol, Mstislav Chernov is essentially documenting these different war crimes and getting this footage out into the world and then contrasting that out with the Russians saying, oh, well, this is all fake news, this is all manufactured, this is not actually real, and so you end up having this. delicate issue of people like these AP journalists that are trying to report what's happening. And then you have this cloud of misinformation, disinformation, fake news that is in issues like this. And so as I think about the medium of VR, I can trust that you have a certain level of integrity of showing what happened. But I can also see how someone could create the opposite of what the facts actually show. And so I feel like it's an interesting, like, how do you navigate this level of either integrity or, like, I know there's associated press and these institutions that have some established reputation, but as you start to document these different things with the medium, then are there ways that you think about how to navigate, how to either fully contextualize it or give people, I mean, obviously, with the context of 20 Days of Maripol, you see the whole evolution of him shooting it, but at the same time, I guess I'm thinking in a more philosophical or abstract sense of this dimension of what is being presented and then the counter-narrative that is like, how do you present it in a way that people could be able to watch both and know how to understand what actually happened?

[00:31:17.774] Ondrej Moravec: Well, it's a... I think it's a tricky question because then we could think about it in every topic, you know? Like, of course the things which are so crucial as war, we need to be, like, aware of what content we show and what's the... truthful context let's say but that's what actually is not our goal here to give you some fully scaled message about what the war is bringing because it could be a lot of things we selected some segment you know what we want to work with And actually, I think that what's good for us, I will repeat again, but that we have a Ukrainian crew on board. Because that brings a lot of things which are believable, because it's made by the locals. But in collaboration with somebody who is out of the country, from Czech Republic, it gives you also some certainty that it's not overrepresented by the Ukrainian point of view, for example. So that's what we are trying to mix together and somehow to create the picture in a, let's say, objective way. It's, I think, nonsense in this way, but to approach it at least a bit closer.

[00:32:32.693] Volodymyr Kolbasa: And I can say a few words how we actually researched for the material, for example, for this, so to say, second episode of the project, which will be a 6 DOF project. So we actually tried to go as close to the source of the story to a person as possible. So one story we have just based on the interview we recorded. with a guy whose house was destroyed. Another story we have is based on the Facebook page content of a Ukrainian artist and she was describing what was happening with her since the beginning of the war. So one story also based on what was published in media. It was quite impactful and everyone has seen it, for example, and also we look into some footage which was shot by people who were there into the battle, for example, and we use it as a base for the recreation, so to say.

[00:33:39.878] Ondrej Moravec: I just want to add that of course that we are using like media sources for our stories as well but we are like checking them a lot you know and we are still in progress of finding also the persons for example the rape story we know how the story happened because it was from the like trustful source media source but we want to find the lady herself and like to have a clear approach as possible

[00:34:03.280] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, I wasn't necessarily questioning. It was more of as I was watching this documentary, I just noticed that it's like there's a whole other war of information that happens in these dimensions. And yeah, it's like as these new media, as it's a virtual recreation, that it could be potentially used for good, but also used for bad. And, you know, the counter propaganda just as easily by the opposition. So I feel like there's an interesting dimension of this as a topic of when you have a nation state that's just so willingly to lie and create this propaganda, then it's like you're fighting against that with a tool that they could also use to say, oh, well, it's just like fake news or whatever.

[00:34:39.861] Ondrej Moravec: But you know think it's like just it's a virtual reality doesn't mean that you know You can say it about every other medium, you know, if it's only based on sound only video I think that you can use it all the time like to okay So we will use this anti-propaganda as well and I would love to see something from the Russian side for example how they would create their piece in VR about how they think that the war is happening and Actually, it is happening in different conflicts as well, you know, so it would be interesting to see it how they would Approach it. Yeah, but I I believe that it's quite clear like in this the true is actually

[00:35:23.270] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Well, this war actually, it's a lot of people saying that and I think it's true that this war has the biggest, so to say, digital trace in history. So, this war is thought on virtual platforms quite a lot. actually, and this war shows us, like, actually, like, what new media are capable of, as you say, for bad and for good, because we can see what bubble, what impenetrable bubble it's created for Russians, for example. I can tell you one story that we had a text message from our relative in Russia at the very beginning. I think it was like second or first day of this full-scale invasion. And she's like, well, I haven't seen her like for probably seven years because she used to come to Ukraine. She's not unfamiliar. She used to come like every summer to our summer cottage, you know. And now she texted us like, OK, you deserved it. You're like fascists, you deserved it. And at that very time, we were sitting, like, watching on the news how our cities are bombed. We were, like, you know, especially at the very first day, hiding somewhere during the air raids. You know, now we know that the chances are not that big. So now, actually, not that people react to air raid sirens. Well, they should. I don't say you shouldn't react. But still, I would say, In cities like Poltava, then there is air raid sirens. Life goes as usual, because no one actually goes into the cellar. Only, I think, kids in the school. And that's actually it. But you can imagine what kind of informational bubble it created. and especially like at the beginning for a lot of Ukrainians to try to talk to their relatives so to say on the other side because during Soviet time well the money was in Moscow so a lot of people emigrated from Ukraine to what is now Russia right so a lot of relatives and stuff like that and I have lots of stories then like I have a story then father told his son in Ukraine And father was in Russia that, oh, you don't understand what's happening. You will grow up and you will understand why it was needed. And he said, I'm being bombed right now. So that is the power of new media. But again, it's a tool. So as Andrzej said, it can be used for good and for bad. And well, we use it for good, I believe.

[00:38:21.720] Kent Bye: I wanted to ask about your installation piece, because you have a little mound with different debris and a projection map that is really quite striking and alluring and just really beautiful. So I'd love to have you maybe elaborate about how that installation piece came about.

[00:38:36.422] Ondrej Moravec: Well, yeah, that was an idea which created our art director, Vartan Markarian, who unfortunately can't be here with us, but it was the idea that we will bring the porcelain figurines, which survived the bombing in Ukraine, because porcelain is very fragile, but it's very strong protective against heat. and as the overall country, I would say. And these figures are kind of a silent witness who stand in these debris and remind what is happening at Ukraine. And there is on top of it is a projection of the coals, actually burning coals, just to bring the feeling of burnt place.

[00:39:21.464] Volodymyr Kolbasa: I would add that it's based on the actual experience we had during one of our trips into liberated areas. But if you go into the house which was burned after bombing, what you will see sometimes is those porcelain figurines standing in the pile of ashes. For example, if it was a cupboard, the cupboard would burn into ashes, but those porcelain figurines, which we perceive as something very fragile, they're actually still standing, yeah, because they have a very high tolerance to heat, to extreme heat. And this is what we wanted to show, actually, as a symbol. Something that seems very fragile can be very, very strong.

[00:40:05.303] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah, that's really beautiful. And it's a beautiful installation piece. I took my breath away when I first saw it and walked in. It's really quite striking. And yeah, as we start to wrap up, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling? And what am I able to enable?

[00:40:23.723] Ondrej Moravec: Well, it's still like the ongoing question if virtual reality is the empathy machine or not, but I believe that in some sense it is. You just need to use the medium in a good and creative way and also you need to go on with time because as people are still more used on virtual reality, so what was working five years back doesn't work any longer. So I think that that's how we need to approach it and that's how me personally want to approach the medium.

[00:40:50.814] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Yeah, I would add that it's just exciting to watch how the language of the media evolves and to be a part of it. Because I feel sometimes like we are still in the times of Georges Méliès, you know, still inventing stuff, but it's probably the most exciting time.

[00:41:09.480] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?

[00:41:17.716] Ondrej Moravec: I think we said a lot, so just continue with the great work of all the others here. It's a wonderful place, you know, to show all the immersive stuff. It's beautiful how diverse it is, you know, one corner which is devoted to music, our corner devoted to tragedy, I believe so, with other pieces as well, but in a good way, you know. So, yeah, I believe that that's how the medium should continue, you know, to be as diverse as possible.

[00:41:44.322] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Yeah, I would just thank the community for the interest in our piece. And yeah, let's envy how we trust, so to say. Awesome.

[00:41:55.970] Kent Bye: Well, fresh memories. The look, is there a distribution plans? Or it's still going to be on the festival scene? Or where can people potentially see it?

[00:42:03.044] Ondrej Moravec: We will probably hope to continue on some other festivals and we will have from 21st of March the big exhibition in Czech Republic in Prague, where it will be for two and a half months for the audience. We prepare some school programs to bring the younger ones to understand the war, to create some additional programs. Amnesty International is our partner, People in Need is our partner, so we'll be able to create as big impact as possible.

[00:42:30.407] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, yeah, it's a really evocative and powerful piece. And thank you for taking the time to produce it and come here to show it here at South by Southwest. So thank you.

[00:42:39.032] Volodymyr Kolbasa: Thank you a lot. Thank you so much.

[00:42:41.413] Kent Bye: So that was Andrej Moravec. He's the co-director from the Czech side of the Fresh Memories The Look, as well as Volodymyr Kolbasa, who was from the Ukrainian side of Fresh Memories The Look. So I have a number of takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, the piece is a fairly simple concept of people looking into the camera in the context of these destroyed contexts and situations in Ukraine. But at the same time, I think it's a deeply effective way of trying to connect to what the real human impact of this war is and just to be able to look into people's eyes and to see the surrounding context. You can look around and to see this destroyed, burnt out areas and also the juxtaposition of the sound design of creating this tension of what the ambience of that place would have sounded like versus what it is now. And yeah, at the end they have this Ukrainian folk song that comes in. And for me, that was deeply impactive to hear just the emotional tenor of that song that had been specifically recorded for this piece. And I thought also created a really great contrast between the more sparse sound design that happened in the beginning where it's more ambience and you're listening to the sound effects of these places, but then they kick it in in the second half when they start to play that song. So, yeah, like I said, kind of a straightforward, simple concept, but really effectively executed. And they have other pieces that they're going to do on this theme of the war in Ukraine as well as you move forward. And, you know, which brings up to me just these different dimensions of, you know, watching this 20 Days of Maripol by Mstislav Chernov. And seeing how just the role of fake news and propaganda has in this deeper information warfare, and it was really interesting for me to hear Volodymyr elaborate on that, saying that this is, for one, the top documented war in the history of humanity, but also the level of information warfare that's happening around this is like on a whole other scale, especially when it comes to what's happening within the bubble of Russia with more of a Fake news propaganda filter bubble that's happening in the context of even people from within the context of Russia how they're viewing what is happening in the context of the war in Ukraine and why that war is happening and so as we move forward and start to use these new immersive technologies then how do you start to have different mitigations around that just because you go from documenting what's happening with these cameras into creating these a virtual simulations and so it starts to get into this area how you start to have things tied together back into what's happening in the physical reality and still have that level of authenticity just to You know as we start to move forward into this new landscape as we have these immersive experiences They're gonna be deeply impactful for shifting people's perspective on things what can be used for the more exalted cases of trying to document human rights violations and could also be used to justify human rights violations by other people as well. And so I think there's this kind of experiential warfare dimension that I think is going to be a new component of the future of virtual reality. Not to say that they're specifically exhibiting aspects of experiential warfare, but there's already information warfare that's happening in the context of this. And so as you start to add in these new immersive communication technologies with AI and deep fakes and everything that is happening with generative AI especially, then when you start to go into these immersive experiences, is then, yeah, how to tie it back into what is grounded into the physical reality, I think is going to be a key aspect. So I'll be very curious to see how they handle that in the context of their next piece, which is more of a six off piece, it sounds like that is exploring some of these different human rights violations that are happening in the context of the war in Ukraine. So Anyway, really fascinating to be able to break down their process. And again, like I said, a really deeply emotionally impactful piece to be able to see what's happening on the ground level of Ukraine and to be able to connect to the people of Kharkiv. So that's all I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of Yara podcast. If you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a, this is a supported podcast. And so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. so you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of vr thanks for listening

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