#1343: Using 360 Video to Connect Women Prisoners in Chile with their Families in “Going Back Home: Mother VR”

I interviewed Going Back Home Mother: VR creators Catalina Alarcon & Daniela Camino at IDFA DocLab 2023. See more context in the rough transcript below.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] 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 about the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So this is episode number 18 of 19 of my series from IFADOCLAB 2023. Today's episode is with a virtual reality documentary piece called Going Back Home Mother VR. So I had a chance to talk to the director Catalina Alarcon as well as the producer Daniela Camino. So they're based out of Chile and they've been working with women in prisons. I'm going to read this synopsis paragraph to give you a little bit more flavor. Chilean women in prison have limited communication with their family, no visits, not even a conversation behind glass. Mothers sometimes spend years separated from their children whom they've had to leave at home. This VR experience is the result of a project that gave a handful of these women the chance to at least have virtual contact with their loved ones. So, it's an immersive documentary piece that's tracking these women as their daily lives, and then they actually took the virtual reality technologies and would train the family members of these women for how to use it, and they would record different messages that then they would deliver to these women in prison. And so, there's this kind of exchange for their family members would be able to watch these immersive 360 videos of their mothers and daughters and these other women in prison. And then these women in prison got to see their children and their family and go to different places like cemeteries of relatives who have passed. And so really quite emotionally moving piece to see the impact to these women in prison who have been really exiled and separated from their families. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Wizards of Yara podcast. So, this interview with Catalina and Daniela happened on Tuesday, November 14th, 2023 at Infodoc Lab in Amsterdam, Netherlands. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:03.157] Daniela Camino: I am Daniela Camino. I am producer of Going Back Home, Mother VR, and actually I am an intrusive in this place. I come from filmmaking and also experimental artwork, so I try to work with different projects and artists and creators trying to find new languages of expression. That's kind of my motive.

[00:02:28.454] Catalina Alarcon: And I am Catalina Larcon. I'm the director of Going Back Home, Mother VR. And my background isn't filmmaking, but my personal exploration in art are more close to XR and transdisciplinary practices. And I am the director of Volver a Casa, which is a cultural organization that intervenes the prison system with virtual reality and film workshops.

[00:02:57.783] Kent Bye: Maybe you can each give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into working with VR.

[00:03:04.125] Daniela Camino: So I studied film a long time ago. And I started working off as a producer and I started to travel to different film festivals and markets. And more than just seeing films, I was always very interested in the XR places of the festivals I had the chance to go to, pitching film projects. And that was around the same time that Catalina invited me to work in the Bolvera Casa workshops. So for me it was something I knew we had to do at some point. We had to make a piece that could transmit the experience we were living through the workshops. Since then, that was in 2017, when there was just like an idea of a project we could do. and now we are here after so many years so it actually has been like really really exciting emotional like not only because we're really happy to be selected here but also because the feedback of the people has really been in line of our purpose with this project so it's been like a really amazing experience.

[00:04:16.793] Catalina Alarcon: I study films in the university. I'm a film director. I specialise in script writing, film direction and project development. When I realised that film wasn't enough for me, I decided to start to explore with XR creation. I love how arts or multidisciplines can actually get together in order to create new languages. new virtual territories and that's something that I explore in my personal artistic search and yeah that brings me to VR as a tool of connection but also as an artist trying to, I don't know, explore these different disciplines.

[00:05:04.362] Kent Bye: Yeah, so maybe you could give a bit more context for how you got entered into working with VR for the first time, if this is your first VR project, and, you know, what was the catalyst for you to actually enter into virtual reality creation?

[00:05:18.212] Catalina Alarcon: So, at least with me, it was because of our background in filmmaking, we didn't know anything about VR, actually. It was a new world to us, and we started in 2016 doing these film workshops, and At that time I already had this pulsion in my body to explore territories that are invisible and push boundaries and explore with different techniques and creations and creation process, but VR wasn't on the table yet. until we met people in prison and how they interact between them and with the outside and when we start to recognize the problems that the prison system has and we understood how the situation like it really can change. families and life could be really bad for some people and and we realized that and they actually don't have any connection with the outside of the prison because we you know we can be aware of what is happening there but when you are actually there and we talk with them and you realize how bad can be to be there you realize it's just a system that it's so broken So we decided to make something and at the beginning it was just films. We did film workshops, so we watch films, we do self-recording and filmmaking inside prison and everything. And then it was not enough. They need to connect with the outside. One time we did this activity with photographs, family photographs, like family portraits. So we brought to prison different portraits of their families.

[00:07:03.082] Daniela Camino: I mean, Catalina contacted the families of the different people in prison. In this case, it was a workshop with women. And they sent the photos. They were printed in a really low resolution. And one of the women hadn't seen the people that brought her up, her grandparents, in like years because she was serving a long sentence. And only by seeing the print of the photo of them, she got so emotional. It was so impactful. I was in that day and we were all like very impressed on the power of just a photography. And then VR just came out of a brilliant idea Catalina had, like, what happens if I do this? It was kind of like, not even the idea of doing a VR film. It was the idea of using VR for a purpose of making that connection. Because that woman in particular was someone that was very tough. You knew she had been through a really rough experience in her life. So seeing her break down like that was so moving. That's when Catalina, kind of like the light bulb, lit in her head, kind of, in a way.

[00:08:08.575] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, and I think the process was simple now that I think about it. We start thinking about, okay, so a picture works really emotional to them, and it's amazing. It's an analog-like tool. What's next? So, writing, okay, and pictures, and audiovisual letters, and then voice messages. But that wasn't enough. Nothing was enough. And then we started thinking, what else we can do? We can't take this group of people outside to see their families. We cannot take the families inside prison without being searched because of the security restrictions. So what can we do? How can we actually manage to build this bridge in a, I don't know, simple but emotional way, but at the same time immersive? And when that concept emerged, I was like, maybe we can do VR or 360 at the beginning. Maybe we can do this. So that was 2016 in Chile. I don't know, we just had the Samsung camera, the 360 camera, and the Samsung by Oculus, I think it was that day. And we didn't know anything about VR or VR recording or anything like that, so we started to choose certain tutorials on YouTube. and trying to learn about how to do this workflow and what kind of cameras we need. We tried a Ricoh Theta, we tried a Samsung 360, and then we were like, okay, maybe this could work, but then inside prison there's no internet, so... how the headsets are going to work. So I started to talk with different technicians in technology, not specific VR, just people that work in Samsung or post-production, you know, like in this Samsung company. And they didn't know what to do. I was like, I wanted to do this, like record something outside, put it on a headset and then get inside. There's this security system in prison that cuts all the networks from outside. There's not even a chance to get a modem or something like that in order to have internet. So nobody knew if it would work. It was just like we try it and it did work. So that was the way we approached the first time. It was just an idea first, a sense of what we wanted to do, like a connection. And then we find this tool, which is amazing. And we have to self-tell how to do it, the workflow of all this process.

[00:10:40.659] Kent Bye: And what was your introduction into VR? Was it through this project, or had you had any other contact points?

[00:10:46.542] Daniela Camino: It was all Catalina's fault. And then also this first experience of going to film festivals and watching VR films and kind of feeling also that there was something that I didn't feel fulfilled enough. So that kind of always made me, when we started to develop this, not to be the things I had seen that I thought were very detached from the context they were trying to recreate. I don't know, there was something that I felt was missing in the things I had seen. by chance so yeah it was more because I was dragged along and also like the passion for what we were doing and then we have continued doing workshops like since then so we've seen the impact it has had on the people we've worked with and it's been like a hell of a ride in that way.

[00:11:32.415] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, and then we start to read a lot about the movements of VR and VR artists that are making different kind of pieces. And there's this really cool movement about decolonization of virtual reality, which is something that I think we are part of it. And it's not just technology. It's so cool how actually communities and artists can reach these problematics and I don't know, connect with this tool which is so amazing and technological and immersive and you know it's I'm always really amazed like watching different pieces of other artists that are more, I don't know, sensorial or technological or even, I don't know, physical and I think they're amazing but to me I get more emotional or I relate it more to that kind of piece that are more part of this decolonization movement, as I will say, that connect with their communities thanks to this tool in that kind of way, yeah.

[00:12:35.737] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I certainly want to dig more into how you think about how VR can be a decolonizing force. But before we dig into that, I wanted to take a step back and set a bit of context for this piece, because it seems like, you know, in the United States, the criminal justice systems and prisons often have some ability for families to visit people or to have like a way to send letters and to receive letters. And so there's this channels of communication that are open, which it seems like in Chile that is basically cut off from both ways that there's really a exile, a social exile from both your friends and family where there isn't a lot of written communication or even being able to visit. And so, maybe give a bit more context into that factor of the prison systems within Chile and how you were able to bridge some of those gaps of where that communication was cutting people off into this extreme exile and how you were able to help make it feel a little bit less isolated.

[00:13:34.023] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, so I apologize myself first because this is like a really... English is not my native language and this kind of specific thematics of things are really, I don't know, hard to translate, but I will do my best. So in the States, for example, every society has a different prison system. The prison was built to punish the people who is in there. So something to remember is maybe in the States they have all the communication channels or maybe other things that make them feel a little bit better, but the punishment is different because of that society. In that case, it's isolation, for example. In our case, in Latin America, it's overcrowded places, violent places. So it's still a really bad environment for people in prison, no matter if they have the connection tools or not. That's just the start. And then in Latin America, especially in Chile, so the context is if you're in prison, they allow family to visit. their relatives in prison. But the thing is, the security restrictions are really tough. Sometimes you have to get naked in order to get into the prison, so most of the family doesn't want teenagers or even babies get theirs because it's just so dehumanizing. So, of course, that just really pulled them apart from the outside. So you are isolated there because you're serving a sentence, but you're also not able to see your family because of the security restrictions are so tough that family doesn't want to be part of that process. So that's one thing. And then in Chile, all the communication with the outside are forbidden. So you're not allowed to have a cell phone, video call moment with your family or even, I don't know, like public phones inside. the prisons so some of the prisons have public phones but you have to pay our pay phones but it depends on the will of the authorities like the local authorities so most of the time are not working. For example, in Valparaiso there's no tool, the Valparaiso prison where we work, there's anything, they don't have anything. And it depends on the social assistant's will and time to, I don't know, use her own computer to do a video call, you know, a Zoom meeting or something like that, which is something so ridiculous, you know.

[00:16:00.529] Daniela Camino: It kind of depends. It's so many layers. One of the layers is the harsh conditions of access. If you are going for a visit, we have heard stories about things their families have brought to them, that have been torn apart by the guards. Also, the revision process is very harsh, especially for older women and children. because it's very invasive. Then there's also the fact that some of the prisons are very far, so you have to take public transportation. It's expensive, it takes a lot of time, so that also makes like another handicap for the visits. And then there are specific days, it's always on weekdays, so if you work, that's also more complicated. So the conditions are there, but they are difficult to approach. And it also kind of depends on, some things depend on the flexibility of the social workers and So it's kind of like, it's on paper possible, but then on practice, there's so many layers that make it difficult to like, and especially on women, because women in general are also the ones that take care of the children, the women that are in prison. So for example, the grandmother takes care of the children. So who are you going to leave the kids? You want to go see their daughter that's in prison. and then maybe they don't want to be seen in that way. Especially women are more defensive of that, of being portrayed as tough and like they're okay. It's kind of different on men. We've had the experience of seeing men getting more visits from their girlfriends or their mothers, parents. But it's a lot of conditions that make it kind of unaccessible. It's not that it's not possible, we know it is, but it's not easy at all.

[00:17:47.142] Catalina Alarcon: But something that doesn't exist is phones. They don't have a cell phone inside. Cell phones are forbidden. Actually, there's a law, like a new law. If you get caught with a cell phone inside prison, they will add 12 months to five years to your sentence. So for mothers inside prison, it's just something impossible to think. They're telling me, like, there's no possible I'm going to leave my phone out, or I'm going to just not talking with my daughter every day, even though that means that it could change all my sentence that mean I'm gonna serving more years here but I'm not gonna be disconnect of my family you know so they have to use unlegal phones from a corruption network that it was built well a lot of people's authorities and you know yeah it's something deeper but I think the communication is something so important and it's a human right deal you know it's a human one of the things also one of the

[00:18:46.923] Daniela Camino: People we've worked in prison once told us it's like we don't have the right of liberty But our human rights and all of our other rights must be respected So actually the right to communication is something that is being violated to them But there shouldn't be they're just not able to be work around freely So in some prisons we've been there has been like a public phone you have to pay that's intervened by there But that's not like that in many of the prisons there

[00:19:13.457] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, and I think that's the reason, because VR and these workshops and especially this piece is so emotional and important, you know. It's like a disruptive project, you know. It's really like open a hole in the wall and see what is outside, you know. It's like break the panoptic, you know, which is something really political in a way.

[00:19:33.632] Daniela Camino: We used to say a virtual flea, but then we stopped saying that. Yeah, we don't say that. Because we don't want the gendarmerie to get mad at us.

[00:19:40.617] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, but that's the thing. It's such an important and beautiful and poetic tool. Immersion in these kind of places is so important. It's not just the communication itself, which is the main core of what we do, but actually the consequences, the good consequences that virtual reality can make in people that is in isolation. For example, when you are in prison for so many years, your vision changes. It gets used to colors, to patterns, to limits. So when you put a headset on and you watch a forest, a landscape with a sunset, you know, it really helps them. We've been seeing so many changes in them after our experiences, our virtual reality experiences. So it's really moving And at the same time, it's so logic, you know, if you're in a place where you cannot see anything, of course, if you are allowed to actually, I don't know, go to the roof and see what is outside, you will have a change of mindset. Your mental health will be better. For example, I remember this story. We work in young offender centers, too. So the kids, what they do is they run away of the prison to go to the ceiling of the prison. just to be able to see the river which is right next to the prison. They do this all the time and the reason is because they are tired to see walls and limits. They just want to see some birds flying away and the river running there and just have this sensation of freedom. So in this case, virtual reality is a little bit like that, you know, it's really emotional and it's perfect for this kind of situation, for the context too, you know.

[00:21:32.275] Kent Bye: So yeah, it sounds like it is possible for families to visit their relatives that are in prison, but there's all these constraints and limitations and accessibility blocks that we just detailed. And so at what point did you come across this as a story, either through your process of photography and then into VR? So how did you come across this dynamic as something that you wanted to dive into and build out both this experience, but also other institutions?

[00:22:01.899] Catalina Alarcon: So I think it's for my personal background or my personal story. I was born and raised in the outskirts of the city, like really far from the downtown for example. I live in this really middle-class neighborhood.

[00:22:18.175] Daniela Camino: So it's like... Working middle-class. Yes. It has a lot of factories around also.

[00:22:23.096] Catalina Alarcon: Exactly. It's like an industrial neighborhood, which is a mix of, I don't know, like really, like social risk school and the trail, train. Train trails. Yeah, the train trails. It's like these kind of places where you can actually see what real life is, you know, and I learn a lot from that place. I started to study in the university. I studied film, so I always felt privileged about it. And to live doing films, I think it's for privileged people. I say it in a good way, but it's something that we need to embrace, you know. So I decided to give back to the community something, you know. So I started to do workshops in this social risk school. A school where people don't have anything, you know. And with kids, so I started with films first, regular film workshops, and most of the parents of these kids were in prison. So that was my first approach. And then I had the opportunity to do an art residency. It was a multidisciplinary residency, but especially in filmmaking, with this really cool documentary NGO. so what we did there it was like more workshops and transdisciplinary works and exploration and then there was a prison in that territory so I was like maybe I could do a workshop there too you know I've been working in this different school I mean it can't be that different and So of course it was really different. It was a small prison, that's important to remark because to have the access to enter these kind of places is really difficult. So we just approached them, we told them we were artists, we want to do this kind of works and and then they just allow us because it was a 54 people in prison just was living there so we start this workshop and just something felt right to me you know it was something that changed my life you know I realized that You know, that's kind of the social exploration, art exploration that it really just, I don't know, completes me. And it makes me realize that there was something there, you know, I could do something more. So then I create Volveragas after that, you know, so at first it was just this is a really important place where there's a lot of problems happening but at the same time a lot of people who has amazing beautiful tough stories that it could actually build something bigger you know you could do something with that. Art is really transformed in a way and I think in this kind of places it could be like really necessary so I started like that and then when I get to Valparaíso's prison we started in San Joaquin actually in Santiago but I think Valparaíso really moved me because it's this prison that it's outside of the city and you are able to see the sea and it's really like poetical but sad at the same time it's so far of the city you have to take I don't know a bus and it's just

[00:25:28.907] Daniela Camino: And it's kind of like an industrial complex, like very sovietic, big, like very old, and there's like the seagulls and the breeze of the sea, but at the same time they can't see it. Most of the people that are there are from the surrounding areas. So actually I ended up living in Valparaiso after going so much, I just like wanted to stay there, but yeah.

[00:25:53.862] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, so it's that kind of exploration and, you know, when you start to get closer to communities and build, you know, just emotional bonds with people, it's just something that you feel is so right, you know, why not just keep doing it? And it's been six years, you know, now.

[00:26:13.888] Daniela Camino: In terms of the story, we were doing workshops with men in Valparaíso, so we started to develop a story around that, around their dreams, and then we started to do this pilot. But something felt off, and I guess it had to do with the fact that we were three women behind the project, pushing it. At some point in the brainstorming process we won a small development fund and we decided to focus it on women persons. I can't really remember why we changed it but there was something that pushed us to say we need to work with the women for this project and everything kind of like started to fall into place there. the different pieces, different stories. So in 2020 we did our workshop to start to imagine and investigate the script along with different women and then the pandemic hit so we had to like stop for two years and then when we could go back again in 2021 or yeah. We did a workshop again, we met new people and then kind of like the story really found on its own. We found out these protagonists and we really created a very profound bond with them. We're still in contact with them. Some of them are already being released from prison and we're still like in touch with Veracasa as an organization also remains in touch with their former students.

[00:27:30.444] Catalina Alarcon: And I would like to add that, you know, because this project is a co-creation, it's that co-creation process. We didn't write the stories. I mean, it's not like we did the narrative by ourselves, us as artists. It's the opposite. Like, we actually make these workshops, we did different activities that lead us to different problems and things that they wanted to say to the world and then we write the script with them, you know, it was a co-creation process, a collaborative process. So it was really beautiful actually, you know, just to being there and knowing their personal story, but also what they wanted to say, you know, it was not just, okay, this is my story and we should, no, it was like I wanted to be recorded in the prism backyard because that's the place where I stayed there thinking about my family so I want to be there you can put the camera right here so all the process of this project we're thinking together you know as a group

[00:28:28.975] Daniela Camino: And just to add a final detail on that, through the workshop we did in this script writing and development process, a lot of things came up from them that I don't think they even expected to tell us, because we managed to build this small, tight-knit community in this group, so some of the testimonies they shared were so impactful. they were part of the script but they also they wanted to share them as well so there were things like you wouldn't imagine that they were saying or maybe they hadn't said to anyone in their lives because it opened an opportunity to like release things that were hurting from such a long time. Yeah it was cathartic and I guess the piece is so intimate and so emotional because you kind of get the sense that you're listening to something they're telling you like from very sincere in the heart and that was also something we I mean you can't expect how people are going to react or like share and it was really really impactful for all of us in the group sometimes people shared very intimate things and we were like contained amongst ourselves between the other girls and also us like teachers

[00:29:37.903] Kent Bye: Yeah. And throughout the course of this piece, you're start off with doing more of a traditional profile of these women in prison. And we're kind of introduced to these different characters and introduced to the prison context. But then when it comes to what I would say is the heart of the piece and the emotional climax of the piece is when you start to almost like break the fourth wall in a sense. So you as creators are actually then in the scenes giving the protagonists of your character study of these women in prison VR headsets to transport them and to have them visit their families. So then we're watching them in the VR experience and then we do this level of inception and then we go into the experience that they're watching. And so it's an interesting VR within VR where you're able to

[00:30:24.217] Catalina Alarcon: We love that. When we got the first version of the script, we were like, okay, you guys watch this virtual reality experience that your family record to you, right? But then when we do this VR circle, you know, when we are in the prison with the headset, that's like a really cool ritual to show too, you know? So we decided to put it in the film too, because they teach each other how to use the headset, which is awesome. We, as an artist, we were thinking, OK, but the user is going to have a headset on and he will see someone with a headset on and then he will get into another layer of 360. You know, it will be like Inception is a really good concept because, yes, it's a little bit like that. But I think it's what it is. And if you think about it, they're in a prison, you know, they already isolated in a place. So it's like you get into something and then into something else. And it's just get deeper and deeper and deeper. which is beautiful, you know, yeah.

[00:31:25.484] Kent Bye: It's really quite an emotional moment in the piece just because some of these women haven't really had a chance to see some of their relatives in a specialised context for a long time and just to have them to also be transported to cemeteries of their relatives that have passed away and to really transport them into the different specialised contexts of their family in a way that allows them to Take this journey that they're not able to go on and so yeah for each of the women protagonists that you're following It's a very emotional and visceral experience for each of them and then they're helping to support and hug each other And so yeah, I feel like it's such a emotionally moving moment in the piece and you were saying that as you were having people see it in Chile and also here if a doc lab that a lot of reactions of people that are also being very emotionally moved and that you've had to provide a bit of emotional support as people are coming out. So maybe you could talk about what it's been like to screen this piece.

[00:32:26.229] Catalina Alarcon: At the same time it's weird because I don't know it's when you have for example when you premiere a film you go to a theater you watch the film and then you do a Q&A and you leave but here it's like I feel like the responsibility to be there because some people cry you know and get very emotional so I really want to be there for them. They have questions sometimes or they want to share their stories. So it's really heartbroken when you take off the headset and nobody's there and you're really like touched by this piece. And so I love to be around. I know I cannot be all the time there, but it's really beautiful. And when we got the news that we have our world premiere here in IDFA, which is one of the most important documentary film festivals in the world. I was aware. I was like, OK, this is amazing. I love this. I'm so proud of us. And but how is going to be how the European or international audience are going to react to this piece? Because he's Latin American. They speak Chilean language not just Spanish so they speak really fast even though they had really good subtitles the translator did a really good job and the programming of all the application process was really good too so you could have a really good experience but it's still different cultures, so I was really expecting to know what would happen and it's been really emotional and beautiful and a lot of people shared their stories, their personal stories, why they are so moved by this piece, other ones want to know more about it, you know. We have this print with a book with the translation of all the letters of the installation and the first day a lot of people just ask us where I can find more information. I want to know more about you guys. So we have to add a new text that it wasn't in the first proposal that we did to IDFA. So, you know, it's been really amazing, you know, this journey and being here and see the reaction of people. It's been really transforming in a way. Yeah.

[00:34:36.689] Kent Bye: Yeah, so in the film you have done other 360 video capture of the families that are not in prison and you're showing it to the women who are in prison and we see the women in prison watching their family. I'm wondering if you were also shooting stuff of the women in prison that then you were showing to their families and did you think about shooting that scene as well to see what the reactions of the family was to be able to see their mothers or their daughters or, you know, other women that were in prison. So is that something that you considered shooting or actually shot anything?

[00:35:08.859] Daniela Camino: The meta, meta, meta language. So I think one of the things that's important to say that we have a really strong ethics regarding what we show on the film and what we do for the workshop sense or like the human sense of why we are doing this. So there's a lot of things we shoot. For example, we did shoot with women in prison footage that families could see so they could understand how 360 worked.

[00:35:35.985] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, we did like a tutorial with the women in prison. So we take the 360 camera first to the prison, we put it in the middle of the room, and they teach their families how virtual reality works. So they were like walking around the camera saying, hey, so this is 360, you have to turn this way, you can turn this way, you know, it works like this. So we took that footage, which was actually really cool. In a minute we were like, this could be cool to be part of the movie too. But then timing and so there was just private, just to the families. And then as Danny said, the family can actually have, they could shoot whatever they want. But some of the moments were so intimate, even though they give us the authorization to show it. We decided just not to show everything because sometimes they really open themselves. They tell secrets, they ask for forgiveness, it's like really emotional. So it's better just to keep it private just for the people in prison and then we just choose these really beautiful moments for the rest of the audience, yeah.

[00:36:39.068] Daniela Camino: And it's also important to note that there's a lot of 360 footage from the families to all the women and men we work with in the workshops. But that's also something that we will never share. It's not for public eyes, it's for them. So when we were doing now the public thing, we were very conscious of explaining what it actually was going to be. Maybe we could be... From the beginning, it could be very abstract, like, this is going to be seen in this space, and they're like, what the fuck is a film festival? Because, you know, why would they know? So we would try to explain it very clearly also to the children, and it was up to them if they wanted to be or not, if they wanted on the film, or if they wanted to make a private video for their families. We tried to be very clear, and we respected all of the decisions of what they wanted to show and what not to show. And that's just because that's our work ethics. Even though it could be brilliant footage, it was like, no, that's where we draw our line.

[00:37:37.035] Kent Bye: And then there's the meta, meta, meta, meta, which is like then you have the finished film. Did you have a chance to show it to the women after you finished it? And what were some of the reactions that they had?

[00:37:46.242] Catalina Alarcon: They were the first people in the world to watch it. That was really important to us, you know, to have their feedback. And it was really funny because they really take care of her image and how they look, their outfits. They're really pretentious. So at the beginning, of course, when they watch their family videos, it was really emotional. That's what's in the piece. But then when we were ready with the museum and everything, we showed it to them and they were like, I don't like how I look in this scene, you know, and it's like, that's not the point, you know, who cares? You look really cool, actually.

[00:38:17.849] Daniela Camino: No, some of them look incredible, like have these really fly outfits, you know, it's so cool.

[00:38:23.575] Catalina Alarcon: But yeah, yeah. I missed the question.

[00:38:25.946] Daniela Camino: I don't know where it is.

[00:38:29.808] Kent Bye: Just the process of showing them the final film.

[00:38:31.690] Daniela Camino: We're starting to work on that now. They've seen it and some of the Young Offenders workshop, they have already seen the piece. We also took it to the National Gendarmerie because it was important for us. to get their seal of approval so we could like work freely and not because we are very respectful of the rules of the house we're in which is their house the gendarmerie house that's also part of our ethics we know we're working in the rules so we try to work on those limits but now since the piece is was finished like two weeks ago like the final master copy finally We are now starting an impact campaign to raise awareness and that will work on different levels, on policy makers, politicians, people that work in the Ministry of Justice on different levels, but also different prisons. So we want to work like on not just to change policy, which is very important to us, but also as a tool for other places and to like generate this wave of emotion that this project generates.

[00:39:34.092] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, and something cool that we did too, in order to include them not just in all this creation process but also in the distribution process, so when they watched the piece a couple weeks ago, we put a paper and a lot of pencils and markers and stuff and we started to think, okay, where do you want to show this piece? They put all over the world, you know, in this paper and then Who do you want to watch this? The president, the minister of justice, the minister of women in Chile, the minister of justice. Other prisons. Yeah, other prisons. So that helps us to build this formal line of distribution, which are cultural centers, museums, film festivals, art festivals. But then there's these other places that are more important to us, or equally important, but really moves us. More territories and more communities. cultural center also, but maybe they are related with the prison system and of course the government and politicians and decision makers that can help us maybe to make a change in order of communication policies in prison.

[00:40:42.351] Daniela Camino: So if that wasn't clear, during the workshop we did that work with the girls, so we wrote down with them where they wanted the project to be seen. And that was what was written in these papers. And that also helped us broaden our minds and also understand their expectations. So it's like a pressure for us now to live up to that. But we're going to make our best to reach all the policymakers we can. We'll knock on all the doors we can. And I think we're in a good moment because we're Maybe it's like a millennial government because our president is basically our age. And we know people that are working there and they have at least a social concept that is different than classical right or left-wing than previous governments. So we're in a good time to make this a tool and show it to the people that are making the decisions now. So we'll see in a few years where we go.

[00:41:40.457] Kent Bye: Well, you mentioned earlier that VR could be a decolonizing force. And I know that technology in general can be a bit of colonizing, especially when it comes to the user interfaces and only being in English sometimes. It can have this way of having this settler colonial mindset sometimes of how technology pervades. But sometimes technology can be neutral, and it's just how people use it as a tool. So I'd love to hear how you see virtual reality could be used as a tool as a decolonizing force.

[00:42:09.091] Catalina Alarcon: Yes, when we started to learn more about virtual reality, we realized that in that time, you know, like five years, seven years ago, maybe more even, it was used by people that had the knowledge and the money to have the equipment. And even the artists used to, you know, shoot in places where technology is not available and with social issues and problems and wars. And then most of those footage is always premiere exhibits showing in places where that kind of communities are never going to be able to approach. So we were starting to think like this really looks like the new colonization, like a virtual colonization. You know, I go to your territory, I do whatever I want and then I leave and you will never know. You know, it felt like that. It was really amazing to see that there was this movement or this artist that we were working with collaborative practices and co-creation practices that did the opposite, you know. So then this concept emerged, you know, the decolonization of virtual reality emerged. And I think it's really amazing. Yes, I love it. And in order of using virtual reality as a tool, I think it's Our project speaks by itself. In this kind of places or for example for immigration or for people who is in hospitals or I don't know it could be a really an important tool you know just to allow to be immersed in a place where you cannot be able because of distance, money, I don't know you know. I think it's good when I started to go to different congress because of project something that we didn't know but when we started project CNN and other like media broadcaster media call us to said you are like the pioneer in doing these workshops in prison nobody else do it in the world we weren't aware about that and so we will start to go to different congress as a case of study you know So I learned a lot from other colleagues. They were doing investigation about, I don't know, decolonization, but also transdisciplinary practices. Yeah, there I realized that, you know, virtual reality can be more than just an entertainment tool, which is most of the people think is just for that, you know. So I think we're in a good moment. We are living in a moment that everything is really tense, a moment of war, of fights and everything. And I think, empathize with society something so important but at the same time I take distance to that word because you know it's not the tool what makes you feel empathetic for something it's just it's human being you know what it is at the stories personal story so I think it's a mix of everything

[00:45:03.994] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and what it might be able to enable?

[00:45:14.221] Catalina Alarcon: Yeah, that's an interesting question because talking with different artists and Some people say that virtual reality, it's dying. I don't think that. Some people say that 360, it's like a vintage-like tool, which is, I'm so against it. But I get it, you know, because technology moves forward so fast, and everything is, like the avant-garde is so far away from us, and I understand that 360 could be, you can have the sense that it looks like vintage, but it's like, what? So, I don't know. I mean, if you ask me what is going to happen with virtual reality, I have no idea. But I think it could be a good tool. Even now with the MetaQuest 3, you know, that you can have mixed reality and virtual reality in the same world, you know, it's so cool and amazing. And the possibilities are just so... are multiple, you know. So, I have no idea. No idea.

[00:46:15.626] Daniela Camino: And for me, well, I think it has been kind of silly sometimes to like this fear of people being locked in watching VR. Like, I think it has to do with a lot of science fiction, not really connected to the experience of watching VR. But in general, I think immersive experience are now working with a sound producer in an immersive space. And there's something about experiencing something so profoundly that it kind of like affects you deeply. And I think there's a possibility of transformation tools and also like healing methods we can think of in multiple areas, even if it's image or sound or more like interactive experiences. but I think there's something that can be thought of more in terms of education, not only like training minors to know how to work or like experience of a... We heard of this experience of teaching people in prison how to go buy things in a supermarket, like, okay, that's fine, but I think we can go more profound and deeper levels and connect to our emotions differently in different layers of art through immersive experiences.

[00:47:26.084] Catalina Alarcon: And I think even in that kind of experience, if the practices are ethical, it could work. I think virtual reality is a good tool when you do your job with good methodologies. So I think it's a mix of working with the communities in a really closed way and use the technology in favor of what you want to do.

[00:47:48.824] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:47:52.852] Catalina Alarcon: Yes, I would love our audience. Follow us on Instagram. We're trying to grow our community so, volveracasa.br, you can follow us there and I just wanted to close saying that we're really thankful to be in IDFA right now and we hope that if you are listening this and you feel that maybe Our project could be, I don't know, part of your festival, your community or anything that's on your mind. Just reach us, we're always on Instagram and our personal account as well. So we really want to exhibit this project in different parts of the world and communities.

[00:48:33.085] Daniela Camino: Yeah, pretty much the same. And thank you for having us here. Great opportunity to talk about this. And since this has been such an intense for us being here and also helping out in the experience itself, helping the volunteers here, because not all of them knew how to operate it. It's been really nice to get immediate feedback from people that have seen it. That's for us like the most gratifying also to know that actually our intentions were matched by the reactions. So now we're just really happy to like close because it's like one of our last days here to close this with this conversation because I think it kind of like rounds up all of what has happened through all this seven years of working on this. So yeah, thanks so much.

[00:49:18.044] Kent Bye: It's been quite a journey and you have a really nice installation here of like outlines of a home with letters that are filling it out. And yeah, I saw it in the VR gallery, but it's really nice installation here and just a really beautiful project that includes both 360 video. There's some interactive components where you're interacting with objects and getting additional stories from that. But yeah, the heart of the story is the moment when the mothers are able to see their families and their children and be connected to them and just how emotionally moving that is and to reflect upon this broader kind of almost like what felt like a oppressive human rights violations in terms of like disconnecting people to that degree. And yeah, just the way that you're able to use the technology to help build those connections and yeah, just a really beautiful piece. So yeah, thanks again for spending the last seven years to create it and to take the time to help unpack it today. So thank you.

[00:50:09.038] Daniela Camino: Yeah, thank you. Thank you.

[00:50:11.503] Kent Bye: So that was Catalina Alarcon, the director of Going Back Home, Mother VR, as well as with the producer, Daniela Camino. So of a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, you know, as I think about this piece, I really think about the emotional impact that it had to see how these virtual technologies could create a bridge that is connecting these women in prison to their families who they haven't been able to see or directly speak with, just because of all the different either barriers of what it takes to either make some of those different prisons or may not even be possible in some cases. And so to see the impact of the technologies to connect people who have been disconnected and really in exile in a lot of ways and just the way that it can really create this sense of intimacy and it's really quite moving and profound to see the impact that this project and this larger entity and organization that they've created to be able to facilitate some of this and how they've been able to create these bridges and hopefully be able to even show these to different politicians to maybe change some of the different policies so that it's like a little bit less of an impact of both these mothers and children to be completely separated with no opportunity to really visit. So there are some different interactive components where you kind of go around and pick up an object and the object shares a little audio narration or text that gives a little bit more context to the story. But I feel like the heart of this piece is a lot of the 360 video and just learning more about these Chilean women and their lives in prison and then seeing these moments when they're able to actually connect to their families again. And yeah, like I said, just really emotionally moving piece that I highly recommend folks check it out if you get a chance to see it. So. That's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And 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 listener-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 voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

More from this show