Doc/Fest 2016 – Tech and Innovation

Experimenters, Innovations and Artificial Intelligence at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016

Sheffield Doc/Fest in June is the place to be for anyone interested in where tech is taking the story. A focus on Artificial Intelligence and virtual reality at the Alternate Realities Summit on Sunday 12 June includes the world’s most social android Bina48, the brand new human archiving project, New Dimensions in Technology from USC Shoah Foundation, plus the Summit audience will be the first in the world to view the latest United Nations VR Film via a synchronised viewing on the Festival’s own custom cardboard viewers. A wealth of interactive and VR projects to excite early adopters will be available to try at two free-of-charge Alternate Realities Exhibitions across three venues: the Interactive Exhibition at the Millennium Gallery – including a prototype of an Augmented Reality documentary – and the UK’s leading Virtual Reality exhibition at Site Gallery, The Space and at Union St café a site-specific installation of Jane Gauntlet’s In My Shoes: Dancing with Myself .

For folk preferring to explore the tech world through traditional storytelling, the Film programme includes the EU Premiere of Death by Design while the subject of whistleblowing is explored across film and public talks, as the festival hosts the first UK screening of National Bird. In the world premiere of Toucan Nation an abused toucan gets a new 3-D printed beak and in the Environmental Jury There Will Be Water sees British Engineer Bill Watts create fresh water from seawater.

This brave new world is the focus of a number of free-of-charge talks at the festival’s brand new hub, Doc/Fest Exchange in Tudor Square, supported by Wellcome Trust, and industry panel discussions in the Talks and Sessions programme.

And while audiences are immersed and amazed by the Alternate Realities and Film programmes, the next generation of projects created by geeks and artists will be given life in the Marketplace at the Alternate Realities Market.

Alternate Realities:

Curated by Mark Atkin the Alternate Realities programme allows audiences to experience how virtual reality, games and artificial intelligence are changing how stories are told. Open to the public and Festival delegates for the whole Festival, the programme kicks off on Friday 10 June, with the free-of-charge Interactive Exhibition at the Millennium Gallery and the Virtual Reality Arcade, both supported by Arts Council England. The debate around the issues raised by the Alternate Realities programme is the focus of Sunday’s all-day Summit where audiences can get up close and personal with the creative teams behind the projects.

Alternate Realities Summit:

The Alternate Realities Summit on Sunday 12 June presents a day of intriguing panels and playful presentations from the leading voices in interactive factual storytelling and virtual reality and brings together experts from documentary film and broadcast, theatre, journalism, engineering and neuroscience.

The Sunday morning will focus on artificial intelligence and kick off with Love, War + Robots, an interview between transmedia producer and director Ramona Pringle, whose work focuses on the intersection of technology and the human condition, and the android Bina48 – the world’s most advanced social robot. Science Fiction Prototyping: Artificial Intelligence and Storytelling will see Sheffield Robotics demonstrate the importance of intelligent machines in the future of storytelling; Dr Stephen Smith of USC Shoah Foundation will showcase New Dimensions in Testimony, ground-breaking natural language processing software that allows audiences to have a “virtual encounter” with the recorded image of Holocaust survivor, Pinchas Gutter, who responds in real time, powered by complex algorithms providing realistic conversation.

The VRfternoon session on Sunday will open with Jessica Brillhart, Principal Filmmaker for VR at Google talking about The Future of Virtual Reality; in 360° Sound for a 360° Experience: Dynamic Binaural Audio in VR audio engineers will demonstrate how cutting-edge spatial audio is being used to create richer and more immersive VR experiences, and it will talk about the role of sound in VR storytelling and how to start designing dynamic binaural audio; in VR & Journalism: Opportunities and Challenges the panel of experts will examine the invaluable experiences of VR journalist pioneers and explore how this fledgling medium will impact on the industry; at the United Nations VR Film Launch the audience will be the first to view the UN’s latest VR film, about gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo,  in a mass VR viewing. After the viewing, director Gabo Arora will be interviewed by Francine Stock of BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme. VR: The Machine to Make us More Human?, including representatives from British Council, Arctic Shore, Harmony Institute and World Economic Forum, brings together research in neuroscience and academia, and interrogates the idea of VR as the ‘ultimate empathy machine’. Creating VR is more like staging theatre than shooting film. In All The World’s A Stage, four VR producers with a background in theatre – Toby Coffey, National Theatre, Tom Burton, BBC, Catherine Allen, producer, and May Abdalla, Anagram – will discuss what we can learn from producing drama when making VR. In Interactive Theatre, Technology & Empathy & In My Shoes: Waking in Slough, Jane Gauntlett will talk about her mission to describe the indescribable and empathise with the inexplicable, based on her experience as an artist with epilepsy through a performance of the first In My Shoes piece that she made: Waking in Slough, which uses VR and theatre to tell a true story to great effect.

On Sunday evening, audiences (and nerds) can continue the themes of the Summit with:

A Night of Surveillance: The Supernerds Experience

A thrilling live experience designed to make you think twice about your online footprint. Producer and presenter Georg Tschurtschenthaler gives insights into the original production of the interactive part-theatre, part-TV show Supernerds, before providing us with a playful demonstration of just how easy it is to hack phones and tap into private data. Based on the transmedia project Supernerds from gebrueder beetz filmproduktion.

 Alternate Realities: Interactive Exhibition at Millennium Gallery:
The Alternate Realities Interactive Exhibition at Millennium Gallery, running all week, includes 14 immersive media projects allowing a depth of experience far beyond the limitations of the flat screen. The exhibition is divided into three distinct areas: art installations, interactive documentary experiences, and games for grown-ups.

 One of the much discussed ideas around VR is its ability to evoke an empathetic response from the participant to the subject, but what is empathy? The Empathy Station will combine neuroscience and virtual reality to uncover unconscious biases and collect data on whether VR really is “the machine that makes us more human”. The data collected at the station will be used in the creators’ panel on the nature of empathy during the Summit VRfternoon.

Tonje Hessen’s iSynx is a personal AI operating system that revolutionizes your life, and Sharon Daniel’s Undoing Time is a multi-media installation of prison industry products linked to an archive of interviews reflecting on what it means to ‘do time’.

Within interactive documentaries, Avatar Secrets, made by Ramona Pringle (who will be in conversation with Bina48 in the Summit), explores the complexities of human connection in the networked world; also part of the Summit USC Shoah Foundation’s New Dimensions In Testimony permits audiences far into the future to have a ‘virtual conversation’ with a Holocaust survivor about his life experiences;

Michael Epstein and Mark Thompson’s immersive journey John Lennon: The Bermuda Tapes recreates the summer of 1980, where Lennon found inspiration for the album Double Fantasy; supported by Wellcome Trust, Trick or Treat: Bhai-O-Scope celebrates the pluralities and complexities of Indian healthcare; while a prototype of The Enemy: Augmented Reality uses the very latest breakthrough in media technology to introduce us to both sides of an intractable conflict; and A Polish Journey explores migration through a journey of discovery by the creator Julian Konczak to uncover truths behind his father’s arrival in Britain from Nazi Germany.

As gamers grow up, the games have too! Using original news footage spanning 21 countries Channel 4 News’ interactive video story Two Billion Miles recreates the extraordinary journeys behind the migration crisis; Juliana Ruhfus’ #Hacked: Syria’s Electronics Armies invites users to become a journalist and investigate a deadly cyber war; Tracy Fullerton’s Walden, a Game simulates the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living; Michal Drozdowski, Przemysław Marszał’s This War of Mine: The Little Ones explores the hardships of wartime survival seen through the eyes of children; the exhibition includes a video game from India: Antariksha Sanchar – Transmissions in Space, inspired by mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and the classical dancer Jayalakshmi Eshwar, it is a cultural adventure game set in the 1920s in a temple town in South India.

Alternate Realities: Virtual Reality Arcade at Site Gallery & The Space:

Among the 12 projects exhibited in the Alternate Realities: Virtual Reality Arcade, curated in partnership with Site Gallery, visitors will be invited to virtually visit the International Space Station; to better understand what it might be like aboard a migrants’ boat; to see how it feels to experience the onset of epilepsy; to navigate the world without sight, and experience a virtual acid trip…

Migrant and refugee stories are given the 360° treatment in three VR projects: Invisible by Darren Emerson, commissioned by Sheffield Doc/Fest & Site Gallery, with support from Arts Council England, will take audiences on an immersive journey into the uncertainty and despair of the UK’s immigration detention system; Home : Aamir is the first in a series of VR films created by the National Theatre which explore the meaning of home through the stories of refugees in the Calais Jungle; and We Wait, created by Aardman Animations for the BBC, will put the viewer on a boat with a terrified Syrian family.

Inspired by NASA’S training programme and the experiences of its astronauts, Home – An Immersive Spacewalk Experience created by Rewind & BBC, will invite participants to throw themselves into the void 250 miles above Earth; while Mars 2030 will put the viewers in the place of explorers on the surface of Mars. Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness – the VR partner to the hybrid documentary, which is playing in the Film Programme – goes into “a world beyond sight” through John Hull’s aural archive; while Jane Gauntlett’s In My Shoes: Dancing with Myself fuses film, theatre, technology and empathy to explore epilepsy. In keeping with the theatricality of this experience, it is being presented in the Union Street café, a short walk from Site Gallery, to further immerse the audience.

Nonny de la Peña’s hard-hitting project Across the Line puts viewers in the shoes of a woman running the gauntlet of protesters as she seeks reproductive healthcare at a US sexual health clinic; Francesca Panetta and Lindsay Poulton’s 6×9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement recreates the experiences of over 80,000 people who are locked in solitary confinement for 22-24 hours a day. Oscar Raby also returns to the festival with Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel created by VRTOV and Crossover for BBC, which uses aural and film archive and Lynette Wallworth’s Collisions explores the collision of science and spirit in the land of indigenous elder Nyarri Morgan and the Martu tribe. And William A. Kirkley’s Origins invites audiences to take a trip into the early days of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, who kickstarted the hippy movement after a life-changing LSD trip.

The Meet the Maker sessions are an opportunity for audiences to meet and talk to the makers with their projects in the Alternate Realities Interactive or Virtual Reality exhibitions.

Tech in the Films programme:

The 160 strong Doc/Fest Film Programme, curated by Claire Aguilar, includes five films that directly consider our tech world.

Death by Design directed by Sue Williams

Environmental Award / EU Premiere / United States / 2015 / 73 min

Just what is the cost of our digital dependency? Director Sue Williams debunks the notion that electronics is a “clean” industry by investigating a number of environmental and health catastrophes wrought by production of our gadgets. From early poisonous practices in Silicon Valley, to China’s on-going dumping of chemicals this is a story that isn’t being told – but can no longer be ignored.

National Bird directed by Sonia Kennebeck

Instigators and Agitators / UK premiere/ United States, Afghanistan/ 2016/ 92 min

Lisa Ling regrets the 121,000 lives she spied on electronically in a two-year period for the US Air Force. She’s now trying to make amends by visiting bombing victims in Afghanistan. National Bird follows Ling and two other whistleblower veterans wracked with guilt about the secret US drone war, and the many civilian casualties that continue to be denied by the powers that be.

Toucan Nation directed by Paula Heredia
Global Encounters / World Premiere / United States/Costa Rica / 2016 / 40min
The story of a mutilated toucan in Costa Rica who has ignited a national movement to enact animal welfare laws and inspired innovators both there and in the US to tackle the challenge of constructing a prosthetic beak using 3D printing technology.

Machine of Human Dreams directed by Roy Cohen
UK premiere / United Kingdom / 2016 / 90min
Ben Goertzel is widely acknowledged to be one of the smartest AI experts in the world. With a ragtag team in Hong Kong, he’s trying to build a robot with a global brain. But as embittered ex colleagues testify, Ben has some big failures behind him, and with Chinese funders breathing down his neck, the path to fame and glory is not at all smooth.

The Dog directed by Drea Cooper, Zackary Canepar
Short Doc Programme / International premiere / United States 2015 / 8 min
Do robot dogs dream of electric sticks? A room of adults attend the funeral of their Aibos in Japan – a Sony-produced robotic pet. With the repair centres closed, time is ticking for the surviving few.

Tech-themed talks at Doc/Fest Exchange On Tudor Square Supported by Wellcome Trust:

Digging Deeper… National Bird

Carol Nahra in conversation with director Sonia Kennebeck and future media expert Andy Miah explore the power of drones to change the way we experience the world.

Creative Exchange…ideas behind Machine of Human Dreams
Director Roy Cohen in conversation with future media expert Andy Miah talk about the dream life of machines.

Digging Deeper… Doc/Fest Alternate Realities: Virtual Reality Arcade

Emma Cooper from Rocket looks into the making of the groundbreaking virtual reality project In My Shoes with creator Jane Gauntlett.

Digging Deeper… Doc/Fest Alternate Realities: Interactive

Emma Cooper from Rocket talks to Professor Stephen Smith about the making of the ground-breaking New Dimensions in Testimony project from Doc/Fest’s Alternate Realities: Interactive Exhibition.

Part of a series of free-of-charge conversations and creative exchanges inspired by extraordinary talent, groundbreaking films and interactive and virtual reality storytelling.

Other tech-themed talks in the Talks & Sessions industry programme:


Context Hacking: A Performance Lecture by Johannes Grenzfurthner

“Context hacking” breaks down conventional communication with unconventional interventions. It’s a political action spurred on by the paradoxes and absurdities of power. Johannes Grenzfurthner will present projects by monochrome, a collective dealing with technology, art and philosophy – an interesting mix of pop attitude, subcultural science and political activism.


Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, a Film and VR Autopsy

PARTICIPANTS:  Lili Blumers, Philippa Kowarsky, Lizzie Francke, Arnaud Colinart, Mike Brett, Peter Middleton

Following the UK Premiere, the Notes on Blindness team share insights on creating and distributing film and virtual reality together for the first time. From early conversations at Doc/Fest’s MeetMarket to touring the project across the UK, its creators, funders and distributors discuss the challenges in building a successful model for funding and touring cinema and VR together. Supported by BFI Film Audience Network’s This Way Up fund.



Market Switchboard Surgeries: Virtual Reality and Interactive

The Market Switchboard offers on-demand advice to filmmakers looking to meet some of the 300 Decision Makers invited to the Marketplace. During this Switchboard Surgery, Elie Levasseur from Cross Video Days will be present at the advice desk, taking meetings with delegates.
 Alternate Realities Market

Last year, the second edition of the Festival’s interactive and Virtual Reality projects Market, renamed this year as Alternate Realities Market, reported an increase in deals of 500%, confirming the AR Market at Doc/Fest position as the key place to make partnerships and secure international funding for interactive, immersive and virtual reality projects, within the documentary, factual or hybrid genre.

Among the 25 projects selected to pitch this year are a number of established documentary film producers pitching AR projects: Leah Borromeo and Katharine Round (Disobedient/ Forma Arts, UK) with Climate Symphony – Katherine Round produced The Divide which screened at Doc/Fest 2015; Christine Cynn (co-producer on Act of Killing); Robert Freiert, Tishna Molla and Kristian Mosvold’s with We Are The Gun; Fernando De Jesus; Sarah Arruda, Claire Cook and Sam Smail (Thinking Violets, UK) with The Boy in the Book: A Choose Your Own Document which is the development of Choose Your Own Documentary which screened at Doc/Fest in 2013. Also Jamie Lochead (Windfall Films, UK) will pitch Victoria’s Cancer Diaries featuring news presenter Victoria Derbyshire, and Betzabé García (Venado Films, Mexico) with #Mickey which is a direct result of Docunexion 2015, a training programme between Mexican and UK filmmakers which began at Doc/Fest 2015.

The Alternate Realities Market is supported by Creative Europe, Arts Council England, UKTI, Getty Images and Bibliotheque.

10-Minute Meets: Interactive and Virtual Reality

Offers delegates the opportunity to meet one-to-one with a diverse group of experts in the interactive, trans media and virtual reality sector of the industry. The attending experts represent technological and cultural institutions, broadcasters and other digital institutions, and are ready to meet with delegates to share information and advice. Each attending decision maker will do six 10-minute one-to-one meetings with delegates.

 Alternate Realities Exhibitions

Alternate Realities Summit at Crucible Studio, Sun 12 Jun 10:00 -12.30, Sun 12 Jun 13:30 – 18:00.

Virtual Reality Arcade at Site Gallery, The Space & Union St cafe, S1 2BS Fri 10 Jun 12:00 – 20:00, Sat 11 Jun – Wed 15 Jun 11:00 – 18:00. Free entry

Interactive Exhibition at Millennium Gallery, S1 2PP Fri Jun 10 12:00 – 17:00, Sat 11 Jun 10:00 – 17:00, Sun 12 Jun 11:00 – 16:00, Mon 13 Jun – Wed 15 Jun 10:00 – 17:00. Free entry


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