There was no road map for filmmaker Paisley Smith when she embarked on her latest narrative creation three years ago.
Homestay, which is set for a special exhibition at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), eschews the linear narrative of a traditional film for that of a virtual reality experience.
The story follows a family dealing with grief following the suicide of an international student living in their home and was inspired by her family’s experience with a young student passionate about video games.
“It was a way of honouring him because I knew that had he tried VR [virtual reality] in its current state he would have loved it,” said Smith, a Vancouverite turned Los Angeles resident who is billed as the “creator” along with Jam3 and the NFB Digital Studio, rather than the filmmaker behind Homestay.
“The most important thing is sharing it with other people and recognizing that other people can connect with the story, and I’m not alone in the experience.”
The festival, which is scheduled to run from September 27 to October 12, is featuring Homestay as part of its VIFF Immersed program.
The program includes two days of conferences to connect VR content creators with industry contacts, and a three-day exhibition of VR, augmented reality and mixed reality narratives (collectively known as XR).
“If we’re going to have a destination event that focuses not only on showcasing immersive content but also growing the immersive sector, it really makes sense for it to be in Vancouver,” said VIFF executive director Jacqueline Dupuis.
“Here we are in the midst of the Cascadia region with a really easy reach down the West Coast into Silicon Valley and L.A. We bring that ease of connection right from the tech companies working in that space into the creators.”
It’s the fourth year VIFF is exhibiting VR content.
It’s the first year since VIFF organizers launched a three-year plan to help grow the XR market for Vancouver.
VIFF also expands its Sustainable Production Forum to two days from one day this year.
The forum gathers experts to share best practices for sustainability in an industry with a history of running diesel-powered generators all day and tossing expensive film sets like eggshells.
“It was in response to the state of the industry, what’s important to the industry, and certainly what’s important to the studios and the production companies that are working here and the efforts that they’re making,” Dupuis said.
“Vancouver really is the centre for excellence in that world [of sustainability]. So we said, ‘Let’s put a stake in the ground and show the world that this is where this is happening and where they can learn more about it.’”
VIFF is also stoking further industry connections through its Creator Talks series featuring the Canadian production designer behind the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water; a Meet the Showrunners panel featuring the creators of TV shows such as Orphan Black and Bones; and the VIFF AMP Summit to examine the role of music in cinema.
“What our audiences have told us is that the most important thing to them is the live experience and the opportunity to connect with creators,” Dupuis said.
“It’s really about flipping the script with interactive events and allowing the fans to really engage with artists in new and exciting ways while keeping our core programming intact.”