New Dimensions: Africa in 360 Degrees

The Africa Futures Festival kicks off today with a programme of talks, art exhibitions, film screenings and events that explore exciting projects for Africa, from an Africa perspective (see our guide to the festival here). The exhibition New Dimensions that opens tomorrow as part of this festival extends this trajectory into the immersive sensory terrain of 360 degree virtual reality. The exhibition has been co-curated by Ingrid Koop and Steven Markovitz of Big World Cinema, who has been working in cinema on the continent for many years and is a fierce proponent of African artists and filmmakers developing their own vocabulary and way of telling their own stories. While this showcase is a collection of some of the best VR projects from around the world, Steven has coordinated a VR workshop with creatives from different countries in African to explore the potentials of this new tech for developing new languages of expressions, storytelling and audience experience. Some of the participants included Bogosi Sekhukhuni from South Africa, Ng’endo Mukii from Kenya, Paul Sika from Ivory Coast, Jonathan Dotse from Ghana, Jim Chuchu from Kenya and Selly Raby Kane from Senegal. We chat to Steven here to find out more about what the future of Africa in 360 degrees looks like. 

You’ve been producing films in and about Africa for many years. Can you tell us about the importance for African filmmakers to find their own style and cinematic voice?

There are two dominant, mainstream narratives of Africa: One is Africa as a continent of war, corruption and disease and a more recent narrative of ‘Africa Rising’ While there are elements of truth in both of those narratives, I believe everything in between them is far more interesting and important for filmmakers and artists. This is where our focus is. It is crucial for filmmakers to find their own style; their own identity in cinema. We can’t merely be derivative and allow the USA or French filmmaking approaches to dominate our landscape and practices. It is our unique signatures in filmmaking that will gain recognition in the world.

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Pandora by Jonathan Dotse and Kabiru Seidu

What new potentials for expression, storytelling and imagining African experiences does VR provide creatives from the continent?

VR will explode as a format next year in both the consumer market alongside industry, gaming, education, health and porn. Right now VR is still in its infancy. Most of the images being created in VR are out of North America. The only images I have seen of Africa are of lions, elephants and Ebola. By building capacity in VR production in our continent, we can be well positioned to be part of the global conversation and to find an economy for VR production in Africa.

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Clouds by Jonathan Minard and James George

The term “empathy machine” for VR is incredibly evocative and suggestive. Can you tell us about some of the ways that you’ve noticed this new tech being incorporated into AfroFuturist creative expressions and narratives?

There has not been enough VR production here yet to find an analysis or comment on a body of work. Essentially, VR is immersive and creates a very strong point of view of the viewer. There is potential to see the world from your enemy’s point of view or to see the world from the marginalised perspective. There are many examples around the world on how we can create empathy; there are many exciting possibilities and opportunities.

Can you tell us about the VR workshop you’ve coordinated as part of the Goethe-Institut’s African Futures Festival? Who have you invited to participate and what do you hope will be gained through this experience?

The workshop has been incredible. We had top VR specialists Jessica Brillhart, the Google filmmaker in residence and award-winning creator Oscar Raby and his producer Katy Morrison. The participants in the workshop are some of the finest artists and filmmakers from across Africa.

The 4-day workshop is an introduction to VR in both the Unity environment and the live action environment. We then went into practical tests of VR and brainstorming of ideas for production. The plan is to produce VR with this amazing group. We are building capacity of VR production across the continent. At the moment we are working with people in South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Kenya but we do plan to expand the network.

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By putting on the VR headset the wearer becomes an active participant in the project. Do you think that this collaborative approach to creative expression, experience and ultimately meaning is the new means of production for the future?

Not sure it is the new means of production but certainly VR will be a major form of production. It will be a very important platform for entertainment, education, industry and art. And it will get cheaper to produce and to view.

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Ethiocolor 360 by Teddy Goitom, Senay Berhe, Benjamin Taft from Addis Ababa  

What are some of the highlights from VR exhibition New Dimensions that you’ve co-curated and what do these reveal about this new tech?

Assent by Oscar Raby is a very poignant piece. Evolution of Verse by Chris Milk has a ‘wow’ factor and gives a good sense of the potential of VR. Pandora by Jonathan Dotse and Kabiru Seidu is a the first piece made in Ghana and gives you a great taste of Accra.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 10.40.34 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 10.41.35 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 10.44.05 AMEvolution of Verse by Chris Milk

Lastly, what do you think VR for an African Future might look like?

VR headsets mainly Google cardboards will be widespread, as smartphones are used more across the continent, so will the audience for VR grow. More filmmakers and artists will be expressing themselves in VR; there will be VR all over the internet made by consumers. It is here to stay, its more of a question of how big it will be and how Africa will respond and engage with it.

Check out African Futures Festival for more details.

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Way to Go by Vincent Morisset 

New Dimensions is on at the Goethe-Institut, 119 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood. 29-31 October. 

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