Saturday, September 30, 2017

NYFF ’17: Look But With Love—Episodes 1 & 2

Of all the countries you could immerse yourself in, Pakistan probably would not be anywhere near the top of your list, due to its reputation for terrorism and intolerance. Of course, it does not have to be that way. Many activists (including some gutsy women) are getting involved on a grass roots level to spur positive change. Two-time Oscar-winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy literally brings viewers into their lives in her virtual reality documentary series Look But With Love, the first two episodes of which are available for viewing today and tomorrow as part of the Convergence showcase at the 55th New York Film Festival.

In the first episode, “A Story of Women,” a group of young Pakistani women, who have never really enjoyed full rights of civic participation, are completing their SWAT training to directly battle terrorism. Obviously, the weapons drills and rappelling down buildings well suits the 360 VR. This is real deal counter-terror training, most definitely including bomb disposal.

There were times when LBWL inadvertently hinted at VR’s potential for the horror genre, because there are several instances when you suddenly realize heavily armed people are standing next to you. Hey there. It also illustrates one of the potential drawbacks for documentary filmmakers, because headset-wearers might find they miss subtitles with presumably useful information, because they are too busy looking around, gawking at the training compound. That’s a rather unique problem of viewers getting too absorbed in a film.

The second episode, “A Story of Dance,” profiles a distinguished but still spry dance teacher, who instructs her young students (girls and boys) in traditional dance forms, despite the Islamist prohibitions. She does indeed often find herself defending her dance lessons against radicalized parents, but she has a knack of winning them over. Her appeals to their pride in Pakistani culture and the beauty of the performances she stages mostly do the trick.

As you would expect, the dancing nicely lends itself to VR documentation. It is sort of like Wim Wenders’ Pina raised to the power of ten. For a while, there was a mini-boomlet in 3D documentaries that seems to have subsided. Perhaps that energy has been redirected into VR, because if you are going to do something, you might as well do it all the way.

When a multiple Academy Award winner start embracing VR, it suggests the format is reaching mainstream acceptance. It is particularly notable in the case of Obaid-Chinoy, who took home Oscars for the short docs, Saving Face and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. In this case, the technology certainly gives immersed-viewers a vivid and visceral appreciation of these women’s lives. Recommended for VR early-adopters and anyone interested in a boots-on-the-ground perspective on social change in Pakistan, Look But With Love can be experienced today and tomorrow (10/1) as part of the Convergence program at the 2017 New York Film Festival.