Virtual reality film Carriberrie, from director Dominic Allen and cinematographer Josh Flavell, is a face-to-face experience with our threatened Indigenous cultures – by Slade Phillips
Beginning at the heart of Australia, actor and performer David Gulpilil AM guides us on a journey through time and space. We move from traditional ceremonial dance and song, towards intrinsically contemporary and modern expressions. From iconic ceremonial traditional dance at Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, to rainforests and funeral songs in the desert. From the most Northern tip of Australia to Sydney’s iconic Opera House with the Bangarra Dance Theatre, Carriberrie showcases a stunning range of Australian locations and performances.
Virtual reality, or VR, technology is making it far easier to connect with remote Indigenous Australians. Carriberrie, a mesmerising 360-degree VR, live-action documentary, illustrates how well immersive technology can transcend cultural boundaries.
Viewing the twelve-minute film, the audience is teleported. Against the backdrop of a pre-dusk sky, the viewer stands among the Anangu women, the traditional owners of Uluru. They stamp their feet into the red dusty earth. “Dance”, Gulpilil says, “is the first language of our people.”
Josh Flavell is a freelance cinematographer based in Sydney. The 360-degree aerial footage in Carriberrie, which allows you to look around as you ‘fly over’ the terrain, is one of the film’s standout innovations. The technical expertise to pull all this off is almost invisible. However, working in VR is incredibly complex for creators. Allen and Flavell used a consumer drone fitted with two cameras to create the 360-degree aerial footage. The shots were then patched together during the edit stage. Other scenes were shot with a Jaunt One VR camera which gives the experience a live, photo-realistic quality.
Carriberrie uses the latest immersive technology to invite the audience into a much-needed dialogue about the threatened culture of our nation’s first peoples. “If their practices are not preserved and passed on to the next generation, if they are not encouraged by all Australians, they could all too quickly be lost,” writes Kate Gwynne, a PhD Candidate in ‘Interactive Storytelling’ at the University of New South Wales. With VR headset adoption yet to become mainstream, museums and cultural spaces will be vital for these important projects to reach wide audiences.
“Immersive films like this should also be used in educational settings such as classrooms,“ says Gwynne. “We learn through experience. Virtual reality can be a proxy for the real thing. It can give students exposure to Australian Indigenous culture when excursions are unfeasible. Geographical and language divides are no longer an excuse for ignorance.”
The Byron Bay Film Festival once again presented an Australian contingent of 360° VR works at last month’s Cannes’ Next, the innovation hub of the film festival’s market, Marché du Film. Among those works screened was Carriberrie.
Josh Flavell is a graduate of the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS). His experience encompasses a wide range of narrative, commercial, and documentary projects.
Slade Phillips is a writer based in Sydney.