Director Chris Milk has received acclaim for his work on music videos for artists ranging from Kanye West and U2 to Arcade Fire and Gnarls Barkley. These days, however, he prefers to think of himself as more of a digital artist. In recent years, he has worked on a variety of transmedia projects, such as The Johnny Cash Project and Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown, both of which harness the interactive and global nature of the web to give viewers experiences that are uniquely personal to the individual yet offer ample opportunities to connect with other fans and viewers. And as FoST 2013 attendees who saw his VR film “Sound & Vision” may know, one of his newest interests is virtual reality. Milk refers to VR headsets as “empathy machines” because of their immersiveness and ability to elicit an emotional reaction in viewers. With this in mind, Milk has set out to provide some content that will stir our emotions.
Unveiled today at Park City’s Sundance Film Festival, VRSE is billed as “an expanding universe of Virtual Reality experiences,” containing a selection of videos and experiences that can be viewed on an Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, or in 2D on a regular phone. Debuting on the platform was “Millions March,” a collaboration between Milk and Spike Jonze for Vice News, centering on the protests following police killings of black Americans Eric Garner and Michael Brown in 2014. “Millions March” puts you right in the middle of the demonstrations, as you see the crowd staging “die-ins,” marching through New York, and holding up signs as onlookers curiously spectate and police hold the line, on standby. Vice’s breed of journalism has always been closer to documentary than reporting, and the medium is a perfect fit for the outlet, which aims to completely immerse viewers in different conflicts, subcultures, and topics around the world in their specials. It will certainly not be the last piece of VR journalism for Vice, as they have invested in the platform with plans to produce a regular stream of VR content.
Milk will also premier the more abstract “Evolution of Verse” at Sundance, which features computer-generated imagery such as a hurtling trains and a tranquil landscape surrounding the viewer. This film was produced in partnership with Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, the production company behind films such as Her and American Hustle. Annapurna specializes in producing “sophisticated, high-quality films that might otherwise be deemed risky by contemporary Hollywood studios,” and hopes to be backing the next frontier of storytelling with their work in VR.
Finally, Milk has collaborated with the UN to produce “Clouds Over Sidra,” an experience about a twelve-year-old refugee of the Syrian Civil War living in a refugee camp in Jordan. The project will be shown at the World Economic Forum in Davos and released on the VRSE app, as well as Samsung’s Milk VR for their Gear VR, a virtual-reality headset powered by a Galaxy Note 4 phone.