The ACT Human Rights Film Festival’s kickoff event at Odell Brewing was part pre-screening and part virtual reality cinema.
Walking into the tavern with the wind and driving rain at their backs, attendees found a room brimming with creative ideas. Some came as organizers, as artists and as critics. Ultimately, all were there to show their support of the festival’s mission.
“The festival is about coming together and having conversations,” said Dr. Greg Dickinson, Colorado State University Department Chair of of Communication Studies and producer of the ACT Film Festival’. “It’s an act of human flourishing.”
Dickinson stood at the front of the packed room, playing trailers for the festival, quipping with guests and commenting on the upcoming movies.
On the screen behind him was the projected image of a famous drag queen whose blonde curls spilt over her laughing face.
“This is Rory, who is from a small village in Ireland,” Dickinson said. “’The Queen of Ireland’ is showing April 14 at LSC Theater, and it’s about Rory’s almost accidental involvement in an effort to grant gays and lesbians the right to marry. If you show up wearing drag, we’ll give you tickets for a free film.”
While the main room crackled with conversation and tales of world cinema, a stillness fell over a small corner of the tavern. This section was reserved for screenings of a virtual reality documentary titled “Who I Am.”
Kyle Rasmussen is the film’s director and Brandon Woolridge is its producer. Both are CSU alumni. Rasmussen earned his master’s in public communications & technology, and Woolridge graduated from the College of Liberal Arts. Behind them, seated guests were wearing virtual reality headsets. The viewers tilted their heads from side to side, unable to suppress an occasional grin.
Woolridge and Rasmussen both work for Blue Shoe Media, a production company specializing in virtual reality storytelling. “Who I Am” follows first generation CSU students and their working relationship with refugee students at Fort Morgan High School.
“We wanted to film our documentary in VR because we wanted to tell a story that puts you in the shoes of these migrant students,” Woolridge said. “Virtual reality has been called ‘the empathy machine’ because it’s exceptionally powerful in humanizing people. If you feel like you’re standing next to a refugee, maybe you’ll feel compelled to help in some way.”
Rasmussen said he was inspired to work on virtual reality films when he saw a demo in which the viewer floats down a river in Cambodia.
“It brought me to tears,” Rasmussen said. “I had always wanted to travel and meet people from all over the world. VR doesn’t connect people directly, but it creates an impact.”
Although Rasmussen has recently been filming at locations throughout India, Woolridge recalled a time when both filmmakers were still struggling to find a creative direction.
“Kyle and I met at church one day when we were sweeping out the building,” Woolridge said. “He was mostly shooting wedding videos at the time, but I could tell he was very passionate about making movies. I’d been involved with some start-ups before, so I wanted to help Kyle refine his passion and turn it into a business.”
Following this story, Dickinson played another ACT movie trailer. This one was “They Will Have to Kill Us First,” a story about musicians in Mali, a country in West Africa. Due to a music ban that affects most of the country, artists can no longer play or record their music.
An angry staccato filled the air, the sound of a voice shouting in Bombasa, a widely spoken language in Mali. The subtitles translated this to “We, the mujahideen, prohibit anyone from playing Satan’s music.” A soldier’s boot kicked a severed head across the sand. It was followed by a narration of multiple musician’s reactions.
These trailers displayed something that is a characteristic of the ACT films, which will screen from April 14 – 21; their stories offer nuanced viewpoints that are designed to be thought provoking and bridge social divides with human storytelling.
Go to actfilmfest.colostate.edu for more information about the upcoming ACT Human Rights Film Festival.
Collegian reporter Ryan Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.