Producer and director, Céline Tricart has notably created The Sun Ladies and The Key, virtual reality works that have won awards at major festivals such as Tribeca, Sundance and the Venice Film Festival. Her films deliver engaged messages, combining emotion and poetry.
What path led you to become a director, from your childhood in Isère to the creation of your production company Lucid Dreams Productions ?
I started studying performing arts at Lumière-Lyon II University and then joined the Louis-Lumière National Higher School in 2008, in response to my passion for storytelling and science. I then trained in new technologies - 3D relief and virtual reality - and finally set up my production company in Los Angeles in 2016. In France, I was already working more on American films that were shot in Europe than on French films. As soon as I arrived in the US I was hired as a 3D expert on Transformer 4 by Michael Bay.
How did you go from 3D to virtual reality?
Everyone who worked in 3D relief in 2013 already knew that virtual reality would be the next step! All high-quality VR content is by definition in 3D relief. So the transition was very easy. Especially since I used to adapt the language of cinema to these new technologies. It was in 2013 that I discovered VR with Tuscany House, an Italian villa that you could visit while using your keyboard to travel. It was a very powerful moment for me and it made me want to take a close interest in this technology, then to study the sector and follow market developments. In 2015, I got started with my first 360 film called « Marriage Equality ».
What was the starting point for The Sun Ladies ? Why did you choose VR ?
The producer Maria Bello contacted me in 2016 to make a documentary about these Yezidi women fighting Daesh. Their story shocked me. A few months later, we shot a seven-minute virtual reality film: a look at an all-female combat unit, made up of women from the Yezidi community who call themselves « Girls of the Sun ».
Virtual reality has allowed us to give the impression of intimacy: these women are in front of us and look us straight in the eyes. They tell us their story in the same way they would blow a secret in our ear. The screen is often a wall of emotional separation. VR overcomes this obstacle and rekindles our emotions.
The film challenges viewers with a very specific question: « Who would you be and what would you do in the face of extreme and inhuman violence against those you love ? ». How did the spectators react ?
There are two types of reaction: those who shed a tear and those who want to start laying into a punching bag! During filming I sometimes felt a bit parasitic, with the feeling of stealing from these women their stories, as I was a film maker and not a journalist. Back in Los Angeles I wondered what I could do to help them beyond the film. So we invited audiences at festivals where the film was shown to write to the Sun Ladies. In the end, we collected 4,500 messages! Two years after shooting I went back to Iraq to bring them these letters, which we had partly translated into Kurdish. The Sun Ladies were moved when they realised when reading these letters that their story was now known around the world.
With The Key, created thanks to the Oculus VR for Good programme, you offer a different perspective on the issue of refugees. Tell us how you came up with the idea of combining immersive theatre, animation and VR.
Oculus VR for Good partners a creator with a charity, in my case Friends of Refugees based in Atlanta. My experience with Sun Ladies made me want to offer more than a 360° film to approach the refugee’s journey in a « hidden » way, using a metaphorical approach. The Keyis often presented as an escape game, an artistic exploration, but it is only at the end that we discover that, in essence, it is the daily lives of millions of people. Using immersive theatre creates a kind of transition to VR, which takes place in stages with The Key. People don't know that when they go into the installation, they are already in the story’s world. The emotional impact is even greater at the end of the experience. There is no message, other than the idea that could be summarised as follows : « Now you know. Here is an overview of the feelings you feel when you are a refugee. »
Your works are about people and about society. Chris Milk referred to VR as an « empathy machine ». Is this an expression that you would also use ?
VR is an empathy machine, just as a book or film can be. It is true that by controlling the field of vision VR offers privileged access to the mental mechanisms of emotion and empathy, even if it is not so easy to provoke, as with other mediums. Nevertheless, VR has extraordinary potential: it allows the human mind to transcend reality and create differently. It is a valuable tool for viewing data in the economic or scientific world. We are only at the beginning and we have not understood one-tenth of what we can do with…
What will be your next way of telling stories after VR ?
I have a passion for storytelling, whatever the medium – from immersive theatre, like Sleep No More – to video games. Over the past four years I have been largely inspired by independent video games, such as Journey or The Witness. Very exploratory games in the first person, with a very strong poetic sense. I want to keep an open mind and not specialise too much.
What are your next projects ?
I am currently writing two feature films in preparation, including an independent feminist action film, although it is currently very difficult in to make an independent film in the United States - there are only microbudget films or blockbusters left. It's going to be difficult to get started, but I'm keen to reconnect with my initial passion: cinema. I would also like to create an independent video game.
The Key, by Céline Tricart, is presented on Culturevr.fr, an Institut français platform which offers a panoramic view of cultural innovation in virtual reality.
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