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Interview with Grace Lee

28 août 2020

Post-lockdown, NewImages Festival keeps on shining a spotlight on its friends and partners. We strive to better understand and support all those who craft new images throughout this personal and professional journey, so we can live through this pivotal period together.

Producer, Grace Lee spends her time unearthing new talents and supporting independent and experimental creative contents, in Taiwan and abroad, all over the world. In 2018, she joins Kaohsiung Film Archive, head of the VR FILM LAB teams and initiates local and international co-productions. She was also in charge of the VR selection ”XR Dreamland” of Kaohsiung Film Festival since 2018.

“Audiences cherish the chance to experience the artistic works more than usual times.”

Can you please introduce yourself and the KFF, in a few words?

Hello, this is Grace Lee from Taiwan. I’m now working at Kaohsiung Film Archive, which is a non-profit film institute based in Kaohsiung. We’re one of the first institute to start the program for supporting VR projects and creators in Taiwan since 2017. In the past few years, we’ve been very honored to work with local and international partners including New Images Festival to push our industry moving forward in order to expand XR community

Where are you now? Can you describe what was your daily life like during the lockdown?

I’m in Taiwan, Kaohsiung city. As you might heard, Taiwan has been able to contain the pandemic and minimize its impact on people’s daily lives. So we are very lucky to continue the life mostly as usual. But of course, there’s something different.

For instance, we need to wear mask and take our body temperature when entering the office. People keep social distance deliberately in the mass transportation. In-door entertainment facilities like cinema or karaoke still provide services, but people try not to visit these places as possible. There’s a particular day in a week you need to be in line of the pharmacy for purchase of masks. Those above have become daily routine, and it’s somehow significant change of our life. Moreover, a hidden but intense circumstance swings in our society. We pay attention to local and international news for knowing more about the change all over the wold. Although it seems relatively safe in Taiwan, we still worry about our friends and working partners all over the world.

Our plan and schedule are affected or postponed all the time. We spend a lot of time on solving a particular question over and over again, and it might end up being cancelled. This is a slice of my lifetime that I need to manage non-stoping crisis, deal with disappointment, and carry anxiety with myself.

How has the lockdown influenced your ongoing projects at the VR film Lab / KFF ?

We didn’t lockdown our country, but we close the border to limit the import of foreigners. Also, all the business trips were cancelled. For KFA, we cooperate with companies abroad so much, therefore, there’s a big impact on us  due to the Covid-19 situation. First of all, some of our original productions were selected by international film festival like SXSW, Tribeca, Cannes XR…etc. I still remember the first big shock is the cancellation of SXSW, which we’d spent a lot of time on preparation. That’s a very chaotic time back then, and we still need to do a lot of communication to find out the best solution. As a creator, it upsets me when our great works are not able to be showcased oversea. There’s not going to be any communication with the audience if we are not able to show them.

In other hand, as a curator, I travelled a lot to seek for great pieces. I went for six film festival last year to collect wonderful immersive experiences for Kaohsiung Film Festival. The cancellation feels like a sudden blackout for me because I don’t know exactly how I’m going to plan for our own film festival. Of course, we can use all the connections with XR talents to find some good works via the internet. Somehow, it’s really hard for me to dig out more new and wonderful experiences, and I think finding new stuff is the most important factor of XR curation. It’s also a goal I set up for myself every year.

The process of production might be the best benefit form the Covid-19. Since everyone is not allowed to travel anymore, we can be more concentrate on the local production. The routine schedules of Kaohsiung VR originals are still working, and we will be presenting three brand new titles this year, which is in full swing. We are proud to present these great works in Kaohsiung Film Festival this October.

le VR Film Lab dans le quartier Pier-2 © DR

VR Film Lab is also a space dedicated to VR films experiences, located in a cultural, artistic area in Kaohsiung, “Pier-2”. What has changed since the beginning of the epidemic?

Tourists and local visitors become less and less since the Covid-19 broke out early this year, and there’s a significant decline on the number of our customers. Back in April and May, we seriously discussed if we should close the venue for good temporary, but there’s many issues such as profit and loss, and staff’s income… etc. Especially, cooperations with other companies will be a big mess if we decide to close VR Film Lab. We’ve discussed every aspect of it, and negotiated with our superior. In the end, we decided to set up a very serious safety system. Under this condition, we require audience to follow the real name registration, to take body temperature, and to keep social distance, wear mask when they enter our venue. And it’s maintained the operation of our venue.

Despite the open days are limited and resources are reduced, we still provide high-quality content, such as ”GLOOMY EYES” and ”CLAUDE MONET – THE WATER LILY OBSESSION” at the moment. People who had tried it all had very positive feedback. Under the Covid-19 circumstances, many museums and art venues are closed, audiences cherish the chance to experience the artistic works more than usual times.

Recently, the overall situation in Taiwan gets better, so we start our cooperation with Cannes XR and Taipei Film Festival. These cooperations bring back the crowd, and things get back to normal with mask on and all the safety system going on.

”CLAUDE MONET – THE WATER LILY OBSESSION” © DR

Spanish writer Jorge Carrión describes Covid-19 as « a cyborg virus spreading as fast among bodies as among screens« , the Internet meme of the year! In your opinion, in which way could it contaminate the VR creative field? As a producer and a curator, have you noticed new tendencies in the projects you received?

Of course, the inspiration of artist always comes from human and society. We receive a lot of projects every year. Creators put their observation of what’s happening in the society and the changes within human’s relationship. We do see some of them infuse the Covid-19 situation into their script, try to describe the social changes, especially on relationship, but most of them didn’t really stand out. I think people are still discovering the impact of this pandemic spread, and it might take some time to figure out. Without any doubt, Covid-19 really affects the way we live, and it doesn’t seem to ease or slow down for now. Considering this as a long-term fight of all human beings, this is definitely an issue that artists will pay more attention on in the following years.

As a producer and a festival programmer, what would be the wants or needs generated by this special very situation?

There’s something that I noticed during the Covid-19 spread: people desire to see new things. We’ve gained lots of discussions from the internet every time we post a new project or any new stuff on the social media. As I mentioned that we’ve lost the chance to communicate with real people from all over the world, we are forced to get back to the life closer to ourselves. I think one of the most important missions is to start up a new system for communication, opinion exchange, or even a new way of doing business. We need to think about how are we going to survive in the future when we rely on international resource to maintain our business, and the pandemic situation might change everything we’ve known. We need to figure out a new way to stay in XR industry for the worse case.

On the other hand, I always believe that bad things come with good ones later. When the old-schooled way is no longer workable, new way will begin to show up to us. In this case, we’ve seen a lot of on-line events going on this year. VR social events, on-line forum, virtual reality performance and other internet-based events keep on occurring in their best way. I think “The Under Presents: Tempest,” the Live Theater Performance of Oculus is a really great example to make the traditional content adapted the new way of showcase. I think virtual and real events will be parallel in the future, and creators are going to figure out more and more format and system to support this. I won’t deny that real event is still a necessary point of this industry, but internet, especially 5G, will definitely change the business model of the related entertainment. We just happen to meet the turning point this way.

What were the tools – new or usual, old, ones – that you relied on during this time – to continue the international exchanges and the networking?

Take Kaohsiung VR FILM LAB Talent Workshop as an example, we choose to use “Google Meet” for our lectures, and it allows 30-40 people to join the lectures in the same time. At the same time, we adapt “Interprefy” as the on-line tool of interpretation. Talents, students and people who want to join this lecture are in different spaces, yet they’ve shared a wonderfully smooth process of the lecture on the internet. We cooperate with VRroom on the social event, which we’d built a marvelous virtual space on VR Chat. The crew leaded by Louis in VRroom really listen to what we were trying to do, and gave us a wonderful space designed with the idea of ocean and waves. At the end of the Talent Workshop’s ceremony, we invite a Taiwanese new media artist to make an audio-visual performance in 360°. All the participants are surrounded by the stunning visual, dancing with the electronic music in the virtual world. It’s really a very very very special experience.

Kaohsiung VR FILM LAB Talent Workshop © DR

Many festivals offered online editions on VR social platforms, 2D or 3D (VR Chat, Museum of Other Realities, Virbela, Rec Room…). Did you try them? What impressed you the most?

Yes. I’ve attended LAVAL Virtual and also Cannes XR (on-line). I really love the space design in MOR, which really surpassed my imagination of this medium. I like the overall vibe of MOR, and a lot of details in it. For instance, there’s a section that is upside down so participants need to walk on the wall to get to those showrooms or to see more artworks. I always feel attracted by those new things or thing that won’t happen in our real life.

VR Chat © DR

What would be your number one expectation, or need, concerning those tools?

We’ve tried a lot of different platforms such as VR Chat, Google Meet, MOR and other on-line system. I care user friendly experience the most when I try those experiences. I think that VR Chat and MOR could bear with different types of experiences. However, I think the most important thing is to match the different types of experiences to make them exhibited in the best way they could be.

According to you, what are the new challenges for VR creators and production companies now or in a near future?

It’s a big challenge when we talk about the business model of XR market. The decline of physical showcase and LBE, the great energy of on-line distribution, these are changes that we must encounter in the future. When the traditional way of business is no longer suitable, how to adapt with new trend and readjust our strategies will be the crucial challenge for all of us.

What kind of support could a festival offer to the creators?

No matter what’s happening now and in the future, I think the most important mission for a film festival is to maintain this platform as good as possible. We need to continue our support and communication with the industry, to link creators with right people and institution in order to collect the opportunity of showcasing their artworks. We must be the backup force for them, and use our advantages to assist them and push the industry moving forward. Therefore, 2020 Kaohsiung Film Festival is still going on from October 16th to November 1st. Of course, we will take care both physical and virtual platforms, and try to show the world as much as possible.

What is the Taiwanese government’s position on the crisis?

Taiwanese Government really sees through the core of the crisis. Therefore, if the citizens could continue their cooperation and follow the policy, it will be easier and easier to encounter this crisis.

What message do you have for the VR community?

We all know that 2020 has been a pain in the ass so far, but as pioneers of XR, I think it’s important that we use our creativity and flexibility to adapt and create new ways to run the industry.