VR Producer Fifer Garbesi on Diversifying the VR Ecosystem
Fifer Garbesi is an immersive media producer, community organizer, and co-founder of ARTandVR. She has produced award-winning content in Ghana, Tanzania, Cuba, Spain, Italy, and The United States. She recently publicly released her 360 documentary, ¡Viva La Evolución! exploring underground dance in Cuba, which screened at Cannes Film Festival, Raindance, and the World VR Forum.
To view more amazing content from Fifer, please visit her channel on VeeR
Through her work, she hopes to diversify the VR content ecosystem by providing a platform for underrepresented communities and empowering other creators. We’ve been given this incredible opportunity to speak with Fifer Garbesi about her mission and her advice on creating VR content. Here we bring you behind the scenes with Fifer Garbesi.
What interests you the most about producing 360/VR content?
Immersive media has the power of embodied cognition, setting it apart from all prior mediums in its power to hack identity, shift perception, and embed new memories. As we shape this industry, we have a responsibility to create both ethical content and an ethical ecosystem. Our creations will shape not only the future of this medium, but of society.
What inspires and defines your creative style? What in your opinion differentiates your work from other VR content creators?
I’m inspired by people who create their own reality. From Joyvan’s parties in Havana to the alternative society of Damanhur, my work celebrates the amazing possibilities we have to reshape our world. I believe VR is an incredible tool for empathy and by showcasing these kinds of stories we can imbue our lives with a little more hope and joy.
As someone who studied film and media in college, how has your education shaped your career? What advice do you have for young and aspiring 360/VR filmmakers?
Film school always felt like studying history: the rules were written by these folks (mostly white men), way back then. I’m more interested in the future and found this slightly frustrating. I was always seeking opportunities for immersive storytelling – such as interactive projection mapping. When I discovered VR, I felt like the Lumiere brothers – blessed to be in the founding stages of the medium – and down to do some crazy experiments!
My advice for aspiring VR creators (young and old) is to experiment with as many different creation tools as possible (Tiltbrush, Unity, 360 video, photogrammetry) and see what grabs you!
ARTandVR came from the feeling of a great divide between the art scene and the tech scene in the Bay Area. It saddened me to see, as the are scene laid the fertile soil for the “disruption” and “thinking outside the box” that tech hold dear. We wanted to bring the two communities together to collaborate or talk.
What are some challenges you've faced?
VR is a new industry and has a vicious hype cycle. A huge challenge is to stick to your vision and not drift like a leaf in the current. It’s hard on both sides of the hype cycle – with teams, projects, and investment swelling and disappearing. I just stay focussed on my mission – lay the foundation for virtual reality to be a force for deep understanding and for the ecosystem to be accepting of all kinds of creators. That way, when students of all kinds are studying VR in art school 100 years from now, they can see themselves as producers of the canon.
What's next and what visions do you have for the future of VR?
I do believe that the VR we experience now will be seen as clunky hardware middle-men to our senses. With read-write brain computer interfaces, we will have true virtual reality, a way to live stream our senses to each other, preferably. I explore this a bit in my upcoming neuroscience experience for Oculus Rift, NeuroExplorer VR.
Could you tell us about your newest launch, "Viva La Evolucion!"?
¡Viva La Evolución! is a documentary I made following the lifting of the Cuban embargo using the lens of electronic dance music to explore the multi-faceted impact of globalism. It’s a bittersweet story of a country in flux with a an incredible soundtrack by Cuban DJ, Joyvan Guevara. It screened at Cannes Film Festival, the World VR Forum, Raindance, Amsterdam Dance Event, and more. I produced it with LA based studio VR Playhouse and many of my amazing friends from Havana.
What was the story behind creating "Viva La Evolucion!"? What do you want viewers to take the most out from this documentary?
I used to live in Havana when I was in school and made great friends with the main character Joyvan, who lived down the street from me. I didn’t think I was going to be able to return without another specialty visa, but when the travel restrictions were lifted I knew I had to go back. I wasn’t sure how I would pull this off, but the stars aligned!
I saw an anonymous ad on the Film&TV Craigslist section: “Do You Want to Make a Movie?” and I wrote back. It ended up being an retired Hollywood EP who was curious about VR and gave me seed funding. Then I connected with lan Forester of VR Playhouse and in our first conversation he said “I’m coming to Havana to help you.” He gave me his full support and believed in my vision. Joyvan and his team threw an incredible party, convincing the biggest event producer in Havana to show up with massive light arrays. It was wild. I’d like people to feel that rush of being an insider in this amazing scene that defies all the odds.
How is Viva different from the rest of productions you've created? Was there any strategy, inspiration or new techniques you've include in this production?
Viva is by far my most personal piece and was my first major production. I worked very closely with Joyvan and my other Cuban friends to identify iconic locations that signified change, choreographed movement with lan Forester to match the pace and significance of certain themes, and brought the whole community into the production of the piece.
We also hosted a VR workshop for students in Havana to understand how to create in this medium.
Do you have any advice or secret skills that you would like to share on 360/VR creation?
My secret is making sure that everyone I work with feels joyful and valued. The entertainment business should be fun! Let’s listen to each other and lift each other up to see where an attitude of abundance can take us.