“360° film is cool, but how do we tell a story with it?”
This was the question floating around the room at the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM) Virtual Reality (VR) Day in April 2016. At the time, I was a resident at the festival’s filmmaker support program called FilmHouse, and I had been invited to a closed-door meeting of filmmakers and VR developers. I knew a lot about filmmaking, but very little about VR and 360° film. That day, I was blown away by the possibilities of this technology, and equally confounded with how to tell a story with it. I was not alone!
Now a year later, we’re a lot farther down the road to answering this question — and I am thrilled to be part of an initiative that supports young people to help answer it. As the Video Producer & Storytelling Coach for Digital Promise Global, I help high school students and their teachers produce 360° videos that tell meaningful stories through the 360 Filmmakers Challenge, a project in partnership with Oculus VR for Good. It is incredibly gratifying to see how students across the country, from 47 schools in nine states, have stepped up to experiment with this emerging medium.
When VR Day rolled around again at SFFILM last month, I endeavored to find a way to return and share the contributions that high school students have made to 360° film. When we were offered a panel session to share the program, we invited Timothy Brand, film teacher at Sequoia High School, and his student Genesis Alejandres, to share their experiences.
What struck me most was the sense of empowerment Genesis and her fellow student producers felt as a result of participating in the 360 Filmmakers Challenge. Genesis declared it was “liberating” not just to tell their own story, but to master the use of the 360 technology through tinkering and experimentation. Genesis shared that her use of 360° film made her more confident in her use of technology overall. In fact, her experience working on the film helped her land a paid summer internship at Box. She and her team aspire to continue exploring the world of storytelling and technology.
Because of Genesis and many more students like her in our program, I am confident it is possible and essential that we empower students as creators. Young people must have access to new technology and be supported by educators committed to student agency in learning. When that happens, students build their confidence with technology, develop identities as creators and producers, and tell stories that make an impact.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we publish five video stories about the youth behind the films produced in the 360 Filmmakers Challenge. Join the Digital Promise Global mailing list to be notified when each story is published.