How Tribeca’s VR award winner The Key made magic out of metaphor



On the makeshift border camp in Horgos, Serbia, a refugee boy constructed toys out of bins.

Shara Tibken/CNET

The toy vans have been patched collectively out of used bins and Band-Aids.

They’re the objects I keep in mind most from the Horgos refugee camp in Serbia. A boy, whose household had lived within the tents there for months already, crafted them so he and his brother would have one thing to play with.

I might visited the camp in 2016 to find out how know-how performed a job within the wave of refugees cresting over Europe. Essentially the most hanging objects have been like these vans: out-in-the-open reminders of how the households there endured their limbo. They jury-rigged no matter emblems of normalcy they might.

Practically three years later, a virtual-reality expertise on the Tribeca Movie Competition — The Key — taught me that probably the most significant objects in that camp have been ones I by no means noticed. They have been mundane relics so treasured they would not be revealed to an outsider parachuting in for a single day.


Celine Tricart directed The Key.

Kristina Loggia/Tribeca

“Most refugees — though they may by no means return dwelling, or their home is destroyed by warfare or being taken by different individuals — most of them can not let go of the important thing to their home,” director and producer Celine Tricart mentioned in an interview final week.

That idea — a refugee’s unusable key — was the seed to Tribeca’s breakout success. The Key turned one among Tribeca’s most buzzed-about initiatives within the Immersive program, a showcase of tech-heavy initiatives exploring rising codecs like VR, augmented actuality or 360-degree video. Thursday, The Key gained the competition’s Storyscapes competitors, the highest prize awarded to one among a handful of initiatives chosen for his or her modern approaches to storytelling.

The Key integrates greater than VR. You enter a misty room carrying a neckband speaker that begins the story’s narration and music. You are alone with a lady in a easy tunic, and she or he acts out the first-person narrator’s cues. She reveals you a big key in her hand when the narrator mentions it, for instance.

And he or she helps you place the VR headset on. The headset’s soundtrack syncs with the speaker collar you are carrying — one of the vital intelligent methods I’ve seen for a VR undertaking to ease the often-clunky transition from the actual world into digital actuality.

The VR itself is an allegorical animation. Discovering the look of the expertise was necessary to Tricart: watercolor skies, major colours, a naked lunar-like panorama. And as you undergo the expertise, in exactly perceptible methods, you lose one shade after one other. Your world degrades.

Within the first scene, you are launched to 3 playful floating balls — one pink, one blue, one yellow — mentioned to be your folks. They dance round you and carry out ethereal tips once you attain out and contact them. However as a windstorm begins to strip your treehouse-like room to items, you understand you’ll be able to maintain solely two of those companions on the identical time. Certainly one of them might be blown away, and nothing you are able to do adjustments that math. It can save you two buddies, however one might be misplaced.

“VR is usually a sensory expertise, visible and sound,” Tricart mentioned. To create The Key, she labored with an Atlanta nonprofit Buddies of Refugees by the Oculus VR for Good program. Tricart and her companions at Buddies of Refugees interviewed individuals to search out shared experiences throughout refugees’ journeys: leaving in a rush, going by checkpoints, your belongings being stolen, watching your family members taken from you.

“We took these moments, and it was all about constructing these sensory metaphors,” Tricart mentioned. “How can I make you’re feeling these feelings, however not inform you what it’s?”


The Key gained Tribeca’s 2019 Storyscapes award.

The Key

However in a stunning transition, The Key’s VR expertise flips from its creative presentation to blunt realism and explains the underlying reality to the whole lot you simply noticed. Refugees aren’t talked about till the very finish.

“There’s so many metaphors within the story. For me, the purpose was to not have a single individual perceive all of them,” she mentioned. The Key, she mentioned, is extra emotional storytelling than an mental one.

The Key’s revelation was designed for the participant, however it additionally mimics how refugees course of trauma of their journeys in a manner, in keeping with Jackie Brockett, the director of employment applications at Atlanta nonprofit Buddies of Refugees.

“There really is an actual syndrome of forgetting” within the refugee group, she mentioned. “The idea of the important thing —  it is such as you’re unlocking the recollections which can be, in a way, compartmentalized as a survival mechanism.”

This iteration of The Key ended with the shut of Tribeca’s Immersive program Saturday. However the creators of The Key wish to increase it to museums and different movie festivals, in addition to adapt it to an expertise that may be accessed by anybody with a headset linked to the Oculus retailer.

On the finish of The Key expertise at Tribeca, although, you are given a present from the lady within the room with you. She removes a key from the wall and clips it to your competition lanyard.

It had the impact, initially, of stoking dialog in regards to the expertise on the competition even after contributors moved on. Folks unfamiliar with the expertise would ask about that key dangling out of your lanyard, and individuals who each had keys would acknowledge any person to swap reactions.

However the keys had one other impact that did not change into clear till days later.

Often, on the finish of festivals or conferences, I haven’t got any qualms about tossing the lanyard with my credentials within the trash. They’re clunky and annoying, and I am at all times glad to be rid of them. However this yr, I can not convey myself to eliminate mine but. Each time I decide up my credentials, the important thing on it clicks round. I have a look at it, I aimlessly learn the engraved markings — and I put it again down the place it was, procrastinating the choice about what to do with it till subsequent time.

It has change into greater than an object — it is a reminder of the metaphorical journey I took. And meaning it is one other, small manner The Key helped me perceive a fraction of what a refugee should really feel. 


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