World War 1 film from Academy Award winning team, rejected by American museums for being too intense and honest, is now available in Virtual Reality via ConVRter, producers report
Hollywood, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 11/20/2015 -- While documentary films are commonly labeled as untruthful, few are ever condemned as being too honest, especially by museum directors. Yet that very objection was repeatedly raised against the new World War 1 documentary "Soldiers' Stories."
"To say we are disappointed in the response from American museums is an understatement," said Academy Award winning producer Nick Reed, whose film Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life won an Oscar in 2014, "Whatever business museum curators are in, it is clearly not educating the public about topics it needs to understand."
Soldiers' Stories was presented to the museum film market just in time for the 100th Anniversary of WW1 in 2014. "Countless WW2 films came out but, as far as I am aware, ours was the only one about WW1. It's as if nobody wanted to acknowledge this crucial piece of our collective history," said Director Jonathan Kitzen.
Because the last WW1 veteran died in 2011, the filmmakers used unscripted interviews with real veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq to narrate the film. That is where the problems started.
"We had the vets talk about what it is to be a soldier. The stories they told were incredibly moving," explained Kitzen, "We used their contributions to depict the reality of being a soldier 100 years earlier, because the experience hasn't changed, only the politics has. Many museum directors complained that the 'actors' did not sound realistic enough, and that they sounded too young."
"When it was later revealed to them that there were no actors, just actual veterans describing real, personal experiences of battle, the museum directors were unwilling to admit their error or their own biases," Kitzen hypothesizes, "I think we all grew up seeing so many WW2 documentaries that we have become used to hearing either a very old veteran speaking or an actor playing an over-the-top, scripted part."
The producers next showed Soldiers' Stories to Mark Katz at National Geographic, whose review was: "While emotional, informative and important, we feel the film is too realistic and even perhaps too brutally honest for the museum cinema market." NatGeo passed.
The team went on to enlist the help of veterans and veteran groups, all of them supportive. The American Legion offered to promote the film to millions of their members, instructing them where they could see it.
The producers offered to pair the film with local Veteran volunteers who would do a Q&A after showings in order to talk about the reality of being a soldier, but the museums remained unmoved. "The Smithsonian stopped returning our calls, even when we offered to give them a free test screening," Kitzen recalled.
In the end the film was critically acclaimed by the press and by audiences. It also received great scores at film festivals and was hand-picked by Michael Moore for his Traverse City Film Festival, where audiences awarded it an impressive rating of 4.25 out of 5 possible stars.
Leases were signed, but they were for theaters outside North America. The message was clear: Museums in North America wanted penguins more than Veterans, even on November 11th, a day that was supposed to honor their memory.
Realizing the film needed to reach American audiences, the filmmakers settled on the novel idea of converting it into a Virtual Reality production. Because the film used original 3D WW1 images taken on large format 15/70mm stock, the VR film had a head start.
"We were lucky that our film had a very large image that was originally 3D, so we were able to translate that into multiple formats, including Virtual Reality with head movement," explained Producer Nick Reed.
Soldiers' Stories is now available as a passive VR non-app experience for Google Cardboard on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/soldiersstories), and as a full-blown VR App on Google Play and iTunes (see http://www.ConVRter.net for links).
"The biggest thing I learned was about the amount of self-censorship in America today," Kitzen explained, "Being silent is not patriotic; passivity can mean proliferating propaganda. It is, at its heart, the denial of what these courageous men and women went through. What is even more disheartening is that our museums perpetuate this culture of denial as well."
ConVRter is a system of proprietary visual technologies that converts a traditional program into a virtual reality experience where the viewer can look around a frame, experience full head tracking, and see content in a new and novel way.