Cleveland, Ohio -- Mallory Martin, a programmer at the Cleveland International Film Festival, was explaining the virtual reality concept at the Perspectives salon on Thursday, the day after the festival opened. She quoted Chris Milk, CEO of the technology company Within, describing the virtual reality platform as "the ultimate empathy machine."
That's a great description of the Perspectives experience that can be had in the salon on the second floor of Tower City Center throughout the duration of the festival. All manner of virtual reality can be engaged, from films to games to interactive media programs on laptops.
"Last year, the exhibit only ran four days," said Martin. "It was our pilot program. This year, we have more than a dozen films; it runs the whole fest; and it's free and open to the public. You don't need to buy tickets."
One of the star projects available to the public is a virtual reality film called "Pearl." It was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of best animated short film.
The six-minute "Pearl" tells the story of a father and daughter's cross-country trek in their hatchback junker. The virtual reality version of the film (it can also be watched on a television monitor in 2-D) allows the viewer to sit in the passenger seat of the car and experience the journey with the dad and his daughter. Urban landscapes and vast expanses of highways roll in and out of view, and they encounter other people in their travels.
"One topic of discussion when it comes to virtual reality is how to use the technology for good rather than evil," said Martin. "Or at least for something more meaningful than enhanced video games."
One example of a virtual reality film being used to explore a social issue is "Out of Exile: Daniel's Story." In the film, the actual audio recording of a young man being confronted by his family about his sexual orientation is illustrated in the three-dimensional technology, allowing the viewer to stand in the room as the intervention by the family not only takes place but also gets violent.
Following the confrontation, four LGBTQ teens appear in a VR setting, hovering in outer space to talk about their lives after coming out and overcoming the hardship of being disowned by their families.
"This is a perfect example of using the technology to explore, inform and educate people about a social issue," said Martin.
Reynaldo Zabala of Clevr, a nonprofit technology company that specializes in "augmented reality," was in the Perspectives salon demonstrating his "HoloLens" software.
"Augmented reality" is similar to hologram technology. "You wear a headset that shows you images, but at the same time it allows you to see everything that's around you in the space you're in," he said.
The experience is similar to hallucinating a drawing board or television screen in the air that only you can see.
"A practical application might be something like showing an aeronautical engineer a part of a jet engine that has some problem and needs work," said Zabala. Instead of having the engineer fly out to California, say, to study the engine, he could look at it using augmented reality."
The possibilities, it seems, are endless.
The Perspectives salon will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Saturday, April 8, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, April 9, at Tower City Level M2. It is free and open to the public, although attendees must be at least 13 years of age.