A photo of Portland drag queen Darcelle from the new 360-degree virtual reality film "Through Darcelle's Eyes." (360 Labs)
With an assist from local filmmakers, Darcelle is poised to become the drag queen of all media. The 87-year-old owner and star of Portland's Darcelle XV Showplace already holds a Guinness World Record as the world's oldest drag queen performer and was the subject of an Emmy Award-winning 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting documentary.
Now, co-directors Rachel Bracker and Brad Gill of Portland's 360 Labs have transformed Darcelle's life story into a virtual reality experience - so immersive you feel like you're traveling in her high heels.
Portland drag queen Darcelle with 360 Labs filmmakers Brad Gill and Rachel Bracker, the directors of "Through Darcelle's Eyes." (Darcelle XV Showplace)
Presented through Pride Northwest, "Through Darcelle's Eyes" screens Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13 and 14, at the Old Town showplace. Attendees will use Oculus Go virtual reality headsets provided by 360 Labs for a 20-minute journey into the nightclub's history; the chandelier-adorned home of Darcelle's alter ego, Walter Cole; and Darcelle's sparkling brand of community outreach.
The filmmakers spoke recently about "Through Darcelle's Eyes." Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: 360 Labs has produced documentaries on the Grand Canyon, the Eagle Creek fire and other VR mini-epics. Why did you want to create a biographical documentary and why Darcelle?
Gill: For this particular film, I felt like I wanted to reach the younger generation. They're so much more accepting now, but I feel like they've also lost the meaning behind where we've gotten and the battles that have been fought. 2019 is actually the 50th anniversary of (the) Stonewall (gay rights demonstrations in New York) and it's Pride Northwest's 25th year as an organization, so I felt like this was a timely piece, and we actually have this treasure, Darcelle, who's been around for all of those 50 years, here in Portland. Why not have her tell the story of our history?
Q: Did Darcelle take to the VR idea and the technology quickly or did it take some convincing?
Bracker: The first thing we showed Darcelle on the VR headset was the trailer for "As It Is" (360 Labs' Grand Canyon documentary) and she really liked it. She was really interested in the technology from the very beginning. I think that's what's so awesome about Darcelle. She's 87, but she has the innovative spirit and energy of somebody decades younger.
Walter Cole, better known as Darcelle, Portland's most famous drag queen, visits virtual reality with the help of the 360 Labs filmmaking team, which is behind "Through Darcelle's Eyes." (360 Labs)
Q: In 2016, OPB broadcast their documentary about Darcelle, which won a regional Emmy. What does "Through Darcelle's Eyes" offer that's different or new?
Bracker: I love that OPB documentary, and there are a lot of great stories about Darcelle that are out there. We hope this will be something to add to the wealth of information about Darcelle's contribution to the community. Hopefully, too, this one you're very immersed in, and can gain a different level of insight than you might with traditional media.
Q. "Through Darcelle's Eyes" is an expansive documentary - you cover several events and talk to fellow drag performers like Kevin Cook/Poison Waters. Were there people, places or events that you wanted to film but couldn't?
Gill: There were a couple of times recently that I would loved to have followed -- the London trip. (Darcelle recently performed in London for a charity event.) There was another filmmaker working on a documentary and Darcelle happened to be there around the same time that this filmmaker was available to film the oldest drag queen in the U.K. and Darcelle -- the oldest drag queen in the world. I wish I had been able to be there for that. Also, Neil Patrick Harris re-vamped Wigstock (a U.S. drag festival) this year and flew Darcelle there and she got to meet him.
Q: If someone can't make the screening, how can they access the VR documentary afterward?
Bracker: Ultimately, the goal is to release "Through Darcelle's Eyes" on all the various VR platforms. So say you have the Oculus headset, which is what we're using for our screenings: there's a free app called Facebook 360, and you can jump into your Facebook Newsfeed and you can experience all manner of 360 content easily that way. All the VR headsets have a way of jumping into platforms like Facebook or YouTube. We're very excited about how we can reach audiences with that particular device but the truth is if you have any access to VR, you're going to be able to see this film on some app.
"Through Darcelle's Eyes -- A 360 VR Documentary Screening"
Where: Darcelle XV Showplace, 208 N.W. Third Ave.
When: Every 30 minutes, 1-6 p.m. (final sign-up time 5:30), Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 13-14
Tickets: $6, 360labs.net/DarcelleXV