Redefining masculinity with VR

Documentary immerses viewers in the lives of transgender men

Irem Harnak and Elli Raynai, interaction and design development students at George Brown College (GBC), co-directed a virtual reality (VR) documentary on masculinity, which takes viewers into the world of five transgender men.

The mixed media installation premiered at the Hot Docs International Documentary Festival in Toronto back in Apr. 2018. 

It went on to be included in La Biennale Veneza, a prestigious film festival in Venice, in September. 

‘Made This Way: Redefining Masculinity’ started as a photo project that was brought to life through Harnak’s and Raynai’s collaboration as co-directors. 

Harnak, as a visual artist, has a passion for photographing her subjects in a meaningful way, which led to the documentary. 

“I have an intimate way of shooting people. We are really close. We always talk, I make them laugh, so they get really comfortable,” expressed Harnak.

Raynai started attracting attention in the media for his production of ‘I Am You’, which is possibly the first Canadian narrative VR film.

They were both curious to explore the perspectives of their subjects and thought VR was the best way to portray them.

The co-directors agreed that the stories of these transgender men were not being fully realized in picture form due to the conversations they were having beforehand. 

Harnak finds that she can relate to these subjects because of her constant questioning of what it means to be a man. 

Growing up in a patriarchal environment she was always wondering why men have certain privileges from birth that women have to work hard for. 

“Immersing someone else like I was immersed in their world,” was how the idea sprung into the directors’ heads, explained Harnak.

This concept was achieved since the subjects opened up and talked about their personal stories as if the viewer were a close friend. 

They hope this allows people to feel a close connection to them and “generate that empathetic feeling,” Raynai said.

During the experience, viewers can explore different environments that the subjects felt most reflected their experience. 

You are within their space, where you can walk around them, beside them and

“they have multiple facades of their personality, so we try to put that in the experience,” said Harnak.

Viewers are presented with five interactions with each subject, sometimes one version talking over the other, or two that synchronize together to bring attention to certain aspects of their story.

“What it becomes is a dance of wordplay where the viewer feels like they’re really understanding the point of view of what we’re talking about,” said Raynai.  

In December 2018, they planned on filming two more subjects for an updated project. 

The intent is to go one step further by capturing the stories of people who are queer or gay transgender men.

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Redefining masculinity with VR