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Virtually There conference gathered together leading makers, technologists, academics, curators, and critics for two days of intensive demonstrations and discussions regarding the possibilities and implications of using VR for documentary. In these still early days, when competing consumer-grade VR systems together with massive capital investment and still-evolving user scenarios all generate a lot of noise, VR is in a state of interpretive flexibility. The conference sought to make use of that malleability, discussing strategies of working with various stakeholders in order to make the most of VR’s creative, critical, and civic potentials. Speakers addressed the challenges of the new medium’s aesthetics, ethics, and issues of access, while interrogating the medium’s added value to the documentary tradition. Some speakers drew upon historical precedent for their insights, while others drew on their experiments as creators, and still others on various forms of field and laboratory work. Together, they mapped the contours of VR as a desire, as a technological ensemble, and as a set of possibilities for the documentary form.

The conference case study summarizes the main threads of the discussion, linking where appropriate to the event’s online recording and to external reports.

Virtually There Conference was presented by the MIT Documentary Lab, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Phi Center.

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