Virtual reality film a first for Indigenous playwright

Wednesday, June 7th, 2023 2:28pm


Image Caption

Yvette Nolan
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

An award-winning Indigenous playwright said she was somewhat hesitant to explore unchartered territory.

But Yvette Nolan, a member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec, is now glad she agreed to write Reconciling, a virtual reality (VR) film production that will have its world premiere in Vancouver later this month.

Nolan, who is 61, admits she was unfamiliar with VR films, which require a special headset to be viewed.

“I barely understand the technology,” Nolan said of virtual productions, which enable viewers with a headset to feel as they are part of the film. Reconciling is a film in which viewers see an Indigenous person in a challenging relationship, trying to make things better via couple’s therapy.

While a therapist also has dialogue in the film, Nolan said the main character is essentially ‘talking’ to each viewer. The way the VR film works it makes it appear as if each audience member, placed in the centre of the couple’s reconciliation attempt, is the other partner in the relationship.

“It is so outer worldly to be inside one of those headsets,” Nolan said of the 360-degree experience headset.

Reconciling will have a total of 11 screenings from June 21 to June 24 at The Fishbowl, a theatre on Vancouver’s Granville Island.

The film is presented by theatre company Boca del Lupo as part of its LivePerformance360 series, staged throughout the month of June.

All of the Reconciling screenings at The Fishbowl will be shown in conjunction with another VR production titled Poschy at the Airport Hotel.

Sherry J. Yoon, the artistic director of Boca del Lupo, directed Reconciling.

Nolan said Yoon had sent her a pair of VR films to watch, including Poschy at the Airport Hotel, to give her a sense of what virtual reality productions are about.

“They were both illuminating,” Nolan said. “But I wanted to go a little bit further.”

Nolan was hoping there would be a way for Reconciling viewers to have more of an interactive role.

“I wanted there to be some way to almost change your own story,” she said. “We haven’t figure that out yet.”

Nolan said she’s unsure at this point whether she will write another VR film.

“I guess it will depend on how this one is when I see it,” she said.

Nolan, who lives in Saskatoon, will be unavailable to attend any of the Vancouver screenings. That’s because for the next several weeks she is in the Ontario city of Stratford. Nolan is directing Women of the Fur Trade, a play presented at the Stratford Festival’s Studio Theatre from July 8 to July 30.

Though there are no other confirmed screenings for Reconciling yet, Nolan said the plan is to have the film, which was shot in downtown Vancouver, shown in numerous other locations.

“They have this repertoire of digital material that can be moved around the world,” she said.

Nolan is hoping to see the film at some point during her travels.

Nolan has been a significant contributor to Indigenous theatre over the years. Some of her best-known plays are The Unplugging, The Birds and Annie Mae’s Movement.

She received the Gascon Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Theatre School in 2021.

Nolan’s other accolades include winning the Jessie Richardson Award for outstanding original script for The Unplugging in 2013 and the Dora Mavor Moore award for Shanawdithit in 2020.

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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.