VR Filmmaker Carol Dalrymple Discusses Our Roots to the Natural World

For the first time in recently history, citizens of the world have had to experience true quarantine. While people turn to instagram to discuss their #quarantine, 1.5 million people sit in state and Federal prisons and jails throughout the United States, without the right to social distance. Our country is having a huge overdue conversation about the racial implications behind prison sentences and our "justice" system. It's clear we have a lot to do.


At Sundance this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Carol Dalrymple, an Emmy-award winning filmmaker who uses virtual and augmented reality to explore new dimensions of immersive and interactive storytelling. She introduced us to an exciting new VR project that is working to better the lives of those who are imprisoned.


the blue room

Carol's VR/360 Project

CD: The Blue Room is a film that uses the medium of virtual reality to explore how access to nature effects our psyche. From hospitals, to institutional solitary confinement to the architecture in our homes and offices, the film allows the audience to explore for themselves the impact that nature deprivation has on human behavior. The film explores how access to nature, even if remote, can potentially change communities and lives.

The Blue Room is based on an actual room, a physical space created in maximum security prisons for prisoners in solitary confinement, and the ingenious idea of Nalini Nadkarnia.

KOP: Who is Nalini Nadkarni? Can you tell us more about the origin of this project?

CD: Nalini Nadkarni is an international ecologist who is renowned for her work in the study of tree canopies. Based on her observations and also her own deep connection to trees and the natural world, Nalini began a collaboration with forward thinking prisons and developed what came to be called The Nature Imagery project.

Nalini talking to the prison staff

For inmates in solitary confinement, nature images are projected on the wall of a cell. The projector lamp makes the cell glow with a blue light, hence the name The Blue Room. Nalini is first and foremost a scientist, and so she meticulously studied the effects of the altered cell. If a prisoner is having a crisis, they can request to be go to The Blue Room. It’s such a simple thing that can be done without a lot of money and without endangering anyone. One thing that Nalini said that stuck with me— these prisoners have been devoid of sense and nature, for many years. It was a wake-up call. We need to look at what we’re doing here.

A cell at the Snake River Correctional Institution
Do we really want prisoners to be so void of humanity? We are talking about a life. Most people aren’t in prison for life. They’re part of society, part of our families.

Financially, it has the potential to even save prisons money, lowering medical costs from altercations and self harm. There’s another state prison, that has created a blue room for their guards. They created their own green space with projected nature imagery where they could destress.


KOP: Where does this project stand amidst a global pandemic?


CD: Despite COVID, the project still green-lit at NPR. We’ve pushed it a year, but like life, you just have to roll with things. In the interim, I’ve had some really fortuitous conversations with people about how space affects us. There’s this whole movement to make architectural spaces organic. We have a responsibility as a general populous to re-examine these things.


KOP: Can you tell us about other VR films you've made? How is VR as a medium used to enhance storytelling?

CD: One VR piece that explains the power of the medium to tell a story is “Hi, My Name is Savannah” which I directed last summer. The film premiered at an LGBTQ film festival as the keystone experience of an immersive art installation called “Sanctuary”. It is a true story about a young girl who, at 12-years-old, was coming out as gay to her church congregation and had her microphone was cut off mid-way through, which was very painful for her. We were able to reimagine the scene in virtual reality and let her finish expressing herself.

A smiling Savannah on the day of the shoot

CD: What she had to say was important and it helped people heal. The medium of VR gives intimacy and gentleness to the telling of her story. The use of 360 space allows the congregation to literally surround her and support her to finish speaking her truth. And you, the viewer, become an intimate part of that moment.

KOP: What’s next for you, Carol?

CD: I’m working on a really exciting augmented reality documentary called Kvöldvaka (Night Wakings), which explores how ancient folklore can inform us in a time of catastrophe and climate change. Night Wakings draws inspiration from Icelandic folklore which tells stories of a parallel world to humans, and how objects of the physical world, such as rocks, have hidden people living inside – the Huldufólk. There is life even in seemingly inanimate objects, and humans have an ancient relationship with them.

Nature is a part of how life has been. It’s part of our history, it’s part of our DNA.
The Kvöldvaka title card

CD: Another piece I am thrilled to be developing is Maestrapeace 21, which brings to life the world famous “Maestrapeace” mural in San Francisco’s Mission District through the lens of augmented reality. In collaboration with the original muralists, Maestrapeace 21 weaves the voices of 21st century artists in tech into the existing physical mural found on The Womens' Building and will literally transform the public interaction with the mural to a new dimension. The augmented mural will give voice to new and cutting edge 21st century voices inspired by the history and artistry of the mural itself, and the deeper issues of social justice and the womens' experience today. It will be the first mixed reality installation of this scale.


Carol and another lead augmented reality artist, Luska, in front of the original mural

I’m so inspired by Carol and The Blue Room and her upcoming work. As we look forward at an uncertain future, the notion of using VR for good gives me hope. I look forward to see Carol’s work continue to inspire social change and inspire the dire protection of our planet.

// check out Carol's work at caroldalrymple.com // edgeofdiscovery.org

Filmmaker Carol Dalrymple doing what she does best

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