As the intersection of virtual technology and traditional storytelling continues to strengthen, filmmakers have transformed their craft to not only explore, but push the boundaries of conventional narrative. While one medium illuminates the tale, the other places the viewer at the epicenter of the plot, allowing them to witness the story first-hand.
The Angry River, directed by Armen Perian and graded by The Mill’s Derek Hansen, does more than that: a web camera mounted on one's computer calibrates and tracks the viewer’s eye movement, granting them the power to drive the storyline.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Armen to learn more about the inspiration behind the cutting-edge film.
Harnessing gaze-detection algorithms, we crafted five different perspectives on the same story. The film ranges from eight minutes to twenty, depending on which character the audience follows. This element also plays with the concept of truth, especially in relation to the past. Each character track comes to a satisfying conclusion, yet the viewer, armed with the knowledge that there are many truths, is forced to make a decision on whether to trust that character.
We find that fascinating.
The end product is a remarkably unremarkable experience that plays like a traditional film— only it isn’t. Whether it’s a missing “smoking gun” shot or rearranging entire scenes, the structure of the film, along with the color, sound and score, shift to the perspective of one character. By allowing the viewer’s own prejudices to influence the narrative, we create an echo chamber with their biases and the story, all without the click of a button or skip of a frame.
So often in film we’re limited in perspective and time. As viewers, we bring our own subjectivity to the screen; how often are we allowed the opportunity to let that subjectivity augment our experience? The answer is “rarely,” which is why we wanted to implement new technology and create an entirely unique way of viewing the same story. This is not a choose-your-own adventure, but instead an exercise in turning the viewer into the “unreliable narrator.”
The biggest challenge was two-fold.
One was ensuring that the technology aspect is an essential part of the film, not a tacked-on gimmick. I constantly went back to two questions that quickly became my pillars throughout writing, pre-production, production and all the way through post: is it possible for this story to be told any other way? Is this just an excuse for us to showcase the additional technology? The answer to both had to be a firm “no.”
The second part was being held to those pillars and making sure we didn’t “break” the story. Anytime the narrative is fragmented, the story risks running into dead ends. With eighteen different scenarios that funnel viewers into five potential tracks, you can imagine how many times our minds melted trying to rationalize a particular path!
After living with the film in my head for two years, we had twenty days to make it all happen. With the help of my producer, Aly Parker, we recruited a cast and crew who all rallied behind the experimental concept and not only made the film possible, but elevated it to what it is today. The camaraderie of film production is often overstated, but to have a cast and crew step into the unknown to conduct this grand experiment with me— there’s no feeling like that elsewhere.
The interactive film acts as a sort of epilogue to a much bigger story, one that tackles the subject of human trafficking head-on, exploring all the players involved, from the traffickers to the trafficked, the law enforcement, and even the buyers. We feel there is a lack of awareness we can hopefully mitigate with a narrative that has the time and space to accurately depict how modern-day slavery operates in our own cities’ backyards.
The thought of fragmenting this world across mediums, much like how we experience the world around us today, is supremely exciting.
To experience the film, visit www.theangryriver.com
All photos courtesy of Armen Perian.