Lockdown interview with Camille Lopato, founder of Diversion cinema

Camille Lopato, Diversion Cinema founder in front of a screenshot of Songbird © The Guardian / Late Love productions | distribution Diversion Cinema
5 May 2020

During the lockdown, NewImages Festival is putting its friends and partners front and centre. Follow and support creators of new images in their private and professional experiences in this pivotal period…

Diversion cinema team

‘Ever since the term “VR” was coined, we haven’t had a moment’s rest! We’re constantly reinventing ourselves, so we’re especially well equipped to bounce back after this!’

Could you tell us a little about Diversion cinema and what you do?

My brother Marc and I launched Diversion cinema [1] four years ago. We’re service providers for festivals and companies that want to create virtual reality spaces and show VR works.

Il yWe had the great pleasure of opening a distribution department two years ago. We promote our immersive products internationally at festivals and sell them at physical locations, at LBE venues and on online platforms.

We’ve also started thinking about different ways of presenting immersive works, in the broad sense of the term. Last year, at NewImages Festival, we met artists who show participatory virtual experiences using unexpected tools–you don’t necessarily need a VR headset and all the technology that goes with it to transport visitors into another world. We found that really interesting. 

The VR saturdays organised in partnership with Diversion cinema at Forum des images | image : grafic design ABM Studio – Visual Collection Christophel except mask © Antoine Doyen and Virtual Virtual Reality © TenderClaws

What has lockdown changed for you in concrete terms?

Ayahuasca, the shamanic exhibition [2] we’d created around Jan Kounen’s Ayahuasca Kosmik Journey (a joint Atlas V/a_Bahn/Small production), launched at the IDFA DocLab [3] in November. It’s supposed to travel to Belgium and Taiwan this year, but in view of the current situation, those events are on hold.

Ayahuasca Kosmik Journey teaser © Atlas V, a_Bahn / Small | distribution Diversion cinema

We’re basically an event-free events-based company! So we all have plenty of time on our hands. We’ve had some stuff on the back burner for a while that we’d never really taken the time to explore, so this is an opportunity to look into them and get them going, and it’s super motivating.

Because we enjoy spending time together, we’re finding that our online meetings are lasting longer! We talk about our lives in lockdown, and they turn into sociable occasions, a moment where we share our experiences and discover things about each other.

Which of the current tools and practices have you found most convincing and inspirational?

We’ve wandered around the VR platforms (the so-called ‘VR social network’) to see what they’re up to and how we could use them, both artistically and from a strictly business perspective. We’ve had some very productive meetings in VRChat [4], Mozilla Hub [5], and Rec Room [6]. They’re playful environments so it’s not easy to stay focused, but when you do, you get some really good exchanges.

Diversion cinema team get-together on social VR platform VRChat

At the moment, festivals are offering some, or all, of their events online, so participants can make the most of what a festival is all about: meeting people, making connections, making things happen. For example, I was supposed to attend the CPH:DOX [7] festival in Copenhagen in mid-March; the physical festival was cancelled but a virtual event was held instead, and it was really enriching. I think that’s amazing: when that kind of virtual meeting is well organised, it energizes the teams and keeps them motivated.

Although we work in the virtual world on a daily basis, it’s great to see how efficient these tools are for organising that kind of get-together. They’re both fun and serious, and conducive to real exchanges. I was really impressed by how well the sound is handled, how the different elements are distributed spatially. There are some really interesting, versatile and fun tools on those platforms that you can use to personalize a space and an interaction, and that might lead to some great immersive and participatory works!

Has lockdown given you any new ideas for future work?

It’s interesting to look at things through the prism of our activity at Diversion cinema, but I think this crisis is affecting us all on the deepest human level. In the coming months, these profound changes are going to redefine the way we work and what we can present to the public. We’re having to think far more deeply (sorry, this is going to sound a bit cheesy) about the meaning of our lives and what we do. Not just ‘Will I wear/stop wearing a headset?’ but, more generally, ‘What do I want to show my viewers?’

Do you think the current situation will take VR further away from real locations?

We’ve all realised how much we miss other people – crowds, even! We just want to get together, to enjoy the feeling of being together, without necessarily having anything to say. It’s so good to see each other, experience things together and share our enthusiasm face-to-face! We’ll always need to get together; I don’t see that changing, for VR or any other audio-visual content.

On the other hand, hygiene will be much more of an issue, and rightly so. At Diversion cinema, we’ve always made sure that every headset user is provided with clean equipment. We’ll need to stress that, and maybe demonstrate the cleaning process to our audiences, to reassure them.

What’s giving you energy and enjoyment in your work at the moment?

As I was saying, Diversion cinema has no upcoming events, so we have every reason to be utterly depressed. Yet we’re working like crazy! Our members are coming up with new ideas and making headway in their living rooms, with their laptops on their knees. They bring new projects to the table and we get things under way. We’re really lucky to have such keen and motivated people in our team!

When we all bid farewell to our office on the last evening and went home with our laptops, headsets and personal knick-knacks, we set ourselves a challenge: okay, we’re going into lockdown, and we don’t know what to expect, but when we come back – whether it’s in two weeks, in a month or in four months – we’ll be different and we’ll have come up with new things.

Time is the most precious commodity. How often in our lives have we found ourselves with so much time? Never! We have to make the very best of it. It’s great to see the team really getting to grips with all this time and putting it to good use!

What do you need, work-wise, to get through this period as effectively as possible?

I could do with a little serenity about the financial aspects. We’ll have to see what happens when the lockdown is lifted: if all the events are cancelled before the next NewImages Festival in late September, it will make things tricky for us.

I tell myself we’ll manage to turn things around, somehow. We’re not the only ones in this situation and I don’t think the authorities will let all the small- and medium-sized businesses in France go broke. I’m sure they’ll find a way to keep us going until our activities resume, in the way they used to do, or in new ways.

Do you have a message for the XR community?

We’re lucky in that we work with constantly evolving technology in the ever-changing VR industry. Ever since the term “VR” was coined, we haven’t had a moment’s rest! We’re constantly reinventing ourselves, so we’re especially well equipped to bounce back after this! From artistic issues to festival sites, we’re always being called upon to think, create, reinvent and challenge ourselves at every level. In this situation, we’re better off than most.

[1] Diversion cinema website is available online here
[2] Ayahuasca, the shamanic exhibition website is available online here
[3] the DocLab section of IDFA festival is available online here
[4] VRChat platform is available online here
[5] Mozilla Hubs platform is available online here
[6] Rec Room platform is available online here
[7] CPH:DOX festival is available online here

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