Fri 04 Oct 2019

Interview with Tamara Shogaolu – ANOTHER DREAM

According to Tamara Shogaolu, VR has the power to make the political personal and the personal universal. She uses this power to great effect in ANOTHER DREAM, the second part of her animated documentary transmedia series QUEER IN A TIME OF FORCED MIGRATION.

What was the origin of ANOTHER DREAM?

“It is a hybrid of an animated documentary and a VR game, and is based on oral histories that I started to record while living in Egypt during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. What started as research for my job as a social economist turned into something else. ANOTHER DREAM is the second part of a series (Queer in A Time of Forced Migration), and tells the story of a lesbian couple from Egypt that flees the country after the post-revolutionary backlash against the LGBT community and ends up in the Netherlands. The first part was a film about an Egyptian gay activist, the third and final part – which I hope to complete next year – is THEY CALL ME ASYLUM SEEKER. It will be an augmented reality experience that is mainly audio driven. All the characters that I present in this project are people I interviewed back then and with whom I have stayed in contact. ANOTHER DREAM deals mainly with the question of what you do after you’ve made the decision to leave.”

If ANOTHER DREAM is partly a game, do I have to worry about combo’s, quick reflexes and whether I’m good enough to get a place on the leader board?

“No, it’s nothing like that. At first it had a lot of gaming elements, but during the making process, I realised that the game distracted from the story. That’s why I toned it down. The gaming elements now are things like having to write Arabic letters in order to unlock the next chapter. You don’t have to be a pro, we guide you through the process. By design it’s a game where everybody wins (laughs), and we make sure you get to the end of the story. The reason why it has game elements is because of the two women. They are avid gamers, and they were really excited when I told them that I was going to tell their story in a game-like way. VR is ideal for my purpose. I wanted to explore the different kinds of fear that they felt. For instance, they told me that they were really scared the first time they were in a Dutch supermarket, and they realised they were the only ones with black hair. In VR you can recreate that feeling and make the viewer stand out and feel different by surrounding them with people who are staring at them. ANOTHER DREAM has a story that really fits VR. Not every story has to be told in VR. It’s easy to get distracted by the technology and let it overpower the story. But the story is what I’m most interested in.”

Thanks to ANOTHER DREAM everybody – even total strangers – can experience their memories. Have they tried the VR themselves, and did they dive into their own story and recollections?

“They haven’t – yet. They have heard the audio and they know what the images look like, but they are still scared of being recognised. To go and visit the installation at the festival is a step too far. I plan to take it to their house at one point, so they can experience it first-hand. They are a bit shy because of all the attention the project is getting. I remember that the guy who is the character from my first project was also nervous to see the film for the first time. We went to watch it together, and after the screening he was in tears. To see your most vulnerable experience on screen or in an exhibition can be empowering as well, and reaffirm that you are a strong person.”

ANOTHER DREAM is nominated at NFF as best interactive project. Does that have a big effect?

“Of course! It’s great for the work to get so much love and acceptance on so many levels. I hope ANOTHER DREAM helps in dealing with the polarising discussions surrounding us; that it changes somebody’s perspective or mind in a positive way. The more people share their recognition of the refugee crisis, the more it will lead to conversation. Also worth mentioning is that when I came to the Netherlands, I was drawn here because of the type of interactive work that was being made and the great support by the government for that. So in a way, recognition for this project is also recognition for Dutch support on a global level.”