"Playing with Unfamiliar Territories" Boryana Ivanova - Artist, Innovator and Nomad on the Significance of Virtual Reality in StorytellingInterview |Author: Petko Kolarov | February 24, 2019, Sunday // 11:46| views
Illustration by Tochka Ilieva
Boryana Ivanova is a director and producer who creates fascinating stories for the general public. Boryana works with media companies and communities around the world, united around an idea - to open up new horizons for creativity. By combining different media, she seeks to create innovative stories and, at the same time, to address critical issues of social significance.
Boryana Ivanova was born and grew up in Sofia, studied International Relations at the University of National and World Economy, then moved to the Netherlands, where she graduated from Bachelor and then Master's Degree in Politics and Human Development at the University of Maastricht. Boryana has lived in the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Germany and the United States. Now lives and travels between Berlin and California.
Recently Boryana Ivanova is actively involved in the creation and realization of the animation series for VR - Futureville, which provokes viewers to think in a different way about new technologies. The project was created in collaboration with the award-winning digital studio UFA.
Novinite: There is a very popular phrase by Marshall McLuhan who states that ‘The medium is the message’. Is this the case with Futureville or there are some other key aspects that carry significant meaning and should not be overlooked by the audience?
Boryana: The medium and narrative approach will carry equal significance. With Futureville, we move on from the (s)hero’s journey and enter a new era of storytelling - the collective journey, where the narrative is driven by empowered and diverse people. The story characters are strengthened by one another, instead of being in perpetual conflict with an enemy. Thanks to VR, we will give viewers the opportunity to truly look in all directions and interact with the narrative. Viewers become participants in the story. They will be able to determine what sort of outcome they want for the story, as there will be alternate endings to each episode. Thanks to the immersive storytelling approach, people will go on a journey and explore how does it feel to live in a world where science fiction has become reality.
Our objective is to encourage citizens to take a proactive role towards issues which will impact our lives significantly. We want to raise philosophical and moral questions in a playful and neutral setting, where people feel free to toy with different ideas. The series is created for anybody who wonders what new technologies will bring to our future.
With Futureville, we are entering a new era of storytelling - the collective journey. "Thanks to the storyline open to viewers, we give them the opportunity to interact with the story and become real participants in the story," says Boryana Ivanova. "They have an opportunity to determine how to develop the story, as there is an alternative end to each episode," Boryana added.
Before her work on Futureville, German production company UFA invited Boryana to produce the animated documentary series Masters of Survival. In the beautiful, hand-drawn animation, the story follows the dramatic, tragic, encouraging, and at times even comical, fate of 10 refugees. Every short film presents the fate of a man who is forced to abandon his old life and start a new beginning. The films are shown at a number of international film festivals in Europe and the United States and feature screenings at the prestigious World Cultures House in Berlin, Germany.
Novinite: How would you perceive your work in the future in the context of the fast development of modern technology?
Boryana: I’m trying to stay on top of things with technology, even though that’s a daunting task. However, I also feel that storytelling shouldn’t get suffocated under the weight of constant technological improvements. Just because a new tool is available it doesn’t mean that we need to automatically adopt it without asking ourselves – does it really add value?
"Virtual Reality is still a relatively new technology and provides opportunities for experimentation in the field of cinema. I believe the best artistic works are the result of playing with unfamiliar territories. This unlocks the research spirit that is set in all of us, "convinced Boriana Ivanova.
Novinite: Berlin is one of those cities where artists can feel comfortable and it is also a place you call a home. As a globetrotter how important is the change of scene for you and how does that fit in with your work schedule?
Boryana: Movement is absolutely essential to my ability to work and be inspired. As much as Berlin is one of the best places to get the creative juices flowing, I often need to shift perspective in order to finish a project. When producing content for global audiences, this is not a whim but an imperative. I like to have my finger on the pulse of current events and popular attitudes. Perceptions about where we are headed and the role of technology are very different on the two sides of the Atlantic. While in Berlin, and Europe as a whole, techno-scepticism is prevailing, people in the USA are riding the techno-train full steam ahead. Being able to see these nuances informs my work immensely and enables me to examine angles that would have otherwise be lost on me. Also, I’m surprisingly productive on airplanes and while taking an Uber ride so, luckily, travelling does not slow down my workflow in any way.
Recently, Boryana Ivanova has dedicated itself to another passion - the power of women united in the "Future of Filmmaking" community, who are changing the media industry every day. It is well known that worldwide film production suffers from deeply rooted prejudices based on gender, race and economic status. Now a new story telling tool is gaining momentum and this is the virtual reality. Artists such as Boryana Ivanova have the unique opportunity to shape this new tool from the beginning. This is how the first virtual conference was born, bringing together more than 300 artists, content authors, producers, funding institutions and technologists from around the world. Boryana takes on the role of Creative Producer for the Future of Cinema and selects 30 participants who share knowledge and skills with a global audience. She participates in conferences and organizes seminars on using new media and telling stories about VR.
Novinite: Can you tell us a bit more about the Future of Filmmaking community and how do you actively engage in tackling problems in the industry and what are some of the challenges that you are facing?
Boryana: The traditional filmmaking industry is ripe for reconstruction. The majority of viewers are women but they barely make a mark on studio productions. Good news is that cinema and TV are no longer the places we turn to when yearning for fresh content. Now we have a lot more ways to tell and receive stories. But we have to watch out that the century-old big studio models don’t just slip into the next generation of storytelling unchecked.
The future of filmmaking has to reflect the progress our society has made in the past decades, not only technologically but in terms of what defines us as humans.
Now, a new medium for storytelling is gaining momentum and is here to stay – virtual reality (VR). We are presented with a unique opportunity to shape an emerging medium from the get-go. As a woman filmmaker, I’m passionate not only about the possibilities that VR provides to storytellers, but I’m also a fervent proponent of women telling their stories, owning their space, and the screen.
The Future of Filmmaking is a community which connects creators, producers, business developers, financiers, researchers and activists through an interactive virtual event. Conference goers have the ability to watch live talks, engage in live Q&A, collaborate and book one-to-one sessions with their favorite speakers. We want to make the best experts accessible to everyone, regardless of where they are based.
Novinite: After working on exciting projects like Futureville and Masters of Survival surely you will be looking for some new inspiring ideas. What does the future hold for you?
Boryana: Totally! The next project I’ll be working on is a VR piece about wildfires in California which uses a mixture of live footage and animation. The recent wildfires have caused unprecedented destruction and suffering. When we watch the news we surely feel empathy for the victims, survivors and mother nature. But this empathy starts fading away once the issue is no longer covered by the media. Storytelling is about helping people tell their true authentic stories and connect with each other on a deep emotional level. I’m curious to explore whether we can go a step further and nudge people’s behavior as a result of storytelling. Can storytelling help us stand up to natural disaster?