The big screen and fixed seating in the National Museum of Australia's Circa Theatre have been superseded by a bunch of swivelling, wheeled office chairs. Virtual reality experiences are the thing, and the current offerings are a David Attenborough film and, as of Friday, Collisions. I donned a mask and headphones to take in a preview screening of the latter 2016 movie.
The film was directed by Lynette Wallworth as a creative collaboration with the Martu people in the Pilbara desert in Western Australia.Collisions had a simultaneous world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and World Economic Forum in Davos and was recently nominated for an International Emmy Award in the Outstanding New Approaches to Documentary section. It's screening at the National Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Songlines: tracking the Seven Sisters.
Senior Indigenous Curator Margo Neale says Collisions tells the largely forgotten story of the Maralinga nuclear tests by the British between 1956 and 1963, largely through the words of Indigenous elder Nyarri Nyarri Morgan, who was there when it happened. When kangaroos were killed by the blasts he and others thought the food was a gift from the gods, but eating the meat made them sick. It was his first contact with Western culture.
This was my first time watching a VR film and despite my short-sightedness, I was able to adjust the vision to be able to view the film without my glasses and to marvel at the extremely wide field of vision covered by the cameras - 360 degrees, up and down. It's certainly a novelty to be able to control what you see in a movie by looking up and down and spinning around (and moving about more than expected).
The bomb blast and animated moments were effective and the sound and music contributed to the feeling of immersion without detracting from the poignant humanity of Nyarri Nyarri Morgan's story at the centre of the fascinating and poignant 18-minute film. If anything, it could have been longer, but it's better to leave people wanting more.
The verdict: Collisions tells an informative and moving story in a novel and immersive way. It's a good way to be introduced to an all-too-little known part of Australian history.
Details:Collisions is on in the Circa Theatre the National Museum of Australia at 11am and 2.30pm daily until February 25, 2018 for the duration of the Songlines exhibition. Not recommended for children under 13. Sessions are limited to 30 people. Tickets: $10 for Collisions, or $20-$22 for the Collisions and Songlines bundle. Allow up to 30 minutes for Collisions and up to two hours for Collisions plus Songlines. Bookings essential: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/collisions-virtual-reality-experience-tickets-37521733515 . More information at nma.gov.au.