Y Trydydd Masg [The Third Mask]

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2020.26 | Issue 6 | May 2021

Dafydd Sills-Jones (Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand)


Abstract

Y Trydydd Masg [The Third Mask] uses 360 video (via the third mask of the title) to create a virtual documentary about the author's experience of moving from Wales to Aotearoa (New Zealand). The work uses and challenges the emerging orthodoxies around 360 ​​Documentary Video to intensify the idea of ​​location, whilst also conveying the paradox of the author's (dis)connection from his ‘native square mile'. In addition, the work uses Poetic Inquiry and musical improvisation as methods through which a critical reading of Dirlik’s notion of ‘groundedness’ can be embodied in the weave of a creative text. In so doing, the process also reveals the nascent influence of a Māori-inflection to the question of identity, and academic argumentation.

Research question

To what extent can the nascent orthodoxy around 360 ​​Documentary Video and Cinematic VR textual grammar be manipulated to aid the discussion of groundedness, in the specific example of migration from one British colony (Cymru-Wales) to another (Aotearoa-New Zealand)?

Click on the image below to watch the full 360 version of Y Trydydd Masg [The Third Mask] on YouTube.


‘Groundedness’

The article by Arif Dirlik that acts as a common thread and prompt for this special edition spoke to my experience in a number of ways. In particular, I was interested by how Dirlik linked globalisation’s effect of disconnecting people from their traditional groundedness, to an increased awareness of that dislocation (2011: 48). The ‘call to restore places’ (ibid), and the difficult path for places to survive in the onward march of a ‘globalising political economy’ (ibid) rang true to the status of my home town in Wales (Aberystwyth), where despite decades of support from the EU, we still found ourselves hanging onto placehood in the face of the encroaching logics of high house prices, low wages, high dependence on tourism, high inward migration, and a decline in the indigenous language.


Dirlik’s call to ‘build up a more just and sustainable society from the bottom up, to socialize the spaces offered by these contradictions’ (2011: 54) by his own admission requires a renegotiation of the nature of place and ground. His reading of the work of Doreen Massey, and the danger implicit in her ‘effort to salvage’ that ‘ends up by declaring that there is nothing special about place after all’ (2011: 55), needs to be avoided. Massey’s ‘socialisation of place’ (Dirlik 2011: 56), and its unintended ‘erasure of difference’ (Dirlik 2011; 58) need to be countered by a return to the topographical, the ecological, and the grounded (Dirlik 2011: 57).


This also applies to documentary media representation of place: how can we avoid places in documentary media becoming just 'types of space' or spaces categorised socially, thus losing their 'fixity', singularity and cultural meaning? What if their singularity and cultural meaning lies in their specific testimony to the processes of identity-blanching and hollowing out that Dirlik describes? Can documentary media convey the singularity of places that are losing their ability to hold their singularity?

When I left Wales for Aotearoa (New Zealand) in 2018, I felt as if I was both uprooted by my migration, and also the ‘uprooter’, as I would inevitably take my place in the massed ranks of European settlers trailing back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. And for my position, as an indigenous Welshman, now living as a white European in a colonised country in which the wrongfully neglected rights of indigenous Māori people are debated and acted upon openly, indigenism suddenly became an active part of my life, both as lack and constant presence. So it was with interest that I saw that Dirlik looked to indigenism as a means of rescuing the notion of place altogether: ‘certain common assumptions, by no means restricted to indigenous peoples, that reaffirm the intimate and organic connectedness of culture, social existence, and the natural environment.’ (2011: 65)


Whilst Wales might not be strictly indigenous ground, these values were part of my upbringing there; an awareness, or attitude towards place that aligns with what Dirlik calls ‘place consciousness’ (2011: 69), which links back to the earliest of Welsh stories such as that of the Mabinogi or of the bard Taliesyn, whose birth place I lived near for many years. It is in this response to the notion of 'place consciousness' that I may be able to align myself with the indigenous, and still be able to think of place as being paradoxical and complex. But there is a danger that Dirlik reminds us of:


Place-consciousness itself can serve as a cover for parochialism, and serve as an excuse for setting one place-based interest against another, unless groundedness in place is mindful of the holism of nature and society understood not just as an ether of harmony, sort of to speak, but as a structured totality with contradictions built into its very structurations. (2011: 70)


And this is where the real difficulty lies. I am not indigenous to Aotearoa. Compared to Māori I have encountered in Aotearoa, I was hardly indigenous to Wales, even though I speak its language, know its literature, and have a genealogy there that goes back a 1000 years. Accessing indigeneity in the ‘Welsh place’ would mean having to go back to the ideology, sensibility and social practice of centuries past to fully escape the ‘universalist instrumentalist rationality’ that has marked Welsh civic development (or the lack of it) since the arrival of the Romans. But might it be possible, amidst the fragmentation of my own indigenous place in the world, and my integration into the Anglospherical post-empire, that I may also experience a re-integration into a new, indigenous-inflected way of seeing the connection between identity and land, a grounded way of seeing that fractured identity?


So what can be communicated? How could documentary media, through an exploration of place, be able to grasp the multi-layered and complex dynamic of social, topographical, ecological, historical, cultural, mythical and spiritual strata of any one patch of ground that has sustained human, and/or other, life? This is where 360 documentary media comes in.

Orthodox grammars of ‘360/VR – CVR – NFVR’

It was my working hypothesis that 360 degree/VR video would be an interesting medium to pursue this communicative challenge. This was due in part to the rise of the availability of the technology (Dooley 2017: 161), and the promise of 360 in terms of situational immersion, the ability to transport the experient/viewer to a place and to experience elements of this mediated place in an interactive way. I was enticed by the promise of VR’s ability to turn passive spectators into active participants (Dooley 2017: 161), with a combination of the real and the storified living side by side seamlessly (Ibid). But I was also immediately suspicious of such claims, which would depend on the type of film, the definition of passivity, the site of interactivity and immersion, and so on. It was clear that ‘Cinematic VR’ (CVR) was itself already an aesthetically attenuated version of the full interactive possibilities of VR, which, as noted by Mateer, ‘often limits user involvement to choosing viewpoints within a 360-degree environment’ (Mateer 2017: 15).


Because the frame has disappeared, ‘viewers of immersive film are in and part of the scene’ (Jerald 2015: 247), which presents challenges about where to put rig, and crew (Dooley 2017: 164). Platforms differ greatly, so considerations for google cardboard viewers and HTC Vive or Oculus wearers are drastically different, despite the fact that texts have to sometimes live across these different sets of platform affordances (Dooley 2017: 164). This leads a ‘typical’ VR narrative to be around 10 mins or less, which in turn tends towards episodic structures with around 5-6 episodes (Dooley 2017: 164). To counter these limitations, a set of strategies has evolved, including the need for a ‘core experience’, meaning that ‘the basic structure of the virtual world should be directly evident and self-explanatory so that users can immediately understand and start experiencing and using the world’ (Jerald 2015: 229). Then there is the interplay between two basic ‘modes’ of audience interaction, between ‘exploration tasks’ and ‘search tasks’, loosely analogous with having an open reading posture, and a more target-oriented reading attitude, respectively (Dooley 2017: 168).


By 2020, Dooley had noted some other strategies that have evolved, including: a closer engagement between viewers and characters (2020: 81), the use of proxemics and different distances to approximate the kind of relational grammar that can be achieved through intercutting shot sizes and eye directions in 2D film (ibid); limiting the number of shots ‘to provide an immersive, real time environment’, with jumps in time and space avoided because they are not realistic (ibid); the preference for crossfades and fades to black as a means of changing scenes, in order to avoid disorienting the viewer; a reliance on actor gesture over facial expression, and an attendant emphasis on blocking the movements within a given scene (Dooley 2020: 83-84).

This leaves the CVR creator in an interesting position: ‘This is one challenge for the CVR creator – how to reconcile narrative control with audience agency, so as to make sure that story cues are not missed?’ (Dooley 2020: 83) Whilst this question seems to be a perennial problem for all kinds of communicators, Dooley also notes Tricart’s point that editing could prove a useful disrupter of the seamlessness of CVR (2020: 84), and that ‘blocking’, or the practice of choreographing movement within the field of vision and audio, can also be used creatively and expressively (ibid). Most interestingly perhaps is Dooley’s use of Hall’s proxemics to create a typology of spatial arrangement within CVR, as an analogue for the way cutting can create thematically meaningful space and relation between characters: ‘On the basis of European and American culture, the four spatial distances are divided into the categories of intimate, personal, social and public, spanning between approximately zero to eight metres, and varying depending on the type of interactions and relationships between persons within them (Hall 1966).’ (Dooley 2020: 86)


This all adds up to a set of creative options within CVR grammar, enhanced as Dooley puts it, because ‘humans react to the violation of these boundaries in differing ways’ (2015: 86) opening up the possibilities of ambiguity and a loosening of the CVR straight- jacket. In terms of documentary, the team behind the UK-funded ESPRC VR Documentary Encounters [1] project have codified these possibilities and challenges for documentary media, rebranding it as NFVR (Non Fiction Virtual reality). They repeat the claims for NFVR’s potential ability to de-pacify the audience and to extend locative presence to distant places, and adding the grandest claim of all that NFVR can be an ‘ultimate machine for empathy’ due to these locative and immersive affordances (Bevan et al 2020: 1-2). But they are also sceptical of these claims and point out that despite NFVR’s potential, the practice does not live up to the hype:


Perhaps the greatest surprise of our exploration of VRNF to date therefore is that the amount of content that attempts to directly fulfill this ambition is actually very small. Less than one in five of the titles we reviewed were presented entirely in the first-person perspective - surely a minimum requirement for sustaining the illusion of a physical presence within a virtual world. (Bevan et al 2020: 10)


In their summaries of a large, representative sample of output, the VR Documentary Encounters team finds that there is a definite conservative aesthetic slant across a wide range of NFVR aspects such as a ‘passive observant’ viewer (69% of titles), the unexpectedly low amount of first person POV (18%), the low rate of interactive viewer agency (15%), and the conventional cinematic practice of the use of eye level in personal interactions (78%) There were elements however some other elements, that did seem, across the sample to be more in active and interventional, such as the encouraging of viewers to move ether heads 180 degrees (66%), and manipulation of time (only 5% in normal time) (Bevan et al 2020: 6-11).


This conservatism may be due to the immaturity of the medium, due to issues of technological diffusion, and a priori audience predilections (Green et al, 2020). There is evidence to show that while empathy, or affective response, may be heightened, ‘such advantages come at a cost for thoroughly processing the information in the story’, a problem a potentially troubling issue for documentary representations (Barreda-Ángeles, et al 2020). The ethical implications of this heightened empathy has also been located in audience responses, including ‘concerns about the impact of VR on vulnerable users, and its potential for manipulation or propaganda’ (Green et al 2020). This again indicates a base-line conservatism in the aesthetic of NFVR, as in the case of CVR, but also indicates where windows of autonomous, creative composition may lie within the form.


Following from this analysis, I can formulate a set of creative disruptions that I could attempt within a NFVR project in order to both invoke and contradict the enhanced sense of grounded place that this medium can offer:

(Disruptive) Editing: cutting quickly from one 360 scene to another creates a disorienting effect, both physically and narratively. Whilst I wanted to establish a grounded sense of place, I also wanted to reflect a dislocation in my circumstances, and in so doing differentiate between the ‘groundedness’ of different places.

Gaze Manipulation and Blocking: the combination of gaze manipulation and blocking would enable myself as a character to be a conduit through which a variety of differently imagined, mediated and experienced places might be experienced, whilst managing the lessened power of the face and the emergent power of bodily gesture. This could involve limited ‘camera moves’, where the default viewer perspective is forcibly moved within a scene, analogous to a ‘pan’ in conventional screen media. This auto-biographical use of the self could also focus the attention on the notion of the self being a kind of ‘place’, and the digital projection of that self yet again a problematization of that metaphor.


Point of View: in line with the majority of NFVR production, I would employ a mix of omniscient POV, first person POV and fly-on-the-wall. In addition, I would also switch between being a character within an omniscient POV, to ‘holding the hand’ of the POV viewpoint as I carried the camera.

Interaction and Audience Agency: I would again go with the majority of NFVR productions, and employ a limited amount of interaction, going along with the majority of production that create a passive role for the viewer/experient, but that I would be trying to embed the notion of interaction within a ‘passive’ viewer mode, buy using disruptive editing techniques, by manipulating time, and by creating a highly allusive poetic narration that worked with/against the images, in order to increase viewer/experient agency through their interpretation.


Interpersonal Space: I would go along with the majority of practice, and include other people in the film, but only sparingly (in the form of my children). The main interpersonal connection is with me, and as explained above, that is in order to create a para-social connection with me. I would divert from the majority of practice with eye-level setting, deviating from an equal-height ‘interpersonal’ setting to having the camera above and below and moving in relation to the viewer and character’s eyelines, as part of the disruption of editing.


Manipulation of Time: like the majority of NFVR, I would use time manipulation, again in line with disruptive editing, e.g. by splitting the 360 sphere, and having one half going backwards, and the other half forwards at great speed.


So I employed a set of techniques to move between Dooley’s two ‘navigation modes’, ‘exploration’ and ‘search’. I established spaces to enable exploration, but I used the written narrative and techniques such as backwards/forwards and fast cutting (relative to VR conventions) to create a kind of ‘intellectual’ searching function, so that the viewer instead of searching for hidden clues or objects, is being asked to reflect on the experience of viewing and how that might relate to the subject matter of the film.

Furthermore, the move towards VR made it possible to think of ‘ground’ as something that documentary has claimed traditionally – ‘field naturalism’ – but that VR/360 promises to collapse and transfer. In a way this is just a continuation of cinema’s ever present play with time and space, but VR/360 seems to take it another step, that time and space and be transplanted. You can be there, whilst you are here, in a way that we have not had before. But due to the affective power of 360, documentary can lose its balance between the old Griersonian dyad (Grierson 1933: 8) of ‘creative’ and ‘actuality’ which still sits at the centre of its power as a genre.


My solution to this present problem, in the confines of a specific film project, is to translate the paradox of documentary’s creative/actuality dyad, and think about an analogous dyad implied by Dirlik in his adaptation of Massey, where place is singular, transcendent and always in the process of ‘becoming’. The former is the dominant understanding within mechanical reproductions of place, transferrable and universalizable. The latter is harder, and can be a barrier to communication and an invitation to parochialism. Hence, the attempt in the case of Y Trydydd Masg to intensify the feeling of a grounded place, but to also storify that feeling, to place it within a somewhat complex timeframe, and to narrate it with a proxemic and poetic approach that invites the viewer to experience both location and dislocation, and to decide for themselves where the seams and joins between both reside.

Inflected Methods

In truth, some of the analysis above was done in hindsight, as a way of checking back to try to understand what I had done instinctively, to see whether it fitted with the academic debates and definitions about NFVR, and to seek to build a bridge between the notions that emerged from the Massey-Dirlik discussion on place. But the method of composing Y Trydydd Mask was different in intention, and came from a more personal, haptic, singular root.

I had a hunch about the suitability of VR for the story I was telling, but it was the story not the VR technology that drove me forward, or as Knudsen identifies it, it was an ‘urge’ or ‘necessity’:


Communication is clearly at the heart of this urge; some kind of deep desire to share with not only our fellow human beings, but often also with other animals, nature, God and, some might say, ourselves. Without getting into a lengthy ontological discussion here about the nature of being, embodied in us is something that we wish to express, share and communicate. Perhaps the only way of properly describing this urge or impulse is to think of it as necessity. (Knudsen 2018: 19)

I closely identified this ‘urge’ with the tensions I felt as moving from Wales to Aotearoa in 2018, and when I started to think about a first person narrative told with 360 video, that seemed to fit. It was then a process of exploring the possibilities of that path, checking at each point to see whether I was still being truthful to my ‘necessity’:

As I create, I feel a deep need to be confident that it is the genuine ‘I’ who is speaking and not some other voice. I want to be confident that the truth, my truth, is the truth that I am sharing. I want to be confident that the way that I am expressing that truth does justice to it, is an authentic expression and fully articulates its simplicity or complexity. I want to be confident that it is my voice speaking about my experience. I want to be confident. (Knudsen 2018: 4)


I had experience in locating this ‘authentic expression’ in previous experiments with documentary form, [2] and there were three main, intertwined, research inflections that guided me along the path. I refer to them as inflections because to label them as methods would be to reverse the causality of the process; they were directions I took in pursuit of my ‘urge’, which on reflection were inflected by critical positions I later discovered others had taken before me. But identifying them does fulfil the duty of bringing practice into understanding, which is the cornerstone of screen practice as research, to ‘draw that tacit and innate itch of understanding out in the open, where it can be proffered and critiqued amidst a community committed to enhancing the welter of knowledge surrounding the phenomenon being investigated with film.’ (Gibson 2018: ix)

Pepeha

Pepeha is a statement of identity grounded in the Māori relationship to the land. I took my inspiration from pepeha as I re-articulated my Welsh identity from the perspective of the land that had become my home. My experience of practicing pepeha - a formal greeting I learned at Te reo Māori and tikanga (Māori cultural protocol) classes at AUT - involved my identification and oral evocation of the mountains, rivers and seas that had taken a role in my formation as a person, and on which I depended, not only in terms of sustenance, but also symbolically. This naming of places and people, and the net it cast across the classroom when all members recited their pepeha, created a very different sense of interrelation than I had previously experienced, and the structure of the pepeha formed the basis of the structure of Y Trydydd Masg. Overall, my encounters with Māori culture through attending these classes, and experiencing some aspects of Māori culture at first hand elsewhere, have helped me find the ‘confidence’ Knudsen speaks about, and enabled me to pursue my creative ‘necessity’.

The Māori notions that I was most inspired by through the practice of pepeha were tūrangawaewae (a place to stand) and whakapapa (genealogy). In terms of tūrangawaewae, I was aware that within the Māori context – and even within the white settler Pākehā context – the importance of place was a thing of serious consideration. Places were not merely mountains or rivers, but the mountain, and the river, denoting a connection between an individual and a place, and that far from being an inanimate mineral deposit, as a mountain might be considered from a Western point of view, the mountain had a life force, and rather than it being my mountain, I was its person: ‘Within a Māori ontological frame, all beings and objects are experienced as having mana, a form of presence and authority, and a ‘vigour, impetus and potentiality’, called mauri.’ (Hoskins & Jones 2017: 51) This resonated with my Welsh upbringing, where the names of mountains in particular are associated with legends, spirits and myths. Another task that was part of the pepeha was a systematic categorisation and enunciation of my ancestors – my whakapapa - and from where they came. This had a dual effect on me, which was to sharpen my focus on my genealogy, and to consider again, from a new viewpoint, who my parents and grandparents were, and what they had given me.


These two experiences of tūrangawaewae and whakapapa within the performance of a pepeha deeply resonated with my ‘urge’ and ‘necessity’ to articulate the deeply felt emotions of connection and disconnection that had emotionally troubled me for many months after moving from Wales to Aotearoa. The pepeha’s structure became the backbone of a light touch plan for shooting material in Wales in 2019, and also became a framework through which I could distance myself from any ‘parochial’ – to borrow Dirlik’s word – attachment to my genealogy. The notion of tūrangawaewae also helped me tune into the feelings I had about specific places, and about their polyvalent significances. For example, the final Welsh location in Y Trydydd Mask – the sunken remains of a bronze age forest at Ynyslas – remains the one place in the world that I could identify as my singular ‘place to stand’. These inflections came together to build my version of Knudsen’s ‘confidence’, an attitude Hoskins and Jones describe as a crucial aspect of Te ao Māori, or the Māori world view: ‘we must reach toward something that exceeds language: an attitude, a sympathy, a feeling, an openness.’ (Hoskins & Jones 2017: 53) Finally, the analysis of my whakapapa also reminded me of the creative debt I had to my parents, and in particular their approaches to poetry and music. The former led me to engage in Poetic Inquiry, the latter to engage with a collaborator in musical improvisation.


Poetic Inquiry

...my poems are part of my ongoing engagement with living in the world and the poems are attempts to capture multiple moments, intensities and layers of struggle. (Owton 2017: 7)

Like Owton, I am acculturated into poetry due to my father, who was a published poet in Welsh and English [3]. Being Welsh speaking, the prestige of poetry is high within my cultural background, and in my late teens I assisted my father in judging poetry competitions for his creative writing class, and also studied mostly poetry in my English literature degree at York University. I have always written poetry, for occasions, friends and myself. So whilst I am not a published poet like Owton, poetry was a vehicle open to me.


Owton talks about a ‘methodology of the heart’, in which writing poetry is a physical evocation of becoming (2017: 3-4), in the face of ‘a disembodied style of life’ that characterises the Western world. This attitude has clear alignments with Dirlik’s engagement with Massey’s notions around a place’s process of ‘becoming’, and also the notion of tūrangawaewae - an animated, enchanted world in which life force is widely invested in the materiality of a place, that creates an ‘attitude’ rather than a paradigm or method per se: ‘Poetic Inquiry is not a method, it is an attitude and a way of being and becoming in research and in the world.’ (Owton 2017: 21). But according to Owton, Poetic Inquiry also has a proven role within the positivistic corridors of the global university, albeit at the margins, in terms of supporting the growing practice of reflective writing in humanities research (2017: 6). A good bridge then, to join two seemingly opposed ontologies, with which, as a creative practice researcher, I need to engage.

Again, it’s worth noting that I started writing the base material for Y Trydydd Masg before I was acquainted with Poetic Inquiry as an approach. As part of the process of dealing with the emotions that moving has churned up, and also the feelings engendered by Te reo Māori classes, I started writing a Welsh language autobiography, made up of short scenes from early memories. After encountering Poetic Inquiry, I then developed a technique by which I reduced the prose and turned it into poetic lines. After consulting with colleagues, I found that the writing produced an emotional response, and that there was a research value in this, as Owton says: 'to step into someone else’s world… Like other forms of arts-based methods (e.g. vignettes, art), poetry invites the reader to ‘step into’ another person’s experience.' (p.8) And this in turn gave me the ‘confidence’ that Knudsen mentions, the connection to an inner voice that I could trust. This approach was then applied to the skeleton script that had emanated from the location of my pepeha, with some additions of my own – mountain, river, village, town, castle, sunken forest. Once these processes were in place I was able then to refine until I had something that I felt treaded the exact route that I could envisage, between the identity I had left, and the one I was slowly being influenced by.

Musical Improvisation

In addition to my inflection by Poetic Inquiry, which was inspired by the poetry of my father, Y Trydydd Masg also makes use of harp music, inspired by my mother. The music was improvised by an ex-pupil of hers, and an old school friend of mine, Rhodri Davies, who is an experimental harpist with an international profile [4]. His contribution was in the form of a reaction to the scenes I created shot and edited on the initial pepeha structure, and his compositions also helped guide the refining stages of the poetic writing and 360 video editing.


Several of Rhodri’s most recent projects – such as Yr Hen Ogledd [5] or Telyn Rawn [6] - are concerned with a kind of archaeology of traditional Welsh music, and in particular the harp, which is used improvisationally in Y Trydydd Masg. But despite the partial attempt to reclaim an indigenous musical sound, Rhodri is also aware of the draw of what Dirlik would call the ‘parochial’, and seeks to create a ‘music of now’, from a Welsh perspective, rather than any form of ‘period performance’ practice:

Yr Hen Ogledd is a bit of a misnomer, because we’re trying to do something else with time… not just back and forth… throwing linear time into a multitudinal happening all at the same time … even though my improvised work is referred to as Avant Garde, and the Telyn Rawn comes from the past, all I’m doing is playing the music of now... constantly unfolding now with connections to what has happened and what could happen. (Davies 2021)

There is a similarity here to how Davies positions himself to what Dirlik refers to the ‘strong utopian strain’ visible within an indigenous approach to culture and place. The strong familial ties and shared singular heritage – school, town, landscape, etc – give Rhodri’s music a resonance to my video material that speaks to the specific cultures, histories, lived experiences and topographical delimitation of the corner of Wales that nurtured us both in our childhoods. This kind of association might be an example of a combination of Massey’s socialised space (1994: 5), and Dirlik’s call to rescue the singular and the topographical in the notion of place (2011: 8).

Y Trydydd Masg is therefore a creative response to Dirlik’s meditation on place, through the filter of my experience of dislocation and relocation, inflected by elements of the practice of pepeha and Poetic Inquiry, and musical improvisation. What emerges is a work that seeks to live in the ‘sweetspot’ between the conservatism and novelty of NFVR, making use of its heightened empathic response, and creating an ‘intellectually interactive’ experience which hopefully allows the experient/viewer to ‘step inside’ a representation of my confident, authentic rendition of the multi-layered and paradoxical connectivity of place.


References


  • Barreda-Ángeles, M., Aleix-Guillaume, S., and Pereda-Baños, A. (2020). ‘Virtual reality storytelling as a double-edged sword: Immersive presentation of nonfiction 360-video is associated with impaired cognitive information processing.’ Communication Monographs. 1-20.

  • Bevan, Chris, David Philip Green, Harry Farmer, Mandy Rose, Kirsten Cater, Danaë Stanton Fraser, and Helen Brown (2019). 'Behind the curtain of the' ultimate empathy machine' on the composition of virtual reality nonfiction experiences.' In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI conference on human factors in computing systems, 1-12.

  • Bevan, G., and Creeber, G. (2017). ‘Into the Looking Glass: How selfie culture is preparing us to meet our future selves.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-Q8rJIeWSw

  • Dirlik, Arif. 'Globalization, indigenism, social movements, and the politics of place.' Localities 1 (2011): 47-90.

  • Dooley, K. (2017). ‘Storytelling with virtual reality in 360-degrees: a new screen grammar.’ Studies in Australasian Cinema 11 (3): 161-171.

  • Dooley, K. (2020). ‘A question of proximity: exploring a new screen grammar for 360-degree cinematic virtual reality.’ Media Practice and Education 21 (2): 81-96.

  • Green, D. P., Rose, M. Bevan, C, Farmer, H., Cater, K, and Fraser, D.S. (2020). ‘You wouldn’t get that from watching TV!’: Exploring audience responses to virtual reality non-fiction in the home.’ Convergence: 1354856520979966.

  • Grierson, J. (1933). ‘The documentary producer.’ Cinema Quarterly, 2 (1): 7-9.

  • Hoskins, Te Kawehau, and Jones, A., eds. (2017). Critical Conversations in Kaupapa Māori. Huia Publishers..

  • Jerald, J. (2015). The VR book: Human-centered design for virtual reality. Morgan & Claypool..

  • Owton, H. (2017). Doing poetic inquiry. Springer.

  • Massey, D. (1994). Space, Place, and Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Mateer, John. 'Directing for Cinematic Virtual Reality: how the traditional film director’s craft applies to immersive environments and notions of presence.' Journal of Media Practice. Vol. 18, No. 1 (2017): 14-25.

  • Nichols, B. (2017). Introduction to documentary. Indiana University Press.

Notes


[1] See more about this project at http://vrdocumentaryencounters.co.uk.

[2] In previous research exercises I have worked with unpicking the discourse of a participatory documentary (Pwy Yw T.H.? [Who is T.H.?] , 2010), experimented with walking techniques and multilingual narration in the poetic documentary mode (17, 2014), examined participation and musical composition as a means of suspending authorial imposition in expository documentary (Y Gors [The Bog], 2016), and looked at the ontological positioning of the observational documentary (Y Dosbarth Melyn [The Yellow Classroom], 2019).

[3] My father was R. Gerallt Jones, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-r-gerallt-jones-1046695.html.

[4] For more on Rhodri Davies, see http://www.rhodridavies.com/words/.

[5] Yr Hen Ogledd is the name of a band, of which Rhodri Davies is a member. It is named after the ancient Celtic kindgom that was once situated in what is now the North East of England. https://www.henogledd.com/2018/09/06/new-website/.

[6] Telyn Rawn is a project in which Rhodri Davies has reveived an ancient harp, strung with horsehair, that harks back to the days of Hywel Dda’s Welsh law codification in the 13th century. The harp’s revival is in part an attempt to side-step the often Victorian and Romantic imagining of the harp, and return it to its minstrel roots. See more at: https://www.folkradio.co.uk/2020/07/rhodri-davies-telyn-rawn/


Appendix: Script for Y Trydydd Masg


Y Trydydd Masg


2018, gadael eto

Y trydydd ymadawiad, i’r chweched bywyd

Nol a mlaen

Cymru a Lloegr

Cynghenidra ac alltudiaeth

Dau bersonoliaeth, dau bwrpas

Dau fasg fel rhai Ezra?

Gwyleidd-dra gwerinol, deallus-dra trefol

Nol a mlaen

Llais y galon

Llais y pragmatydd

Rhythm goroesiad oesol y Cymry.


Y tro yma mae’n wahanol, ond yn debyg:

Cyrraedd glannau estron, sy’n ymdebygu -

Coed, defaid, bryniau gwyrddion

Tric trefdadeth arddodol – wedi fy anwytho

Recriwt i luoedd y Pākehā,

Concistadorau Aotearoa.

Byw dan nawdd a chysgod

Iaith, baner, diwylliant yr hen ymerodraeth

Ar draul y cynghenid, y naturiol, y cyfiawn.


Tramwyo’r tirwedd newydd

Fy hen fasgau deublyg yn drysu

Stori gysur yr ysglyfaeth

Yn gymysg â gwacter y gwladychwr

Pragmatiaeth y proffesiwn

Wedi dewis ochr arall y geiniog.


Ond mae galwad yr hen diriogaeth -

Fy milltir sgwâr chwedonol -

Yn aflonydd dan arwyneb profiad

Pob cam, pob munud yn adlais

O gartre sydd erbyn hyn dan donnau

Arwahanrwydd ac anghof

Prosesau erydol yn esblygu

Yr hyn a adawyd ar ei ol.


Fe es yn ôl am wythnos yn 2019,

Ryw fath o ffyrlo o’r ffrynt.

A oes modd mynd yn ôl nawr, eto

Yng nghanol y pla, heb fynd?

Ail gysylltu a’r ddaear gwreiddiol

Masg newydd, hudol, yn gaddo uniongyrchedd

Cysylltiad ar draws y cyfandiroedd -

Y drydedd masg.

Hiraeth naïf, neu nesâd rhithwir?

Cawn weld

Cawn glywed

Cawn deimlo?

Ond oes modd dychwelyd i’r llonyddwch?

Oes modd sefyll ar y ddaear?


Y Ddinas, Y Cofeb;

Dau le, dwy Gymru

Sedd senedd ansad

Lleoliad llofruddiaeth Llywellyn

Defod mewn carreg a choncrit

Chwedl i feibion yr arfordir

Trip ysgol, trip gwaith,

Dinas Gymreig, cofeb cyfianwnhad

Cyfaredd neu gyfannedd:

Ai rhain yw lleoliadau craidd y wlad?


Mae pŵer sgwâr tref

Ar goll mewn cymysgedd o atgofion

Adeiladau wedi colli’i ffordd

Tir wedi’i oruchuddio

Mantell fodern y mashnachwr.

Oes gobaith codi ysbryd

Mewn sgwâr sydd yng nghysgod yr hen dŵ?


Carreg unig mewn cartre union

Y blodau’n deyrnged, a’r bedd yn dawel

Cae gwag ger heol brysur

A phrin le i barcio car.

Yng nghoed y llanerch hanfodol

Prin mae sgrech tylluan yn treiddio

Sain y modur, sawr y llygredd.


Y Mynydd, Yr Afon;

Y Foel Fach Goch yw’r mynydd

Rwy’n cofio’r tro cyntaf i’w swyn

Fy nghludo - gyda help car bach rhydlyd dad a mam

Wrth i ni yrru heibio iddi

Y grug porffor yn goron perffaith

I ffantasïau bachgennaidd

Castell o greigiau a siawns o fwystfil.


Flynyddoedd wedyn, y pumed bywyd

Rhodiais lwybrau rhedyn y Foel

Y ci yn hel ffon o’r môr gwyrdd

A’r wraig yn agos ar draddodi bywyd newydd.

A draw yn y pellter, a allaf weld yr Afon, Y Dyfi?

Y Dyfi a’i ddyffryn godidog,

Ei statws rhyngwladol, a’i thref cyn-seneddol?


Na, yr afon yn ddi-os yw’r Leri

Disgynnydd naturiol, cyfrin yr uwch ddyffrynnoedd

Afon ddi-seremoni, a’i thaith olaf

Yn gaeth yng nghoetgaeau camlas

Dyfais ddiwydiannol dyfodwyr

Sydd â’u cestyll tywod o hyd

Yn gwastrodi’r traethau cyfagos.


Y Pentre;

Mae’n fy hawlio

Pentref fy mhlentyndod

Yn ddrama byw o farwolaeth iaith

Cyfnewid hen ledis am dai haf

A finne, yng nghanol brwydr gïaidd

Sectyddol yr ysgol gynradd

Iaith, dosbarth a chefndir yn croesdorri

Ffarwmwr, mewnfudwr, deallusyn, y colledig

Mewn gwe o gasineb a ddallineb.


Yng nghanol hynny stafell lonydd

Fy rhieni a’u miwsig a’u llên

Y gwesteion o’r Affrig, o’r Undeb Sofietaidd,

Y sgwennu, y darllen, y ffôn canolog

Y nosweithiau heb drydan

Yng ngholau’r glo tanbaid

A fflamau glas yn gaddo eira.


Mae Mam hyd yno

Blwyddyn o ynysu rhag y pla

A rhan ohonof gyda hi

Mewn cegin felyn felys

Sgwrs ddi-baid am stad y byd

A’r Robin tiriogaethol yn curo ar y ffenestr


Hwnnw oedd y bywyd cyntaf.

Er bod y lle, a’r tir yma’n rhan

Ohonof nawr, o’m lleoliad amwys amlochrog.


Y Dref;

Erbyn y pumed bywyd

Mae’r dref yn fy meddiant

Swydd yn y brifysgol

Parch parod yn lle paranoia

Modd credu eto yn rhithdybiau

Fy nyheadau

Modd trigo yno fel unrhyw berson arall

Cerdded y prom, codi plant o’r ysgol.

Ond sydyn cliria’r gwyll

A phelydr oer ‘Y Sefyllfa Gymreig’

Yn llosgi drwy’r statws brau

Y freuddwyd dyneiddig yn deilchion

Y frawdoliaeth athronyddol yn yfflon

A pob unigolyn yn ymladd am

Sgrap o gig o floc y cigydd.


Y Castell;

Mae cysgod yr hewn dŵr

Yn dywyll ac yn dreiddgar.

Wrth ddod nôl nawr, yn y chweched bywyd

Rwy’n crwydro maes y Castell

Yn atgyfodi rhamant pictiwresg

Y creig-greithiau

Chwarae mig yn mhlith y monolithau

Dynwared fy hun o’m bywyd cyntaf

Ond y tro yma gyda gwên.


Ond mae rhoi troed ar dir fyma’n beryglus

Ffrwydriaid tir yn llechu

A’u ffrwydriadau parod

Llawn teilchion – hen sicrwydd yn jibidêrs

Sadrwydd yr oesoedd a fu

Wedi’i bentyrru wrth ddrysau’r castell

Yn goelcerth o ymostyngiad anochel

Yn aberth ddewr er bydd Aber dda.


Mae amser yn elfen greulon

Didosturi yw’r cysondeb

A’m ffilm bresennol yn eistedd mewn rhyw wagle

Amser cyn y cau mawr

Amser cyn yr ymadawiad Ewropeaidd.

Oes modd sefyll yn y gwagle hwnnw?


Y Goedwig Efydd;

Efallai’r ffordd ymlaen

Yw mynd yn ôl

Nid at greiriau hynafol dyn

Ond at rhythmau dyfnach daearyddol

Y goedwig gelain o’r oes efydd

Yn fyw yn y dychymyg

Yn berllan o wreiddiau

Yn wawl sy’n asio

Tywod ar symyd, ymdeimlad yn sicr

Cyn i ddynolaieth lesmeirio

I freichiau haerllugrwydd -

Clai uwch lai

A’r cyfan oll yn adnodd anadweithiol -

Nol cyn y dehreuadau, cyn yr ardd.


Yn ôl i’r dyfodol

Diosg y masg hud

A canfod traed ar dir

Heb wybod, heb gysylltiad

Idliaf i lifoedd hanes dyn

Mewn cyfres o atyniadau twristaidd.

Does na’m llawer o ots amdana i

Dwi fel biliynnau eraill nawr

Ymbalfalu am amser

Pan fu cysylltiad dilys

A’r unig ffordd yn ol i hynny nawr

Yw drwy rhith-freuddwyd burhoedlog

Y drydedd masg.



The Third Mask


2018, leaving again

The third leave-taking, to the sixth life

Back and forth

Cymru and England

Indigeneity and exile

Two personalities, two purposes

Two of Ezra’s masks?

A folksy humility, an urban intellectualism

Back and forth

The heart’s voice

The pragmatist’s voice

Age old rhythm of Welsh survival.


This time it’s different, but similar:

Reaching far shores, resembling

Trees, sheep, green hills

A trick of imposed heritage – I’m inducted

Recruited to the Pākehān hoarde,

Conquistadores of Aotearoa.

Living under patronage and shelter

Language, banner, culture of the old empire

Forsaking the indigenous, the natural, the just.


Traversing the new landscape

My old dual masks confuse

Comfort of a victim’s narrative

Commingled with the emptiness of the colonist

Professional pragmatism

Has chosen the other side of the coin.


But the old land calls -

The mythical square mile of a birth’s locality -

Restless under the surface of experience

Every step, every minute an echo

Of a home that is by now under waves

Of isolation and forgetting

Processes of eroding evolving

That which was left behind.


I went back for a week in 2019,

A kind of furlough from the front,

Can one go back, now, again

Amidst the plague, without going?

Connecting with original ground

A new, magic, mask promises intimacy

Strong connection across continents -

The third mask.

Naïve nostalgia, or an intimate approach?

We’ll see

We’ll hear

We’ll feel?

But can we return to the stillness?

Can we stand on the ground?


The City, the Memorial;

Two places, two Cymrus

Site of an unsteady senate

Murder scene of the last prince

Rite in stone and concrete

A legend for the sons of the coast

School trip, work trip,

City of Wales, Commemoration of justification

Habitation or enchantment:

Are these the core locations of the country?


The power of a town square

Lost in a mix of memories

Buildings off the track

Land that’s been covered

In concrete – modernity’s mercantile mantle.

Is there hope to lift spirits

In a square still in the shadow of the old tower?


A lonely stone in a precise home

The flowers a tribute, the grave quiet

An empty field near a busy road

And hardly a place to park a car.

In the trees of this crucial clearing

The scream of an owl hardly penetrates

The sound of motor, the taste of pollution.


The Mountain, The River;

Foel Fach Goch is the mountain

I remember the first time its charm

Transported me - with the help of my parent’s rusty little car

As we drove past her

The purple heather the perfect crown

To boyish fantasies

Castle of rock and the chance of a beast.


The fifth life

I walked the Foel’s ferned trails

The dog picking a stick from the green sea

And my wife close to delivering a new life.

Over in the distance, can I see my River, The Dyfi?

The Dyfi and its magnificent valley,

Its international status, and its once-parliamentary town?


No, the river is undoubtedly the Leri

A natural descendant, the secret carrier of highland waterways

An unceremonious river, its final journey

Trapped in canalised order

Invented by industrial invaders, who

Still have their sand castles

Quelling the surrounding beaches.


The Village;

It claims me

My childhood village

A live drama of language’s death

Swapping old ladies for holiday homes

Me, in the midst the brutality

Of the primary school’s sectarian battle

Language, class and background cross-cutting

Farmer, immigrant, intellectual, the lost

In a web of hatred and blindness.


At the centre, a still room

My parents and their music and literature

Guests from Africa, the USSR

The writing, the reading, the land-line phone

The black-out nights

In the glow of fiery coal

And blue flames promising snow.


Mam is still there now

A year’s isolation from the plague

A part of me is with her

In a sweet yellow kitchen

Constantly nattering the world into its place

The territorial Robin tapping at the pane.


It was the first life.

Although the place, and the land here is part

Of me now, from my vague multilateral setting.


The Town;

By the fifth life

The town is in my posession

A job at university

Ready respect in place of paranoia

I can believe again the delusions

Of my aspirations.

I can live there like any other person

Walk the prom, pick up kids from school.

But suddenly the dusk clears

And the cold ray of 'the Welsh situation'

Burns through the brittle status

The humanistic dream in tatters

The philosophical fraternity in flight

And every individual fighting

For scraps of meat from the butcher’s block.


The Castle;

The old tower’s shadow

Is dark and penetrating.

Coming back now, in the sixth life

I'm wandering the Castle grounds

And trying to resurrect the romance of the picturesque

The rock-scars

To play among the monoliths

Imitate myself from my first life,

This time with a smile.


But putting a foot down here is dangerous

Land mines lurking

Their ready explosions

Full of shrapnel – old certainties smashed up

The certainties of times gone by

Stacked at the castle doors

A bonfire of inevitable submission

A brave sacrifice for a good town.


Time is a cruel element

Indifference is the constant

And my current film sitting in some vacuum

Time before the big closing

Time before the European departure.

Can one stand in that space?


The Bronze Forest;

Maybe the way ahead

Is to go back

Not to ancient human artefacts

But deeper geographical rhythms

Stumpy trees from the bronze age

Alive in the imagination

An orchard of roots

A radiance that unites

Moving sands, certain sense

Before humans fainted

Into the arms of arrogance -

Clay above clay

The whole lot an inert resource -

Back before beginnings, before the garden.


Back to the future

Lose the magic mask

And find feet standing on ground

Without knowing, with no connection

I surrender to the flow of human time

In a succession of tourist locations.

I don’t really matter now

I am like billions of others

Fumbling for the time

And a valid connection

And the only way back now seems

Through the fleeting half-dream

Of the Third Mask.