Rose Troche is an alumni of the Sundance Film Festival and has served as a creative advisor at the Sundance Institute New Frontier Story Lab. Her virtual reality project IF NOT LOVE premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Could a simple act of love change the course of violence? IF NOT LOVE is an exploration of this question.
There were three events that set this piece into motion: the mass shooting at Bataclan, the massacre at Pulse nightclub, and then just a little over a month later, on Bastille day, the killing of 85 people in Nice, France. This week, 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured in Las Vegas, Nevada, when a gunman opened fire on concert goers.
I am not trying to single out these events as more heinous than others, but what strikes me about them is they were carried out during celebratory events. All took place during moments of human communion, abandon, transcendence—strangers in a mutual trust fall.
I had been to Bataclan and walked the promenade in Nice where the lorry ran down so many. It was Pulse that I had never been to, but it nonetheless struck me deeply. I am Puerto Rican and gay, and I know the sanctity of a club: the place where, as a marginalized person, you finally can feel safe. I know what a club is for us: it is church.
An image took hold in my mind: an act of violence being undone; bullets flying back into a rifle; blood back into bodies; the dead and wounded rising—whole again. Once this image took hold in my mind, I knew I had to make this project and I knew an act of love would be what would undo the violence.
Over the course of my career, I've been a mentor to many filmmakers through a number of organizations, including Sundance Institute. There is one thing I say to most makers: What do you want the viewer to feel when the lights come up, the screen shuts off, or the headset comes off?
In this case it was the idea that a simple act of love could affect an outcome. That this could lead to an act of violence never considered. This is my wishful thinking.
I imagined and wrote this piece as VR, because, first, I wanted the viewer to be on the dance floor, to share a euphoric moment with all dancing around you. I wanted the viewer to be on the end of a gun—not to glorify it, but to be able to turn around and see the other end of that beast. I wanted the viewer to be in the middle of a bathroom, bearing witness to a man before and after a horrific act of violence. I wanted the viewer to be placed in a sex scene—one they could look away from if they chose, one they could be with, if they chose.
This was the first VR piece I made that I cut picture-to-picture. (I must remind the reader that several years ago, we didn’t think this was possible, and this is one of my favorite aspects of being a VR maker: There are no rules.)
IF NOT LOVE was the first piece I made with static shots. I wanted to create a sense of calm that collapsed when the shooter arrived at the club and the shots became more subjective.
I discovered my love of finding architectural spaces that 360 loves: hallways filled with visual information, cars, bodies—I have such an excitement of discovering shots in VR. I have been a traditional maker for many years and do not take the challenge of the 360 world in stride. I always try to design setups that use blocking of actors to camera and the placement of the camera itself.
What I do bring from my years in traditional film and television is the ability to cast and work with actors. Zachary Booth and Mitchell Winter were a dream to work with. This project took courage for them to jump into. I'm so grateful that everyone involved came together and felt we were making something incredibly important. I realize my VR work has turned into a form of activism and all of these willing partners have come on board to try to push a dialogue and create much needed change.
The title card, IF NOT LOVE, shows up once at the end of the piece. If not love, then what? This is the question I want to leave you with. What will it take? Mass destruction? Fear? Hopelessness? I don’t want to give in to these possibilities. I want to believe we have the capacity to keep getting better as human beings. I want to believe I’m not naive. I hope we can move forward, with love.