I AM 4 feet: Blind Date
4-feet: Blind Date is the first Virtual Reality (VR) film in the world to explore disability and sexuality, inspired by Rosario Perazolo Masjoan’s TED Talk (2015) about her experience as a disabled 19-year-old, who doesn’t consider herself as less capable or human, than anybody else.
When Rosario started using a wheelchair her soul remained the same—but, the world changed its perspective about her. This "new" world became her challenge: to transform the consciousness of those around her to realise that she was still a whole human being; with the same desires, thoughts, and feelings as everybody else her age.
4 feet: Blind Date official trailer - © Detona Cultura 2019
Together with director María Belén Poncio, VR and sound director Damian Turkieh, and Creative Producer Ezequiel Lenardón, she not only inspired but also wrote 4-feet: Blind Date; as the first in a series of VR experiences about Juana, an 18-year-old girl in a wheelchair who is anxious to explore her sexuality.
During the intimate and ground-breaking VR experience, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as part of the New Frontier Program, audiences found themselves literally placed inside of Juana’s bedroom; during a blind date with a guy she met on social media, who she didn’t discuss her disability with.
From the moment we enter her world, we are confronted by our pre-conceived ideas about her condition, as she is disrobed by her nervous and unsuspecting blind date—right in front of our eyes.
And this is exactly as Rosario and the creative team of 4 feet: Blind Date intended it.
During Sundance, I AM FILM sat down with Rosario and her creative collaborators to discuss their groundbreaking new VR work, designed to open our eyes and hearts to the sexual lives and desires of people with disabilities.
Why did you choose this particular story?
Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Writer: I'm very into the sexuality of different bodies; sexual activity and relationships. Also, the image of what is sexy, what is beautiful, and what is attractive for another person. The media and the advertising industry show us a kind of body that we should like, and (according to them) must feel attracted to.
When we began making this story, we wanted to share a different perspective of the world. It has been said that: "Disability is a taboo for society and sex is also.” If we mix them (together), we can break the system. We want to make people question themselves and think about what they should or shouldn't do, in the situation that is presented to them in our film.
For example, a person might be thinking, "I never thought I'd go on a date or feel attracted to a person with a disability." So, our question through this work is: Why? Why did you never think about that? The answer is probably because you never saw it. Nobody talked to you about it.
So, now you can see it. Literally. And feel it—it's amazing. You can live it out.
What kind of freedom have you discovered from being ‘disabled’ that people wouldn’t expect?
Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Writer: The most important thing for me being a part of this (film) is the pride. From the perspective of every minority (group) in all of history—they tell you that you are wrong, that you have to be cured, that you can't do anything—you have to be ‘normal’, and people have to help you to be ‘normal’.
All the things that make me angry or make me feel like I'm not in the same place as everyone else, occurs when we talk about rights, accessibility, and opportunities. For me, the problem is not in the wheelchairs, not in disabilities; it's in society, in the government, in the laws that we have to change so that we are recognised and treated as equals.
No one has to feel bad about disability, no one has to suffer being in a wheelchair, and no one has to feel bad about themselves, feel pain for living in a different way, or having a different body. We want to make art to change the perspective of how we are perceived.
Tell me about your choice to use VR as your medium
María Belén Poncio, Director: Within VR, you can take people inside a reality; so they can live it, feel it, and experience it, instead of watching it from the outside. You gain this intimacy with the character. You feel like a witness and that you are really there with the characters.
We felt it was an important and interesting experience to share this way, because, usually, people are not in the situation the characters find themselves in. What we achieved with this experience is that people can really be in a reality that they’re never going to see or experience, with this level of immersion and intimacy.
How did the project come about?
María Belén Poncio, Director: The whole project came up because Rosario did a TED Talk about this; about how disability is seen by people, by society, and their prejudices. Ezequiel Lenardón, the creative producer of the project, was in the audience. He felt that Rosario was sharing a really unique perspective. So, he reached out her and said, "We have to share your story."
That's when Ro(sario) proposed to add sexuality (as a theme), and so, they both found the perfect themes to talk about within this VR piece.
I worked with Ezequiel (Producer) before. When they started developing the idea, he invited me because they needed a director. He thought it was an interesting story to be directed by a woman.
For me, it was my first professional experience of directing. I was afraid and had doubts because I don't live in a wheelchair. I mean, how can I imagine how this looks like?
After getting to know Ro(sario), I started to see and be a part of her life, going into her house with her family. We had a lot of experiences living together that made me understand a little bit more about her experience. Then, I was able to build in images and sound, and we created this project.
Damien, tell us about your role as VR director and how this vision was brought to life.
Damian Turkieh, VR and Sound Director: I have been working with VR for five years and I have my own production house. We all worked together as a team and discussed the best way to shot each scene in VR; where to put the camera, where to move the characters. She always wanted to be very close to express the intimacy that we achieved in the film.
It’s great to have movement in VR, but it’s also a challenge that is very difficult to achieve. My contribution to the project was to make that possible. The main difference is: instead of a flat camera that is shot only in one direction, it's a 360 camera. You are capturing a 360 space—like in real life. Also, the sound is 360. For example, if we are in this room, we would have to create the sonography for the whole room.
Usually, in a normal movie, you do this in parts—focusing on one direction at a time. In VR, everything is the set. With the actors, for example, you don't say to the actor, "Okay, I'm going to shoot only your face." The actors use their whole bodies, so it's more like a theatre experience for them. Then you have to say, "Okay, move here, go there, do this movement," so you can guide the person who is watching, where to look.
It sounds like a similar approach to directing actors in a theatre performance?
Damian Turkieh, VR and Sound Director: Yes, and it needs a lot of rehearsal beforehand, because, to direct the actors you cannot be there. So, you have to rehearse, practice on set, and then you have to leave. Also, in some scenes we were extras. So, we're in the bus, in the park (in the film)—that was our way of achieving real-time monitoring.
What is the vision for what you are hoping to achieve with this project?
Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Writer: For me, the most important thing that we always talk about is that, in this group of people, I am in this project—I’m talking about inclusion or diversity. I am working with the team, I'm part of the process in the making of creative decisions.
This is the first VR film of its kind in the world to address this subject and these themes. How does that feel?
Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Writer: Yes, this is a very important moment and project. The goal that we have as a team is to talk about what people usually don't talk about, and to show what people don't necessarily want to see. In this way, we’re dramatising something natural. We really want to talk about it, to show it, to spark questions, and to provoke change.
María Belén Poncio, Director: For me, working on this piece of cinematic VR; I always wanted to have a social impact, to change people’s minds. It's not only an entertainment piece, it's also an artwork to make people conscious about a problem.
4 feet: Blind Date is supported by the La Biennale de Venezia and is the first in a series of VR films about the adventures of Juana, set to expand into further storytelling mediums.
You can discover more about this groundbreaking project on Instagram at @4feet.metroveinte and find out what’s coming next in the adventures of Juana.