This September, Open Signal and Outside the Frame celebrate the release of eight 360-degree films by twelve young Portland-based filmmakers. 360-degree Personal Narratives is a collaboration between the two organizations that brought together youth from Outside the Frame to share stories and build filmmaking and immersive media skills. Over the course of the program, twelve filmmakers met for 35 hours to develop personal narratives, comedy shorts and music videos into 360-degree films. Seven of these works are available for viewing online through Outside The Frame. The final film, Masks, will premiere on September 30th at the Outside The Frame’s 2021 gala screening, Riders in the Storm: Good films about a bad year by homeless and marginalized youth, at the Hollywood Theater.
360-degree video, also known as immersive video, is a new technology that allows video to be recorded in all directions, giving viewers a complete 360-degree view. 360 videos are typically viewed on computers or smartphones, and users can pan around the video by clicking and dragging. Open Signal, a media arts center in Portland, offers production studios, equipment, filmmaking workshops and artist residencies alongside its five channels of 24/7 cable broadcasting. According to Jeff Oliver, Programs Facilitator at Open Signal, 360-degree Personal Narratives came out of the planned creation of a 360-degree immersive studio at Open Signal’s Northeast Portland location. The immersive studio was funded by a 2020 Community Placemaking grant of $23,900. Metro’s Community Placemaking grants support community-driven, equity-centered, arts and culture based efforts that strengthen people’s connections to each other and the places they care about.
Open Signal and Outside the Frame have had a cooperative relationship for years. Open Signal provided the initial equipment support that launched Outside the Frame’s first Intensive Film Workshops for homeless youth. Outside the Frame was started in 2009 by Nili Yosha as an educational and vocational program. This program offers filmmaking and media training to homeless and marginalized youth by providing pathways for youth to be directors of their own films and lives. Youth are given tools to educate the public through films that convey their particular experiences.
Youth from Outside the Frame were slated to learn field and studio production skills while creating a three-part TV and live stream series exploring concepts of extended reality with local artists participating in Open Signal’s New Media Fellowship program.
However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 provided the opportunity to implement a framework that was more responsive to the needs of the Outside the Frame youth community. The program shifted from placemaking through the creation of an immersive studio to directly supporting Outside the Frame youth in the creation of their own 360-degree films.
Nili Yosha of Outside the Frame explained, “The way we work is we come to the youth where they’re at. The placemaking was like let’s have this alternative map of Portland. We have this whole range of places that are important to the youth. That was the concept.”
In talking about the process, Jeff Oliver of Open Signal said, “We dived into creating places with the 360-degree cameras. It's the context of making or using these places that was powerful.”
ForeverVR, a Portland-based VR company, also supported the project with instruction and editing. NW Documentary provided extra Oculus headsets for the students to use.
The films explored the personal ideas and spaces of the filmmakers and were shot over two different weeks in February 2021, almost a year after the planned initiation of the project. For each of their films, the filmmakers answered creative questions and filmed in locations that were important to them while figuring out the technical aspects of their works.
Filmmaker Harrison filmed his violin performance in three different scenes, practicing inside, outside and performing on stage. According to Harrison, it was the differences in each location which provided 360-degree context for the ways in which Harrison’s music and visuals were experienced, explored, communicated and created by the artist.
Filmmaker Bash, gave a 360-degree view of her life in a safe secure place as a Black queer woman emerging out of homelessness after moving into a subsidized affordable apartment. As the 360-degree camera panned into the rooms of her apartment, she described what it was like the first night in her apartment, curled in her chair, looking at the night sky and feeling physically and financially safe, yet lonely.
According to Outside the Frame, “BIPOC, LGBTQ+ youth and people with disabilities are over-represented in the homeless youth community proportional to their representation in the general population. Our program participants are 16-26 years old and most have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity. In our most recent survey, 80% identified as LGBTQ+, 77% as BIPOC and 54% as having a disability. Many fled abuse, neglect, addiction and poverty.” Bash’s description of the safety and security which she feels in her apartment, after emerging out of homelessness, brings visuals and emotional connectedness to the viewer of those young persons who experience the complexity and trauma of homelessness.
Filmmaker Rhone’s film portrayed the tone deafness of her white companion in Portland. In a tea setting, filmed at Northeast Portland’s Dawson Park, Rhone referenced the violence experienced by Black people while engaged in simple day to day activities such as driving. She placed it within the context of the civil rights and Pan-African movement of the 1960s, and the criminalization of Black people - such as Kendra James and Travon Martin. Rhone portrayed the divergent and complex ways in which she experienced the world as a Black woman compared with that of her white female companion. Creatively, Rhone juxtaposed the tea scene with seemingly innocuous questions by her companion with newsreels of violence experienced by Black people in daily situations.
360-degree is described by the participants as a place to heal and a place to be heard. Participant Cole spent the year leading up to filming, writing a film that illustrates on a small scale, what it feels like during a schizophrenic episode. The purpose behind the piece, Masks, was to give their family a view of the mental and emotional turmoil experienced within their mind.
“Masks is about what it's like having an episode of schizophrenia, a mental health issue like that, where you're not in reality anymore, and how to deal with it. It's to give a live experience of what it's like. It's about two people meeting and then having one of them have a mental break... I want people to be able to get an idea of what it's like having an episode, because people can talk about schizophrenia, they can look it up all they want, but do they actually get to see something similar? I feel like this film is getting people an idea of what it's like to experience something like that on the daily.”
During phases of filming Cole experienced schizophrenic episodes and described filming as a dream within a dream. For them 360-degree provided a medium of communicating the experience and the impact of mental illness on their day to day interactions. Masks will premiere alongside the other works at Outside the Frame’s 2021 gala screening on September 30th.
Through the expanded spatial awareness of 360-degree filmmaking these films invite the viewer into a sense of these young filmmakers’ individual worlds. These filmmakers point to what is of interest, value and importance in their lives while offering a window into timeless and timely considerations of the world at large. The far reaching implication of the partnership between Open Signal and Outside the Frame in creating 360 Personal Narratives is seen in the illumination of these filmmakers, elucidating and affirming the brilliance of their youth, creativity and resilience.