‘Angels of Amsterdam’: Dutch Virtual Reality Experience at Venice International Film Festival
'Angels of Amsterdam' is a fully immersive virtual reality experience based on the true stories of four 17th century women and their struggle for rights. The VR project is officially selected for the prestigious 78th Venice International Film Festival from 1-11 September.
You can almost smell the ripe plums that are laid out on the 17th-century bar, almost feel the sea breeze brushing through your hair. The virtual reality experience Angels of Amsterdam is so lifelike, that all your senses are involved. Artists Anna Abrahams and Avinash Changa set the goal to bring this work as close to reality as possible because the theme – the struggle for women's rights – is still a reality today.
Anyone who starts the experience blank does not suspect that what you are experiencing takes place four centuries earlier. The setting is a lifelike digital reproduction of the quintessential Amsterdam Café 't Papeneiland, where time barely passes. It's only when the barmaid turns around, dressed in an antique dress, and recommends her girls that you start to suspect something.
Maritgen Lisette from 'Angels of Amsterdam' by Anna Abrahams and Avinash Changa. Illustration: Coos Dieters
In 15 to 30 minutes you meet four young, fearless women who, each for their own reason, seek solace in the cafe. Maritgen Jans goes through life as David the seaman; Juliana dances and fights to redeem herself from the man who considers her his own; Elsje Christiaens is on the run from poverty and Soete Cut (Pussy Sweet) embraces her sexuality as a prostitute. These four true stories demonstrate how issues we sometimes deem contemporary – LGBT, Black Lives Matter, 'happiness seekers', sex work – are, in fact, timeless, and far from resolved.
When Angels of Amsterdam was presented to the software platform that makes the VR screenings of the 78th Venice International Film Festival possible, it announced that the scenes of Maritgen Jans and Soete Cut (Pussy Sweet) could not be part of their offer due to the sexual connotations. This fact almost adds a new dimension to the work: the problems that the VR experience exposes are confirmed by the outside world.
Soete Cut (Pussy Sweet) from 'Angels of Amsterdam' by Anna Abrahams and Avinash Changa. Illustration: Coos Dieters
Anna Abrahams and Avinash Changa carefully crafted this VR experience called Angels of Amsterdam that unveils women's rights issues from the past that are still relevant today. Angels of Amsterdam was selected for the VR competition of the 78th Venice International Film Festival and will be shown from 1 to 11 September 2021. It will also be shown at several international locations, including Eye Filmmuseum and the Netherlands Film Festival. The VR experience is selected to win a Dutch Golden Calf (Gouden Kalf), which is a highly valued prize within the Dutch audiovisual sector.
Avinash Changa: 'We wanted to transport the visitor and developed a technique that combines 3D scanning with high-resolution camera images'
Angels of Amsterdam is a true directional collaboration with Anna Abrahams spearheading script, dramaturgy and acting direction, and Avinash Changa leading cinematography and VR direction. It is a co-production of WeMakeVR and the Rongwrong Foundation. Anna Abrahams is a filmmaker, a teacher at the Royal Academy of Art and film, and a VR programmer at the Eye Filmmuseum. Avinash is a VR-maker, director, international speaker, and founder of WeMakeVR.
Juliana from 'Angels of Amsterdam' by Anna Abrahams and Avinash Changa. Illustration: Coos Dieters
'Often the VR audience looks at another world through a technical smoke screen. The awareness then remains that the VR experience is an illusion. We wanted to transport the visitor and developed a technique that combines 3D scanning with high-resolution camera images, making the separation between the real and the virtual invisible.'
Go and see Angels of Amsterdam for yourself at the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido of Venice (1-11 September) in its unexpurgated version, at Eye Filmmuseum (1-12 September), twelve international locations (1-19 September) and the Netherlands Film Festival (24 September - 2 October). The experience will be available for home use later this year.