Czech VR film exploring depression gets domestic premiere

One of the highlights of this year’s Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival was the Czech premiere of Darkening (Tmání), a film by Ondřej Moravec that explores depression – via virtual reality. Headsets are used for Darkening, with several viewers experiencing it at the same time. I spoke to the director of the interactive, very personal film, which had its world premiere in Venice.

“I’ve been working in this field for several years already, because I’m also a festival programmer and I was selecting VR pieces for One World and other festivals.

“And then because I studied filmmaking – screenwriting – at FAMU I wanted to come back to the creative process as well.

“So it was kind of a natural combination, that I would turn to VR.

“And then the selection of topic was for me also quite natural, because it’s said that it’s good to start with something you know really a lot.

“So this was the topic that I chose, and I believe that to explore states of mind in VR is quite powerful.

“It’s a good topic, fitting the medium, so that was my decision.”

I think it’s one of the most intimate and personal things I’ve seen in a very long time. Is it a strange feeling that so many people can know your inner life and things about your family life?

“I still feel that I have something just in me [laughs], that I shared something but there are still a lot of things that they don’t know.

“I was a bit more afraid before that it might cause more fragility in me, but I think the opposite is true: I can share it with more people, so it kind of makes me feel better.

“Because a lot of people are telling me, My story is somehow similar, or, I can really relate to your story.

“So that’s making me stronger.”

Ondřej Moravec | Photo: ČT24

I was surprised when I experienced Darkening that other people were also experiencing it at the same time, and we could hear one another. What’s the idea of having more people experiencing it together?

“I think that using the voice [which viewers are asked to do] is quite an intimate thing as well.

“A lot of people tell me it would maybe be better to use it at home, alone.

“But then the other half, which I think is maybe a bigger half, say that they would not do it if the others didn’t do it.

“So the purpose is that they should encourage each other to use the voice in the experience – not to feel that awkward, maybe.”

What kind of responses are you typically getting? I guess it’s been seen now by many hundreds of people?

“The reactions are very nice.

“I think here in the Czech Republic so far the most frequent reaction is that they expected it was going to be darker, as it is called Darkening.

“They say it’s more like a dark fairy tale.

“I say, Yeah, you are right – I like fairy tales, so why not.

“But I didn’t want to create a project where you would step very intensively into the feeling of depression. That was not my intention.

“It was more to show that there are some ways and techniques how to go out of it.”

Photo: ČT24

How does it work in terms of economics? Compared to a normal film, it’s relatively hard to reach people with Darkening.

“Yes, it’s a bit more difficult in terms of financing, because you need to create the physical installation for the galleries or festivals.

“Then you need to have your own headsets. We have a bunch – 23 headsets – which we will use for the distribution.

“So we need to buy it. The infrastructure is not here, so it’s a bit problematic.

“And we are discovering it, you know, so I’m also curious if it will be somehow refundable.”

What’s next for you? Will you be making more films in a similar area?

“Yes, we are already preparing the next VR project, which is about the war in Ukraine.

“It will be a three-part project. One will be a 360 film, which my colleagues in Ukraine just shot.

“The second one will be a mobile app.

“And the third should be mixed reality, which combines augmented reality and virtual reality. It will be done for the newest headset, by Meta.”

Darkening / Trailer / 26th Ji.hlava IDFF

A trailer for Ondřej Moravec’s VR project Darkening.