Filmmaker Pivots from Med School to VR

As part of our efforts to educate our community about virtual reality and
other emerging forms of storytelling, Black Public Media will occasionally
profile someone working in the emerging technology industry. That person
could be an artist, a filmmaker, an educator, an executive, or a student.
In this edition, we feature excerpts from a conversation Lisa Osborne,
BPM’s director of emerging media initiatives, had with VR filmmaker Emir
Fils-Aime.

Osborne: Who are you?

Fils-Aime: Emir Fils-Aime, a filmmaker and 2018 IDEALab Fellow. I just
completed my 360 thesis film, Gaze, which explores double consciousness.

Osborne: What is IDEALab?

Fils-Aime: It’s an emerging media lab built above the New Rochelle Metro
North train station [in New York]. There are nine people in our cohort —
three residents and six fellows. They [IDEALab] provide three months of
lodging for IDEALab residents. The fellows have access to the space. The
expectation is that we have ‘to bring the community into our projects.’ I
want to do user testing with people who have no knowledge of VR.

Osborne: Like what kind of testing?

Fils-Aime: We’re trying to get a VR truck, like an ice cream truck, to
take into the community.

I’m really interested in embodiment — communicating what it feels like to
experience double consciousness. How do I do that without having to use
voiceover and other traditional filmmaking tools? Can we interview people
during the process of making the piece and ask them: Have you felt
double-consciousness? Have you felt surveilled?

Osborne: What led you to VR and AR storytelling?

Fils-Aime: I studied sociology in undergrad. I was going to be a doctor. I
had all these experiences shadowing physicians and in ERs. But I’d always
been interested in film. I went more the camera dept route, DP-ing.

I had been teaching film to 8th graders with a friend (a Black woman). She
said, ‘You should consider this digital media program at NYU engineering
school. … VR is an untapped space where you could build your career.’ I was
like, ‘I’m not going do that.’

Then I remember listening to TED Radio Hour, an episode called ‘Screen
Time.’ The host was talking about how screens were going to define and
change how we define ourselves in culture…and that’s exactly what’s
happening! And then I saw a clip of [Mark] Zuckerberg talking about how
investors need to invest in VR. I applied to the NYU program, and I got
in.

Osborne: Had you already applied to med school?

No. But I was studying for MCATs and preparing to apply.

Fils-Aime: No. But I was studying for MCATs and preparing to apply.
I started working for DCTV [Downtown Community Television Center]
downtown. It’s a documentary production house. They have a youth media
program, and I got to teach film.

Osborne: Did that go over well?

Fils-Aime: My parents were like, ‘You’re out of your mind. You’re not
going to be Spike Lee!’ They thought I was crazy or going through a phase.
My mom is a physician, and my stepdad is an engineer.

What’s next after IDEALab?

Fils-Aime: My fellowship finishes July 18th. I couldn’t do anything
recently because I was finishing grad school. I’m looking for a job, and I
want to produce.

Learn more about Emir Fils-Aime via his website and his LinkedIn.