Film festival brings the Rising to virtual life

Guth Gafa festival is using VR headsets to offer documentaries with a difference, taking viewers into battle, into wheelchairs and to the moon

Fancy taking part in the battle of the Somme, or travelling to the moon with Apollo 11? How about a stint in the GPO during the Easter Rising, or a spell in the notorious “Jungle” at Calais?

A virtual reality strand at the 10th Guth Gafa Documentary Film Festival in Kells, Co Meath will offer audiences 360 degrees of immersion, using headsets to view short films on a range of topics from momentous historic events to contemporary issues such as migration and disability.

Among the VR films to be showcased at the festival will be the BBC/Australian co-production Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel, narrated by Liam Cunningham; the story of an Ebola survivor in Liberia, Waves of Grace; and Ghosts of Thiepval, a re-imagining of the slaughter at the Somme in 1916.

A number of the VR films at Guth Gafa – the name means "captive voice" – were commissioned by the United Nations. They include Clouds Over Sidra, which brings the viewer into the Za'atari camp in Jordan through the eyes of a 12-year-old Syrian refugee; Invisible, which gives an inside look at life in a refugee detention centre; and Home: Aamir, which depicts the conditions in the migrant camp near Calais known as the Jungle.


The English actor and director James Hedley will attend the festival with his film Simon, a study of the life of a young man with cerebral palsy. Hedley believes the new technology allows film-makers to craft a new, highly immersive and supremely empathetic style of documentary. When it premiered at this year's London Film festival, Simon was described as "a masterpiece in cinematic VR storytelling".

Guth Gafa will also cater for those who prefer a more traditional style of documentary. More than 60 films from 25 countries – including 32 Irish premieres – will be screened over four days. In Headfort House and in nearby Kells a period dining room, an old aircraft hangar, a courthouse, a stableyard theatre and an old forge will be transformed into digital cinemas which will show documentaries as diverse as Gary Numan: Android in La-La Land, Bobby Sands 66 Days, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, and Sour Grapes, about a conman who floods the world with wine under the noses of the experts.

Guth Gafa runs from August 3rd to 7th.