The Birrarangga Film Festival has come and gone and with it, audiences were introduced to so many brilliant artists. Mario Faumui was one such talent.

Fan Girl is a virtual reality (VR) dance performance written, directed and choreographed by Mario Faumui. The performance is about a young fa’afafine who is rejected from society but who finds strength in their heritage. Fa’afafine is a gender identity or role integral to Samoan culture – it’s when people identity as having a third gender or being non-binary. The contemporary dance infuses traditional fa’afafine influences with pacific culture all with the flick of a fan.

This virtual experience places the spectator in the middle of the performance, allowing them to choose their perspective, rather than being restricted purely to one view from an audience or what a single camera focuses upon. Instead, viewers can swivel their head and choose any view from their 360-degree surrounding. This method of filming also gives the dancers the opportunity to really explore their space rather than stay strict to facing out front from a stage. Often, dancers will surround the spectator and perform different choreography from one another, meaning the experience is far richer, may differ depending on the individual’s chosen perspective and ultimately gives more variety.

The performers themselves are captivating, whether they’re drawing the viewer in with their choreography or staring with such intensity it feels our very souls are being scrutinised. Often, the performers would seemingly close-in on the viewer. At times, their invasion of your proximity creates an uncomfortably claustrophobic feel, despite the fact you are actually just sitting alone in a chair. This feeling of physical discomfort from a virtual presence is intriguing and helps the viewer feel ever more present in the performance and less detached as a simple onlooker. They are given the opportunity to really immerse themselves in this world of an outsider.

The use of static sound bursts and distorted pixeled visuals help emphasise an edge of creepiness in the performance. The start of the performance opens in a street, with our performers surrounding a seemingly lifeless body (perhaps a representation of defeating western societal judgement of gender identity). The dancers likely represent the fa’afafine heritage and the ancestors coming to fiercely protect this young fa’afafine from the discrimination and rejection of other societies. All performers danced with an air of mystery and beauty – it was hard not to be enthralled by them all.

Even as someone who doesn’t usually appreciate dance, the concept of VR mixed with this form of art is intriguing enough to draw in audiences and offer a new perspective of art and culture they may have missed if it were simply a short film. The Fan Girl VR experience was absorbing and we’ll hopefully see even more artists embracing this form.

The Birrarangga Film Festival was a celebration of Indigenous talent from communities around the world, showcasing pieces in the form of short stories, feature-length films and virtual reality experiences. It was held at the ACMI and produced by Typecast Entertainment in partnership with Film Victoria, Creative Victoria.

Follow Birrarangga Film Festival’s Facebook Page for updates on the 2020 film festival.

Keep up to date with events at ACMI via their Facebook Page.