A film based on the real-life story of an ANZAC soldier who was found wandering the streets of London in 1916 and spent 12 subsequent years in a mental hospital in Sydney, has been chosen to form part of the virtual reality (VR) showcase at the Venice Film Festival.
The VR film is called The Unknown Patient and is presented as a 10-minute interactive VR experience which tells the story of George Thomas McQuay, a soldier who was suffering from his experience of war, and had forgotten everything about his identity.
“He didn’t know where he was, his name, his rank, his battalion,” says Director Michael Beets, “All that identified him really was this Australian uniform. So they sent him back to Sydney where he spent the next 12 years at the Callan Park Mental Hospital. He was very damaged.”
McQuay stayed in the mental hospital until 1928 when someone – suspected to be a nurse – released his photo to the newspapers in the hope that someone might know who he was. The story quickly gathered a great deal of attention, with many people clamouring to see McQuay hoping he was a missing loved one.
“The story just went viral, 1920s style,” says Beets. “People from all over Australia latched onto it. About 20,000 soldiers hadn’t come home from World War I so all these families had this inkling of hope that this might be their son.”
It wasn’t until someone who just happened to be passing through Sydney and saw the story in the paper that the truth began to emerge, until finally McQuay’s mother finds him, leading to a tearful reunion.
“When you put on your headset in VR, you don’t know who you are, and so to put the audience in that context was a very interesting idea.” Says producer Bethany Jones, “It was just such a traumatic series of events between him being lost and being found, and the movement between reality and memory, past and present – that was a thing that VR could actually allow us to do.”
Further information about the Venice Film Festival and its VR showcase can be found on the official website. As always, VRFocus will be sure to keep you updated on the latest new and upcoming VR events and projects.