LOS ANGELES, June 16, 2016 -- New Dimensions in Testimony from USC Shoah Foundation captured two top honors this week at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, the third-largest documentary festival in the world.
New Dimensions in Testimony took the audience and jury prizes in the Alternative Realities Interactive category for its innovative marriage of technologies and testimony that allow people to have a "virtual conversation" with Holocaust survivors about their life experiences.
Envisioned by Heather Maio and produced by USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith, New Dimensions in Testimony uses groundbreaking natural language software that allows audiences to interact with the recorded image of a Holocaust survivor, who responds to questions in real time, powered by complex algorithms providing realistic conversation.
It was realized with the technological expertise from the USC Institute for Creative Technology.
The jury award was bestowed by a group of film and interactive media industry experts for its originality in its approach to form, storytelling and delivery.
Smith thanked the organizers, as well as Pinchas Gutter, the survivor who worked with the Institute for years to develop the project, and who enthralled visitors with his harrowing life story, as well as his message of hope and resilience. Appearing in a special room, his image was projected on an 80-inch screen, making him seem almost real. Many viewers cried during the experience.
"Thank you for the privilege of being able to share some of the memories of Pinchas Gutter," Smith said at Tuesday's award ceremony. "(Gutter) will be here for generations to share his memory."
Smith also thanked supporters from the UK – the Pears Foundation, and the Leon Greenman Trust of London, both of which helped fund the project.
Gutter himself, along with his wife, Dorothy, spent several days at the festival, which ran from June 10-15. When Smith introduced him during a talk about NDT, he received an extended ovation from the hundreds of people in the audience.
It was a busy week for the team. Smith spoke at several panels, while Maio and project manager Kia Hays explained to the people "speaking" to the virtual Gutter how the technology works. Attendees were often hesitant to interact with the project. But after a minute or two, they realized how easy and engaging it was. Many people stayed in the room for more than an hour to ask question after question, while others came back two or three times.
To date, 11 survivors in addition to Gutter have been filmed for New Dimensions in Testimony. They include Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, an accomplished cellist who played in the Women's Orchestra at Auschwitz, and Eva Kor, who founded a Holocaust museum in Indiana.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, which partners with the program, was the first institution to pilot New Dimensions in Testimony in spring 2015, enabling museum visitors and students to have a virtual conversation with Gutter with guidance from a museum docent. NDT is currently undergoing its second pilot at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., through August 31, 2016.
Alternative Realities Interactive was one of several categories honored this week at the festival, which featured 150 films.
The Grand Jury Award went to "Cameraperson," a U.S. cinematographer's documentary about her own work in films such as "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Citizenfour."
About USC Shoah Foundation
USC Shoah Foundation - The Institute for Visual History and Education is dedicated to making audiovisual interviews with survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides, a compelling voice for education and action. The Institute's current collection of over 53,000 eyewitness testimonies in the Visual History Archive® preserves history as told by the people who lived it, and lived through it. Housed at the University of Southern California, within the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Institute works with partners around the world to advance scholarship and research, to provide resources and online tools for educators, and to disseminate the testimonies for educational purposes.
Visual History Archive® is a registered trademark of USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History an Education. Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.