For Pinchas Gutter, visiting his homeland is a haunting reminder of the family he lost and the life he might have lived. He returns one last time to say goodbye and capture his personal saga in virtual reality for future generations.
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Where “Blackout” thrives in the present, “The Last Goodbye” takes a look into the past. A co-production between Gabo Arora and Ari Palitz of Here Be Dragons, the USC Shoah Foundation, MPC VR and OTOY, the experience follows Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter as he toured the Majdanek Concentration Camp in July 2016 to cope with the loss of his family. The documentary-style piece entails the viewer visiting the camp with Gutter and exploring it in ways never seen before, all while listening to his heart-wrenching story of perseverance and loss.
Perhaps the most powerful piece at this year’s Storyscapes, the Tribeca Film Festival’s annual survey of the biggest and best in new virtual reality work, was The Last Goodbye. The pieces’s concept is both simple and ambitious: to have a Holocaust survivor guide the viewer in a tour of the concentration camp where he was interned over seven decades ago.
One of the great questions — in life, not just in VR — is how we’ll memorialize victims of mass tragedy. Technology offers myriad tools, but how to use them so that they’re effective and not exploitative? Specifically, this has been a question involving the Shoah — how will the murder of 6 million people be marked when the day comes that anyone old enough to have lived through it will have died? As the youngest survivors approach 80, it’s more than a hypothetical.
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It’s really easy to mess up a film project about the Holocaust. The wrong tone, the wrong direction, and it can all go horribly awry. Add cutting-edge technology operated by unskilled hands to a topic as devastating as survivor testimony, and you could have a disaster. Fortunately, the VR film The Last Goodbye, which debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, gets it right.