The six-minute short film Masks tackles a perspective that many can't even imagine: what its like to live with schizophrenia. The audience follows the film's writer and mononymous main star Cole as they walk along NW Broadway, buzzing the hair off their head. The non-chronological story packs moments of generosity and tenderness up against periods of harrowing sounds and visuals.
"Masks is about mental illness," Cole explained at a September 2021 gala to benefit Outside the Frame—a nonprofit that has trained homeless and marginalized young people to make films since 2015. "It's about schizophrenia. It's about the street and how it can catch up to you, but you know what? It's real."
Though a promising piece, Masks actually hasn't been screened in the way it was intended to be viewed. According to Outside the Frame's executive director and founder Nili Yosha, the work was made to be viewed through a 360-degree VR headset.
"It's not supposed to be like that. It's supposed to be all around you," said Yosha. "The only way to see 360 films are in headsets or in a dome, and where you gonna get a dome?"
Thanks to a partnership with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), Yosha's students will finally have the opportunity to screen their 360-degree shot films, which they made last year, at an upcoming event called Full Circle. "Just think, this whole city—and a lot of the students—grew up going to OMSI's planetarium. Now they get to see their own films projected there," Yosha said.
Named to reference the use of 360 cameras, Full Circle will showcase unscreened works, which were created in collaboration with similarly-missioned nonprofit Open Signal—as well as support from local VR company ForeverVR.
The idea of building understanding is a through line central to all of the showcase's films. There are shorts about everything from light-hearted, time-hopping songs to the trauma of police brutality—all told through the eyes of their creators.
There's an interesting metaphorical side effect found in the project: It expands the cinematic visual scope while also placing the audience right at the center of the project's perspective. Works like Hibiscus place the audience inside a slice of life-style tea party that also happens to be situated inside Dawson Park, an important stronghold of Black community in North Portland.
The action is brief: Two friends catch up inside the park's Cupola, but their everyday conversation is continually interrupted by intruding video clips of police brutality and civil rights marches—often so loud that the dialogue between friends can barely be heard. It's impressive that the filmmaker, Rhone, managed to use the medium intentionally and with purpose to telegraph an eye-opening, sensorial story.
Films like Masks and Hibiscus have always been part of Yosha's goal, reaching back to before she formalized the project under a name and nonprofit. In 2009, Yosha was working at Outside In and wondering how to engage the different young people "with so many different skills and interests and no tolerance for BS" that the organization supported.
"How do I engage them in something that really matters to them? And show the world what they’re made of—how amazing they are—and how different they are from people’s assumptions about them?" Yosha said. "With movies, you know, there is something for everyone to do. It's an amazing medium with which to communicate.”
That sentiment was echoed by Jeff Oliver, Open Signal Labs Production Manager and Programs Facilitator.
“Using 360 technology with houseless youth and trying to find out what the idea of place even means, what the idea of home means, was the seed of the idea,” Oliver said. “It's my favorite program I’ve ever run because youth are so involved, and we got to make something that is specifically their vision. It’s a really cool thing.”
Full Circle screens at OMSI's Kendall Planetarium, 1945 SE Water, Thurs June 2 , 6:15 pm and 7 pm, sliding scale tickets here, all ages