Oscar Winner Asif Kapadia on VR Experience ‘Laika,’ Next Project – BFI London Film Festival

·3 min read

British filmmaker Asif Kapadia, Oscar winner for “Amy,” was due to adapt Nick Abadzis’ 2007 graphic novel “Laika” as an animated film before it finally saw fruition as a VR experience.

Kapadia came across the novel, based on the true story of a Moscow stray mongrel who was sent into orbit by Russia on Sputnik 2 in 1957, more than five years ago. He read it to his children as a bedtime story and decided to adapt it as an animated film that they could watch. He optioned the novel but as he grew busy with other projects, the option lapsed.

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In 2019, Kapadia was approached with the idea for a VR short to be shown at the BFI London Film Festival by event organizers along with the StoryFutures Academy, the U.K.’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling, run by the National Film and Television School, and Royal Holloway, University of London. Kapadia trawled his bookshelves for ideas and came across “Laika” again. Abadzis agreed and the project was on.

“I thought, if I wanted to do true VR, we should create the world so you can move around with it,” Kapadia tells Variety. Meanwhile, COVID-19 struck and the London-based Kapadia and fellow Brit Abadzis, who lives in New York, were forced to collaborate remotely along with team members based in Paris and Berlin during lockdown.

“We did a traditional film script, but we were also storyboarding at the same time, sending those visuals to each other,” Abadzis tells Variety. “I don’t know how much of that actually made it into the final piece, but it was that process of discovery that enabled us to refine what we needed and what we couldn’t get rid of.”

“You have to build environments. It’s more like theater, you build a set and within the set, things take place. And then your job is to try to direct the audience to look at certain parts of the stage,” says Kapadia.

The resulting VR experience, part of the festival’s LFF Expanded strand, combines several genres including animation, narrative and documentary. Featuring the voices of Sophie Okonedo and Tobias Menzies, the 15-minute experience is a BFI London Film Festival Initiative with support from the BFI Film Fund, Film4 and Epic Games. It is produced by Passion Pictures and Sheep Thief.

Next up for Abadzis is “Skin Trouble,” a memoir in the form of a graphic novel drawing on the experience of being in a mixed-race relationship with his partner, who is of Jamaican heritage, and moving to New York 12 years ago.

As for Kapadia, while he is working on several projects at the same time, what is on the front burner currently is a political project born during lockdown.

“It’s about the state of the world,” says Kapadia. “One of the things during lockdown, which is looking at everything going on here [U.K.], going on in America, going on in Brazil, going on in India … They have so much in common — a lot of these leaders. The kind of characters in power and their playbooks.” The project, which is a hybrid combining documentary and dramatized elements, is up and running, but Kapadia is not at liberty to reveal the title.

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