As Mine Exactly: a VR experience as poignant as it is ingenious

Continuing his pioneering expansion of the documentary form, Charlie Shackleton relates the onset and management of his mother’s epilepsy via a unique virtual-reality set-up tailored to the viewer.

As Mine Exactly (2022)

In his newest work, As Mine Exactly, Charlie Shackleton combines desktop documentary, virtual reality and live performance in a way that brims with the possibilities of all three mediums while also delivering a poignant personal story. It is a one-to-one transmission, in which the audience member sits with a VR headset on while the filmmaker sits across from them, manipulating what they see on their screen in real-time and delivering a live in-person narration. VR may inherently be an ‘empathy machine’, but Shackleton’s choice to relate the onset and management of his mother’s epilepsy via this unconventional combination of modes creates a uniquely intimate scenario, that feels genuinely like a bespoke and individual exchange.

From the early hustle he showed when self-releasing his 2014 feature documentary Beyond Clueless – arranging screenings and travelling the country to present the film to audiences – Shackleton’s work has felt keenly aware of the potential of the one-off viewing experience. His 2021 found-footage film The Afterlight exists only in a single 35mm print, so can only be shown in a single location at any one time and each screening will see the print ever so slightly more degraded than the last. That idea of exclusivity has reached a zenith here with each performance of As Mine Exactly delivered live, calibrated to the reactions of the sole recipient, Shackleton and the viewer in a close confessional, separated only by the veil of the VR headset. When the voice of his mother Jane plays from behind you, it feels as though you are part of their private, special dialogue.

The screen is dominated by a desktop window full of files, which a roving cursor clicks open and closed as the story unfolds; photographs, videos, text documents and more appear in new windows, dragged around the environment. One of the most striking things about Shackleton’s approach to – and employment of – virtual reality in this instance is his embracing of dead space. Effectively, the viewer is sat in a void; the various components that are manipulated before your eyes appear primarily in front of you while the rest of the space, to the sides and behind, is dark. This allows the viewer’s eyes to be drawn specifically from item to item as they open and are moved around. One moment in particular, in which a timeline extends across the entire space, utilises the VR landscape to irresistibly powerful effect. As Shackleton tracks what your attention is being drawn to and reacts to lead your eye somewhere else, it evokes the research of Sergei Eisenstein into how the audience’s eyes travel around the cinema screen. Shackleton may blush at such comparisons, but As Mine Exactly demonstrates his similar fervour for formal experimentation in the service of art that moves you.

► As Mine Exactly was part of LFF Expanded at the 2022 London Film Festival; it was screening from 6-12 October.