Romain Vak believes empathy is the path to human understanding. Through the film and virtual-reality experiences he produces as the founder of Pathos Labs, he aims to expedite compassion and commonality by telling cultural stories as an advocate for change. Vak was recently named one of six national nonprofit Change Makers by NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment’s Erase the Hate Accelerator program. His latest project is The Other, a virtual-reality mashup of 150 diverse interviews designed to provide an audience with face-to-face introductions to different cultures thriving in America. His work is the perfect example of art as activism, and as long as Vak has the right tools, he’s going to be changing the way people think. Read more from Vak himself, as he answers the 100CC questionnaire.
Romain Vak: That question is so unfair! I have SO many. But I guess more recently for our latest project, I've been deeply inspired by the work done by street artist JR, and by documentarian Yann Arthus Bertrand.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I've always dreamt of meeting the legendary anonymous street artist Banksy. So he/she/they is one of them. MLK is definitely someone I would absolutely love to have a conversation with. Megan Ellison is a total badass, and I've always wanted to meet her. She's a film producer and founder of Annapurna Pictures. I know that whatever they produce will be an incredible film.
The best AND worst thing is that nobody in the field of VR has any clue what's going on. What that means is that there are no rules yet (yay!), but it also means that a lot of eggs are in a basket that is difficult to predict. There is a lot of speculation and theorists, but I don't really think anyone knows where the heck the industry is going.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
Hmm. That's an interesting question. I think what's cool about artists is that they're the ones who decide the trend. Trends are created by artists who imagine what's possible, who create it and who may shift society's behavior. So as opposed to following a trend, I'm always in the position of trying to create a trend. But I can't say I don't get any inspiration from others.
I think our latest project is our most ambitious one yet. We interviewed 150 individuals (in Denver and NYC) who represent the mosaic of American diversity. In addition to getting their stories, we placed them intimately in front of our custom-built camera rig. The idea is that by using virtual reality, audiences will be able to sit intimately face to face with these beautiful people who represent different identities in America. The United Nations has signed on to be our distribution partner, and we've partnered with some of my favorite creatives (including an editor of an Academy Award-winning documentary and an ex-undercover CIA agent) to make it happen.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I'm a big bucket-list kind of guy. And I'm proud to say that I've done a lot of things on my bucket list (hitchhike across a continent, motorbike across a country, burst into song in a public space, etc.). I'm pretty reckless, actually when, it comes to completing some of the items on the list. What's next? I'd really love to get nominated for an Oscar. I know that's pretty absurd, and I've got a long way to go, but why not shoot high?
Colorado is the coolest. It's always going to be home for me. But because I was born and raised in Colorado, at times I contemplate what it would be like to leave. Of course, for every artist, there's the appeal of L.A. and NYC. But I've been really intentional about trying to invest in the local art community to try to help create a more invigorating artistic climate.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
My father, Farhad Vakilitabar, is one of my favorite local artists. He was included in Westword a while back. He's incredible, and I'm his biggest fan.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I'm actually in the planning and fundraising stages of national tour (in a retrofitted school bus) to introduce virtual reality and other exponential technologies to schools and communities that may not otherwise have had access to the technology. During the course of the trip, we'll be building virtual-reality content and interviewing 1,000 individuals who represent the mosaic of American diversity. The content will serve as a portal to expose audiences to “difference," which we believe is the first step in eradicating hate in America.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Boulder-based Justin Simpkins was on our team for several weeks, and he's one of my favorite local videographers. He started an incredible studio called Just Studios, and I think he should be next on the list.
Learn more about Romain Vak and Pathos Labs and Erase the Hate online.