WELCOME TO CHECHNYA: HOW A DOCUMENTARY USES DEEPFAKE TECHNOLOGY TO PROTECT ITS PROTAGONISTS
So-called „deepfakes“– digitally manipulated or artificially created faces and voices that appear deceptively real – have been a hot topic for a few years now because of the ominous role they will play on the propaganda front in the near future. Enormous progress in the field of artificial neural networks already makes it possible to generate disturbingly realistic deepfakes today.
Every technological advance brings with it both dangers and opportunities – and the film team of Welcome to Chechnya has seized the opportunities. The documentary, which won the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlinale 2020, deals with the systematic persecution, torture and murder of homosexuals and transgender people in today's Chechnya – both by the state and by fanatical family members. The film follows the efforts of Russian LGBTQ activists who help the victims, and those at risk, flee to a shelter in Moscow. From there, they try to organize asylum in another country.
There was a need to hide the identity of almost all the film's protagonists, because they remain in danger even in a supposedly safe foreign country. In a process that encompassed an entire year, VFX specialist Ryan Laney developed a method that he calls a „face veil“: With the help of volunteers who offered their own face as a substitute, the protagonists' facial features were digitally replaced – no matter how variable the source material was in terms of quality, movement and lighting conditions. This pioneering achievement of Welcome to Chechnya has distinct advantages over other concealment methods, because the viewer retains an intimate sense of the protagonists' emotions.
The panel will focus on the editing and visual effects work of this groundbreaking documentary with four guests: producer Alice Henty, VFX supervisor Ryan Laney, additional editor and postproduction supervisor Maxwell Anderson, and film editor Tyler H. Walk, who won an editing award for Welcome to Chechnya at this year's Sundance Festival. The moderator is Dietmar Kraus.