The Zhang Sounds of Another Dream

There are certain indicators in entertainment which illustrate how much change has occurred. The Virtual Reality film Another Dream is such an indicator. This documentary/VR game envisioned by award-winning director Tamara Shogaolu is the second installment of Queer In A Time Of Forced Migration, an animated transmedia series that follows the stories of LGBTQ refugees from Egypt, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia from the 2011 revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa region. This true love story depicts an Egyptian lesbian couple who escape Cairo amidst the post-revolution backlash place on the LGBTQ community. The production aspires to viscerally communicate the trials and fears of such a situation. Sound designer Xiao’ouOlivia Zhang was enlisted by Shogaolu to authentically create the soundscape of this epic exodus. From Cairo to the Netherlands, dark forest to government facilities, Zhang’s work was essential in manifesting Tamara’s vision and relating it in an immersive environment to those exposed toAnother Dream.

  The director was adamant that the sound design of this adventurous production provoke as many senses as possible. The goal was not to simply watch it but rather to deeply experience it. Key to the masterful use of sound in the story is Zhang’s understanding that our memory ties certain sounds to our learned emotional response. It’s a bit of filmmaking psychology at its understated best. The 360-degree element of this film demanded an immensely constructed and layered visual and sonic design. Tamara declares, “Olivia thinks about sound in terms of story. I love speaking with Olivia about sound on projects; in particular, how she breakdown all the elements we can add to the sound design of a scene to enhance or create the mood. Her contributions to this film were powerful. What she created was an incredible tool in guiding audiences within the piece so that they knew where to look or interact. Olivia completely dived in and brought the world and story to life.”

One of the most emotionally impactful scenes in the story is the processing area for asylum seekers. The aural environment created by Zhang does not stand out because of its lavishness but rather quite the opposite. The tone is most certainly Kafkaesque. You find yourself in an empty bureau hallway where the only sound is the hum of a lifeless florescent light. After a moment of wondering in silence, there is a chain of affirmative footsteps approaching. Just when you expect someone in posh leather shoes to show up at the end of the hallway, the footsteps disappear into the reverberant distance.

When an army of florescent lights turn on in tandem, the wall with a door on it suddenly moves towards you. The movement has a sound similar to the lid of a stone coffin sliding open. When the door on the wall opens, it creaks in a way that makes the hair on your neck stand up. The walls suddenly drop down into a bottomless pit like an ancient land sinking into the earth revealing a UFO-like rotunda and floating tables. All the time, clocks tick like a bomb about to explode. The despair and tension of the processing scene is contrasted by the Dutch Christmas Market scene. For this part of the VR experience, the sounds of children in a snowball fight, holiday shoppers, and bells envelope the audience.

The sense of space and movement is one of Zhang’s favorites in Another Dream. Sound designer Amy Reed collaborated with Zhang on the production and praises her work declaring, “I love the texture Olivia added to the balcony as we’re flying through the streets of Cairo, hearing the activity of people in the surrounding apartments, the dripping water in an alleyway, the animals (goats, cows, dogs, and cats), the neon signs on the buildings, and the wind.  I also love the heavy, scraping sounds of the walls falling away in the bureau hallway and the fluorescent lights clicking on, all of which conveys a sense of oppression, uncertainty, and solitude.Olivia has this wonderful way of making her sound design playful, which juxtaposes nicely against more serious moments.”

Another Dream is about the courage, determination, and resilience of the human spirit but it’s also simply a story of two people who want to live a life together. The film has been nominated for a Gouden Kalf Award, the Dutch equivalent of an Oscar, as well as numerous others. Its appearance at the Tribeca Film Festival, Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, and Sheffield Doc Fest has received overwhelming praise. With all of this positive response, Olivia reveals, ““The subject itself is the most rewarding part of working on this film. Being a part of this team included me in a group that gives voice to underrepresented people who seek for, fight for, and advocate for equality and justice.  It gives meaning to our work.”

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