The innovative Australian film Sorella’s Story has been selected to World Premiere In Competition at the Venice Immersive (Formerly Venice VR Expanded) strand of the prestigious Venice International Film Festival in August, one of a select number of projects from around the globe and the only Australian film In Competition.

Sorella’s Story is written, directed and produced by Peter Hegedus (Lili, Strudel Sisters), produced by Jaclyn McLendon and Bobbi-Lea Dionysius and co-produced by Axel Grigor and András Muhi. The film was shot in Hungary, with Sorella voiced by Australian actress Charlotte Stent (Bluey) and played by Hungarian actress Kiara Kalmár (TV’s Ransom).

Sorella’s Story transforms a smuggled 1941 photograph, buried by history, into an unforgettable 15-minute immersive experience.

Viewed through a VR headset, Sorella’s Story stands the viewer in a 360° snowy landscape with 10 year old Sorella Epstein, tragically part of a group of Latvian Jewish women ordered to undress in freezing temperatures prior to mass execution on a beach in Liepaja, Latvia during the Holocaust.

The film is a visceral and timely reminder and warning of how prejudice can escalate to devastating tragedy and comes at a time when the memory of the Holocaust is, alarmingly, fading.

92 year-old Latvian Australian Ethel Davies, whose aunt and cousins perished in the same massacre as Sorella, acted as a consultant to the film. An intimate portrait of the conversation between Ethel and Peter Hegedus as they worked on the film, titled In Their Name, will premiere on ABC TV’s Compass 6.30pm Sunday 7 August.

Developed with the assistance of Queensland’s Griffith Film School (GFS), where Peter Hegedus teaches, the production team fostered a unique collaboration with a team of GFS Masters students who travelled to Latvia and Hungary in a range of key production roles.

Sorella’s Story is a fictionalised work created from the few facts known about the photo’s subjects. For director Peter Hegedus, whose feature documentary Inheritance: A Fisherman’s Story (2004) was shortlisted for an Academy Award, using 360° technology enabled a more impactful way to connect with the story.

“I was deeply moved by the image of the women in the photograph and wanted to be brave, to tell stories about the Holocaust that push boundaries and engage with new audiences.  With Sorella’s Story we set out to create an experience that will emotionally connect people across cultures, demographics and economic divides. The honour of premiering the film at the Venice Film Festival realises the dream of being able to offer that experience to people from around the world.” said Hegedus.

Screen Australia’s Head of Content, Grainne Brunsdon said, “A huge congratulations to the team on their selection for Venice International Film Festival. Sorella’s Story is a powerful immersive project that continues a history of Australian VR projects showcased at this prestigious festival and we are proud to see such innovative storytelling showcased on a world stage.”

Sorella’s Story is the cornerstone of a unique suite of projects, together with In Their Name, and the soon to be completed feature documentary To Never Forget that tells the larger story of the Latvian Holocaust intertwined with Peter’s three year personal journey to bring the immersive film to reality.

Peter Hegedus and Producer Bobbi-Lea Dionysus will travel to the festival for the World Premiere of Sorella’s Story at the Venice Film Festival, which runs from Wednesday 31 August to Saturday 10 September.

Sorella’s Story is a Soul Vision Films production, with principal production funding from Screen Australia in association with Screen Queensland, Griffith University’s Disrupting Violence Beacon and Dalarna University Sweden.