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Virtual Reality Invades Sundance 2015

Virtual Reality Invades Sundance 2015
Arts & Culture

The upcoming film festival will feature a variety of VR and genre-bending projects

Janet Burns
  • 17 december 2014

Next month, one of film’s most famously exploratory institutions will launch another year’s worth of big-budget, indie, and international films in Utah. Also included in the screening line-up, however, are a number of virtual reality-based and immersive pieces – a sign, perhaps, that new technologies are poised to infiltrate the film industry, from Hollywood’s production lots and movie halls to small-town theaters.

The Sundance Institute recently announced the line-ups for screenings in several genres of its annual film festival in Park City, Utah. In the non-competitive New Frontiers category – which highlights filmmaking innovations – the slate of films will be accompanied by 13 installations, nine of which feature virtual reality (VR) elements and one of which holds the potential for future VR adaptation.

Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer and curator of the New Frontier exhibition, praised the tech-rich offerings in an Institute press release:

The content creators in the 2015 edition of New Frontier radically challenge the very notion of storytelling. Working with virtual reality and new gaming technologies, these artists, filmmakers, journalists, media scientists, game designers and creative technologists present a peek at the dawn of a bold new cinematic world, through an unprecedented exploration of the most basic state of being.

While last year’s festival included a number of Oculus Rift installations, “[this] is the year that we’re really going to get wired into this hardware in a major way,” Frilot told Wired. As a way of experiencing content and as a filmmaking technique, VR is “really relevant” to industry audiences, she explained, and “really has the potential to shift the [filmmaking] terrain quite a bit in a very significant and deep way.”

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Not unexpectedly, the filmmakers and artists featured in the New Frontiers exhibition are a culturally and cinematically diverse group, and employ VR technology in varying ways. François Quévillon’s Dérive, for example (above), will be an interactive installation using input from audience members’ body positions and motions to “explore 3-D reconstructions of urban and natural spaces that are transformed according to live environmental data, including meteorological and astronomical phenomena.” 1979 Revolution Game by Navid Khonsari and Vassiliki Khonsari, on the other hand, will show off the first-person, immersive qualities of the acclaimed video game of the same name, which takes players through a rebel’s experience of the Iranian Revolution (below).

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The New Frontiers installations will also include a VR project from previous Sundance presenter Rose Troche, who “wanted to make a piece about date rape and do it in a way where there was a lot of gray zones,” Frilot told Wired. With the piece Perspective; Chapter I: The Party, audience members will see a college party play out from the camera’s first-person perspective, and become involved in a scenario in which a young man and woman “meet [and] drink, and misinterpreted signals turn into things that cannot be undone.”

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With works like Perspective and Oscar Raby’s Assent, which follows his father’s traumatic experiences as a Chilean army officer in 1973 through VR, the Sundance curators are looking to explore the creative and emotional impacts of VR and other new technologies. Other, perhaps lighter VR films, such as the Godzilla-esque Kaiju Fury!, may also help industry professionals to sniff out the possibilities of using first-person tech to make monster and horror movies even more engrossing and fun.

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“Last year people were putting on the DK1 [Oculus Rift headset] and the first thing filmmakers are looking for is image quality, and that’s where filmmakers wondered, ‘This is really cool, but what about what it looks like?'” Frilot told Wired. “But now the technology has ramped up to a stage where it’ll be wholly embraced by filmmakers.”

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The full list of New Frontiers offerings at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival can be found on the event’s site.

Kaiju Fury!, Vincent Morisset, Paradise Plex, Max Rheiner, Perspective; Chapter 1: The Party, Felix & Paul Studios, François Quévillon

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