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CULTURE

Venice Film Festival Introduces a Virtual Reality Competition

CULTURE

Venice Film Festival Introduces a Virtual Reality Competition

A roster of works announce the prestigious festival's commitment to VR storytelling

by David Graver
on 30 August 2017

It comes as no surprise to learn of the continued artistic application of virtual reality. And to witness film festivals like Sundance or Tribeca embracing the technologically-driven storytelling medium only makes sense. But when one hears that a more traditional institution such as the Venice Film Festival, now in its 74th year, will be hosting a VR competition, it's clear we've reached a tipping point of acceptance. Known as Venice Virtual Reality, the competition's programming—which includes 31 films altogether, 22 world and international premieres and three projects which were developed by the Biennial College Cinema—is wholly impressive. Projects within span from documentary to psychedelia. There are many familiar names and many more breaking through. Ultimately, three awards will be given: Best Film VR, VR Jury Grand Prix, and Best Creativity Award VR. This appears to be the largest, and arguably boldest, showcase of virtual reality films to date.

Within the wonders of Venice itself, the virtual reality competition has a profound space. On its own private island, Lazzaretto Vecchio, five minutes from the main festival area by boat, the exhibition space offers optimal conditions for experiencing the work. Of course, splendor abounds in a way only Venice can deliver, but dedicated venues allow for different types of viewing experiences. 360º videos have their home, as do stand-up interactive works and finally installations. For exploratory purposes, it's worthwhile spending time in all three areas. Binding works by their similar mechanisms also provides context for the developments at hand. For insight on the diversity of programming and to pique further interest, we've highlighted seven projects below.

Greenland Melting

Trailing active NASA scientists as they venture around Greenland and the nation's melting glaciers, this documentary comes at a crucial time, as the US has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement. Both beautiful and harrowing (and, of course, fact-based) "Greenland Melting" is a joint-production between the investigative series PBS Frontline, Emblematic Group and NOVA. The directorial team features Catherine Upin, Julia Cort, Raney Aronson-Rath and Nonny de la Peña, aka “the Godmother of VR." It's a powerful, thoughtful and immersive use of the medium.

The Last Goodbye

Produced by USC Shoah Foundation, CH favorite Here Be Dragons, MPC and OTOY, "The Last Goodbye" follows Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter as he tours the concentration camp where his family was murdered. One of the most profound and talked about experiences at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, the piece was directed by Gabo Arora and Ari Palitz. For those who didn't catch it at Tribeca (or who are interested in seeing it again), this is an opportunity to be transported—and transformed.

Melita

"Melita" lets viewers step into the future through an 18-minute real-time 3D animation short film (and the first of a three-part series). It's 2026 and the world is collapsing from the effects of climate change. Together with Anaaya (a brilliant Inuit female scientist) and Melita (an advanced AI), viewers embark on a journey against time and preconceptions to save humanity from extinction. The work has been directed by Nicolas Alcalá, Manddy Wikens, and Rafa Pavón and produced by Future Lighthouse.

Alice: The Virtual Reality Play 

A combination of live action performance and multi-sensual animation, "Alice" is a 20' installation based on "Alice in Wonderland." Viewers actually participate as Alice and interact with characters who react in real time. The experience can be defined as psychedelic but, according to Venice Virtual Reality's co-programmer Liz Rosenthal, "It is the most sophisticated virtual reactive experience that I have experienced." The film was directed by Mathias Chelebourg, Marie Jourdren with Robin Berry, and Josh Jeffries.

The Argos File

Right now, "The Argos File" is a 3.5-minute, live-action 360˚ video proof-of-concept and it's quite promising to say the least. Here, a viewer becomes a Memory Investigator working for the “NCTF” (Neuro Crimes Task Force), an organization tasked with solving murders by entering memories of the dead. There are fast-paced cinema-quality visual effects and a thrilling first person narrative. Still in development by director Josema Roig and production company Future Lighthouse, "The Argos File" is really an AR-rich, near-future dystopia, that’s part sci-fi, part CSI.

Snatch VR Heist Experience

"Snatch VR Heist Experience"—an off-shoot of Sony Pictures Television’s Crackle program "Snatch" which first aired last year—follows a group of on-the-rise young hustlers in London, who are thrust into the dangerous world of organized crime. In this interactive experience, the viewer steps into one of the hustler roles. The first step requires making a quick decision: crack open a safe or run for cover. The stakes only get higher. Remarkably, there's an all-star cast behind this one, including Rupert Grint, Gossip Girl's Ed Westwick, Skins' Luke Pasqualino, and Scream Queens' Lucien Laviscount. It was directed by Rafael Pavón and Nicolás Alcalá and also produced by Future Lighthouse.

Mule

If you've ever wondered what it's like to catapult through the frantic last moments of one unfortunate man's life, this is the emotional experience at the core of "Mule." The fast-paced immersive virtual reality experience dives headfirst into the confusion and panic of a trip to the emergency room, and beyond. This also happens to be one of the seminal projects that put the now iconic Dark Corner Studios on the map. Directed by Guy Shelmerdine, "Mule" is part of the Venice Bridge Gap program.

Venice International Film Festival will be held from 31 August to 5 September

First two images courtesy of La Biennale, all other images courtesy of individual productions

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