As the Northern Hemisphere’s roughest season whirled into full swing, World VR Forum took off to North America, for the Sundance Film Festival, an 11-day visual extravaganza in Park City, Utah, bringing together some of Hollywood’s biggest names, all the major studios from Los Angeles and America’s millennial population to celebrate the world’s independent film industry from 19 to 29 January, 2017.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” commented Salar Shahna, WVRF’s Creative Director and CEO, chuckling, “very cold, snowing and surprising as we’re not used to film festivals in this condition, which overall creates a very interesting mood.”
Very compact, due to the wacky winter weather, most of the venues, parties and special lounges at Sundance were squeezed into the same area, on Main Street.
As Sundance, founded by Robert Redford, is the largest independent film festival in the United States, the film selection was very diverse, with features, documentaries, short films as well as different panel sessions regarding movies and the New Frontier panels organized by Shari Frilot, Chief Curator of the New Frontier.
Shahna, who was invited by Frilot and attended Sundance with Delphine Setiee, Executive Director and COO, and Sophie Sallin, WVRF’s Head of VR Lab Programme, moderated an intriguing panel session on neuroscience and A.I. (artificial intelligence), “Mind Meld: Our Biodigital Future”, at the Sundance’s New Frontier programme.
“Mind Meld’s” panellists included Ashley Baccus-Clark, an American Molecular and Cellular Biologist, whose VR installation with Hyphen-Labs, NeuroSpeculative Afro Feminism on women’s empowerment was selected at the New Frontier; Stefano Baldassi, Chief of Neuroscience at Meta, an American AR (Augmented Reality) company, whose motto is “brain’s the most powerful machine ever built,” with an AR project, Journey to the Center of the Natural Machine, which allows you to manipulate a holographic, full-sized brain; and James Fallon, Professor of Neuroscience at University of California, Irvine and a brain specialist with his famous study on psychopaths and how their brain functions. The panel was one of a kind, the only one dedicated to scientific purpose, as most of the other panels, while also extremely creative and stimulating, were mostly dedicated to storytelling.
Located at the historic Claim Jumper, the New Frontier section which existed for more than 10 years, allows to experience new forms of storytelling, any type of new media and has a very avant-garde flavour. Virtual reality is becoming more and more important in the New Frontier, with its own venues: VR Palace, the VR Bar and Cinetransformer for the panels.
The New Frontier included many fascinating new media installations and VR pieces. For example, Life of Us by Within, which was a great American installation with HTC Vive, allowing you to go through evolution from the first unicellular molecule to the future and was a very fun collaborative experience, according to Shahna. It included interacting with your partner, through movement and sound, was really well made and was especially amusing from the outside as the whole set-up was a big box with projection on the box, played after on the projector.
The Canadian project Miyubi by Felix & Paul Studios, is a very fun cinematic piece, more than 40 minutes in length which is very unusual and challenging for VR, was a story of a robot with subtle interactive elements and components. In this piece, you are that robot, with his point of view, given to a kid for Christmas. The piece explores robot’s position in the family and how his coming will affect the family’s psyche.
One of the leaders of Oculus Story Studio, Saschka Unseld from Germany, had two very fascinating projects, Dear Angelica, which is a very touching animated piece about a little girl, done entirely with a painting tool from Oculus, called Quill with amazing visuals and Through You, a love story using dance as a medium, a live action, breaking all the rules of VR with the camera constantly moving, with many cuts in 14 minutes, very sensitive, experimental and looks nothing like other productions from Oculus.
Tree was a whimsical and enlightening American installation by Milica Zec and Winslow Porter, where you are a body of a tree rising from under the soil until you grow up. Tree is meant to spread awareness about deforestation.
Synesthesia Suit: Rez Infinite and Crystal Vibes was a noteworthy, high-tech VR project from the Japanese Keio Media Design University Team, consisting of a full-body 26-sensor suit combining audiovisual and vibrotactile textures with haptic feedback. Vibrations are synchronized with music making you dance in this deeply immersive 3D VR experience.
Also included in the selection, was a very disturbing piece called If Not Love, a story of a gay couple from Rose Troche, an award-winning American writer, director and producer. The piece was extremely shocking for the audience and not easy on the eyes, as the heartbroken dude from the couple goes on a shooting spree at the bar, killing everyone there.
Besides official venues, there were private venues such as the Jaunt VR Lounge in partnership with Radiant Images. A cinematic piece that moved a lot of people at the lounge was My Brother’s Keeper, which is about two brothers spreading up in opposite camps during the Civil War.
Another private venue was Oculus House – a chalet dedicated entirely to Oculus. One of the highlights of Oculus, was an anthology of VR films made by young directors, and subjects that matter for sustainability, environment and empathy, called: VR for Good, produced by Reel FX with Oculus.
Overall, WVRF was very happy they attended Sundance and touched base on VR, as many people were open-minded and willing to discover the freshest VR and AR masterpieces.
“It was an awesome experience with an excellent selection, cozy atmosphere with all key players of VR at the last party at the New Frontier building and kind and friendly volunteers,” said Seitiee, “we would definitely go again.”