The 2021 Tribeca Film Festival (online and in-person from 9-20 June) incorporates the annual event’s most dynamic immersive division to date. This slate of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR) projects populates three verticals: the Storyscapes competitive category on location at Spring Studios, Outdoor and Interactive Experiences in and around NYC, as well as the Virtual Arcade which can be accessed from home with an HTC Vive, Valve Index or Oculus headset.
Once again, the Tribeca Film Festival immersive programming acts as a launchpad for groundbreaking works that test storytelling and technological boundaries. From comprehensive Juneteenth films, events and talks (which include generative art immersions like the free Kinfolk app) to hour-long adventures on the streets of the city itself (including the Current sound experience), the programmers offer a glimpse at the future of numerous colliding and expanding mediums. Be it live-action or animation, narrative or experimental, single-perspective and multiple-player, the following six projects stand out for their vision and execution.
Making its world premiere in the Storyscapes section, Kusunda is a 23-minute experimental documentary narrated by two of its co-creators, 86-year-old shaman Lil Bahadur and his 15-year-old granddaughter Hema. Referred to as a “voice-drive virtual reality experience,” the partially animated project—created by Felix Gaedtke and Gayatri Parameswaran—is about the Kusunda language in Nepal, and the loss of indigenous languages globally. It’s also about reviving something deeply important.
Directed by artist and curator Lady PheOnix and created in collaboration with Ju’Niyah Palmer (Breonna Taylor’s sister), Breonna’s Garden is a 15-minute, in-person augmented reality project aimed at providing a safe space to process grief. Part of the festival’s Experiences division, the healing tool and protest piece blends animation, documentary and experimental storytelling. It’s part of the festival’s Juneteenth programming and will take place at both the Installation at Warner Media Innovation Lab and Project Experience at Wagner Park.
Developed by award-winning creative studio ANAGRAM (aka co-director Barry Gene Murphy and co-director, writer and executive producer May Abdalla), Inside Goliath makes its world premiere in Storyscapes. This vivid 12-minute VR experience begins with an evocative in-person installation. From there, participants are dropped into one person’s experience with schizophrenia—from hallucinations and hospitalization to diagnosis and medication. It’s intimate, and undeniably powerful.
The Changing Same: Episode 1
Part of the Virtual Arcade, and thus accessible both at home and in person, The Changing Same: Episode 1 is the first entry in an episodic time-travel experience through VR. Within the 12-minute experimental work—directed by Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster and Yasmin Elayat, with collaborators James George, Alexander Porter, Rad Mora and Elliott Mitchell—participants travel time to explore the history of connected racial injustices across the US. This project is also part of the festival’s Juneteenth programming.
The Passengers: The Kid
Director Ziad Touma’s follow up to The Passengers: Her & Him, which caught our attention at this year’s SXSW immersive festival, The Passengers: The Kid makes its world premiere in Tribeca’s Virtual Arcade. The 20-minute animated VR experience is accessible on site, or at home. The narrative places participants in an internal journey of someone in transit and amidst a pivotal life decision—this time with guilt at the center of the story. It also grants players the power to make change.
We Are at Home
A 45-minute immersive VR animation set within a visually arresting booth, created by Michelle and Uri Kranot, We Are at Home makes its world premiere within Tribeca’s Storyscapes section. Based upon the poem The Hangman at Home by American poet and journalist Carl Sandburg, this multi-user experience delves into what the title character ponders at night, after taking lives for work. The directors were awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival for their single-user version of his experience, also titled The Hangman at Home.
Hero image courtesy of Kusunda