Sundance Film Festival 2017: New Frontier

Highlighting five narrative and experimental VR films at this year's two-venue exhibition

It’s once again time for many to descend upon Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, this year running 19-29 January. As the largest independent film festival in the US, Sundance continues to dazzle with its quality of content and creative atmosphere. Even in growth it has maintained tremendous discretion, especially regarding one of our favorite divisions: New Frontier. Now in its 11th year, New Frontier isn’t exactly a platform for emerging creatives—it’s an exhibition-like destination for new and established artists and filmmakers working within emerging platforms. The roster this year touches upon narrative and experimental VR, short films and mixed-media art. Across two venues, the ticketed VR Palace and Claim Jumper (open to everyone with a festival badge), guests can get a sense of the future of art and storytelling—and even live the stories themselves. The following five selections reflect what’s piqued our interest most from the 30+ projects and panels.

Rachel Rossin’s “The Sky is a Gap”

It would be unfair to call Rachel Rossin an emerging artist. She might not be a household name but Rossin’s VR work and more traditional art pieces have been impressing at gallery shows, museums and art fairs internationally for years. She’s also a Google Artist-in-Residence. Beyond that, her distinct vision and execution have made Rossin an authoritative example of VR’s creative capabilities. With “The Sky is a Gap,” Rossin employs a custom-made, positionally tracked headset to let users experience a pyroclastic explosion. Here, one can “move time with space.” This experience is the first of its kind and certainly warrants a visit.

Ashley Baccus-Clark, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Ece Tankal + Nitzan Bartov’s “NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism”

With NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, views settle into a beauty appointment at a tech-forward salon of the future. The 10-minute immersive experience covers everything from speculative low- to high-tech beauty products to a live study on the neurocognitive impact of the visit. This is imagination at its finest by interactive studio Hyphen-Labs. And, as you can imagine, it’s much more than a virtual trip to a salon chair.

Scatter’s “Zero Days VR”

Created by immersive media studio Scatter and directed by Yasmin Elayat with technical direction by Elie Zananiri, “Zero Days VR” addresses modern warfare and cyber weaponry. A 15-minute documentary unlike any other, the digital film is told from the perspective of the weapon, known as Stuxnet, as well as a NSA informant. It’s almost impossible not to mention that award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney acted as Executive Producer on this project.

Saschka Unseld + Lily Baldwin’s “Through You”

Live-action VR “Through You” explores love across a lifetime—from the 1970s to 2046. Produced by Fictionless and directed by Saschka Unseld and Lily Baldwin, the film pushes the boundaries on narrative VR—all the while beautifully incorporating dance. So much is meticulously covered in 10 minutes and it’s all bound by authentic passion.

Rose Troche’s” If Not Love”

New Frontier alum Rose Troche returns to Sundance this year with “If Not Love” and once again the filmmaker plays with point of view to challenge viewer perspective. In one of her most powerful pieces thus far, Troche places a viewer inside of a dance club where a shooter is about to make a life-changing decision. These are six troubling minutes, clearly referencing the horrifying Pulse nightclub massacre, but within them is an unforgettable experience with a point.

New Frontier runs 20-28 January 2017. You can view the full New Frontier program online.

Images courtesy of respective artists