On a Venetian island named Lazzaretto Vecchio (aka VR Island) the Venice Film Festival‘s virtual reality division showcases and honors advancements in the cinematic medium, both immersive and linear. For the second annual Venice Virtual Reality program, 30 works were selected from roughly 250—a rising number that reflects the importance of film festivals with regard to VR storytelling. And, as expected from the prestigious event, it’s hard to find a roster as impressive as this. From navigating the cosmos to experiencing an entire life (on the verge of death) through food, the diversity carries profound impact. Fortunately, it also happens to be a celebration of the medium—one that embodies an exciting series of scenarios for guests to participate in.
If cinema is the art of playing with time, VR is the art of playing both with time and space
Made This Way: Redefining Masculinity
Our one selection from the linear competition, Made This Way: Refining Masculinity makes its international premiere in Venice. This mixed-media documentary is comprised of both photographs and virtual reality volumetric testimonials. It’s the subject matter, however, that breaks new ground—and powerfully so. Within, co-creators Irem Harnak and Elli Raynai address the impact transgender men have on perceptions and signifiers of traditional masculinity. As gender norms are ever-changing and complex, cinematic experiences like this one grant viewers a closeness most need to understand truly.
Umami makes its world premiere in Venice VR’s interactive competition, and its means of storytelling channels an unexpected sensory subject matter: taste. This installation and VR experience tells the story of a man sentenced to death, reliving his life through a series of Japanese drinks and dishes. Viewers embody the main character, as he lives through the phenomenon known as “Madeleine de Proust.” And, of course, umami is the delicious taste. Ultimately, however, time ends in the present day and the impact is undeniably potent.
It is with films like Awavena that the developing medium truly expands consciousness. Here, in a 30-minute world premiere project in the interactive competition, Emmy and AACTA award-winning Australian immersive artist Lynette Wallworth envelops viewers in the story of an elder Amazonian shaman, who broke an ancient taboo to train the tribe’s first woman shaman Hushahu. A revolution unfolds for the Yawanawa people, through the transcendent visions of Hushahu—all of which are made visible to the viewer through virtual reality.
The Roaming-Wetlands challenges users. The premise of the 10-minute experience requires the participant to aid two children, running for their lives, in a mysterious bayou. There’s a Voodoo Man, a mysterious light and the opportunity for heroism. It’s another world premiere in the interactive division, and one that’s not afraid to let the user take a risk—even in the face of a deadly weapon.
The Horrifically Real Virtuality
A theatrical, multiple-viewer extravaganza, The Horrifically Real Virtuality allows simultaneous action inside a story world that honors Hollywood’s horror movie directors. From Bela Lugosi to Ed Wood, character action takes place in the virtual and real world. It’s nostalgic, fun and surprisingly tactile. Director Marie Jourdren has created a shared experience that can last up to 50 minutes.
Horror fans will delight at Kobold, an entry in the competition for interactive virtual reality works. The focus here is fairytale-like cinematic realism, and a user walks through photogrammetry from real locations, all while picking up clues to solve a mystery. Real terror abounds. Composed of both short film and interactive portions, the work takes place 1970s East Germany and centers on the disappearance of a five-year-old boy named Kaspar.
Once again, the SPHERES Series makes for required viewing. With its three components at Venice—Chorus of the Cosmos, Songs of Spacetime and Pale Blue Dot—one actually explores the soundscape of the universe. These pieces are shockingly beautiful, meditative and they guide viewers into an experience that simply could not be shoe-horned into any other type of media.
Venice Virtual Reality will run from 29 August through 9 September.