Five Highlights from the 2021 Venice VR Expanded Competition

Standouts from the 37 extended-reality projects at the 78th Venice International Film Festival

Presenting another milestone extended-reality roster, the Venice VR Expanded division of the 78th Venice International Film Festival includes 37 projects from 21 different countries, available to view on site in Italy (1-11 September) and online (1-19 September). The prestigious annual event’s programming once again conveys the pioneering spirit and advancing capabilities of virtual, augmented and mixed reality. With the support of Facebook’s Oculus and HTC’s Viveport, guests can attend from the comfort of their home—and explore the social epicenter, a virtual Venice VR hub, built by VRrOOm and available to any attendee with VRChat.

Since 2017, the Venice Film Festival has included a VR competition, and this year finds 23 projects up for consideration (for the Grand Jury Prize for Best VR Work, Best VR Experience or Best VR Story). Four of our selections below are in this year’s competition, but one is a special event experience (outside of the competition) that’s unlike any other. All creators involved in all projects, however, warrant attention, and these five are merely an entry point to another astounding La Biennale di Venezia.

Goliath: Playing With Reality

For Oculus Quest 1 or Quest 2, Goliath: Playing with Reality is a mesmerizing 25-minute animation grounded in a startling emotional reality. Directed by Barry Gene Murphy and May Abdalla, and produced by Anagram and Floreal Films, the story is narrated by Tilda Swinton who embodies Echo, a guide through the “realities” of the character Goliath—an individual with mental health troubles who (like many) finds community through the power of gaming.

In the Mist

Only accessible to attendees at the Palazzo del Casinò (Lido), writer/director Tung-yen Chou’s 15-minute-long VR masterpiece In the Mist explores the gay male experience with a steam-filled sauna as a seductive social setting. It’s a work that probes safety and desire, the gaze, and what it means to be gazed upon. With cinematography by William Chou, the live-action work (which was produced for all Oculus, Rift, Vive and Vive Pro models) addresses intimacy and community, together.

Caves

Directed by Carlos Isabel García, Caves utilizes 360-degree filmmaking to convey the physical and emotional experience of traversing vast chambers and narrow underground passages. The 19-minute documentary film, for either Oculus or Viveport, follows cave explorer and mountaineer Lea Odermatt into the unknown. It’s more than visually arresting, as the work seeks to express the great stakes ahead of those looking for answers.

La plage de sable étoilé

Aptly referred to as “a scientific fairytale,” La plage de sable étoilé is a 15-minute animated study of a particular type of starry sand that’s found on beaches around the East China Sea. With poetic imagination, directors Nina Barbier and Hsin-Chien Huang explore its story in three parts. Visible on Viveport or Oculus devices, the project was produced by Lucid Realities, along with the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

Bliss in the Ear of the Storm

A multi-sensory study of the weaponization of sound, the 20-minute-long mixed-reality project Bliss in the Ear of the Storm is predicated on the question, “What is music and sound’s relationship to control and power?” For Viveport or Oculus, directors Adam Lieber and Hal Sorta’s surprising work taps into neural networks for answers—pairing sound work from the AI music-generating platform Dadabots.

Tickets for Venice VR Expanded can be purchased online.

Hero image courtesy of Goliath: Playing With Reality