Five Highlights From The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival’s Immersive Virtual Arcade

Inside the broad and ever-improving capabilities of virtual reality

In the midst of another key film festival on the annual circuit, a space dedicated to immersive programming demonstrates substantial advancements in technology and storytelling for the medium. For years now, the Tribeca Film Festival has been an industry leader in showcasing virtual and augmented reality works. This year might very well be the best yet. The five virtual reality experiences outlined below—found in either the festival’s Immersive Virtual Arcade or Cinema360 theater—are making their world premieres at this year’s festival. There’s a psychedelic trip, several surprise endings, abundant heart and captivating eccentricity. These worlds demonstrate the broad and ever-improving capabilities of the technology—and some of them are so magical, they’d be difficult to leave if the story did not end.


From the title alone, one can guess what the Ayahuasca experience may be. In fact, it’s 12 minutes of imaginative, architectural and delirious visualizations. More than an imitation of a drug trip, the world presented is a spiritual one. Chants fill the headphones. Snakes slither. And no amount of text we draft can dig deep enough into the actual experience. The work was created by Jan Kounen and produced by AtlasV, A_Bahn and Small studios. Its next stop will be VR World in New York and Phi Centre in Montreal.

The Key

A human actor walks a guest into the smoke-filled room wherein The Key initiates. Once inside the virtual world, a player is immersed in a beautiful, lush world of fear and compassion. It’s an absolutely mesmerizing experience that involves walking around (in real life) and making decisions.  Somewhere in the 15-minute runtime, a change occurs and the player is never the same. This dynamic, room-scale project by Celine Tricart demonstrates the sheer power of the medium and it’s one that we hope all can experience.


Throughout the Immersive Virtual Arcade, a puppet affixed to a projector scuttles—frequently frightening attendees. This character, a teacher, appears in the virtual world as well. She’s a guiding force in Gymnasia, a six-minute story that manifests in an abandoned grade-school gymnasium captured in stop-motion. Surprises abound here, in a unique tale of the utmost artistry. This is the first collaboration between Felix & Paul Studios, Clyde Henry Productions and the National Film Board of Canada. Other partners include the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.

Water Melts

As part of the Cinema360 programming, Water Melts is a narrative tale wherein animation by Maya Edelman enhances three interwoven live-action stereoscopic 360 stories. Set on the beach, each narrative addresses loss in a thoughtful, relatable way. From the beautiful cinematography to the heartfelt performance, all 18 minutes of the filmic experience wrap gracefully into the conclusion. It’s the vision of Lilian Mehrel and Mary Evangelista, and produced by Ting Liu.


Bonfire begins with a crash-landing on an alien planet. There, 15 minutes of decision-making ensues amidst strange flora and fauna. It’s sweet, intuitive and empowering, with decisions made by the player who is, more or less, the hero figure—though a partner robot helps along the way. From Eric Darnell, the CCO of Baobab Studios, the animated work represents the next generation of space exploration stories. It’s expected to be released on Oculus players in the next few months. At Tribeca, the seated experience occurs in a room decorated much like the world inside the story.

The Immersive Virtual Arcade and Cinema360, located at the Festival Hub inside Spring Studios, require tickets for entry and are based on capacity. It will be open until 4 May.

Videos and imagery courtesy of respective productions