Around the world, film festivals have become champions for augmented and virtual reality breakthroughs. From Venice to Sundance, dedicated programs unveil the medium’s latest technological and narrative developments. Once again, the curators of the Tribeca Film Festival—currently running in its 17th year—have offered a slate of VR and AR works that’s truly representative of the industry’s best. This year, Tribeca Immersive features both a Virtual Arcade and a Cinema360 theater. There are 21 world premieres (of 33 exhibitions and experiences total) and a crop of global artists behind them. Stepping into the virtual arcade or theater feels like a glimpse in the future. In turn, stepping into any one of the six projects we highlight below transports viewers in ways never-before-experienced. And beyond these, creators like Terrence Malick, OK Go and Lupita Nyong’o accentuate the phenomenal escape.
Objects in Mirror AR Closer Than They Appear
Stepping into a loose maze-work of knickknacks and cardboard boxes piled with reckless abandon, viewiers of Objects in Mirror AR Closer Than They Appear turn a modified 3D viewer upon roughly 80 activation points for a true spatial exploration. A world premiere project, based on the critically acclaimed theatrical performance “The Object Lesson,” this work pairs archaic items with optical illusion. One can spend as much time as they like wandering, discovering and reliving events within the space. Created by Graham Sack, Geoff Sobelle, John Fitzgerald, and Matthew Niederhauser, and produced by Sensorium, Arvore Immersive Experiences, New York Theatre Workshop, Jecca Barry, Sarah Hughes, it’s a first of its kind—and funny, too.
The vision of acclaimed artist and musician Laurie Anderson and artist Hsin-Chien Huang, Chalkroom lets a user fly through structures composed of words and stories, untethered to reality. This virtual reality universe—poetic to its core—invites movement in every direction, all while the user is sat within a real-life room covered in a chalkboard. It was the project’s New York premiere, having made appearances in Mass MoCA and the Venice Film Festival. As expected, sound does play a role, but not as audiences might expect.
Referring to itself as “the series that watches you,” #WarGames makes its world premiere at Tribeca. This 11-minute experience from MGM and Eko grants viewers an interesting perspective regarding activism, hacking and the military. Dramatic, experimental and narrative, this work certainly aims to make one question the behaviors of citizens today.
Spheres: Pale Blue Dot
A 15-minute work of epic proportions, SPHERES: Pale Blue Dot sets its sights on the Big Bang, going back to the dawn of time to trace sound. A magnificent study of the cosmos, the project was directed by Eliza McNitt, executive produced by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, and produced by Jess Engel (Crimes of Curiosity), Arnaud Colinart (Atals V), and Dylan Golden (Protozoa Pictures). Its Tribeca release was the world premiere. The first installment of the SPHERES series, Songs of Spacetime, made its world premiere in the New Frontier category of the Sundance Film Festival this year and was the first VR experience to be acquired at a major film festival. The entire episodic series will be released on the Oculus Rift in 2018.
Walking past the Dinner Party during the Tribeca Film Festival gave everyone in attendance pause. In the virtual experience booth, a handful of people sat around a table. They weren’t conversing, but were all wearing headsets. It may have come across as eerie, but the entire premise is even more so. Dinner Party recounts the story of Betty and Barney Hill, through the recording of the hypnosis session of a couple who made the first report of a UFO abduction in America in 1961.
Part of the festival’s Storyscapes competition, and making its world premiere,
Queerskins is a journey in the backseat of a car behind two parents who have lost their son to AIDS in the early ’90s. Powerful, emotional and haptic, one experiences an incredible amount through the characters, narrative and objects involved. Meticulously executed, culturally important, and incredibly moving.
Tribeca Immersive’s Virtual Arcade and Tribeca Cinema360 theater run through 28 April.
Hero image courtesy of Chalkroom, all other images courtesy of corresponding production company