VR Films Are Going to Be All Over Sundance in 2015

Dec 11, 2014

Image courtesy: Kaiju Fury!

By Angela Watercutter

Next month, a giant industry gathering is going to be flooded with virtual-reality experiences: the Birdly flight simulator; something that lets users confront a kaiju attack; an Oculus Rift-enabled spin on combat training; even a VR installation that lets you go to a college party. But this isn’t the line-up for CES—it’s the Sundance Film Festival.

After bringing a handful of Oculus Rift installations to Sundance in 2014, the festival’s New Frontier program, which focuses on innovation in filmmaking, is doubling down and bringing in a much larger slate of virtual reality experiences for 2015. Of the 13 installations in the program, nine feature VR and one of the remaining four—a videogame-esque piece about the Iranian Revolution in 1979—could have a virtual version one day. It’s a slate, senior programmer Shari Frilot says, that shows VR is “a point of conversation that’s going to be really relevant to festival audiences and filmmakers.”

“I’ve never really seen anything like this where a new technology is so muscularly poised to hit the market,” says Frilot, who has curated the New Frontier program for nine years. “This is the year that we’re really going to get wired into this hardware in a major way. It really has the potential to shift the [filmmaking] terrain quite a bit in a very significant and deep way.”

Oculus, of course, has been to Sundance before. In 2012, a pre-Oculus Palmer Luckey made the VR goggles for Nonny de la Peña’s “immersive journalism” project Hunger in Los Angeles. (Peña will be back in 2015 with a piece on children in Syria.) Last January, festivalgoers got a taste of the space dogfighting game EVE: Valkyrie on the Rift, and multimedia artist Chris Milk brought an immersive version of his “Sound and Vision” Beck concert that was a hit with fans. He’ll also be returning for Sundance 2015.


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8 comments on “VR Films Are Going to Be All Over Sundance in 2015

  • It’s cool tech, for whoever is interested in that kind of things. Still in its infancy, cumbersome, awkward, but still very impressive, if anyone has the chance to try one out.

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  • SCTV used to love to spoof the overuse of 3D effects in the early movies. We are in a similar stage with CGI and similar other technologies. A technique should just be a tool in the box, not the entire point.

    However, I was deeply impressed by an iMax 3D film where I was presented with the illusion of being a member of a flock of migrating geese. It knocked my socks off, but, for example, the GCI wolf fights in Twilight: New Moon were an instant snooze.

    Art forms combine a representation with your imagination in different proportions. More real is not necessarily more entertaining. Notice how often fans much prefer the book over the movie.

    Someday we will have VR meeting software. However, once the novelty wears off, I doubt meetings will thrill me any more than they do now, face to face.

    The goal of VR is to create an illusion indistinguishable from being there. It can’t very well then be any more exciting than actually being there (minus the magic reality). I would think for most people, being in the presence of a Boticelli would be more exciting that any perfect reproduction of the experience.

    However, the geek in me made be compose a crude VR student project (whose URL must remain secret) to be used to solve the problem of difficulty of funding the Olympics by a single host country inspired by the Star Trek transporter beam.

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  • It may be technically brilliant, but VR leaves me cold.

    I like stories about real people struggling against the odds in believable difficult unpredictable circumstances.

    Drama needs to provide laughs and or catharsis; it should draw us into it, suspending disbelief, persuading us to identify with and relate to characters; and of course in the case of Shakespeare it also provides us with poetry.

    Please bear with me mods, because I’ve just remembered something which relates directly to what I’m saying here, and I’m going to be a bit naughty.

    The Times theatre critic Bernard Levin said of a production about the inquest into the death in police custody of the black South African consciousness leader Steven Bantu Biko, Steve Biko, that on the first night, Levin’s friend and Biko family lawyer Sidney Kentridge, who was being portrayed on stage by Albert Finney, was among the audience, and that, “the hypnotic force of the play is so remarkable, that when the magistrate said ‘Very well, carry on, Mr Kentridge.’, Sidney found himself rising to his feet.”.

    I’m proud to be able to say that that was during one of the scenes I was in.

    Deep breath, click “post”, take cover.

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  • I tend to agree with you Stafford and being a film lover, which is what they are trying to break into, I have been thinking about this ever since I saw the article. I have a 3D projector at home but that is not what I bought it for. It was more an add on at no extra cost for the model I have. 3D has been around for a long time and the only film I can say I have ever enjoyed on it is ‘The Life of Pi’ which is already mesmerising (book and film) so the effect made it even more so. Thinking through the VR prospect I could not envisage getting anything out of it. I mean, why would you want to wonder around a scene where you are not relevant? (I can see you ‘hams’ (seen post above ;-0) might want to get on line and do a bit of busman’s holidaying) and it would be great for education and maybe even some therapeutic sessions for agoraphobic people but apart from that I could not see it in film. Then I thought about one of my favourites, ‘Twelve Years a Slave’. Steve McQueens direction didn’t get the respect it deserves IMO. He made me feel more emotion than any other film I can think of. The scene where Solomon is left hanging, after the failed attempt, for what seemed like hours barely able to get some air into his lungs and having me screaming “just lift your feet off the ground and give up, pleeeease” in my head. The way he had to shift in the wet mud in order to give himself that few millimetres to loosen the noose around his neck. Because the scene lasts for a couple of minutes, maybe to walk up and watch his chest heaving or listen to the wheezing would act to enhance the horrific scene, not in a voyeuristic way but the way I think the director meant it, to involve the audience with the horrors of slavery. There is also the scene where Eliza is weeping for her children, too long some say, to be able to go sit on the porch and feel her pain up close and feel involved would also show the horror a mother must feel and that the pain is not a fleeting moment but constant gut wrenching nausea. For me, this was done well in 2D film, with great direction adding 3D pain, but can just about see that it would add to it with VR. My thoughts.

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  • Speaking of Sundance and movies I wish rd.net would have an article about a new release that looks absolutely awful called I Origins. It premiered at Sundance and is one of those “hard nosed scientist meets beautiful woman who helps him regain his soul and sense of wonder” movies. From the reviews I’ve been reading it sounds lie the science in this movie is just abysmal; the premise is that some scientist has to “prove” that the eye actually could have evolved to refute the arguments from Creationists. I guess the film makers haven’t read much Dawkins.

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