Sundance Film Festival: VR and Emerging Tech Stand-Outs
Sundance Film Festival is arguably one of the leading film festivals in the world which has embraced filmmakers utilizing new platforms. This year is no exception and a wealth of projects are currently being watched, demo’d, and discussed at what is known as the New Frontiers section of the Sundance Film Festival.
This section of the Festival is about cutting-edge, independent and experimental media works by creators who are pushing the limits across bio tech, facial recognition, mixed reality, underwater VR an much more. The works are representations from around the globe and are on display at both what is known as New Frontier at The Ray and New Frontier Central, each of which hosts a variety of media installations, VR cinema, panel discussions, and networking events.
There are 241 works in total with 44% directed or led by one or more women, 35% were directed or led by one or more artists of color, and 19% by one or more people who identify as LGBTQ+
Some offerings are particularly notable. For example, “Breathe” is a unique offering that creates a storyline that unfolds in line with the viewers' breathing pattern via bio-sensitive material extended from a device to the viewer. This is a very intriguing way to experience what the creators call the story of air.
In addition, “BLKNWS” is an ongoing art project that brings together art, journalism, and cultural critique using a newsreel format to reimagine traditionally storytelling with the intent of offering a new take on news and views pertaining to people of color.
“Persuasion Machines” is both a creative offering and commentary on smart livingrooms that ponder the question as to whether the human is in control or the machines and does so via a creative use of VR application.
However, it is “Still Here” produced by Al Jazeera which is really a feat. The longer AR piece ever produced, clocking in at 18 minutes, this work, which also includes an in-depth VR companion explores a topic that is typically hidden: the rising statistics of incarcerated women, many of whom are Black. The project cites the fact that nearly 2,879, 000 women are incarcerated in the U.S. each year, 80% of whom are mothers. Thus the company decided to create a piece that allows a viewer to explore the issues that such a woman might face upon her re-integration back into society.
“Still Here” takes it’s viewers through an AR version of Harlem where the voice-overs of the woman previously incarcerated explores a newly gentrified neighborhood from which she feels alienated. We see a perfect illustration of the growing wealth gap in America through the eyes of these women.
CGI based, this piece is very intriguing and even includes scripted dialogue by noted writer Carvel Wallace. The interactive usage of VR and AR technologies takes us into the experience of a real-life woman who after 15 years in prison grapples with erasure and the sentiment which that brings. The work also finally gives voice to many of those inhabiting such situations but typically only express such feelings within the community. Now such thoughts are widely exposed and should make for very rich dialogue and change.
Themes around return, exploration, and identity are very much front and center this year at New Frontiers and present truly astounding works for both the industry and general public no matter whether considering from a tech or content point of view. Sundance continues to push the envelope here like no other.