Major international film festivals are hosting a wave of virtual reality work that has accelerated due to the coronavirus pandemic

A group of immaculate cabins displaying posters on their elegantly built panels welcome visitors to the Jameel Quarter, an art complex and creative hub in the historic city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Lovely neighborhood cabins equivalent to movie theaters with a few exceptions. Everyone here gets a custom mini movie theater that comes with a headset, headphone, and remote. There are plenty of options to watch as well, unlike the only one offered in a traditional cinema. Welcome to the new world of virtual reality (VR) storytelling that is increasingly becoming an integral part of film festivals around the world.

At the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah from 6 to 15 December, 21 virtual reality artworks from around the world were submitted in two separate and out-of-competition competitions. Titled Red Sea Immersive, the VR portion of the festival represents a sweeping change across festival programming on several continents. At least five festivals — Venice, Sundance, Southwest South, Tribeca, and the Red Sea Festival — have added a virtual reality category in recent years to engage audiences looking to experience art using the latest technology.

he crossed his boundaries

“It’s art very complementary to the festival’s main programme, but also stands independently as a leading and wonderful choice of work,” says Edward Weintraub, Artistic Director of the Red Sea Festival, who previously headed the directors. Parallel programming for two weeks in Cannes, about virtual reality running in the official selection. Among the VR works in competition in Jeddah Kusunda, an interactive work on the endangered Kusunda language in Nepal, Goliath: Playing with RealityThe true story of a man whose parents were diagnosed with schizophrenia glimpse, the story of a talented painter’s painful breakup with his girlfriend, a graceful deer who dreams of becoming a musician.

Most of the VR works produced today are backed by international teams with tremendous experience and talent. goliath It stars British actress Tilda Swinton, while Welsh actor Taron Egerton plays Elton John. rocket man, is the illustrator Herbie Turner in profile. glimpse It was directed by Irish director Benjamin Cleary, who won an Oscar for Best Direct Action Short Film stutter In 2016. An all-female jury of American artist Laurie Anderson, BAFTA Award-winning director Victoria Maplebeck, and Sarah Muhanna Al Abdali, one of the first street artists in Saudi Arabia, will decide the winner of 13 real-life works in Jeddah.

“The pandemic has sparked a lot of interest in virtual reality work,” says Liz Rosenthal, curator of the Red Sea Immersive Gallery. “Choice in Jeddah is truly one of the most exciting presentations of virtual experiences that graced the festival circuit so far,” adds Rosenthal, who is also the curator of the Venice Exhibition in Virtual Reality at the Venice International Film Festival. According to a recent study, 70% of all VR users today have purchased a device in the last 12 months. 10.7 million VR headsets have been sold so far this year with the number expected to reach 70.1 million by 2025.

A virtual reality work was part of the Cannes official selection for the first time four years ago when famed Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu presented a virtual reality installation, Carne y Arena, about the plight of refugees. In a rare movement, the Birdman And return The director received a special Oscar for his work in virtual reality in 2017. In the same year, Iñárritu showed Carne y Arena in Cannes, one of the first virtual reality films made in India, and was part of the five-film virtual reality selection in Cannes. Toronto Festival, once again first. five minutes The right to prayDirected by Khushbu Ranka and produced by Anand Gandhi, it explores women’s protests against a time-honored tradition that had prevented them from entering a temple in Trimbakeshwar in Maharashtra.

Technical Sensitivities

At Sundance Festival in the US in January this year, 14 virtual reality projects were part of the festival’s New Frontier programme, while Venice VR Expanded, a dedicated virtual reality program launched five years ago by the world’s oldest film festival, It is donated the famous Golden Lion Award for Best Virtual Reality Story. the end of the night, a VR action from Denmark about a Danish man who flees by boat to Sweden to escape Nazi occupation, won the Golden Lion in Venice in September. the end of the nightPart of the Red Sea Immersive Collection, it has won praise in both Venice and Jeddah for its breathtaking interactive experience.

“The first VR projects were demos driven by technology rather than storytelling. That has changed and there is an explosion of content today. Today’s VR projects are not demos, but legitimate pieces of art,” says Michael Salmon, Immersive Red Sea producer. Today’s default is not run by one person, but a team of filmmakers, developers, gamers and animators. “It’s a similar team if you’re developing a game, but the artistic sense comes with it,” adds London-based Salmon.

says Gayatri Parameswaran, co-creator KusundaPart of the competition section in Jeddah. “Virtual reality works are great as a tool for archiving stories so that successive generations can experience their ancestors’ pasts in a very special way,” adds the Berlin-based filmmaker, who was born and raised in the Mumbai suburb of Dombivli.

From the early days of virtual reality when viewers had to squeeze a thick mobile phone into a viewing headset, the VR experience has come a long way. Today’s VR projects are featured on the Oculus Quest 2 headset made by Facebook (Facebook, now Metaverse, bought Oculus in 2016) that delivers a friendly experience without any distraction. “VR headsets today are stand-alone equipment not tied to a computer as before,” says Marc Lobato, co-founder of Diversion Cinema, a virtual reality event agency located in Paris. Thanks to the game-changing technology available today, more and more film festivals are showing VR projects as part of their official selection.

Faisal Khan works as a freelancer

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