Award-Winning VR Films Hint at How Far the Medium Will Go
4000 Attendees, 6 Awards
Last year, the Kaleidoscope Virtual Reality Film Fest might have been the first VR film festival ever, but it was a modest affair, with one-night events in a handful of cities. In 2016, though, the festival—like VR itself—came into its own: With 10 multi-day stops that ranged from Korea to Australia to the U.S., the festival’s road show boasted nearly 200 submissions. Earlier this week, the tour (which was co-sponsored by WIRED) wrapped up in Melbourne, and named the six winners of its festival awards; ranging from animation to live-action to documentary, they suggest a nearly limitless field of possibility for storytellers.
Grand Prize for Excellence in Cinematic Virtual Reality: Tana Pura
Much has been made of VR’s potential for spiritually moving moments; this three-minute experience, meant to evoke the moment of death and whatever comes next, might be the first to plumb that ground. With music from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and visuals from Mike Tucker (who works at secretive mixed-reality company Magic Leap), it’s by turns haunting and hopeful.
Best Experimental Experience: Notes on Blindness
At 15 minutes, this was one of the longer pieces of the festival, but it should be—it’s based on the audio diaries of a man who began chronicling his loss of sight more than 30 years ago. Binaural sound and an affecting dot-based aesthetic work to evoke a rare glimpse into the sensory processes of the visually impaired.
Best Documentary: Clouds
No, not Clouds Over Sidra—this VR doc isn’t about Syrian refugees, but instead speaks with digital artists and innovators about the quest to simulate reality. It’s an arresting look at a core of passionate group, and (at least when I first saw it in 2014) was one of the first VR experiences of the current era to experiment with gaze-based selection to navigate through a story.
Best Interactive Experience: La Péri
Described by studio Innerspace as “a ballet in VR,” this captivating CGI piece is meant to be the prelude of a multi-installment story. Creative director Balthazar Auxietre found inspiration in Disney’s Fantasia, and the game-film hybrid puts viewers in the body of a king who seeks to attain immortality by capturing the the lifeforce of an elusive creature. This inaugural episode is also available for the HTC Vive.
Best Live Action Experience: Jet Lag
Narrative video pieces are surprisingly rare in the early days of VR storytelling, but this 11-minute film is a vote of confidence for the form. The tale of two women navigating the uncertain terrain of a suddenly-long-distance relationship uses 360-degree video to find sentiment without becoming saccharine.
Best Animated Experience: “Old Friend”
We’ve covered Wevr for their work with Reggie Watts to bring comedy to the medium, and now the VR startup has done it again, partnering with director Tyler Hurd to create a gleefully bonkers video for the Future Islands song of the same name. Hurd worked as a videogame dev for many years, but this isn’t his first virtual venture: he also made the similarly nuts Butts.