The Venice VR program at the 75th Venice International Film Festival was an unbelievably well curated event that put the spotlight on the work and presented it as a thoughtful and stylistic experience. I was honoured to have my project ‘The Unknown Patient’ nominated for Best Interactive and Best VR Experience, and to be part of the official program chosen by its fearless and dedicated curators Michel Reilhac and Liz Rosenthal. This is a bit of taste of what the experience of going to Venice was like.
THE LEPER COLONY
A stones throw from the film festival island of Lido is this ex-leper colony now home to Venice VR. The walls still have the markings and inscriptions of patients from hundreds of years ago but now the brickface walls are home to thirty VR experiences, divided into three sections. 1) the Installations, 2) Stands- Ups, 3) The VR Cinema.
THE UNKNOWN PATIENT
‘The Unknown Patient’ was exhibited in the stand-up section of Venice VR which comprised mostly of oculus headsets. Each piece had their own dedicated space divided into sections that provided a necessary intimacy for each project. We arrived the day before and built our little installation. Believe me delivering sand bags to a little island off Venice was no easy feat! We were the only ones to build an installation in the Stand up section (though you do sit down in ours) and it became a talking point, and at the very least a visual cue which made ours easily identifiable. More importantly though it added an extra bit of immersion for our project. Venice put a lot of effort into providing audiences with a safe and unintimidating space that encouraged total immersion. A sense that they always put the project first and the audiences journey both physically and virtually. A real nice touch which feeds into the ego of every director is the big bold light projection of the directors name and title of the project.
Michael Beets (Director), Bethany Jones (Producer), Brad Hammond (Lead Dev)
There were a number of events organised for the Venice VR directors that ranged from the red carpet to the press event and daily director talks where each director had the opportunity to talk about their project to an audience. This is an image of myself with Directors Eliza Mcnitt (Spheres) and Gerda Leopold (Ballavita) at the directors talk, hosted by curator Liz Rosenthal.
A festival is great for the resume but in reality they are glamourous expos where the most valuable part are the contacts and people you meet. Venice really made sure that the directors and producers had ample opportunity to meet people. Also, you’re on a small island for most of the time so meeting people (unless you hide in a corner) becomes an inevitable part of the experience.
These festivals really are what you make of it. Enjoy but play hard kind of thing. Prior to the festival, we planned as best as we could and reached out to those we wanted to meet. We’ve completed the first episode and I can happily say that we’re already talking to some great people about possible collaborations and ways in which we can get the remaining episodes of ‘The Unknown Patient’ off the ground. Being at Venice, talking about the content and seeing the groundbreaking work is a valuable source of inspiration and I believe we’ve all come away from it feeling exuberant about what’s to come, and the things we’re making.
Here are a couple projects I really enjoyed and pushed the medium a bit further:
Mind Palace: The look of this piece is stunning. For me, by far the most interesting aesthetic. You can tell that a lot of hard work went into pushing the tech to create an immersive and thought provoking aesthetic.
The Horrifically Real Virtuality: One of the larger more elaborate installations by DV Group. A combination of live performance, real time motion capture, and free roaming headsets. This piece was a tightly put together showcase of what might be possible with live performance and VR. Their use of leap motion for the audiences hands inside the experience was top notch.
VR I: A wacky as hell free roaming group experience (social experience) that puts you into a virtual environment where you become a random avatar (I was a middle aged black woman). This piece is the most social experience to date that I’ve had in VR.
Home After War: Directed by Gayatri Parameswaran. This is the project that had the most emotional impact on me. It’s a largely photogrammetry environment with 360 degree videos embedded into the journey. The user roams around the home of Ahmaied, an Iraqi man who had lost two sons to an IED within that very house.
Lucid:Directed by Pete Short. A beautiful reminder that a well told story can evoke an emotional response. A story of daughter who finds herself travelling through the memories of her mother as she lies on her deathbed.
The experience of going to Venice, exhibiting work, and meeting all the unbelievable talented people there was an experience like no other. I can only hope that other festivals, arcades, location based entertainment that deal with VR take note of what they’re doing, because they’re doing it right.
It propels creativity and the industry.