Virtual Reality

Tribeca opens Cinema360, a VR film festival you can enjoy at home

Tribeca opens Cinema360, a VR ...
Ferenj, one of the VR films available for free in the Cinema360 film festival
Ferenj, one of the VR films available for free in the Cinema360 film festival
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Ferenj, one of the VR films available for free in the Cinema360 film festival
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Ferenj, one of the VR films available for free in the Cinema360 film festival
1st Step, a staggering documentary celebrating the Apollo moon missions, reassembled from some incredible NASA footage and photos
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1st Step, a staggering documentary celebrating the Apollo moon missions, reassembled from some incredible NASA footage and photos

For the next nine days, anyone with an Oculus Go or Oculus Quest can access a 15-film lineup of immersive 3D films from around the globe, free of charge, curated and presented by the Tribeca Film Festival. Cinema360 will run from April 17 to 26.

As VR headsets like the wonderfully accessible Oculus Quest continue to proliferate out into the mass market, and 360-degree videos begin reaching wider and wider audiences, more creative types are being drawn to the technology. The ability to place a viewer in such an immersive space can be used to create breathtakingly expansive environments and unnervingly intimate situations alike.

Mind you, the intersection between cinema and VR has not always been a smooth one. As Rich Haridy pointed out in his 2016 piece How VR is rewriting the rules of storytelling, there's a fundamentally different relationship between a viewer and a film when the viewer can choose to look wherever they want. A director can make suggestions in all sorts of ways – audio cues, lighting, the gaze of other characters – but if the viewer doesn't want to follow it, they'll get a different experience than the director planned.

The Oculus Quest starts at US$399 - no PC required
The Oculus Quest starts at US$399 - no PC required

From what we've seen of the Cinema360 lineup, this challenge is addressed in a number of different ways. Some of the films are totally watchable just from your comfy seat on the sofa, because they place the action front and center, offering you the opportunity to look around but not requiring it. Others you'll need to be standing up or on a swivel chair, because they force you to look in all directions to follow the characters' movements.

Some place you, the viewer, as an uninvolved spectator looking on as the action happens, others invite you into imaginary worlds where people speak directly to you and the whole show is laid out for your personal entertainment. Others drop the idea of a traditional visual narrative altogether, and simply move you through a series of artistic and creative spaces, creating a feeling more than a story.

None of the short films go for more than about 15 minutes; they're organized into four short programs but you can pick and choose between the 15 and watch what you like. Of the half dozen we've watched, the standout by far was 1st Step, a documentary-style retelling of the Apollo moon missions that sends you into space for a moonwalk using NASA archival footage and photos. Space travel is a VR staple, and for good reason. I challenge anyone not to be overcome with emotion looking at the Earth's magnificence from afar.

1st Step, a staggering documentary celebrating the Apollo moon missions, reassembled from some incredible NASA footage and photos
1st Step, a staggering documentary celebrating the Apollo moon missions, reassembled from some incredible NASA footage and photos

Another memorable, if not as polished, experience is Forgotten Kiss, a VR retelling of a Russian fairytale, narrated to you by a series of ballerina-like figures as you float through a dreamscape of translucent mythological figures, statues and geometric worlds. VR can be a hell of a drug.

And then there's Saturnism. I've seen other VR experiences that place the viewer inside a famous artwork, but this one takes things to a grisly new level. You're thrust into the world of Goya's Saturn Devouring his Son, which is a horrifying painting in its own right before you have to watch the grisly event unfold right in front of you, bone-crunching noises and all.

The films come from a diverse group of filmmakers from South Korea to Finland to Ethiopia, and range from the squarely rooted in reality to grand flights of fancy. There's some great stuff in there and some very ordinary. It's a fresh and free collection of experiences for VR headset owners.

Source: Tribeca Cinema360

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