An island for Virtual Reality


The 74th Venice Film Festival has concluded. Among its most interesting news is that it was the first to feature a competition entirely dedicated to VR, the Venice Virtual Reality Competition

It has now been a few years that the Festival is also presented as a place to reconsider the very concept of cinema, whose definition increasingly appears less clear-cut. If the previous edition saw the inauguration of a theater entirely dedicated to VR for the first time, this year the Festival’s direction pushed itself even further, instituting an ad hoc competition and hosting it in the fresh location of the Lazzaretto Vecchio island, just a stone’s throw from the Lido’s lagoon front. Restored for the occasion, the island opened its doors to visitors for six intense days of projection, from 31 August to 5 September. Connessioni was there.


In addition to the VR Theater, which featured stations equipped with Diversion Cinema devices, so-called “stand-up” installations were set up following a classic museum itinerary, benefiting from both Vive and Oculus technologies – a sign that VR is presented as a terrain that is largely contested between the large market players (without taking into account the relative success of the PlayStation VR visor, dedicated primarily to the gaming world) even today. Eighteen films were selected, two of which were financed by the Biennale College Cinema. The festival in fact represented a meeting point of great interest even from a productive point of view, the result of a long process that began in early 2017 with the institution of the first Biennale College Cinema – Virtual Reality, a workshop created with the goal of training and developing nine virtual reality projects with particular attention to aspects such as the identification of target markets and adequate distribution channels. Two of the nine projects chosen, financed thanks to the support of Creative Europe, the Netherlands Film Fund and the TorinoFilmLab, entered the final competition, while the other seven were presented at the Venice Production Bridge along with eight other external projects.


The organizers demonstrated their enthusiasm in the face of such an experience, which was absolutely ground-breaking in Italy: as Alberto Barbera, director of the Show, declared, “we were shocked by the number of works that arrived: there were those that focused on tactile aspects, those on stories, or on experimenting with the means. Virtual confirms that cinema has exploded.” So, the premises seem to be confirmed: VR will not substitute cinema, but will run alongside it. The winners, awarded during the 9 September ceremony at the Palabiennale, were Arden’s Wake by Eugene YK Chung, Sand Room (La camera insabbiata) by Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang and Bloodless by Gina Kim. Among the works presented, those that certainly made an impact were the installations The Last Goodbye, a simulation of captivity in concentration camps financed by the USC Shoah Foundation and created by Gabo Arora and Ari Palitz, and Greenland Melting by Catherine Upin and Julia Cort, an effective interactive documentary on the melting ice in Greenland and its potential risks for global balance. Worth noting, in closing, is the first VR film from cult director Tsai-Ming Liang, Jia zài lánre sì (The Deserted), which brought those passionate about technology, but also and especially about cinema, to the island, and that can’t help but make us happy. Of course, the problems that characterize the entire VR scene remain, even in productions that, as in this last case, employ the latest-generation recording instruments (the Jaunt One 360-degree camera): low output resolution, low dynamic range, sensible color variation, etc. And yet, the premises for improvement are all here; or at least this is the air that was breathed during these days.

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