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How to Judge VR in Venice by Anna Reeves

Marie Jourdren



Venice 2018 had 40 projects, 13 in competition and 10 others. ! 6 in the Best Of section and 4 from the Biennale College.! !


The VR section at Venice was incredibly diverse and for such a nascent technology it is certainly beginning to find its feet. Yes, there are similarities to filmmaking but beyond the obvious lie irreconcilable differences, stemming from the essential disparity between a closed frame and a 365 degree choice of viewing.
VR is a trip like no other and my biggest surprise was upon entering into the Horrifically Real Virtuality, one of the interactive VR projects in competition.

Marie Jourdren wrote and directed this immersive theatre VR play, based in the world of 1950s cinema. It allows the viewer to move between the virtual and the real, interacting with characters and physical objects on three physical and five virtual sets. I asked her about how they had pulled off such an audacious, groundbreaking project and she answered, “The complexity lies in combining a lot of different technologies that were not designed to do so. It required a lot of research and development on our side. It was an incredible challenge to gather so many different people, with different backgrounds and skills, and to build this experience. People from VR, developers, engineers, people from theatre, scenography, set supervising, game design… We all had to understand each other’s job, and think about the different constraints. Mixing all these skills is like inventing the jobs of tomorrow, it’s really awesome. So yes, I’m really proud of my team.”!

I have never had such fun as when I took part in this VR experience, along with five other participants. It was the closest to being in a waking dream-state that I have ever experienced. I’m certain David Lynch or Guillermo del toro would adore this project. I never wanted it to stop. I can not wait to see what this team will do next. I applaud their ambition and vision.


There is some controversy within the VR community as to which projects were awarded prizes at Venice this year.

The winner was Spheres, written and directed by Eliza McNitt and produced by Darren Aronofsky, with narration by Jessica Chastain and Patti Smith. It reminded me of a hands-on science exhibit. I have to say that I got more out of watching the IMAX film Hidden Universe in 3D at the Science Museum in London. By its very nature VR should tempt repeat visits to experience things that you missed the first time around. Spheres was reviewed in the Guardian newspaper as being “comparable to the “Laserium” and “Laserock” displays that the London Planetarium used to put on in the 70s.” Peter Bradshow said he wished he could like it a bit more and I know what he means. It was okay. It wasn’t brilliant. The most fun was travelling down a black hole but anything about the galaxy and multiverse should be a visceral ride from beginning to end, leaving you in a state of awe.

Instead I found Spheres to be essentially static and lacking the ingenuity and daring of other projects in competition. The fact that every one of the projects that other VR practitioners were most raving about, such as Horrifically Real Virtuality, Umami by Landia Egai and Thomas Pons, or Awavena by Lynette Wallworth did not garner so much as a look in by the jury is most revealing. There was clearly a disconnect. Like cinema, VR explores the laws of movement and the organisation of time, only it demands a new kind of editing, a new kind of seeing and being. Sound design becomes key. A VR experience is constantly moving and changing, allowing you to interpret and feel each separate moment in your own way.

Perhaps next year they should do something wildly out of the box and invite an artist to be on the jury, somebody like Theo Jansen the Dutchman who makes large kinetic sculptures that can walk with the wind, which he calls his Strandbeest. Or a choreographer such as the American Twyla Tharp whose numerous talents have lead to works across multiple entertainment platforms. VR is essentially stepping into a new space. It feel physical in its immediacy, and certainly when you walk about in some of the experiences it is literally about movement through various spaces. I will never forget going inside a tree and rising like sap up, up into its crown before wandering around the Amazon at night and seeing the world through the eyes of a shaman in Awavena. It made me think of the Mycorrhizal networks that lie underground, what some call the fungal internet, linking a complicated web of life together, allowing plants to communicate and help each other. Surely this intense connection with the earth this particular VR project engenders is as cosmic as anything from outer space. It takes us on a spiritual journey to a remote tribe and gifts us with their wisdom. This is inspiring stuff. It has unity. It has a purpose. It holds up.

The best of VR time flows on beyond the edges of the frame, linking you directly into its bloodstream. It should become something beyond the story, a plot; the truth of it lodging itself you like a body memory. It fires our synapses and helps forge new neural networks. What’s being born is a new aesthetic principle. We can not let it become an empty or pretentious hybrid of cinema or gaming because it has its own power. What Venice showcased more so than ever before is that VR is pushing the envelope. These creative and technical collaborations are shaping stories with living material; able to create an interplay between real and imaginary worlds.


The talent is global and Venice offered an invaluable meeting of minds.! !!

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About Mostra Internazionale d Arte Cinematografica Venice

Oldest festival in the world, MOSTRA is Non-specialised competitive event for features and shorts. Two competing sections and three Prizes: the Golden Lion, the Lion of the Year and the Lion of the Future to best director`s debut film.



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