The 79th Venice International Film Festival offers this year its most diverse edition of Venice Immersive – the section dedicated to augmented reality – taking festival-goers to a small island just a short boat ride from the main headquarters. festival
They can play games or “hop the world” with a tour guide, dress up in costume with dancers in the background, or even help Coco Chanel develop her Chanel No. 5.
The program, curated by Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac, runs from September 1 to September 10 and offers a hands-on look at the future of storytelling.
“It’s the biggest edition we’ve ever done,” Rosenthal said.
The forms have also evolved in the last two years when the virtual Venice program had to become virtual itself. So, for this grand return to Lazzaretto Vecchio, they’ve also given the program a new, more inclusive name: Venice Immersive.
“We wanted to refocus on how quickly the field is diversifying,” Reilhac said. “We didn’t want to focus on one technology like VR, but try to represent all kinds of different ways to deliver an immersive experience.”
Of the 43 projects, only a few require a VR headset. Some are massive 360 degree installations and others offer a hybrid “mixed reality”.
One of their most ambitious undertakings has been a commitment to giving tours of virtual worlds to small groups. Worlds is a general term that basically means a space where people can gather virtually – it could be a beach, a forest or a fantastical sci-fi space. In the world, you can just go outside, or do activities like playing mini golf or even training dogs, Reilhac explained. Like many things in Venice Immersive, the worlds and jumping into the worlds is something best experienced.
“Framerate: Pulse of the Earth,” is one of the multi-screen installations on display that curators said shows the potential of this art form. The project is focused on changing landscapes and is made with 3D scanning technology.
“We’re aiming to detect changes in the planet that are caused by nature and also caused by human-centered industries,” said Framerate director Matthew Shaw. “We see places of destruction, extraction, habitation, we see harvesting, we see growth, and we see erosion.”
To experience Framerate, the audience enters a dark room where they are surrounded by screens that act as “holographic portals” to large scenes, such as a 200-meter cliff that erodes and crumbles into the sea over the course of a year or a forest which transforms into 12 months. You can stand anywhere in the room, move around and choose where to focus, whether it’s the rock or a single pebble.
The team working on the project captured these scenes in Norfolk and Glasgow, where they filmed every day for a year. It wasn’t, Shaw said, just someone who set up a camera and tripod and let it be filmed. And a fair amount of R&D and innovation was required to make it happen.
“We don’t just make artwork,” Shaw said. “We build the tools to make them work as well. It wasn’t just can we 3D scan something at the landscape scale, but can we scan it as it moves?”
Shaw is just one of the pioneers of new immersive art forms on display at the festival. Another high-profile project is Mathias Chelebourg’s Rencontre(s), with the voice of Marion Cotillard. The “multi-sensory haptic experience” invites you to step into the perfumer’s shoes in 1921 when Gabrielle Chanel met Ernest Beaux and they created Chanel. No. 5. There’s also an interactive VR game set in 1920s England inspired by the TV show Peaky Blinders called Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom that also features the voice of Cillian Murphy. Others are more serious, like Stay Alive My Son, in which the player steps into the shoes of a survivor of the Cambodian genocide.
Both Reilhac and Rosenthal hope moviegoers at the festival will head to Immersive Island to try out some of the experiences.
“There is no other A-list festival in the world that is so dedicated to representing diving as a new art form,” said Reilhac. “By comparing immersive arts with prestigious feature films, we raise the perception of immersive arts as a true art form and not just a technological gimmick.”
At the moment, “there’s no real market for immersive arts,” Reilhac said. Creators in Venice are doing it out of passion and curiosity. But he thinks that could change.
“It’s the birth of a new art form and maybe a new industry,” he said.