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Brief Published: 27 Apr 2016

Experiential Tribeca Film Festival 2016

This year's Tribeca Film Festival (April 13-24) had a strong focus on virtual reality (VR), promoting collaborative, experimental storytelling among the filmmakers, artists and innovators in attendance. We select the 2016 highlights.

Increased Presence: The most innovative VR projects set out to create storyworlds that provide a more solid sense of 'presence'. "Presence to me is that I have impact in this [VR] world in some regard, and that someone out there understands that I'm here," Jessica Brillhart, principal filmmaker at Google, told Stylus. "The beauty is if you have an entire world with many possibilities, there is a very unlikely chance someone will experience the same thing."

  • Physi-Digital Forms: Forma is a multi-user VR collaboration between US-based experiential agency Fake Love and choreographer Jonah Bokaer. Four users stand equidistant from each other, their positions mirrored by virtual, golem-like figures in an otherworldly desert. The users' gestures then impact changes in the landscape.
  • 3D VR Soundscapes: The Turning Forest by Australian filmmaker Oscar Raby is a VR journey through a magical forest that explores the immersive power of sound in virtual reality. Developed in collaboration with the BBC's Research & Development team, 3D sound recorded binaurally (using two microphones to mirror human hearing) is generated in real time to create a spatial soundscape that drives the immersive experience on a foliage-filled trail.

    Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness also deploys 3D binaural sound. Using British writer John Hull's 1983 audio-diary of his descent into total blindness, participants are taken on a visceral journey to experience how loss of vision can enhance the other senses.
  • Testing Worlds: Nasa, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and US-based Fusion Media have collaborated to produce Mars 2030 – a VR exploration of the red planet. Viewed from the perspective of an astronaut, this physics-based simulation is helping Nasa's planners virtually road test systems ahead of its mission to put humans on Mars by 2030. The full film will be free to download or stream via Twitch and YouTube Gaming later this year.
Mars 2030

Infinite Narratives: Two experimental projects explored the infinite possibilities of data and the transitory nature of digital media formats.

  • Ephemeral Storytelling: Haunted by the notion of lost silent films, the Séances installation by Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin consists of a digital touchscreen 'Ouija board'. Together, participants randomly 'push' clips, titles and music inspired by lost films to a point on the screen. Their selections are then generated into a unique 12-minute film that will never be seen again.
  • Endless Social Narrative: Making a comment on the voyeuristic and often overwhelming effect of the internet, the Network Effect generates narratives from millions of evolving social data points. The film's web version limits this content rabbit hole by calculating the life expectancy of a viewer based on their IP address – allowing only as many minutes' viewing time as the number of years predicted.

Empathy to Action: Several projects explored the emotional impact of digital storytelling to tackle societal problems.

  • VR Decision Driver: Injustice is a VR experience that simulates moral decision-making. Themed around racially motivated police brutality, users witness an escalating stop-and-search situation. The experience is operated with voice recognition controls, forcing its users to physically speak up.
  • Media Meets Advocacy: Named after the number of people displaced in the current refugee crisis, the 19 Million Project is a Fusion Media collaboration with non-profit digital journalism group Chicas Poderosas. Bringing together global journalists, developers, designers and human rights leaders, the 19 Million Project wants to gain and share a deeper understanding of the refugee crisis through digital storytelling. One ongoing project is Kakum, a gamified story experience of a refugee's journey towards a safe haven.

For more on VR applications, see Tribeca Film Festival 2015, New Video Marketing Strategies, New York Times' VR Push and Sculpting VR Story Spaces with HTC. See also our Post-Digital Macro Trend.

The Network Effect