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Sundance Festival Shows Why You Should Be Excited About Virtual Reality

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‘Way To Go’ is one of 9 VR films showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival

Virtual reality was largely preaching to the converted when it featured in Vegas at this year’s CES, but just a few hours north in Utah it’s set to be a very different story. Movie critics and industry bigwigs will gather in Salt Lake City this Thursday for the Sundance Film Festival, where 3D glasses will be replaced by Oculus headsets thanks to a new program that focusses on innovation in filmmaking.

Purists may take some convincing, but technology is finding its way into cinemas whether they like it or not – from the ubiquity of 3D glasses to movies you can smell and, now, virtual reality. Although Oculus Rift is still largely seen as a gaming gadget, we’re beginning to see what the technology can do elsewhere – from virtual tourism to creating immersive experiences in movies and TV. At last year’s SXSW, for instance, a Game of Thrones installation gave fans the chance to climb the 700ft Wall of Westeros, complete with 360-degree views and blasts of freezing cold air to replicate the icy conditions.

 Technology is finding its way into cinemas whether the purists like it or not 
Sundance is no stranger to experimental film either, and while the festival has shown virtual reality movies before, this year is set to be its most ambitious yet. It’s latest program, New Frontier, is set to feature 13 installations – nine of which will include virtual reality elements.

Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer and curator of the New Frontier exhibition, explains: “The content creators in the 2015 edition of New Frontier radically challenge the very notion of storytelling. Working with virtual reality and new gaming technologies, these artists, filmmakers, journalists, media scientists, game designers and creative technologists present a peek at the dawn of a bold new cinematic world, through an unprecedented exploration of the most basic state of being.”

So, will these bold new films be able to win over the industry at Sundance this week? Here are 5 virtual reality highlights from this year’s schedule.

5 VR films to watch at Sundance:

Kaiju Fury!

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No film festival would be complete without a big, dumb monster movie, but at this year’s Sundance prepare to see the genre as you’ve never seen it before. In Kaiju Fury!, giant mutant creatures are attracted to the city by a mysterious energy source as meddling scientists attempt to reverse their actions and save humanity. Sure, it sounds a lot like Godzilla, but through an Oculus headset you’ll find yourself in the middle of the action – gazing up at the beastly creatures as they tear the city to shreds.

Way To Go

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Even before we really knew what we were doing with virtual reality, some clever developers were figuring out ways to scare us with it. Not a great deal is known about Vincent Morisset’s Way To Go, but based on its eerie visuals alone it looks as though it will continue that tradition at this year’s Sundance. It’s been described as a ‘walk in the woods,’ combining hand-made animation with 360-degree video capture. The running time adds to the mystery, said to range any time between 6 minutes and, errr, forever – so enter the woods at your own risk.

Perspective; Chapter 1: The Party

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Virtual reality isn’t all monster movies and spooky walks through the woods, though, it can also tackle serious issues. Perspective; Chapter I: The Party is a film about date rape, putting you in familiar movie surroundings – a drunken college party – and forced to tackle the grey areas of misunderstanding, boundaries and trauma. Experience the story as two separate characters, giving two perspectives and two very different experiences.

Possibilia

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Ever been to the cinema and screamed at a character for making a bad decision? Movies have a way of making us feel helpless like this, but what if you could impact what happens on screen? Possibilia aims to do exactly this, presenting the viewer with a seamless non-linear narrative in which there are 30 different scenarios to explore. Alex Karpovksy (GirlsInside Llewyn Davis) and Zoe Jarman (The Mindy Project) star in this creative take on a messy break-up narrative.

Project Syria

Project Syria is another unique experiment in virtual reality, seeking to tell the story of the ongoing war by simulating the experience for outsiders. The installation has been billed as a new form of ‘immersive journalism,’ showing the first-hand effects of a rocket strike and an overcrowded refugee camp in its two-part experience. Oculus Rift is often presented as the means to escape, but Project Syria shows how the technology might also be used to bring us closer to grim but important realities.

Sundance Film Festival begins begins on January 22nd and closes on February 1st. 

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