4 min read

5 Cool VR Installations at Sundance

5 Cool VR Installations at Sundance
“Collisions” was the first-ever simultaneously-screened VR project at Sundance. Photo: Kelsey Doyle

Thousands of film enthusiasts streamed into Sundance’s New Frontier experimental storytelling exhibit to “experience” films, projects and installations. The big buzz words this year are, you guessed it: Virtual Reality.

The showcase, in its 10th edition, features VR work by filmmakers at the forefront of our rapidly-changing visual media landscape. What last year seemed to be only a vision of what could be, this year is a celebration of a medium that is here to stay.

The exhibit includes 45 projects, some of which are in the Art and Performance categories — but Tethered and Mobile VR seem to draw the largest crowds. Getting on the wait list to experience these projects is quite a feat: they open each day at 8am, and are booked solid within the hour.

Here are 5 VR installations that grabbed our attention:

The Unknown Photographer (Tethered VR)

Abandon the modern world. You are now in the boots of a WWI photographer, walking through battlefields. As you walk around, snippets of memory from the war can be heard around you, but you also see dead soldiers and destruction. This is an immersive documentary that unveils a journey into the heart of WWI, sourced through photo albums discovered inside an abandoned house in Quebec, Canada in the 1970’s. [Created by Montreal-based studio Turbulent in collaboration with Canada’s National Film Board.]

Photo: Turbulent

Collisions (Mobile VR)

The film was the first-ever synchronized screening at Sundance; it played simultaneously to a crowd of people in a room wearing VR headsets. Collisions is a virtual reality journey to the homeland of an aboriginal elder of the Martu Tribe in the remote deserts of Australia in the 1950’s, and portrays the clash of aboriginal and Western cultures. Collisions’ message is also to future generations: allowing you to imagine the possible unintended consequences of our actions. (Catch it on the Sundance VR app). [Directed by artist and filmmaker Lynette Wallworth.]

Photo: Piers Mussared

Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness (Mobile VR)

This is a VR component of a traditional film. A theologian in the 1980s named John Hull started to go blind little by little. In order to make sense of what was happening to him, he started to record his thoughts and perceptions on cassette tapes — attempting to make sense of living life, while gradually losing his vision. He also recorded audio of his wife and children, family gatherings, and dinners and celebrations. This visual project ironically mimics Hull’s intimate experience of losing his vision. In this VR project, the filmmakers cast actors to lip sync the voices of John and his family, while you hear the original audio from those cassette tapes. You also see spots of light and darkness which fade into your field of vision. This is a brilliant example of how VR can be used to dynamically relive one’s intimate memoir.

Photo: Peter Middleton/James Spinney

Defrost (Mobile VR)

In this virtual reality film, you are taken on a sci-fi adventure into the future. The experience begins with you sitting in wheelchair, being pushed down a hospital hallway by a nurse. A doctor walks slowly alongside, calmly explaining that you have been frozen for the past 30 years and are still regaining your ability to speak. You’re frustrated by not knowing where you are and not being able to communicate. You finally enter a room, where you are greeted by your family — who’ve almost become strangers. Your husband, daughter, and son gather around you saying how much they loved and missed you. It is an overwhelming experience and moved some participants to tears. (This one is also available on the Sundance VR app)

Photo: Ryan Whitehead

Across the Line (Mobile VR)

Your headsets is mounted, and you find yourself immersed in a crowd of anti-abortion extremists, outside a health clinic that provides abortions. This immersive VR experience puts the audience amidst anti-abortion extremists, intimidating patients seeking sexual and reproductive health care. It is based on real footage and audio taken from clinics across the country. [Created by Brad Lichtenstein, Nonny de la Peña and Jeff Fitzsimmons]

Photo: Walking the Line

PRO TIP: You don’t have to travel to Park City, or wait in line in the wee hours of the morning to get in on the action.

For the next few weeks (until Feb. 12th), you can watch the Official Sundance Mobile VR Lineup, which include narrative and documentary VR storytelling, on Sundance’s new official New Frontier VR app. Check it out (the app is only available on Android).

Here are a few more moments from Sundance’s New Frontier exhibition:

Viewers sport the Samsung’s “Gear VR” during the synchronized showing of “Collision”. Photo: Kelsey Doyle.
While some experienced it solo. Photo: Kelsey Doyle.
John Hull’s wife, Marilyn, watches the VR installation “Notes on Blindess: Into Darkness”, featuring her husband’s audio and visual memoir. Photo: Kelsey Doyle.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock experiences a VR project at New Frontier. Photo: Kelsey Doyle.
VR is championed as a medium that can provoke extreme empathy. Photo: Kelsey Doyle.