Until 2019 the Venice Film Festival was known to host the virtual reality paradise for all creators, with a dedicated island for the presentation of immersive works and meetings, a few steps from the Lido – where the classic cinema sessions take place. Lazzaretto Vecchio is back for a very physical edition in 2022 (September 1 to 10) with new ambitions stemming from the experiments of the last two years. Annual interview with its two programmers, Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac.
Cover: Celine Tricart’s FIGHT BACK
Venice VR is gone, welcome Venice Immersive
Liz Rosenthal – After two years of Covid and research/testing around the hybridization of the festival, we wanted to confirm our intention to integrate all the new formats of XR creations without limiting our approach according to the medium or the hardware used. This is the whole idea that we propose this year with Venice Immersive. With the return to a 100% physical festival, on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, it was important for us to recall our ambition to welcome all types of Extended Realities works.
Michel Reilhac – And it is also a concrete reminder of the importance of XR as an artistic movement – now fully recognized. We hope that this will allow creators from all over the world to come and meet us during the festival. The XR within the Venice Film Festival is not a technological event. We remain focused on creation above all, and content. This year, we confirm this idea by selecting again virtual worlds – mainly from VRChat – which are also new and innovative forms of creation that can be welcomed and appreciated in our selections.
L. R. – And you will see that we don’t only have projects with VR headsets, but also projections, and other forms of artistic expression. We’ve had hybrid projects in the past (AR, sound…), but we really want to focus on the physicality of the experiences, the use of space, etc.
M. R. – And the question of the hybridization of experiences was at the heart of our programming work, particularly on the potential of an online festival. With the feedback from our satellite venues (in 2020 and 2021, fifteen or so venues around the world have been hosting the Venice VR selection simultaneously), it became clear that beyond the logistical challenge that doubled the effort of our team, it was also a constraint for the circulation of XR works. The idea of a worldwide exhibition during the Venice festival could deprive them of a real distribution potential afterwards. But we have to protect this at all costs. Even if all this was very experimental, and exciting, we chose to side with the creators and producers by reserving this year the presentation of 100% physical projects (except obviously the VRChat worlds), on Lazzaretto Vecchio. And to offer the best possible framework to their presentation by controlling the entire scenography and the reception of the festival-goers – which was not totally possible with the use of online platforms.
M. R. – We must also remember that the experience of a festival, with a physical presence, is irreplaceable. Meetings, encounters, exchanges are much richer and more complex in real life. In 2022, we will finally occupy the entire island: the market, the Gap-Financing, and all the meetings will take place on Lazzaretto Vecchio. We want to offer an exclusive moment for all the professionals of the immersive industry – and that’s why we hope to welcome them all in September.
Virtual worlds, Year 2
L. R. – This year, Venice Immersive will ‘physically’ host social virtual worlds on the island. In 2021, we introduced for the first time, a new section, the Worlds Gallery, a substantial selection of our favorite VRChat Worlds. It’s a real innovation: that not only are these worlds naturally available online, but we’re going to help audiences discover these worlds though world hops and help with onboarding of the selected worlds in a large dedicated area of Lazzaretto Vecchio during the festival. You are already used to it for the LBE experiences, the 360 movies. But the virtual worlds will have a physical presence, with moderators and collective sessions, scheduled several times a day. In addition, we have selected 5 virtual world projects hosted on VRChat including live performances in the 30 projects of the main XR Competition!
There will be 8 scheduled World Hop toursper day, for 10 users per session on Lazzaretto Vecchio. Each tour will consist of 4 worlds to visit, all supervised by a specific guide to check that everything is going perfectly, and 2 online moderators. For each world, a guide will welcome visitors for a personalized discovery. The whole idea of offering a customized experience has been thought out to highlight the selected worlds in the best possible way.Michel Reilhac
L. R. – We are also very happy to welcome creators who are world-building pioneers to our competition section , such as Fins (link) with TREASURE HEIST, Kevin Mack (who previously created ANANDALA – link) with NAMUANKI and the new UNCANNY ALLEY world by Rick Treweek, founder of the Metaverse Crew (link).. Among the 5 VRChat worlds in competition, there will be 2 artistic live performances GUMBALL DREAMS (see our interview) and TYPEMAN by CinemaLeap (See our interview).
M. R. – Our exploration of all these virtual worlds made us understand that these XR artists are the new pioneers of a fundamental artistic trend for the future. They are our Méliès or Eisenstein. Their creations under VRChat are particularly innovative, and this is why we are very happy to share them soon. Our role is to push these new art forms to a wider audience. I would like to specify that if our choice is mostly made on VRChat worlds, it is by default. On the one hand, VRChat offers one of the richest and most diversified platforms in the field, which really feeds all the possibilities of creation of these virtual environments – with the involvement of artists. On the other hand, we did not find on the other existing platforms as much interest and stake on this subject.
L. R. – And it was a particular motivation to come back to the island to present them alongside XR works that are now more traditional in form. Even in the immersive community, not many people spend much time in these virtual worlds. We’re going to offer a convergence of all of these subjects during the festival. We remain open to all social VR projects, whoever their online host happens to be. I.e. [We will welcome a new live performance project, MANDALA directed by Thomas Villepoux which will be hosted by Sandman Studio’s new platform VAST – that will be dedicated to performance projects.
M. R. – It’s fascinating to see artists who are already very involved in creating XR content move into virtual worlds. It’s a unique opportunity for them to combine their storytelling with the community aspect of online platforms. For Liz and I, this is where the famous metaverse exists – everyone talks about it but can’t define it. As we see metaverses emerge by island, by brand and creator, with the ambition to compete with Roblox or Fortnite. Everything is moving very fast, and it’s essential that creators get a grip on it, to reach out to the audience. The future of creative XR is collaborative and social.
An overview of Venice Immersive 2022 Selection
L. R. – This is going to be an extraordinary year for the Official Selection. Discovering the projects with Michel was a particularly exciting time, with a lot of new material to consider. Of the 30 projects in Competition, 28 are world premieres – two of them (GUMBALL DREAMS, screened at SXSW, and ETERNELLE NOTRE-DAME, already screened in France) will have their international premiere. 10 projects, as every year, constitute our Best of section, plus 32 virtual worlds (30 in the World Gallery + 2 special performances) and 3 works from the Biennale College – including this year’s winner.
M. R. – That’s a total of 75 experiences presented this year on the island! We had to adapt our presence on the island to accommodate all this, plus the professional events. That’s why we had to double the size of Venice XR: Venice Immersive occupies almost the entire island. It will be the largest immersive event ever proposed.
L. R. – We were struck this year by the richness of the topics and themes presented. And especially for the standalone experiences. But this is also an edition where we will present hybrid works, between VR, AR and MR. The boundaries between these typologies of projects are starting to shrink, artists are starting to consider stories that are totally cross-platform. It’s almost a new genre! We will have DAZZLE by Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli, a live performance that mixes dance, costumes, VR and the advantages of virtual production and real-time mocapped performance with LED screens. We will also have a screen-based installation piece, FRAMERATE by UK based Scanlab, that requires no headset and a new mixed reality game, EGGSCAPE by an Argentinian studio 3dar.
L. R. – There will also be real LBE projects, like ASCENDERS by Backlight], or RENCONTRE(S) by Mathias Chelebourg, already author of several similar project formats like ALICE, THE REALITY PLAY (2017) or JACK (2018). Landia Egal, who came in 2018 with UMAMI, and Amaury La Burthe will present an LBE project, OKAWARI, whose theme will be essentially ecological, and questions our relationship with over consumption with an eco-responsible approach, from production to distribution.
M. R. – We also saw a very interesting trend emerge this year where artists are finally freeing themselves from the usual very CGI/digital visuals. In animation, but also in 360 video, we are seeing some particularly neat works, with a more accomplished narrative – notably ALL THAT REMAINS, made by a Taiwanese theater company, very poetic and beautifully told. This is also the case with EURYDICHE, a production from the Netherlands, a mysterious and dark but very beautiful descent into Hell. All these works rely on our emotions, our senses. The sensory dimension of virtual reality is used more and more, not with the format but really the physical realization and the design of the work.
L. R. – There is a maturity in VR creation that is striking, and it must be emphasized. As Michel said, even for productions that could be considered as simple in appearance but actually offer very strong immersions. THE MAN WHO COULDN’T LEAVE is a good example. It is a dark and evocative 360 video documentary set during the Taiwanese dictatorship, the White Terror, that explores the format in a new way. I should mention THE MIRACLE BASKET as well, wonderful project ! FROM THE MAIN SQUARE is a comment on the political system and the self-destruction of the planet, an animated VR film directed by students of the Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf in Germany.
Staying interactive with video games
L. R. – Across all sections, we’ve seen a lot of exciting projects that use real-time / video games engines, like ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE (TO THE END OF THE WORLD). On top of that, we do have video games in the selection. SHORES OF LOCI, available on Meta’s App Lab and on PCVR platforms, is a beautiful fantasy world-building game. With AREA MAN LIVES, they are all experiences at the crossroads of video games and linear narration, with different qualities. We will also welcome MRS BENZ (Singer Studios) and PEAKY BLINDERS: THE KING’ RANSOM (Maze Theory) in Competition. On the other hand, ROCK PAPER SCISSOR is a very short game based on the very popular game, which is particularly well executed – especially when you have to be reactive].
M. R. – The question of interactivity is essential for us. Following our hands, our gestures… This is one of the strong points of Céline Tricart’s latest project, FIGHT BACK (in Competition), which precisely follows the movements of the spectator and invites them to actively participate in the story. There are fascinating intentions around the choreography of gestures, pushing the possibilities of Quest 2!
2022 Awards and Jury
L. R. – As in previous years, we will award 3 prizes at the end of the festival – with slightly different names to better reflect the evolution of the sector. It is a difficult job for the jury, considering the diversity of the selected projects.
L. R. – We also wanted to review our jury approach. We want to create an atmosphere of peer review around the prizes awarded, by choosing juries amongst professionals from XR creation. It is important that all of this is evaluated by people who can understand the entirety of the works presented. As of last year, the presidency will be held by the Grand Jury Prize Winner of the festival, in this case May Abdalla, co-director with Barry Gene Murphy of GOLIATH: PLAYING WITH REALITY and founder of the English studio Anagram Alongside her, we have invited the two other 2021 Venice Lion winners David Adler (END OF NIGHT, Makropol) and Blanca Li (LE BAL DE PARIS, the Blanca Li Dance Company – now playing again at the Biennale).
M. R. – Interactive content, 360 films, live performance… Everything will be judged on an equal footing. The idea of having a former winner preside over the competition reinforces our desire to find someone who is used to the festival, who knows its customs and values. With a real expertise in the narrative and technological stakes in each project.