At the milestone of the first five years of Venice Immersive, and with a sixth edition on the way, let’s take a step back in time to reflect on the works we loved the most… And yes, it will be a somewhat personal list, don’t mind me.
75 immersive experiences of which 30 in competition, 10 ” best of immersive” and a special out-of-competition event; 30 virtual worlds to visit accompanied by the Biennale staff and two special events club worlds; 3 works of the Biennale College Cinema VR.
Did you think you could see everything at Venice Immersive 2022 and still have time for a spritz at the Lazzaretto Vecchio?
[Edit, 28/08/2022: if the Biennale’s booking system does not start working properly soon, we will have time for MANY spritzes]
This 2022 edition promises wonders and joys, as curators Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac told XRMust in this recent interview. But let’s be honest with ourselves: when has Venice Immersive (the former VeniceVR) ever been anything other than a wondrous magical place? Even during the online and hybrid editions of 2020 and 2021: we may have missed Lazzaretto Island more than we miss Zigulì (sorry, Italian reference there), but we still had the chance to visit virtual Venice and see some incredible productions – and it always warms my Gryffindor heart to see what you artists out there manage to create even in the most difficult times.
So, as we await the start of the International Venice Film Festival 2022, which will take place from Wednesday, August 31 to Saturday, September 10, I propose a dive into the past with a journey through my 12 favourite productions presented at VeniceVR and VeniceVR Expanded (competition and best of) during the past five years of the Festival.
12. ANGELS OF AMSTERDAM (The Nederlands, 30′) | 78th Venice International Film Festival (2021)
by Anna Abrahams, Avinash Changa. Produced by WeMakeVR
I love historical research and what you see in Angels of Amsterdam is a fantastic example of how you can create something artistically beautiful and technologically powerful but, at the same time, with a strong historical framework. Anna Abrahams visited libraries and archives to unearth old books and documents to support the work she was developing with Avinash Changa and WeMakeVR and you can feel the excitement of discovery and passion for history when you experience their production. Moreover, the café where the scenes take place still exists and has changed very little since the 17th century. Anyone up for a trip there? I’m up for it.
11. REEDUCATED (USA, Kazakistan / 20’) | 78th Venice International Film Festival (2021)
by Sam Wolson, Ben Mauk, Nicholas Rubin, Matt Huynh. Produced by The New Yorker, Dirt Empire
Could a piece of journalism be more interesting? Sam Wolson’s Reeducated goes hand in hand with Ben Mauk’s interactive reportage in the New Yorker (“Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State”, available here) and unveils a shocking situation that I was actually completely unaware of. The beautiful visuals created by Matt Huynh (which I’ve come to love a lot – see their Instagram’s page) and the emotional but somehow gentle journey we are allowed to take through the memories of the three people who lived through those experiences makes of Reeducated a work that, in its apparent simplicity, sticks in your head and it’s your duty to share with the world.
10. THE SEVERANCE THEORY: WELCOME TO RESPITE (USA / 60’) | 78th Venice International Film Festival (2021)
by Lyndsie Scoggin. Produced by CoAct Productions, Ferryman Collective
Memories and VR are a match made in heaven. Welcome to Respite works magic with them: the introductory scene where you find yourself reminiscing about the old house you grew up in? Goosebumps. But depending on how much you let go, Welcome to Respite can be a truly magical experience on all levels. And thanks to the Ferryman Collective team, you will never feel uncomfortable, never feel like an idiot for not playing your role the way you would have liked (as good as Meryl Streep, I mean). They are welcoming and encouraging, and honestly? This is a very important thing to find when you go into a live performance where YOU are the protagonist.
9. THE METAMOVIE PRESENTS: ALIEN RESCUE (USA / 40’ ) | 77th Venice International Film Festival (2020)
by Jason Moore. Produced by The Pack, WeMakeVR
Alien Rescue and I: love at first sight. When I heard the tagline “Play a role in a live-action cinematic VR experience!” and delved into the director’s idea of creating a film in which we could be protagonists, at the intersection of video game, film and role-playing, I immediately knew that this piece was exactly what I was looking for. Since motion sickness and I are NOT a love story, though, I did not have the opportunity to experience Alien Rescue in all its glory. But there is so much perspective in what the director has created – not only the experience itself but also the way the team has approached the possible fanbase – that I hope this is just the first step in a very long and fruitful journey.
8. FINDING PANDORA X (USA / 70’) | 77th Venice International Film Festival (2020)
by Kiira Benzing. Produced Double Eye Studios, HP, Apples and Oranges Studios
It was Covid time and I was sad and lonely in my room when I was given the chance to join Finding Pandora X for the second time, after experiencing it at the Venice Film Festival. The first time I had visited “Inferi”. That time, I followed a different “path” and boom, I was in a kind of Blade Runner setting that took my breath away. From the quietness of my house, I was living the most amazing adventure and I kept talking about it with my friends for days… as if I had really visited those worlds. The team of actors is AMAZING (yup, you’ll get a crush on Zeus – everybody gets a crush on Zeus at some point, just accept it) and the VRChat world that guest the experience is simply perfect. Cannot wait to see more from this team!
7. THE BOOK OF DISTANCE (Canada / 25’) | 77th Venice International Film Festival (2020)
by Randall Okita. Produced by National Film Board of Canada
I think of beauty and The Book of Distance comes to mind. There’s something poetic and intense about this piece and you will be left in tears, after discovering a story you probably knew very little about… but also discovering a new way to have a story told to you. The scene of the atomic bomb is devastating – and the fact that these events are so close to the director who created this piece (it’s his family’s story, after all) makes The Book of Distance one of the most human and profound pieces I’ve seen.
6. COSMOS WITHIN US (United Kingdom, Luxembourg / 45’) | 76th Venice International Film Festival (2019)
by Tupac Martir. Produced by Satore Studio, a_BAHN, Satore Tech
Let’s face it: I spent at least five minutes after completing the experience crying like a baby directly on Tupac Martir (God bless you, Tupac). Mind you, Cosmos within us (that title! I love it!) is about loss, and if it’s a subject you struggle with, this piece will be a bit harsh for you.
But it is still worth it, because it leaves you with hope rather than despair. What is even more incredible is that Satore Studio and colleagues did something that I had never seen before – nor have seen since: with a choice that is more choreographic than technological, they managed to convey all the smells and tastes of the experience, together with the sounds and the visuals. Those who were fortunate enough to also see the backstage were able to discover how they did it. To date, for me, one of the most effective (and smartest!) moves to better convey immersivity.
5. LAVRYNTHOS (Brazil, Peru / 16’) | 78th Venice International Film Festival (2021)
by Fabito Rychter, Amir Admoni. Produced by Delirium XR
It is amazing how Lavrynthos managed to appear as an absolute novelty, while seeming very familiar and welcoming. I had never seen such a brilliant use of space before (for motion-sickness sufferers, the chance to walk so much in what was actually a small place and never have to feel sick due to the way it was built… it was a true blessing, trust me). Furthermore, the way the characters interact with you and make you feel part of the story is genial: Fabito Rychter and Amir Admoni didn’t go for an enormous physical installation nor they created a work that was accessible only to those with the latest, biggest, greatest technological supports. Rather, they gave life to something accessible moving from a very smart use of immersive storytelling and VR affordances.
4. LE BAL DE PARIS DE BLANCA LI (France, Germany, Luxembourg / 35’) | 78th Venice International Film Festival (2021)
by Blanca Li. Produced by Film Addict, Backlight, Fabrique d’Images, Actrio Studio
Chanel, live performances (including your own), an imposing palace in Venice as the physical setting, an experience that takes you to Paris, some Alice in Wonderland vibes… Just one of these things is usually enough to give me happiness. Put them all together and you get… bliss.
Le Bal de Paris is a visually stunning love letter to immersivity, to fantasy, to dance, to the beauty of a past you’ve always dreamed of. After days of viewing works in VR in confined quarters or, worse, in the solitude of my room, this work, with its clever use of mazes and the connection between what you see in the virtual environment and what you can touch in the real world, seemed endless, as if I could walk in it forever, far beyond the boundaries of what I could see. I still dream of dancing in those high, ornate halls and watching the sun set from that balcony. Beautiful.
3. THE GREAT HOAX: THE MOON LANDING (Taiwan, Argentina / 17’) | 77th Venice International Film Festival (2020)
by John Hsu, Marco Lococo. Produced by Serendipity, 3dar
Everyone should have talked about this piece forever. The Great Hoax: the Moon Landing is, in short, the funniest, most hilarious piece in VR I have ever experienced. I don’t think I have ever had as much fun playing a character as I had in The Great Hoax. Did I feel stupid while doing it? Yes. And I was meant to be, and I’m proud of that. And no, I don’t care if the young lady at the installation looked at me with a clearly troubled expression. I couldn’t help dancing in the final scenes, I couldn’t help talking out loud, laughing out loud. A brilliant story, subtle and witty film references at every turn, but also a reflection on media reflecting on themselves reflecting on other media, reflecting on… OK, you get the idea. I just wish I could do it again, but it has disappeared from my radar. *goes and cries in a corner*
2. A LINHA (Brazil / 12’) | 76th Venice International Film Festival (2019)
by Ricardo Laganaro. Produced by Arvore Immersive Experiences
If you haven’t said ‘Aww’ out loud at least once while trying A Linha, you don’t have a heart. This story, in which you participate as yourself and play with a model of a beautiful Brazilian city and its miniatures, is The Story. The one that children are told and that we too fantasised about while playing with dad’s model trains and cars. It has a shy but brave protagonist, Pedro (whom you root for, of course), a woman who is much smarter than him (sorry, Pedro, it’s true), a SUPER CUTE (technical expression) setting and it is a romantic, slightly dramatic tale with a meaningful moral. The high school kids I taught recently tried it and fell in love with immersive technologies because of it. But A Linha is also a work that understands interactive VR very well and gives meaning to every single action it asks you to perform without ever distracting you from the story. Best Vr Immersive Experience For Interactive Content at Venezia76 … and for good reasons.
1. ALICE, THE REALITY PLAY (France / 20’) | 74th Venice International Film Festival (2017)
by Marie Jourdren, Mathias Chelebourg. Produced by DVgroup, Synergy, IKinema, Dynamixyz, Bretagne Production International
And the Oscar goes to…. So, my favourite experience at the Venice Film Festival is also the one that was most significant for me on a personal level. As they say, you never forget your first VR (…someone must have said that, right?).
Once again, a work that plays with Alice in Wonderland – what better choice for virtual reality, after all – and asks you to become her. And boy, do you become her! Before you even enter the installation, you are already Alice and you don’t even know it (thanks to the excellent work of the actors). Then you eat, jump, sing or act things out, and at all times you are asked to interact with the space and the characters/actors around you.
Today we’ve all got a bit of the hang of it, but imagine an innocent girl who goes to the Lazzaretto Vecchio for the first time, imagining she is going to be playing video games only to find herself inside a slightly creepy fairy tale book as the protagonist. It felt like entertainment as I had always known it had turned upside down and everything had suddenly become possible. This feeling of magic stayed with me and even now, that something more I have seen and discovered, that is the feeling that pervades me every time I put on a headset. Thanks, Marie Jourdren and Mathias Chelebourg, I owe you.
The Venice Film Festival opens in two days. Press and industry accredited will be able to access Venice Immersive from 31 August. For all other festival goers, the fun begins on 1 September. There is still time to purchase your accreditation here. And for more information about the event visit La Biennale page or write to us.