Raindance Film Festival Embraces Virtual Reality

Festival founder Elliot Grove to open Virtual Reality Arcade

LONDON — Following on from the Venice Film Festival’s decision to incorporate Virtual Reality with the inclusion of David Hanen’s work-in-progress “Jesus VR — The Story of Christ,” Raindance founder Elliot Grove this year unveiled the festival’s inaugural Virtual Reality Arcade, to be held this weekend at London’s Hospital Club.

“VR is not like 3D,” says Grove. “3D was a fad, VR is the biggest thing in movies since probably sound and picture. And the interesting thing to me is that the technology is still evolving, and yet nobody really knows how to tell a story using the space all around.” Adds events producer Georgina Bednar, “As far as we know, we are the first VR exhibition in London that is available to the public. It’s free and everyone’s welcome.”

The films vary in length from two minutes to 20, and festivalgoers can book an hour’s session at a time. “You spend your hour how you like,” says Bednar. “At other festivals you have to go to different headsets to experience different films. We’ve chosen not to do that, because you end up with favorites and then the queues start to back up. Instead, the films will be pre-loaded onto the headsets to enable the viewer to curate their own experience, although there are also four or five Oculus experiences that involve slightly more complex technology.”

Notes Grove, “You won’t have time to see everything but you might, as I did, walk in space on the Voyager American satellite, or visit the Jungle [refugee camp] at Calais. There are 14 very different ‘experiences’, as we call them, even though they’re films.”

In addition, the festival is offering four free panel sessions to discuss the issues this new technology raises:

“Beyond Gaming” (Vue Cinema Piccadilly, Oct. 1, 11 a.m.)
“This panel will be looking at the uses of VR beyond the games industry,” says Bednar, “and the panel includes Toby Coffey, who’s head of National Theatre Digital, and Dr. Alastair Barrow, a leading VR science expert who’s CEO of Generic Robotics [a company that produces training devices for clinical skills built around the science of touch feedback].”

“VR and Doc” (Hospital Club, Oct. 1, 12.20 p.m.)
Says Bednar, “This is based around three documentary films in our installation: The Economist’s “Recovr: Mosul,” which 3D-maps the cultural heritage destroyed by the war in Iraq; “Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel,” which is the BBC’s film about the Irish rebellion in 1916; and then there’s the Guardian’s “6X9,” which aims to recreate the experience of being in solitary confinement.” On the panel will be Dan Tucker, Digital Editor and Producer (BBC); Francesca Panetta, co-director of “6X9”; and Will McMaster, head of VR, Visualise.

“VR and Empathy” (Hospital Club, Oct. 1, 1.05 p.m.)
“The third panel,” says Bednar, “asks whether VR increases human empathy or whether it simply feels like the ultimate escapism — once you’ve seen something through VR, do you actually feel that you’ve thought about it and cared about it? Personally, the VR docs I’ve seen are going where no one else really is, I think — I haven’t seen films showing the same levels of intimacy and scale.” Confirmed for the panel are Jane Gauntlett, director of “In My Shoes,” and Darren Emerson, creator of “Witness 360: 7/7” and “Invisible”.

“VR and Imagination” (Hospital Club, Oct. 2, 12.15 p.m.)
Says Bednar, “This panel will be looking at films that are more off the wall — maybe they use CGI or, like the BBC’s “Home,” which involves a walk through space, offer really big concepts.” Leading the debate will be Tom Burton, Interactive & Technology Lead, BBC; and David Kaskel, CEO of Breaking Fourth.

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