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Taiwan on the Cutting Edge of Virtual Reality

How VR films are putting Taiwan on the map

Taiwan has emerged as a creative hub for Mandarin-language content, with such heavyweights as HBO Asia and Netflix collaborating with local TV networks and production companies. In January, the Taiwan government took the next step to bring its content to a bigger international audience when President Tsai Ing-wen signed the Organizational Act of the Taiwan Creative Content Agency, paving the way for the Ministry of Culture to establish the Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA).

Modeled after Korea’s Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) and similar institutions in Europe, TAICCA aims to aid the development of the island’s cultural content industry and bring more Taiwanese content to global audiences, elevating its cultural soft power in Asia and beyond.

Part of the agency’s first five-year plan is to drive innovation in the creation of cultural content. In recent years, Taiwan has quickly risen as a leading creator of VR content. In 2017, “La Camera Insabbiata,” a Taiwan-U.S. co-production, won the Best VR Experience award at the Venice Film Festival’s first Virtual Reality competition, while arthouse auteur Tsai Ming-liang screened his 55-minute VR film, “The Deserted,” in the main competition.

Since then, more Taiwanese VR films have screened in major film festivals: John Hsu’s “Your Spiritual Temple Sucks” and Tsai Tsung-Han’s “Live Stream From Yuki <3” both unspooled at the Sundance Film Festival, while Lee Chung’s “Mr. Buddha” was screened at Tribeca this year. The Virtual Reality section of this year’s Venice Film Festival features seven VR projects from Taiwanese productions, including five in the competition section. (An eighth project — John Hsu and Marco Lococo’s “Great Hoax” — is in the Venice Gap-Financing Market).

The agency has made the development of VR films one of its key projects. TAICCA is hosting the Taiwan immersive lineup reception in Venice to showcase Taiwan as one of the world’s top producers of VR content. Ting Hsiao-Ching, the newly appointed chairperson of TAICCA, other high-level agency officials, Taiwanese VR content creators and representatives from hardware manufacturers — including electronics maker HTC, which manufactures VR hardware and has produced a number of VR films under its Vive Studios — will attend.

“TAICCA sees this reception as an important opportunity for all to see how far Taiwan has come in developing VR content and its industry. We want to show content creators from around the world that Taiwan is a great partner in producing VR content,” Ting says.

One of the TAICCA’s key strategies is to attract co-productions for VR projects. It already has two successful examples with “Mechanical Souls,” which was directed by Gaelle Mourre and screened at Sundance and South by Southwest, and “Gloomy Eyes,” a French-Argentinian-Taiwanese co-production by Jorge Tereso and Fernando Maldonado, that won the Best VR Crystal Award at the Annecy Intl. Animation Festival before it was selected for the Venice VR competition.

Both productions were assisted by the French Office in Taipei, which worked closely with the Taipei Film Festival and the Kaohsiung Film Festival on VR showcases and exchange opportunities.

“[“Mechanical Souls” and “Gloomy Eyes”] offered Taiwan unprecedented exposure in the VR field. That’s when things really started to change,” says Aurélien Dirler, who is in charge of audiovisual cooperation between France and Taiwan at the French Office. “These films showed that co-production is very important and that it makes sense for France and Taiwan to combine our strengths.” Dirler says that the French Office and TAICCA have begun discussions about future collaborations.

“Compared to traditional film, VR films are more costly and have a higher technical threshold. There’s a shortage of funding and qualified VR crew around the world.

“As a result, international co-productions that pool financial and production resources together have become the mainstream solution,” says Meng-Yin Yang, the director of Kaohsiung Film Archive. In the past three years, the organization has already produced 12 VR projects by local filmmakers. It also operates the Kaohsiung VR Film Lab, the only VR theater in Taiwan.

Ting adds, “The development of any new technology must be matched by creativity. Taiwan already has an advantage in terms of manufacturing hardware for VR content. Our creators were also willing to embrace and explore this new technology. I think that’s why Taiwan’s VR films have developed so quickly and it’s why it has achieved an advantage in VR production.”

(Pictured: Shiao-Ching Ting, Szu-ming Liu, Sing-Ying Lee)

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