The Venice Film Festival’s Virtual Reality section is going entirely online this year, but expanding its scope via a platform and also a satellite network that will make it accessible worldwide.
In normal times the competitive sidebar launched in 2017 by co-curators Michel Reilhac and Liz Rosenthal – who put Venice ahead of the curve in the VR arena – was held on the Lazzaretto, a tiny island a stone’s throw from the Lido that was a leper colony in the 15th century. But due to the coronavirus pandemic this year it’s been rebranded Venice VR Expanded and moved to a digital platform supported by Htc Viveport, Facebook’s Oculus, VRChat and VRrOOm that will allow various types of access using a VR headset and a PC.
Venice VR Expanded will present a total of 44 projects from 24 countries, 31 of which are in competition. These include “Gnomes & Goblins,” co-directed by “The Lion King” helmer and “The Mandalorian” creator Jon Favreau in tandem with Jake Rowell, who produced the award-winning VR series “theBlu.” Also from the U.S. is “Baba Yaga,” made by Baobab Studios, which has Kate Winslet, Jennifer Hudson, Glenn Close and Daisy Ridley, who plays the lead, as talents, and will make a push for the Oscar for animated short. Also from Baobab Studios along with Facebook’s Oculus and Latin American animation studio 3DAR there is “Paper Birds,” in which “Jojo Rabbit” breakout and “Home Alone” reboot star Archie Yates is voicing the lead role.
Prominent British VR director Lysander Ashton is competing with “Here,” based on Richard McGuire’s time-traveling graphic novel by the same title set in a specific corner of a room. Ashton directed the 2015 musical “Fabulous Wonder.land” and its virtual version, which premiered at Sundance’s New Frontier program in 2016.
The Venice VR Expanded jury will be presided over by U.S. director, screenwriter, and Virtual Reality and 3D expert Celine Tricart, who won the Venice VR Grand Jury Prize last year for best immersive work for her “The Key.” The other two jury members are British director Asif Kapadia (“Amy”) and renowned Japanese video-game designer Hideo Kojima (“Metal Gear Solid”).
The Venice VR Expanded Satellite Network has also partnered with several cultural institutions around the world to showcase the lineup as a fully immersive physical experience.
These include the China Academy of Art – Sandbox Immersive Festival in Hangzhou; the Comédie de Genève in Geneva, Switzerland; the Espace Centquatre – Diversion Cinema in Paris; the Design Center Flacon in Moscow; Barcelona’s Espronceda – Institute of Art & Culture; the Doc University Karma Lab in Istanbul; Amsterdam’s Eye Filmmuseum; Invr. Space in Berlin; the Nikolaj Kunsthal art center in Copenhagen; the PHI Center in Montréal; and the Portland Art Museum and Northwest Film Center in Portland.