Earlier this month, Taiwan brought virtual reality (VR) projects featured at the Venice Film Festival to the island as one of the world’s 15 local hosts of the event’s competition section as it gains a greater international foothold in the discipline that blends cinema and technology.

Forty-four VR films from 24 countries — including three from Taiwan — in Venice VR Expanded, Venice’s virtual reality competition, were available to viewers on the self-governed island at Taipei’s Changchun Ambassador Theaters through Sept. 12, beamed via a satellite network.

Festival organizers changed the VR section format to online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While online access is available, those who visit the theaters in person can watch the films with special headsets. On Sept. 7, TAICCA hosted a live-stream forum on the future of cultural content as part of the Venice lineup. Taiwan is one of the two Asian places hosting the Venice VR section. The other is Hangzhou in mainland China.

Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), an independent agency set up by the Ministry of Culture and the cabinet (Executive Yuan) that has been actively promoting the island’s cultural and creative content globally, said the first-time collaboration between one of the world’s biggest international film festivals and local commercial theaters could be an experiment for a future potential business model for the content industry. The partnership will also help realize TAICCA’s ambition “to promote Taiwan as the most influential base for future content in Asia” while preparing for the arrival of 5G by strengthening industrial chain development, said Hsiao-Ching Ting, chair of TAICCA.

The island has been actively venturing into the territory of VR through both hardware and software in recent years. Its local tech giant HTC has already established itself as the go-to brand for VR hardware with high-quality HTC Vive headsets and associated technologies, which were first used in games and then gradually adopted by filmmakers and artists around the world to produce and view VR films and artworks.

The company has also been pushing for VR content development under its HTC Vive Originals shingle, which is Taiwan’s cultural institution partner of the 15-member Venice VR Expanded Satellite Network. HTC Vive Originals’ general manager Sih-Ming Liu said the combination of a new form of storytelling, virtual technology productions and partnership with commercial theaters is creating a new ecosystem for VR.

VR productions from Taiwan have also been gaining international recognition. They have been featured at the Venice festival for four years in a row and at last year’s Venice VR competition, Taiwan topped Asia with seven entries.

This year’s entries included “The Sick Rose,” the first 8K 360-degree work from Asia telling a story revolving around an infectious disease. Directed by Tang Chi-chung and produced by HTC Vive Originals, the film is a VR stop-motion animation featuring traditional craftsmanship made with a grant from TAICCA’s Cultural Content and Technology Application Flagship Program. It has been nominated in the VR Gap Financing Market.

Featured in the VR competition is John Hsu’s “Great Hoax — The Moon Landing,” which toys around the conspiracy theory surrounding the 1969 Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. It tells the story about a fake moon landing video of the first Taiwanese setting foot on the Earth’s only satellite. Screened in the Best of VR out-of-competition section, “Jiou Jia, Home,” produced by Kaohsiung Film Archive and directed by Chih-Yen Hsu, is a new form of audio-visual poetry exploring the relations between the director and his family. The film is also featured in the VR sections of the Tribeca Film Festival, the Bucheon Intl. Fantastic Film Festival and the Taipei Film Festival.

“Taiwanese VR works have been an important part of our VR section. With the support of HTC Vive Originals and TAICCA, we’re absolutely thrilled to be able to share with you our curation of the best new VR projects from around the world,” said Liz Rosenthal, curator of Venice Film Festival’s VR section.