NewImages Looks to ‘Democratize Access’ at Home and Abroad

NewImages Festival Expands Global Outreach
Xabiso Vili, Jason Stapleton, Elise Wessels, Inka Kendzia

When planning this year’s festivities, the team at NewImages Festival – which celebrates XR in all its diversity – did not want to sit on their hands, waiting for the public to find them.

“We don’t want to hold any old event,” says festival director Michaël Swierczynski. “We want to fully occupy the space [around us] in order to exhibit these pieces to the public. To do so, we must go out and find people where they already are.”

In practical terms, that meant moving events outside the four walls of the Forum des Images – a media complex located in Paris’ Les Halles complex, the festival’s traditional home – and into the massive commercial and transportation hub around them.

“[The festival is located in a complex next to] the most trafficked Metro station in all of Paris, and inside a shopping center that sees more 100,000 people a day,” Swierczynski explains. “Those are advantages we can use for our benefit; they allow us to democratize access.”

A similar line of thinking shapes NewImages’ assertive and peripatetic approach when it comes to international outreach. “We’re not looking to create an ephemeral event where people come together, someone wins a prize, and then everyone leaves,” says Swierczynski.

“We are at all times looking to develop on a geopolitical level,” he continues. “[Every year we try to add] a new country, a new continent, and a new accord; we’re not just a festival curating titles, we’re looking to expand as would a company seeking new ventures and opportunities.”

“We’re no longer wholly French, or even European,” he adds. “We set out to look for new talent, to create new professional networks and exchanges, and to pave new paths.”

To wit, after teaming with the Kaohsiung Film Festival in 2019, NewImages developed a strategic partnership with TAICCA (Taiwan Creative Content Agency) with the goal to foster further collaboration. This year, the festival teamed with the Digital Lab Africa incubator to bring two South African creators to Paris for an artistic residency.

For this edition’s focus on African creators, specifically those from South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, the festival organizers wanted to play an equally proactive role. “We think the best way to exhibit these talents is to directly co-produce with them, not just to program the work,” Swierczynski explains.

“We produced three large-scale projects for this edition, looking to incorporate these works into the heart of Paris.” Developed by a team of South African artists for this year’s festival, the “Chosi Chosi” exhibition (pictured above) will project a video mapped Ubuntu creation myth onto Paris’ historic Saint Eustache church.

Symbolic import aside, the nature of the work was of particular importance to NewImages due to its origins as a coproduction between France and Africa.

“Working in co-production was the best way to fully display the African ecosystem,” the festival chief says. “[That was the best way to display] the talents, the studios and the full creative infrastructure in order to help Europeans access them.”

As the festival director sees it, NewImages is putting together a parallel network that, over time, can withstand existing axes and power structures.

“We must avoid being pulled between Oculus and Vive Port, or between the twin poles of China and North America,” he says.

“By putting forward talents and paving new paths we can offer alternatives to the two platforms and proprietary technologies. By democratizing access, creating new points of entry, and developing partnerships that didn’t previously exist, we can counterbalance the existing poles of influence.”