Cate Blanchett (“Carol”) and Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”) have reteamed on “Evolver,” a VR free-roaming, music-filled interactive and transcendental experience which is world premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Produced by the artist collective Marshmallow Laser Feast (“We Live in an Ocean of Air”) in the U.K., Atlas V (“Spheres”) in France and Pressman Film (“The Crow”) in the U.S., “Evolver” is a pioneering experience taking audiences inside the landscape of the body, following the flow of oxygen through a branching ecosystem, to a single ‘breathing’ cell. Directed by Marshmallow Laser Feast, the experience has been conceived to be replicated and sized up in festivals and museums around the world with the aim to host up to 100 people at the same.
Veteran producer Edward R. Pressman is executive producing with his long-time friend Malick as well as Blanchett, Coco Francini and Andrew Upton through their banner Dirty Films. Pressman and Malick’s first creative collaboration dates back to 1973 with Malick’s feature debut “Badlands.”
“Evolver” boasts an original score by Jonny Greenwood, the guitar player of Radiohead who previously worked on the original score of “Phantom Thread” and “There Will be Blood,” as well as Meredith Monk, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Howard Skempton. Jon Hopkins, the internationally renowned DJ and producer, is also providing exclusive new music for the project’s soundtrack. Every aspect of the project is supported by medical data and real human body scanning, in association with science partners such as Nicole Shanahan, president of Bia-Echo and Fraunhofer MEVIS.
Blanchett, who previously worked with Malick on “Knight of Cups” and “Voyage of Time,” was approached by the filmmaker to join “Evolver” and has given it a greater spiritual depth. Blanchett narrates the experience, starting meditation phase during which she reads a poem created by Daisy Lafarge and guides audiences as they connect with their own bodies and the natural world through a cycle of respiration.
“Voicing Evolver was not so much building a character but creating an atmosphere or a state of mind,” Blanchett told Variety. “Working with Marshmallow Laser Feast, I responded not only to the arresting visuals but the resonant poetry of Daisy Lafarge’s text,” Blanchett added.
Blanchett said “Evolver” shares similar themes as “Voyage of Time” as it reflects on the meaning of life. “It’s been an extraordinary thing to be in Terry’s orbit. The thrum of his world view is intoxicating and any chance to be in a dialogue with him I leap towards with open arms,” said Blanchett about reuniting with Malick. “Giving voice to ‘Voyage of Time’ was an eye-opening meditation and Evolver is a wonderful extension of that conversation,” said the Oscar-winning actor.
While Blanchett has voiced several animated features in the past, this marked her first time narrating a VR experiment.
“VR is obviously a much more immersive experience than conventional animation, which the Evolver team has harnessed to a spectacular degree.”
Blanchett described “Evolver” as an “immersive experience on a metaphysical level that” and said she thinks it will “take the participants on a dynamic journey as the work is simultaneously inward and outward facing, encouraging deep introspection and reflection but also inviting people to connect, not only to their own bodies but to the natural world around them.”
Barnaby Churchill Steel, a visual artist and co-founder of Marshmallow Laser Feast, said “Evolver” was an art and science installation weaving storytelling and technology to “play with ideas and embodiments,” show a “different dimension of reality,” and “surpassing the limitations of human perception.”
Churchill Steel said the idea behind “Evolver” was also meant to reveal humans’ vital bond with all living things.
“The atmosphere is a co-creation of all breathing beings, you don’t exist except in relationship to everything else. The trees, mycelium, bacteria, pollinators, rivers, oceans are as much a part of you as your own branching body,” said Churchill Steel, who explained the three-pronged experience stars with a meditation room, and continues with a 100-foot tall virtual reality room representing the branching networks and blood vessels of a human body.
“Great cinema has always been an immersive experience, blending together elements of the arts that came before it, becoming a new art form onto itself,” said Ed and Sam Pressman.
“Many VR projects feel burdened by following the conventions of storytelling inherited from cinema which in turn had been inherited from theater. ‘Evolver’ from its beginning has endeavored to play within this new technology in a way that allows the medium to shine in all its transportive and transcendent potential,” said the pair, adding that the experience pursues Pressman Film’s “50+ year mission of championing independent cinema.”
Antoine Cayrol, co-founder of Atlas V, said Evolver is ground-breaking because it’s a collective VR experience that is entirely backed by tons of medical data, unlike other science-heavy experiences. “We see it as a next-level VR experience that is bringing together the most inspiring creative minds from filmmaking, digital art, and music” with a “cutting-edge interactive VR technology.” Cayrol, who is attending Tribeca Festival, said he and his fellow producers on “Evolver” will be looking for partners and venues to take the experience overseas, and explore further explorations of the human body.
Shanahan at the Bia-Echo Foundation, who played a key role in incorporating medical data into “Evolver,” said that at a “time when women’s reproductive rights are coming under attack, and the planet is under climate duress, the use of an immersive visual medium to show the immutable relationship between how we treat the female body and how we treat the planet is needed more than ever.”
The project also received financial support from French telco group Orange and was co-produced by Guillaume Brunet and Morgan Bouchet.
Atlas V Paris-based company has a stellar track record with many critically acclaimed VR films, notably “Gloomy Eyes,” an animated VR series narrated by Colin Farrell, “BattleScar” narrated by Rosario Dawson and Eliza McNitt’s science-themed “Spheres,” produced with Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. Their productions have premiered at Tribeca, Sundance, Venice and Toronto, among other festivals.
Marshmallow Laser Feast is a London-based immersive art collective whose previous works include “We Live in an Ocean of Air,” a multi-sensory immersive installation which was set at the Galerie Saatchi in London.