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Tribeca, shuttered by coronavirus, revives its VR festival: Smaller, virtual, free

The Tribeca Film Fest will release 15 of the virtual reality short films that were supposed to debut in its Immersive program. Soon they'll be free on Facebook's Oculus Quest and Go.

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For the Tribeca Film Festival's virtual reality-focused Immersive program, the show must -- and will -- go on. In a world locked down by the coronavirusTribeca Immersive this year will be different: smaller, free and virtual. 

Three weeks ago, the Tribeca Film Festival -- typically a rite of spring in New York when filmmakers, fans and immersive storytellers flock to theaters and elaborate VR showcases in downtown Manhattan -- postponed the event, about six weeks before it was set to begin, after coronavirus containment rules made the massive gathering impossible. 

"It was a hard pill to swallow, of having worked so hard for an entire year and spent time away from my family...and then it just exploded," said Loren Hammonds, the senior programmer of the Immersive program. But he got through that disappointment quickly, he said. "My responsibilities just kind of shifted, in terms of: Alright, let's continue to take care of the creators, the best way we can."

Starting April 17, the day the Immersive fest was supposed to kick off, Tribeca will revive part of its Immersive program by releasing 15 of the VR short films it had selected to part of the 2020 festival as free downloads on Facebook's Oculus Quest and Oculus Go headsets.

It's one of several moves the Tribeca Film Festival announced Friday to keep elements of the fest going. The fest will also let would-be festival-goers from the film industry and press watch participating films on a special online viewing hub. And the awards Tribeca gives out to feature films and shorts by juries of experts will still be presented and announced on tribecafilm.com.

"As human beings, we are navigating uncharted waters," Tribeca Film Fest co-founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal said in a statement. "While we cannot gather in person to lock arms, laugh, and cry, it's important for us to stay socially and spiritually connected. Tribeca is about resiliency, and we fiercely believe in the power of artists to bring us together. We were founded after the devastation of 9/11 and it's in our DNA to bring communities together through the arts."

The 15 VR films being released were part of Tribeca Immersive's Cinema360 program. Curated into four themes, each collection runs about 30 to 40 minutes long. They'll be available free on the Oculus TV app for Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. 

In addition, Oculus is releasing Tribeca Immersive's VR award-winner from last year, The Key, as an app for Oculus Rift, Oculus Rift-S, and Oculus Quest. 

Hammonds said he and his team are still working on a plan B for the festival's so-called Virtual Arcade, typically a large-scale physical exhibit of elaborate, immersive projects. The full list of all projects that were officially selected for the 2020 Immersive program can be found on Tribeca's website, too. 

The Cinema360 program, available free April 17, includes the following short films: 

Cinema360 Program 1: Dreams to Remember
These dreamlike experiences are journeys of adventure, from an immigrant worker's poetic and alienating vision of his new home country, to the seemingly impossible first mission to an unexplored moon.

  • 1st Step (International Premiere)—Germany
    Project Creators: Joerg Courtial, Maria Courtial.
    1st Step is equal parts documentary and fairy tale, telling the magical story of a dream come true: the Apollo missions. Follow the missions from launch all the way through to return and find yourself gazing at lunar panoramas re-created from NASA's archival photos.
  • Dear Lizzy (World Premiere)—USA
    Project Creator: Within & Fivehundred
    Key Collaborator: Deborah's Child
    Lizzy takes a walk as she reads a letter from a long lost friend. The road is long and there are many strange and beautiful things to see along the way. Yet Lizzy keeps walking. What is she searching for?
  • Forgotten Kiss (World Premiere)—Finland
    Project Creator: Oleg Nikolaenko
    Key Collaborator: Daniil Bakalin
    Based on the story Forgotten Kiss by Russian writer Alexander Kuprin, this film tells the beautiful legend of a royal prince, who was kissed by the magic Fairy of the Spring Night. As the prince grew up he kept looking for something incomprehensible, something completely forgotten: the forgotten kiss of the fairy.
  • Rain Fruits (World Premiere)—South Korea
    Project Creators: Youngyoon Song, Sngmoo Lee
    Key Collaborators: Sergio Bromberg, Hyejin Jeon, Jinhyung Kim, Hwaeun Kim
    Tharu comes to Korea from Myanmar in hopes of becoming a trained engineer. After a series of experiences as an alien worker in this capitalist country, he realizes that one's dream cannot be found anywhere in the world but where his heart is: his homeland.

Cinema360 Program 2: Seventeen Plus
Future classics in search of cults, this collection of mind-bending narrative experiences is designed for more mature audiences.

  • A Safe Guide to Dying (World Premiere)—USA
    Project Creator: Dimitris Tsilifonis
    Key Collaborator: Froso Tsipopoulou
    Linus is on a journey to find painless ways to die inside a video game simulation that emulates sensory experiences. While experimenting with different suicide methods, he realizes he cannot log out. Trapped in a digital abyss, a force is set in motion to reconnect Linus with his offline self.
  • Black Bag (North American Premiere)—China
    Project Creator: Shao Qing
    Ex-military security guard Mr. S works for a bank and leads the life of a normal working-class man. He fantasizes about a major heist, a dream that becomes reality. This VR film uses abstract metaphor combined with a unique hand-painted art style to create an intense thriller.
  • The Pantheon of Queer Mythology (World Premiere)—Spain
    Project Creator: Enrique Agudo
    Key Collaborator: Tim Deluxe
    The Pantheon of Queer Mythology is a window into the world of a collective of Deities that present a way to question, empathize, celebrate, repent, resist, consume, abstract, identify, regenerate, and love in complex times. Step in, dare to learn, be inspired to grow, and enjoy the queerness.
  • Saturnism (World Premiere)—France
    Project Creator: Mihai Grecu
    Step inside one of the darkest paintings in the history of art: Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son. You will find yourself alone with mad Saturn himself in the cold and gloomy landscape. Saturnism is a visceral and primitive 360 experience.

Cinema360 Program 3: Kinfolk
Three stories of homes and families.

  • Ferenj: A Graphic Memoir In VR (World Premiere)—USA, Ethiopia
    Project Creator: Ainslee A. Robson
    Key Collaborator: Liam Young
    Ferenj is a visual dialogue between memory, reality and the digital in an immersive memoir about Ethiopian-American mixed-race identity.
  • Inhabited House, The (North American Premiere)—Argentina
    Project Creator: Diego Kompel
    Kompel resurrects fond memories of his grandparents house in this inventive nonfiction work. Compositing 360-degree footage of the house with actual home movies that help bring the past to life, this experience is an exercise in formalism that draws on the power of remembrance, reverence, and family.
  • Home (International Premiere)—Taiwan ROC
    Project Creator: Hsu Chih-Yen
    Key Collaborators: Kaohsiung Film Archive, Hsu Chih Yen Director Studios, Funique VR Studio
    In this beautifully poignant experience, a family gathers at their old house on a summer afternoon. They surround grandma, though she's no longer able to move, react, or hear clearly. As people come and go, the day stretches on -- leading to the inevitable end of the gathering.

Cinema360 Program 4: Pure Imagination
Stories of innovation and illusion, with a healthy dose of inspiration.

  • Lutaw (World Premiere)—USA, Philippines
    Project Creator: Samantha Quick
    Key Collaborator: Michaela Holland
    Like so many others in her remote area of the Philippines, Geramy must swim between the small islands in order to travel to the nearest school. But she's determined to find a better way to commute. This 3D animated experience is made in partnership with Oculus VR for Good and Yellow Boat of Hope.
  • Attack on Daddy (North American Premiere)—South Korea
    Project Creator: Sung Sihup
    It's Sunday afternoon and an exhausted daddy lies on the couch. Annoyed with his daughter's pestering pleas to play, he falls asleep and wakes up to find her missing. Sensing something awry, daddy quickly realizes that the answer to the mystery lies in her seemingly abandoned dollhouse.
  • Tale of the Tibetan Nomad (World Premiere)—USA
    Project Creator: Carol Liu
    Key Collaborator: Stan Lai
    A newlywed nomad and his wife bask in the flush of new love. He falls asleep then awakens to discover his wife has disappeared. Embarking on a quest to find her, he's led into a life he never dreamed of -- one that soon slips beyond his control.
  • Upstander (World Premiere)—USA
    Project Creator: Van Phan
    Key Collaborator: Oculus VR for Good
    Upstander is a 360 animated experience about bullying and how we, as bystanders, can make a difference. Immersing the audience in a world adjacent to our own, you are challenged to think and take action. How can we be part of the solution and not be part of the problem?
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