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Tribeca's VR in 2019 may make you question your own moral fiber

Plus you can take a virtual ayahuasca trip into psychedelia.

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So you couldn't care less about virtual reality? No problem -- the creators in the Tribeca Film Festival's Immersive program are hacking together new ways to make you care about something

"A lot of creators are making strides in establishing ways to really, really distinguish this form of storytelling from others," Loren Hammonds, the senior programmer for the Immersive program at Tribeca, said in an interview this week, as the festival revealed its selections for the showcase Wednesday. 

Whether it's amped-up interactivity in VR that makes you a central character, or site-specific experiences with social elements threaded through them -- or even new immersive tech with no headset required -- many of the pieces selected for this year's immersive program at Tribeca aim to ratchet up your personal stake in the story. If past experiences experimenting in this concept are any guide, Tribeca Immersive may nudge you to consider how your virtual choices could reflect who you really are, more so than a film might. 

Baobab Studios -- a VR animation studio that is a veteran of the Tribeca Film Festival -- heightens the pressure on you by making you the lead actor in its most interactive experience yet, called Bonfire.

Baobab's Bonfire makes you the leading character on an unfamiliar planet. 


"The real power of immersion in VR is to allow you to connect with a character -- for a character to acknowledge you exist in their world and that you matter to them," Eric Darnell, Baobab's chief creative officer, said in an exclusive interview this week. "You can make choices that may push them away or bring the characters close to you."

VR needs something to bring people closer. Years after virtual reality reemerged as one of tech buzziest trends, even its most ardent advocates now concede VR's hype failed to materialize in broad consumer interest. With the masses averse to the unfamiliar format that straps awkward headsets to your face, immersive storytellers have been shifting their focus on new tactics and formats that may pave the way to popular appeal. 

"Because the headsets haven't necessarily been adopted as we've hoped, everything having to do with location-based entertainment has really started to level up," Hammonds said. "This is making the creators think in a different way about some of their work and how they're interested in exhibiting it."

In Baobab's case, Bonfire is the studio's "most aggressive foray into interactivity" yet, Boabab CEO Maureen Fan said. Hunting for a new home for the human race, you crash-land on in unknown planet 300 light years from Earth. With a makeshift fire as your only light source and a robot sidekick (voiced by comedian and actress Ali Wong), you come into contact with the inhabitants of this unfamiliar place and decide how you want to interact with them. 

Now playing: Watch this: Baobab's "smart" animation gets into your head

"You can take a flaming log from the fire and throw it at them if you want," Darnell said. But Darnell hopes the pressure on you to make choices for the story's main character will be heightened by a meaningful connection you build with the other characters in this story. "The more that relationship develops, the more the decisions you make matter."

Virtual threads

Hammonds noted other trends among the pieces selected for 2019's Immersive program. Some pieces lean heavily into what's known as location-based entertainment, or site-specific performances that "you have to be there to truly experience it."


Technology for Cave was developed at New York University.

Tribeca Film Festival

He highlighted projects like A Drop in the Ocean, a social experience that shrinks you and three other participants to a microbial level as you walk underneath "a massive and gorgeous jellyfish prop," according to Hammond. War Remains, a piece that collaborates with Hardcore History podcast's Dan Carlin, creates a free-roaming experience on a set with haptic-like wind and rumbling floors. And Traitor is an adaption of immersive theater pieces, creating a thriller around a missing girl in which one participant wears a headset and another does not. 

Social interaction is also a recurrent theme in Tribeca Immersive selections. Hammond called out one called Cave, which using a new technology called Parallux developed in New York University's Future Reality Lab. It allows 10 people to sit in a space and share a holographic VR experience, with Hammond calling it theatrical and social at once. 

And other experiences, like Bonfire, are pushing toward more creative storytelling unique to VR. Tribeca's program will include the second installment of Wolves in the Walls, an project that first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018. A reimagination of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's illustrated children's book, the project introduced an improvisational, reactive character in its first installment. Tribeca's second chapter this year will expand the story and take you to different places with Lucy, the protagonist. 


Lucy, the protagonist of Wolves in the Walls, is an improvisational virtual character. 

Tribeca Film Festival

And then there're those that are trying out tweaking new technologies into storytelling tools. 

Stealing Ur Feelings uses both augmented reality, which overlays digital images on top of the physical world around you, as well as artificial intelligence and facial recognition to gauge your emotions -- and explain how corporations are doing already this on the sly. 

Into the Light is something of an audio scavenger hunt. The Tribeca Film Festival's headquarters will be peppered with tableaus that you discover with tech like bone-conduction glasses or headphones aided by handheld devices that navigate you between various floors of the building. 

And finally, the team behind Ayahuasca created new kinds of digital resolution and shaders to make their approximation of a spiritual ayahuasca trip feel psychedelically real. According to Hammond, you do not want to go in it if you have a fear of snakes or spiders.

"When you watch a piece, you wonder, 'Could this have been done as a film? Could this have been a cartoon?  Could this have been a documentary?' And the answer should be no, if you're working in this medium," Hammond said. "A lot of creators are continuing and making strides in establishing ways to really, really distinguish this form of story telling from others.


A shaman greets you when you enter Ayahuasca. 

Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival's full immersive program follows:

2nd Civil War (World Premiere) - USA

Project Creator: Kevin Cornish
Key Collaborators: Moth + Flame, Conversive, Pollution Studios, Denis Sharabari
2nd Civil War has broken out in America. In this voice-activated VR experience, you will drop into an Insurgent Hot Zone, interrogate the inner circle of the insurgency and decide: which side are you on?

7 Lives (World Premiere) - Luxembourg, France, Belgium
Project Creator: Charles Ayats, Sabrina Calvo, Jan Kounen
Key Collaborator: Franck Weber, Céline Tricart, Marie Blondiaux, Adrien Oumhani
An afternoon in June. Tokyo. 5 p.m. A girl jumps in front of the subway. Her soul rises from the rails. On the platform, the six people who witnessed the scene are in shock. It revived a trauma in them, painful memories they never overcame...

Ayahuasca (World Premiere) - France, Luxembourg, Belgium
Project Creator: Jan Kounen
Key Collaborators: Guillermo Arévalo Valera - Shaman
Participants are immersed in visions triggered by a dose of ayahuasca. The spectator lives this through director Jan Kounen's eyes as he travels on a spiritual voyage.

Bonfire (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Eric Darnell, Baobab Studios
Key Collaborators: Maureen Fan, Larry Cutler, Kane Lee, Shannon Ryan, Ali Wong
Nice job. You've crashed your spaceship into an alien jungle. Your instincts, nourishment cylinders, and a wary robot sidekick are all you have for survival...or so you think. With Ali Wong.

Cave (US Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Ken Perlin, Kris Layng, Sebastian Herscher
Key Collaborators: Jess Bass
Cave is a coming-of-age story told through cutting edge Parallux technology, featuring a fully immersive holographic VR experience that can be shared by many audience members at once.

Children Do Not Play War (World Premiere) - Uganda, Brazil, USA
Project Creator: Fabiano Mixo
Children Do Not Play War is a cinematic VR tale of the war in Uganda told through the eyes of a young girl. Also playing in the program Cinema360: Her Truth, Her Power.

Common Ground (World Premiere) - UK
Project Creator: Darren Emerson
Key Collaborators: Ashley Cowan, Conan Roberts
Explore the notorious Aylesbury Estate, concrete monument to the history and legacy of social housing in the UK, and home to a community affected by forces beyond their control.

Doctor Who: The Runaway (World Premiere) - UK
Project Creator: BBC / Passion Animation Studios
Key Collaborators: Mathias Chelebourg
Step inside the TARDIS with the Doctor in this beautiful, animated, interactive story from the Doctor Who team. With Jodie Whittaker, Richard Elfyn.

A Drop in the Ocean (World Premiere) - UK, France, USA
Project Creator: Adam May, Chris Campkin, Chris Parks
Key Collaborators: Philippe Cousteau, Ashlan Cousteau, Vision3, Conservation International
Discover a miniature universe at the heart of our survival. Become part of a Social VR adventure through the ocean food chain, to reveal a crisis of our making.

Ello (World Premiere) - China
Project Creator: Haodan Su
Key Collaborators: Zhiyuan Ma, Hao Luo
Ello is a sweet story about loneliness and friendship. When people expect friendship or love, proactively pursuing rather than passively waiting might lead to a surprising end.

Gymnasia (World Premiere) - Canada
Project Creator: Clyde Henry Productions
Key Collaborators: Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël
Step into a dream, where the ghostly ephemera of a lost childhood await you.

Into the Light (New York Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Jessica Brillhart, Igal Nassima
Key Collaborator: Yo-Yo Ma
Ascend Spring Studios and move through the movements of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor," performed by the legendary Yo-Yo Ma.

Stealing Ur Feelings (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Noah Levenson
Key Collaborators: Brett Gaylor
Stealing Ur Feelings is an AR experience about the power of facial emotion recognition AI that exploits your reaction to its own content in horrifying ways.

Unceded Territories (World Premiere) - Canada/USA
Project Creator: Paisley Smith and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun
Key Collaborators: Ketsia Vedrine, Peter Denny, Patrick Weekes, Jason Legge
Through infectious interaction, build a natural world made up of the colorful, surrealist art of acclaimed First Nations painter Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, until you are confronted by Colonialist Snake who forces you to see the truth behind your actions.

War Remains (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Dan Carlin, MWM Immersive
Key Collaborators: Brandon Oldenburg, Ethan Stearns, Flight School Studio, Skywalker Sound
Podcast legend Dan Carlin employs the unique power of virtual reality to transport audiences into the most extreme battlefield in history-the Western Front of The First World War.

Where There's Smoke (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Lance Weiler
Key Collaborators: Peter English, Julia Pontecorvo, Dale Worstall
Where There's Smoke mixes documentary, immersive theater, and an escape room to explore memory and loss. Set within the aftermath of a blaze, participants race to determine the cause of a tragic fire by sifting through the charred remains.

Wolves in the Walls: It's All Over (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Pete Billington, Jessica Yaffa Shamash
Key Collaborators: Fable, Facebook Sound+Design, Third Rail Projects, Oculus Studios, Edward Saatchi, Chris Hanson
Transport into the magic of VR cinema, where only you can help Lucy discover what's truly hiding inside the walls of her house. With Jeffrey Wright, Noah Schnapp, Elizabeth Carena, Cadence Goblirsch

Another Dream (حلم آخر) (World Premiere) - Netherlands, USA, Egypt
Project Creator: Tamara Shogaolu, Ado Ato Pictures
Key Collaborators: Lauren Dubowski, Natalya Sarch, Nada El-Kouny, Anastasia Semenoff (alpha_rats), Martijn Zandvliet, Gata Mahardika, Ytje Veenstra,
Another Dream brings to life the gripping, true story of an Egyptian lesbian couple. Faced with a post-Revolution backlash against their community, they must choose between love and home.

The Collider (North American Premiere) - UK
Project Creator: Anagram
Enter The Collider, a machine built to decipher the mysteries of human relationships. The Collider is an immersive virtual and theatrical experience exploring power, dependency, and the space between people.

Future Dreaming (World Premiere) - Australia
Project Creator: Sutu
Key Collaborators: Charles Henden, Alison Lockyer, Maverick Eaton, Maxie Coppin, Nelson Coppin
Step into a time-warping dream bubble as four young Aboriginal Australians approach their futures. Be ready for an intergalactic adventure. Look out for the space emus!

The Key (World Premiere) - USA, Iraq
Project Creator: Celine Tricart
Key Collaborators: Gloria Bradbury
An interactive VR experience taking the viewer on a journey through memories. Will they be able to unlock the mystery behind the mysterious Key without sacrificing too much?

Traitor (World Premiere) - UK
Project Creator: Pilot Theatre, Lucy Hammond
Key Collaborators: Matt Stuttard Parker, Richard Hurford, Rebecca Saw, Lydia Denno, Jonathan Eato
Eight hours ago, teenager Emma McCoy vanished. All she left behind was a game. Now it's the viewer's job to find her.

12 Seconds of Gunfire: The True Story of a School Shooting (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Suzette Moyer, Seth Blanchard
Key Collaborators: John Woodrow Cox
After a gunman shoots her best friend on the playground, a first-grade girl confronts a journey of trauma and loss after the Townville, South Carolina, school shooting.

Ashe '68 (New York Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Brad Lichtenstein
Key Collaborators: Beth Hubbard, Rex Miller, Jeff Fitzsimmons
Arthur Ashe emerged as an elite athlete who parlayed his fame as the first black man to win the US Open tennis championship into a lifetime devoted to fighting injustice.

Accused No. 2: Walter Sisalu (North American Premiere) - France
Project Creator: Nicolas Champeaux & Gilles Porte
Key Collaborators: Oerd Van Cuijlenborg
A trove of 256 hours of sound archives of the Rivonia trial bring back to life the political battle waged by Nelson Mandela and his seven co-defendants against apartheid. This film looks at one of them in particular: Accused No. 2, Walter Sisulu.

11.11.18 (World Premiere) - Belgium, France
Project Creator: Sébastien Tixador et Django Schreven
Key Collaborators: Boris Baum, Sébastien Plazeneix, Antoine Sauwen
A few minutes before the suspension of fighting in World War on November 11, 1918, soldiers have to face a series of decisions.

Space Buddies (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Matt Jenkins, Ethan Shaftel
Key Collaborators: Piotr Karwas
It takes a special team of astronauts to survive the voyage to Mars without going insane. This crew will be lucky to make it past launch.

Mr. Buddha (董仔的人) (International Premiere) - Taiwan R.O.C.
Project Creator: HTC Corporation, Lee Chung
Key Collaborators: HTC VIVE, Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival Executive Committee
The short crime story takes place in a car, following Dong-Tzu, Ching-Tsai, and Ni-Sang, who get their hands on a valuable antique only to have the fruits of their labor shared with the newcomer, A-Che.

Mercy (New York Premiere) - USA, Cameroon
Project Creator: Armando Kirwin
Key Collaborators: Sutu, Ruben Plomp, Emma Debany, AMK LTD, Oculus VR for Good
Edith, a 14-year-old from Cameroon, journeys through the jungle seeking life-transforming surgery to remove a tumor on her jaw.

Girl Icon (New York Premiere) - USA, India
Project Creator: Sadah Espii Proctor
Key Collaborators: Amy Seidenwurm, Skye Von, Paula Cuneo, Lauren Burmaster, Espii Studios, little GIANT Wolf, Oculus VR for Good
Globally, over 130 million girls do not go to school. Step into the life of one girl from India who is inspired by Malala Yousafzai to change her course.

Children Do Not Play War (World Premiere) - Uganda, Brazil, USA
Project Creator: Fabiano Mixo
Key Collaborators: Amy Seidenwurm, VILD Studio, Oculus VR for Good
Children Do Not Play War is a cinematic VR tale of the war in Uganda told through the eyes of a young girl. Also playing in the Virtual Arcade.

Armonia (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Bracey Smith
Key Collaborators: Anja Moreno-Smith, Neil Dvorak, Sara K White, Josh Bernhard, Jacques Lalo, Daniel Coletta
Armonia takes the ride of the dynamic original piano concerto "Armonia Degli Uccelli," and marries it to a universally accessible animation, to produce a uniquely layered spectacle of spatial storytelling.

Dreams of The Jaguar's Daughter (World Premiere) - USA, Mexico
Project Creator: Alfredo Salazar-Caro
Key Collaborators: Genesis Mancheren Abaj, Prashast Thapan, Tarek Turkey
Dreams Of The Jaguar's Daughter is a surreal VR documentary where Achik', the spirit of a young Maya immigrant, guides the viewer through her memories of an arduous journey north.

Water Melts (World Premiere) - USA
Project Creator: Lilian Mehrel, Mary Evangelista
Key Collaborators: Ting Liu, Maya Edelman. Ariel Marx
A blue-hearted rom-com about people who are going to lose someone they love. Nobody knows what to say, so they bicker, laugh/cry, get married. It's a romantic comedy, after all.