Tribeca's VR film festival has arrived: How to watch on your headset

A diverse collection of short films are free to watch: Here's a guide.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Scott Stein
4 min read

Unfortunately, you need particular VR headsets from Oculus to watch.

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A rocket to space. A disturbing reflection on suicide. A struggle for work in South Korea. A fairy tale told in outer space?

You never know what you're going to get in the still-untamed world of 360-degree art films, and for years, I'd hop over to the Tribeca Film Festival in New York to check out a new collection via a set of VR goggles put on my face in a comfortable, low-lit room.

The Tribeca Film Festival, like many other events right now, is closed. But Tribeca's gone virtual this year: The festival has released this year's 360-degree VR videos online today, via Oculus. But you need an Oculus Go or Oculus Quest to get it for free via the Oculus TV app. (It's a shame that PC Oculus Rift owners and Gear VR users can't take part.)

I've been doing just that for the last couple of days (I viewed the short films on an Oculus Quest). The individual videos are about 14 minutes or less, perfectly sized for a quick viewing session. And, like all 360-degree videos, they don't let you walk around. They're sit-and-spin-around experiences. I'd recommend you watch them standing, or while seated in a swivel chair or something you can easily turn around in.

They're broken into four themed categories, meant to be viewed together as little collections. (Each handful of videos runs around 30 to 40 minutes.) Also, be advised that some of these films are not appropriate for children.


Rain Fruits.

Brianna Holochuck

Program 1: Dreams to Remember

1st Step (Joerg Courtial, Maria Courtial): a virtual history of Apollo moon landings, presented as an animated experience that feels real. There are a good handful of VR space experiences already, but this moving short film is a great thing to show your kids, and gives a great sense of scale and presence inside space capsules, and standing on the moon.

Rain Fruits (Youngyoon Song, Sngmoo Lee, Sergio Bromberg, Hyejin Jeon, Jinhyung Kim, Hwaeun Kim): One of a number of VR films that use 3D scanned environments in innovative ways, this memoir of an engineer from Myanmar who tries to live in South Korea leans on ghostly images and a spoken narrative to create a dreamlike feel to a hard reality.

Dear Lizzy (Within & Fivehundred, Deborah's Child): A short, brightly animated, but also sad short film about a letter from a lost friend. Among the others, it helped brighten me after Rain Fruits.

Forgotten Kiss (Oleg Nikolaenko, Daniil Bakalin): An extremely odd, surrealist and theatrical story based on a Russian story of a prince kissed by a fairy. I flew through glowing worlds and saw shimmering water-balls, while fairy-figures narrated the Prince's tale. The Finnish production feels like the VR equivalent of avant-garde theater. There's a lot of flying around.

Program 2: Seventeen Plus (definitely not for kids)

A Safe Guide to Dying (Dimitris Tsilifonis, Froso Tsipopoulou): I wasn't wild about this reflection on suicide told as a sort of trapped-in-a-videogame-simulation framework. Parts border on David Lynch, while the multiple moments of imagined and real suicide are jarring.

Black Bag (Shao Qing): A Chinese animated VR film about a nightmare of a failed heist, this one has a lot of swooping and moving through hallways and into spaces, as if roaming through an impressionistic video game. The emotional arc gets a little lost in the graphical style.

The Pantheon of Queer Mythology (Enrique Agudo, Tim Deluxe): Beautiful and brief flyovers of statuesque monuments, created as if of gods in a new pantheon. Each landscape is like a sculpture, with plenty to look around and study. There's also a fair amount of nudity, just FYI.

Saturnism (Mihai Grecu): An extremely odd virtual recreation of Goya's painting, Saturn Devouring His Son. The painting is disturbing, and so is wandering a landscape seeing it all brought to life in sometimes murky VR.



Brianna Holochuck

Program 3: Kinfolk

Ferenj: A Graphic Memoir in VR (Ainslee A. Robson, Liam Young): Much like Rain Fruits, this beautiful memoir moves through pointillistic worlds of 3D-scanned personal spaces while a story is narrated; in this instance, a personal account of Ethiopian-American heritage. I love the idea of using hazy, impressionistic 3D scans as opposed to video for memory-based VR experiences like these.

The Inhabited House (Diego Kompel): I was emotionally wrecked by this lovely approach to memory, layering videos of an Argentinian family into a very still house to reflect on relatives now gone. Home videos and a physical space end up feeling like a memory palace.

Home (Hsu Chih-Yen): I was equally emotionally hit by this 17-minute continuous-shot film of a family reunion in Taiwan, all shot from the perspective of a great-grandmother sitting in her wheelchair. It's a pretty incredible experience, heartfelt and full of detail.



Brianna Holochuck

Program 4: Pure Imagination

Lutaw (Samantha Quick, Michaela Holland): Made in partnership with Oculus VR for Good and Yellow Boat of Hope, this animated short film of a girl trying to build a boat out of random things carries a more emotional hook. She's trying to get to school on another small island in the Philippines without swimming, which is something kids have to actually do.

Attack on Daddy (Sung Sihup): A totally weird and disturbing story of a dad who's transported into his girl's dollhouse, where he's terrorized by evil creatures in rabbit suits, which he fights with a light saber. I'm not making this up.

Tale of the Tibetan Nomad (Carol Liu, Stan Lai): A gentle folk tale of a Tibetan nomad's life, told by a narrator. The feeling of passive observation feels like watching a diorama or a cultural play in VR.

Upstander (Van Phan, Oculus VR for Good): An animated short about bullying, told through animated backpacks at school. While it's a warm message about standing up to bullies, parts of it that showed some vicious taunts felt too dark to show my younger kids.