Time was when the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier section functioned as a distant afterthought to the fest’s core agenda: pinpointing and promulgating indie movies via the global platform provided by Robert Redford in a tiny ski hamlet at the base of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.
A decade into its existence, however, New Frontier — the fest’s showcase for works straddling the art/film divide, new digital technology, and other hard-to-classify but yet somehow Sundance-y efforts — has come into its own. The section now encompasses three separate spaces in Park City, includes museum-pedigree installation art, and has grown to include no fewer than 45 virtual-reality and augmented-reality artworks. In addition to the fest’s physical exhibitions, viewers outside Sundance will be able to download more than 20 virtual reality works to experience on mobile headsets.
That new emphasis on VR, a significant expansion from last year’s New Frontier offerings, arrives as a clear indication of Hollywood’s increasing interest in immersive, alternative storytelling technology. Among the more notable offerings at 2016’s Sundance: a virtual-reality music video rendering of Icelandic chanteuse Bjork’s song “Stonemilker” and a VR experience shot from the perspective of Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut character in The Martian. “For us, it’s all about supporting these independent thinkers and artists in all different mediums to tell their stories,” says Trevor Groth, Sundance’s director of programming.
The Treachery of Sanctuary, a large-scale video-projection triptych by director Chris Milk, functions as something of a centerpiece for a new Sundance space called Base Camp and uses participants’ bodies to “unlock a new artistic language” according to festival literature. “You sprout wings, you sprout feathers and turn into a bird,” explains Sundance’s director John Cooper. “You stand in front of it, flap your arms and your image turns into different progressions of being a bird.”
The Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 21 — 31. Scroll down for a complete listing of New Frontier selections:
FILMS AND PERFORMANCE
Cameraperson / U.S.A. (Director: Kirsten Johnson) — By exposing her role behind the camera, Johnson reaches into the vast trove of footage that she has shot over decades around the world. What emerges is a visually bold memoir and a revelatory interrogation into the power of the camera. World Premiere
The Illinois Parables / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Deborah Stratman) — This suite of Midwestern parables about faith, force, technology, and exodus questions the role belief plays in national identity. In our desire to make sense of the inscrutable, who do we end up blaming or endorsing? Cast: C. Felton Jennings II, Anna Toborg, Joshua Frieman, José Oubrerie, Daniel Verdier, David Gatten. World Premiere
Artists: Gingger Shankar, Dave Liang, Sun Yunfan
The unsung story of Lakshmi Shankar and her daughter, Viji—two extraordinary artists who helped bring Indian music to the West in the 1970s through their close collaboration with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. This arresting, multi-generational, multimedia mash-up features animation, family archives, and a live performance. U.S. Premiere
Notes on Blindness / United Kingdom, France (Directors and screenwriters: Peter Middleton, James Spinney) — After losing his sight, John Hull knew that not understanding blindness would destroy him. In 1983, he began to keep an audio diary. His recordings represent a unique testimony of loss, rebirth, and renewal, excavating the experience of blindness and documenting his discovery of “a world beyond sight.” Project includes a mobile VR experience. Cast: Dan Skinner, Simone Kirby. World Premiere
Artist: Kahlil Joseph; Key Collaborator: Kendrick Lamar
A lush portrait of contemporary Compton, California, set to a booming soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar, depicts everyday moments of black life suffused with creativity, joy, and sadness. From buoyant adolescent moments to ominous nighttime scenes, reality and fantasy dance to a haunting soundscape flashed across two screens. Cast: Bijan Faby, Shenelle Bullock, Chris Lewis, Rykeis Tyson, Jordan Dupree, Kamr Bailey.
Artist: Jonathan Monaghan
This seamlessly looped computer animated film chronicles a golden deer through glossy environments of wealth, power, and authority through one continuous tracking shot. The journey imagines a new reality devoid of humans, left only with material desires and ambitions.
Artists: Milica Zec, Winslow Porter; Key Collaborators: E.A. Donahue, Jack Caron, Todd Bryant
Trapped in an active war zone, two parents struggle to distract their young daughter by inventing a fantastical tale. Inspired by true events, this immersive VR experience transports the viewer to the family’s makeshift basement shelter. As the bombs draw closer and closer, the parents’ fairy tale intensifies. Cast: Zoë Winters, Clem Mcintosh, Jordana Rose.
Artist: ILMxLab; Key Collaborators: John Gaeta, Hilmar Koch, Nick Rasumussen
This new scenic design and experience theatre allows participants to step into iconic story moments while spatially perceiving the performing characters and exploring worlds. As they portal inside a fully immersive media environment, they experience 4-D viewing as if walking through film sets in the real world. Cast: Mat Brady, Peter Bogatsky, Frank La Monaca, Meghan Mowery, Rachel Rose.
In the Eyes of the Animal
Artists: Barnaby Steel, Robin McNicholas
A 360-degree virtual reality experience presented on sculptural headsets, this work is an artistic interpretation of the sensory perceptions of three British animal species. Immerse yourself into this world from the forest floor to the tops of trees, and tread carefully as you observe through the eyes of the animals.
Using techniques borrowed from Hollywood stunts, Cassils experiences the very real terror of being lit on fire.
The Leviathan Project
Artists: Alex McDowell, Bradley Newman; Key Collaborator: World Building Media Lab
It’s 1895, and you’re in a scientific lab inside a massive flying whale. This augmented-reality-to-VR setting, based on Scott Westerfield’s best-selling trilogy Leviathan, lets participants engage physically and emotionally with the setting and with human and animal characters. The best part is the ability to fabricate a brand-new creature. Cast: Gildart Jackson, Isabella Schloss, Austin Nimnict, A.J. Helfet, Ellis Greer, Alex Ho.
Queen Rose Family (da Stories)
Artist: Kalup Linzy
The story of the fictitious Queen Rose family is told through episodic videos, collages, and a multimedia installation based on the “Pepper’s ghost” technique. Experience the melodrama often seen in primetime soap operas presented in an art installation. Cast: Kalup Linzy, Michael Stipe, Leo Fitzpatrick, Tunde Adebimpe, Hank Willis Thomas, James Everett Stanley.
Real Virtuality: Immersive Explorers
Artists: Sylvain Chagué, Caecilia Charbonnier; Key Collaborators: Bart Kevelham, David Hodgetts
A multiuser immersive platform that combines motion capture with virtual reality headsets allows users to move freely within the physical space, interact with objects and other participants, and virtually visit 3-D interactive environments. Cast: Gilles Jobin, Susana Panades Diaz.
The Treachery of Sanctuary
Artist: Chris Milk; Key Collaborators: Brian Chasalow, Aaron Meyers, James George
A large-scale interactive triptych, this story of birth, death, and transfiguration uses projections of the participants’ own bodies to unlock a new artistic language.
Walden, a Game
Artist: Tracy Fullerton; Key Collaborators: Todd Furmanski, Lucas Peterson, Michael Sweet
In this game simulation of Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in living at Walden Pond from 1845 to 1847, players walk in Thoreau’s virtual footsteps, attend to the tasks of a self-reliant existence, discover the beauty of a virtual landscape, and engage in the ideas and writings of this unique philosopher. Cast: Emile Hirsch.
Artists: Daniel Schechter, Linc Gasking, Rainer Gombos; Key Collaborators: Preya McMahon, Alexander Burke, Christina Weber
#100humans is the story of the first humans who walked through 8i’s doors to help invent a new medium. Using 3-D video technology to record real people for VR, this story explores a new level of emotional connections and sense of presence that brings viewers the most lifelike intimate experience. Cast: Ashley Martin Scott, Logan Paul, Young Guru, Denise Garcia, Brent Bushnell.
6×9: An Immersive Experience of Solitary Confinement
Artists: Francesca Panetta, Lindsay Poulton
Right now, more than 80,000 people are locked in tiny concrete boxes where every element of their environment is controlled. They are confined to spaces with no human contact, and the sensory deprivation they endure causes severe psychological damage. These people are invisible to us—and eventually to themselves.
The Abbot’s Book
Artists: Michael Conelly, Lyndon Barrois; Key Collaborators: Keith Goldfarb, William Telford
Four generations of an Italian noble family are cursed by the corrupt power of an ancient book unearthed from the catacombs beneath their estate. Rich with traditional gothic-inspired mythology, the story follows a scion of this cursed family attempting to shield his heirs from the inevitable darkness. Cast: JB Blanc.
Across the Line
Artists: Nonny de la Peña, Brad Lichtenstein, Jeff Fitzsimmons
This immersive VR experience puts the audience on the scene with anti-abortion extremists trying to intimidate patients seeking sexual and reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood. Using documentary footage and a montage of real audio, viewers gain intimate knowledge of the harassment outside and compassion inside health centers across the country. Cast: Samantha Collier, Kristina Nailen, Raegan McDonald-Mosley MD, Charles Gilbert, Lee Sherman, Joe Spence.
Artists: Jake Rowell, Neville Spiteri, Ben Vance
Encounter an 80-foot blue whale while experiencing the awe, wonder, and majesty of underwater habitats, designed as beautiful moments in passing or a collection of memories.
Artists: Vincent McCurley, Loc Dao
A virtual reality experiment questions the ethics of artificial-intelligence algorithms in self-driving cars when they are faced with difficult decisions during an unavoidable crash event. Given varied cultural and individual ethics, who should be designing these algorithms, and how should they be chosen?
Artist: Lynette Wallworth
Journey to a remote desert in western Australia that is home to indigenous leader Nyarri Morgan and the Martu tribe. Nyarri’s first contact with Western culture was in the 1950s via a dramatic collision between his traditional world view and the cutting edge of modern technology. Cast: Nyarri Nyarri Morgan, Curtis Taylor.
Artists: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally; Key Collaborators: Jay Brown, Andrew Delpit, Chris McClanahan
Encounter a majestic jaguar deep in the jungle, lie with a nesting sea turtle on a windy beach, and fly with monarch butterflies, all before they disappear. This powerful virtual reality experience is a glimpse into the habitats of Earth’s endangered species.
Artist: Randal Kleiser; Key Collaborator: Tanna Frederick
In this futuristic, sci-fi virtual reality adventure, viewers are put in the seat of a woman who wakes up after being frozen for nearly 30 years to reunite with her family. The reunion is bittersweet, as the passage of time has caused her loved ones to become strangers. Cast: Carl Weathers, Bruce Davison, Tanna Frederick, Christopher Atkins, Ethan Rains, Clinton Valencia.
Artists: Toby Coffey, Lysander Ashton, Ollie Lindsey; Key Collaborator: Mahdi Yahya
Fall down the rabbit hole and experience the magical and vibrant digital world of the Royal National Theater’s wonder.land stage show. Watch and listen with VR technology as the Cheshire cat hovers above like a magnificent holographic airship while serenading you to “Fabulous,” a song from the show. Cast: Hal Fowler.
Hard World for Small Things
Artist: Janicza Bravo
A day in the life of a tight-knit community in South Central Los Angeles. Cast: Keith Stanfield, Brandon Scott, Hannah Heller, Idara Victor, Jodie Smith.
A History of Cuban Dance
Artist: Lucy Walker
Organic, spontaneous, sexy dances progress chronologically through Afro-Cuban Santería rumba, mambo, cha-cha-chá, salsa, breakdancing, and reggaeton, with optional audio tracks reflecting the broader story of Cuban history as revealed in the moves. This live-action virtual reality documentary was filmed on location in Cuba and features Ballet de la Televisión Cubana. Cast: Ballet de la Televisión Cubana.
Artist: Ben Vance; Key Collaborators: Sam Bird, Joel Corelitz
Uniquely designed for room-scale VR, this interactive art experience gives the viewer an intimate connection to the possibilities and wonders of space, where mysterious phenomena, hidden beauty, and the infinite await.
Artists: Alex Schwartz, Devin Reimer
This experience of manning an office cubicle is a unique blend of storytelling, comedy, and intuitive game mechanics that focuses on micro-interactions. Pick up a tomato, smash a glass, and explore a sandbox world with childlike wonder, while ignoring established gaming systems.
Artist: Nonny de la Peña; Key Collaborator: Emblematic Group
In this harrowing virtual reality story of a real-life domestic violence homicide, two sisters engage in a doomed struggle to save the third from being shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend. Utilizing audio and imagery captured at the real event, this piece transforms the audience from viewers to active witnesses. Cast: Lee Sherman, Toyin Moses, Tripp Pickell, Diana Toshiko.
The Martian VR Experience
Artists: Robert Stromberg, Ridley Scott; Key Collaborators: Fox Innovation Lab, RSA Films, VRC
Step into the shoes of astronaut Mark Watney as he performs tasks that will facilitate his chances for survival and rescue. Viewers can fly onto the surface of Mars, steer at zero gravity through space, and drive a rover, deepening the experience of key scenes from Ridley Scott’s hit film, The Martian.
Artists: Felix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphael; Key Collaborator: Stephane Rituit
Witness the Maasai tribe’s living heritage in the village of Enkutoto, Kenya, through repeated walkabout visuals in the Great Rift Valley. Watch jumping-dance competitions, the men’s unmatched hunting abilities, and the women’s skills in building mud houses, long-distance water collection, and bead artwork.
Nomads: Sea Gypsies
Artists: Felix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphael; Key Collaborators: Stephane Rituit, Jean-Pascal Beaudoin
In this episode of Nomads, viewers share the Bajau tribe’s nomadic existence on crammed houseboats that sway to the motion of river waters. Watch as the families travel with fellow boat-dwelling relatives, always sharing a communal spirit.
Notes on Blindness—Into Darkness
Artists: Arnaud Colinart, Amaury Laburthe, Peter Middleton, James Spinney; Key Collaborators: Arnaud Desjardins, Béatrice Lartigue, Fabien Togman
After losing his sight in 1983, John Hull began to record an audio-diary documenting his discovery of “a world beyond sight.” Hull’s original recordings form the basis of this interactive documentary, which uses real-time 3-D, virtual reality, and binaural sound to explore the world of the blind. Cast: John Hull.
Perspective 2: The Misdemeanor
Artists: Rose Troche, Morris May; Key Collaborator: Charles Ottaway
When two men are stopped by a police officer, a simple misdemeanor spirals out of control, turning the situation rapidly antagonistic. With each party suspecting the other, no one is able to stop the chain of events that follows. Cast: Shemar Jonas, Javon Jones, Joey Auzenne, Johnny Tchaikovsky.
The Rose and I
Artists: Eugene Chung, Jimmy Maidens, Alex Woo; Key Collaborators: Terry Kaleas, Ryan Shore, Nick Sung
An immersive, animated VR film crafted by the artists, hackers and storytellers of Penrose Studios, The Rose and I is about loneliness, friendship, love, and loss. Come meet a lonely Rose living in the unlikeliest of places, and be transported into a brand new universe. Cast: Rachael Bigelow.
Artists: Emilie Joly, Sylvain Joly, Michaël Martin; Key Collaborators: Maria Beltran Reyes, John Howe, Richard Johnson
A teenage girl becomes guardian of the last city on Earth to change its fate by fusing her instinctive knowledge of nature with an AI’s benevolence, analysis, and foresight. This interactive animated series made for virtual reality relies on your focus for the story to evolve. Cast: Peter Coyote, Morgan Burch.
Artists: Robyn Gray, Andrew Goldstein, Michael Murdock; Key Collaborator: Philip Eberhart
Be careful where you look because someone or something doesn’t want you here. Otherworld presents two chapters in their popular horror series. Experience two sets of thrills and chills as you physically walk through a haunted house and experience a virtual reality ghost story that will scare your pants off. Cast: Julia Chalker, Greg Vogt.
Artists: Philipp Maas, Dominik Stockhausen
When a drone receives a faint distress call emerging from an unknown asteroid, it journeys to locate the source of the signal and ventures into a deep, ancient labyrinth that holds a secret even darker than space itself.
Artist: Andrew Thomas Huang; Key Collaborator: Björk Guðmundsdóttir
A virtual reality collaboration between Vrse works creator Andrew Thomas Huang and Björk explores the possibilities that VR holds for performance platforms outside of the traditional music video world.
Artist: Arjan van Meerten
An abstract meditation on the evolutionary process and its relentless march towards complexity, this virtual reality music video was produced over the course of a year, with Arjan van Meertan creating all of the music, animation, and code himself.
The Unknown Photographer
Artists: Loic Suty, Osman Zeki, Claudine Matte; Key Collaborators: Catherine Mavrikakis, François Lafontaine
This immersive documentary unveils a journey into the heart of the First World War through hundreds of photographs that were found in the abandoned workshop of a country house in Quebec, Canada. Cast: Julian Casey, François Papineau.
Artists: Michel Reilhac, Carl Guyenette; Key Collaborators: Mélanie Le Grand, Xavier Servas, Sebastian Shorter
Three women and four men, all naked, appear out of nowhere in the white, sunny space of a bright room outside of time. They meet, touch, share their energy, and are transformed spiritually; they let themselves become one with the world. Cast: Amador Jojo, Ayoti, Christophe De La Pointe, De La Fouquette, Flozif, Yumie Volupté.
Artists: Benjamin Dickinson, Reggie Watts, Luis Blackaller; Key Collaborators: Anthony Batt, Neville Spiteri
Reggie Watts weaves a virtual reality story that is a dream-within-a-dream meta-ride down the rabbit hole, where the only constants seem to be his philosophical musings, comedic insights, and musical genius. Cast: Reggie Watts, Nathalie Emmanuel.
Waves of Grace
Artists: Gabo Arora, Chris Milk; Key Collaborators: Imraan Ismail, Samantha Storr, Patrick Milling Smith
In this experience viewers are transported to the most populous slum in the capital city of Liberia, where Decontee Davis, an Ebola survivor, uses her immunity to help others affected by the disease. Cast: Decontee Davis.