Tribeca brings VR to the masses, but with few surprises / by Stephanie Llamas

The Tribeca Film Festival has once again embraced the emergence of immersive. Festivals like Tribeca are playing a huge role in helping to legitimize the medium, which is increasingly important as people go bearish on XR. But then again, we will still see a lot of the tried-and-true. Even though VR games are almost absent this year, there is a cinematic push toward activism and horror, themes we’ve seen before. That’s not to say innovative execution of these themes will be completely absent, with big names like Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension) and a collaboration between OK Go’s Damian Kulash and Chris Milk seeking to make a splash at the event. However, just as we saw with CES and GDC, there won't be a lot of surprises. Here’s what you can expect to see at this year’s event. 

XR for change: As consumers show less and less interest in cinematic XR fiction, we are seeing a huge focus instead on ‘XR for change’. Themes at Tribeca will include racism (1,000 Cut Journey, Terminal 3), sexuality (She Flies by Her Own Wings), climate change (Coral Compass, This is Climate Change), hacktivism (#WarGames by Her Story’s Sam Barlow) and war (The Day the World Changed, HERO).

HERO  puts audiences at the center of a moment of a civilian air raid in a Syrian city, where choices shape one’s own experience. In an unprecedented use of interactive technology to convey a deeper humanity. 

HERO puts audiences at the center of a moment of a civilian air raid in a Syrian city, where choices shape one’s own experience. In an unprecedented use of interactive technology to convey a deeper humanity. 

Immersive content is become increasingly popular to not only inform but also tap into emotion in order to influence action. The challenge, however, is that it is hard to attract proactive at-home viewers with this type of content, meaning it can only really recruit users through event-based activations (like at Tribeca). Same goes for fundraising, but with more payment solutions surfacing, like Payscout and Worldpay, it will be easier to capitalize on the high emotions a user is feeling in that moment to drive donations.

Alexandre Aja tries to shed horror’s reputation for being a VR gimmick: The horror genre has always been an easy sell for VR, but it is quickly becoming a gimmick, so hopefully Tribeca’s showing prove that’s not the case just yet. Alexandre Aja is bringing an expert eye to the medium and will be showcasing The Skull of Sam and Midnight March. We’ll see if it lives up to his fans’ expectations.

Lambchild Superstar: Making Music in the Menagerie of the Holy Cow  is replete with magical music-making contraptions, friendly animals, robots, and audience members as they work together to create an original song.

Lambchild Superstar: Making Music in the Menagerie of the Holy Cow is replete with magical music-making contraptions, friendly animals, robots, and audience members as they work together to create an original song.

OK Go continues to show their innovative side: Unsurprisingly, Damian Kulash of OK Go, the band known for its wacky and mind-bending music videos, is helping to bring a music experience to VR with Lambchild Superstar: Making Music in the Menagerie of the Holy Cow (I’ve long said music could be a killer app for the medium). He's collaborated with VR legend Chris Milk, giving users agency to make music in an immersive dream world... with at least one cow.

Not quite a game: Though VR games won’t be in the spotlight, Owlchemy (the makers of Job Simulator who were acquired by Google) will debut their new Vacation Simulator, which shows how interactive entertainment can be about play without being a game.

The Chalkroom  combines the agency viewers have in a real-world installation with the fantastical elements of a virtual world.

The Chalkroom combines the agency viewers have in a real-world installation with the fantastical elements of a virtual world.

Contemporary art becomes VRt: Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang will bring their 2017 narrative art piece The Chalkroom to Tribeca. This is following Marina Abramovic and Anish Kapoor’s VR showings at Art Basel, and an XR art distribution platform called Acute Art that premiered last year, which features work by Abramovic, Olafur Eliasson and Jeff Koonz. The avant garde eye of the contemporary art community is showing VR a lot of love, something that has traditionally helped bring validation to new media in contemporary art movements (as with Nam June Paik’s work in video and telecommunications, and Cory Arcangel’s video game art).