As the Sundance Film Festival’s groundbreaking and technology-facing New Frontier section kicks off its second decade in existence, the 2017 edition of the section boasts its most stacked and varied programing picks yet. The full slate includes “story worlds” in Augmented Reality headsets, projection-mapped acrobatics, a VR beauty salon producing neuroscience data via the internet of things and a host of socialized, interactive and immersively haptic VR story experiences.
The rest of the lineup includes live performances, a feature film and augmented reality experiences built to complement 22 VR experiences and 11 installations, showcased between three venues in Park City. The Claim Jumper will host 10 immersive installations focused on cross-disciplinary story construction, while the VR Palace will feature 17 VR experiences alongside an additional installation and the VR Bar will offer a lineup of mobile VR. Two New Frontier projects are part of the Festival’s New Climate program, which highlights the environment and climate change.
For the 2017 festival, 113 feature-length films were selected, representing 31 countries and 36 first-time filmmakers, including 19 in competition. These films were selected from 13,782 submissions including 4,068 feature-length films and 8,985 short films. Of the feature film submissions, 2,005 were from the U.S. and 2,063 were international. Ninety-five feature films at the festival will be world premieres. In 2016, the Festival drew 46,600 attendees, generated $143.3 million in economic activity for the state of Utah, and supported 1,400 local jobs.
Robert Redford, President and Founder of Sundance Institute, commented: “Every year, more artists are drawn to the vanguard of art and technology: independent, creative storytellers have more tools to break the mold than ever before. For the last decade-plus, New Frontier’s vision has evolved and grown with this expanding palette, to curate and showcase the most exciting new work made with the latest advances.”
Films and Performances
“18 Black Girls / Boys Ages 1-18 Who Have Arrived at the Singularity and are Thus Spiritual Machines: $X in an edition of $97 Quadrillion” / U.S.A. (Artist: Terence Nance) — In this pair of performances, the artist Googles the phrase “one-year-old black boy” and “one-year-old black girl,” ascending in age to 18, allowing Google’s “popular searches” algorithm to populate what words will follow.
“Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?” / U.S.A. (Artist: Travis Wilkerson) — This documentary murder mystery about the artist’s own family is a Southern Gothic torn apart and reassembled. Journeying straight into the black heart of a family and country, this multimedia performance explores a forgotten killing by the artist’s great- grandfather—a white Southern racist—of a black man in lower Alabama.
“World Without End (No Reported Incidents)” / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Artist: Jem Cohen) — Close observations around Southend-on-Sea, a small English town along the Thames estuary, reveal not only everyday streets, everyday birds, unflagging tides, mud and sky, but also prize-winning Indian curries, an encyclopedic universe of hats and a nearly lost world of proto-punk music.
“Full Turn” / Switzerland (Artist: Benjamin Muzzin) — This installation explores the notion of the third dimension with the desire to get out of the usual frame of a flat screen. The rotation of two tablets creates a three- dimensional, animated sequence that can be seen at 360 degrees, unlike any other type of display.
“Heartcorps: Riders of the Storyboard” / U.S.A. (Artist: dandypunk, Key Collaborators: Darin Basile, Jo Cattell) — Follow the story of Particle, a two-dimensional light being, as you walk through the pages of a giant, immersive comic book. Hand-drawn illustrations come to life around you using projection- mapping technology, while high-level Cirque du Soleil performers interact with animated characters in this “digital light poem.”
“Heroes” / U.S.A. (Artist: Melissa Painter, Key Collaborators: Tim Dillon, Thomas Wester, Jason Schugardt, Laura Gorenstein Miller) — The setting: An extravagant movie palace where silent films were shown. One dance— fiercely athletic and romantic—invites you inside. The story comes off the screen, putting you into your body and challenging you to move, navigate heroic shifts in perspective and scale and reach out to touch the experience.
“The Holographic Brain: The Next Stage In Human Evolution” / U.S.A. (Artist: Daniella Segal) Evolution of the human brain began with the development of stone tools, which allowed early humans to manipulate their environment. From stone axe to supercomputer, the brain’s evolution has been guided by tools and evolved into the most complicated object in the known universe.
“NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism” / U.S.A. (Artists: Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Ashley Baccus-Clark, Ece Tankal, Nitzan Bartov) — A three-part exploration of black women and the roles they play in technology, society and culture — including speculative products, immersive experiences and neurocognitive impact research. Using fashion, cosmetics and the economy of beauty as entry points the project illuminates issues of privacy, transparency, identity and perception.
“Pleasant Places” / United Kingdom (Artist: Davide Quayola) — A return to, and a modern elaboration upon, Vincent Van Gogh’s Provence landscapes, this series of digital paintings interrogates and reframes concepts of representation and perception through image manipulation and augmented reality. Using bucolic and contemplative images, juxtaposed with raw data visualization, this project suggests alternate modes of visual synthesis.
“Synesthesia Suit: Rez Infinite and Crystal Vibes”/ Japan (Artists: Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Ayahiko Sato, Kouta Minamizawa) — Experience a multisensory climax with pounding beats and stringed instruments in acclaimed PlayStation 4/PS VR game Rez Infinite, or feel vibrations of candy-colored psychedelic sound rippling through the Crystal Vibes universe. Audiovisual and vibrotactile textures combine to push the frontiers of technology-mediated sensory experience.
“ASTEROIDS!” / U.S.A. (Artist: Eric Darnell) — From the director of Madagascar comes Baobab’s VR animation. Journey the cosmos aboard the spaceship of Mac and Cheez, an alien duo so mission-focused they forget what’s important in life. It’s up to you to show them what really matters. Cast:
“Chasing Coral: The VR Experience” / U.S.A. (Artist: Jeff Orlowski) Zackary Rago, a passionate scuba diver and researcher, documented the unprecedented 2016 coral bleaching event at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef with this exclusive underwater VR experience.
“Chocolate” / U.S.A. (Artist: Tyler Hurd) — This VR music video experience for the song “Chocolate” by Giraffage sets you in a cat-centric world of sparkling, colorful chrome with a tribe of people doing a ritualistic dance just for you, their robot god, to provide them with their precious resource, cute lil’ chrome kitties.
“Dear Angelica” / U.S.A. (Artist: Saschka Unseld, Screenwriters: Saschka Unseld, Angela Petrella, Wesley Allsbrook, Max Planck, Ryan Thomas) — This project is a journey through the magical and dreamlike ways we remember lost ones and, even though they are gone, what remains of the ones we loved.
“Hue” / U.S.A. (Artist: Nicole McDonald, Key Collaborators: Nicole McDonald, Rob Auten, Jessica Hundley) — This is an immersive and visually driven interactive film about a man who has lost the ability to see color. Participants reawaken the protagonist’s sense of wonder and imagination through empathetic action as color and connection return to his world view.
“If Not Love” / U.S.A. (Artist: Rosemarie Troche) — A conflicted Christian man carries out a mass shooting. In his past: a same-sex hookup and self-loathing. What if events had unfolded differently? What if his partner had convinced him to face himself? Could that simple act change the course of history?
“Life of Us” / U.S.A. (Artists: Chris Milk, Aaron Koblin, Screenwriters: McKenzie Stubbert, Jona Dinges, Megan Ellison) — A shared VR journey that tells the complete story of the evolution of life on Earth.
“Melting Ice” / U.S.A. (Artist: Danfung Dennis) — We take viewers on a transcendent exploration into the devastating consequences of climate change on Greenland’s ice sheet. Stand under collapsing glaciers, next to raging rivers of ice melt and witness rising sea levels—all visceral warnings of our planet’s future.
“Mindshow” / U.S.A. (Artists: Gil Baron, Jonnie Ross, Adam Levin, Key Collaborators: Jonnie Ross, Gil Baron) — Make VR cartoons with your body and voice. Teleport into different characters, and act out all the parts. Create with your friends by passing scenes back and forth, then share your shows in VR and on social media.
“Miyubi” / Canada (Artists: Félix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphaël, Key Collaborator: Owen Burke) — Experience love and obsolescence as a Japanese toy robot, gifted to a child in the home of a fractured family in 1982 suburban America.
“Tree” / U.S.A. (Artists: Milica Zec, Winslow Porter) — This virtual experience transforms you into a rainforest tree. With your arms as the branches and body as the trunk, you experience the tree’s growth from a seedling to its fullest form and witness its fate firsthand.
“Orbital Vanitas” / Australia (Artist: Shaun Gladwell) This virtual reality experience presents a surreal sci-fi mystery and meditation on death. Initially placed in Earth’s orbit, participants soon notice an enigmatic form floating toward them. What takes place next makes perfect use of the VR format.
“Out of Exile: Daniel’s Story” / U.S.A. (Artist: Nonny de la Peña) — In August 2014, Daniel Ashley Pierce’s family verbally and physically accosted him before kicking him out of the house because they disapproved of his sexuality. Built directly around audio Daniel recorded from that encounter, this project includes thoughts of hope and triumph from Daniel and three other LGBTQ youth.
“The Sky is a Gap” / U.S.A. (Artist: Rachel Rossin) — The viewer is allowed to precisely move time with space by the use of a positionally tracked headset. Existing in the physical and virtual realms, the installation depicts a pyroclastic explosion inspired by Zabriskie Point, where the scene’s progress is physically mapped to the participant’s forward and backward movement.
“Through You” / U.S.A. (Artists: Saschka Unseld, Lily Baldwin) — Dance is used to inhabit a common mortal story of love born, lived, lost, burned and seemingly gone forever—only to be found again.
“Zero Days VR” / U.S.A. (Artists: Scatter, Yasmin Elayat, Elie Zananiri, Key Collaborators: Yasmin Elayat, Alexander Porter) — A clandestine mission hatched by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage an underground Iranian nuclear facility is told from the perspective of Stuxnet, the world’s first cyberweapon, and a key NSA informant. Audiences experience the high stakes of cyber warfare inside the invisible world of computer viruses.