#1001: Sneak Peak of Venice VR Expanded 2021 + New VRChat Worlds Gallery

The Venice VR Expanded portion of the Venice Film Festival opens today, and runs from September 1-19, 2021. I had a chance to talk to the co-creators Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac to get a sneak peak of the 37 immersive storytelling projects with 24 projects in Competition, 11 projects in the Best Of section, 1 project in the Biennale College Cinema VR section, and 1 Special Event Out of Competition.

There are also 34 VRChat worlds that are being featured in a VRChat world gallery, which are accessible via portal doors within a public instance of the Venice VR Expanded 2021 hub world in VRChat. There will be events in the private instance of this world, which you can get access to those events as well as all of the experiences with a 100€ accreditation fee that will get you a download code for the projects that are hosted on a combination of either Viveport and Oculus.

We talk about the evolution of the Venice VR Expanded selection into it’s fifth edition in 2021, as well as some of the other financing opportunities that are made available through their production bridge as well as their special Biennale College Cinema VR program.

I’m looking forward to digging into this year’s selection, as there’s always a lot of amazing innovations in immersive storytelling each and every year.


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So in today's episode, I'm featuring the two curators of the Venice VR Expanded Selection. It's a part of the Venice Film Festival, and there's 39 different projects, as well as another 34 different VR chat worlds, including a number of different events within VR chat. The Venice Film Festival is featuring a lot of these immersive stories. If you want to get involved, it starts today, September 1st, and goes into September 19th. You can buy an accreditation for €100. That will give you some codes to be able to download the experiences on a combination of the VivePort. You need a PC VR to see most of them, as well as on the Oculus Quest. There are some experiences on the Quest, but for the most part, it's on the PC VR. So the festival is just getting started, and there's lots of different events, and I had a chance to be able to talk to both Liz Rosenthal and Michel Riak to be able to talk about their curation of this year's selection, some of the themes, but also the inclusion of a whole VRChat Worlds gallery. There's a number of different VRChat Worlds that are featured in competition, but there's also a gallery of 34 different Worlds, as well as four or five different events that are happening within VRChat. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Michelle and Liz happened on Thursday, August 26th, 2021. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:32.226] Liz Rosenthal: Hi, I'm Liz Rosenthal. I'm the co-curator of Venice VR Expanded at the Venice International Film Festival.

[00:01:39.310] Michel Reilhac: And I'm Michel Reyak. I'm co-curator with Liz of Venice VR Expanded for the Venice Biennale International Film Festival.

[00:01:48.558] Kent Bye: Great, so why don't you each give me a bit more context as to your background and your journey into what you're doing now in VR.

[00:01:55.827] Liz Rosenthal: So I started working with Venice in 2016. I started the Venice Production Bridge Market to invite VR projects for the first time. It was a film market beforehand. And then we did our first pilot program, actually exhibiting VR projects. And the year after, in 2017, we did our first edition of Venice VR Expanded that is part of the official program. of Venice International Film Festival. So it's the first A-list film festival that has an official selection and competition of VR projects. But before that, I was running a company called Power to the Pixel, which ran a very big event in London that was looking at interactive storytelling and then immersive storytelling. And we ran the first exhibition that exhibited VR projects in the city. And it also ran an incubator program called Pixel Lab, where we developed over 100 interactive and then immersive projects. And as well as that, I executive produce a program called Creative XR, which helps incubate and finance 20 projects a year out of the UK by leading creative teams.

[00:03:05.728] Michel Reilhac: On my side, I was head of cinema for Arte, which is a cultural broadcaster between Germany and France. And as I was doing this job up until the end of 2012, I slowly became involved with interactive storytelling. I resigned from my job at the end of 2012 to fully dive into exploring, producing, curating interactive storytelling projects. I was hired then at the same time by the Venice Biennale to be head of studies for the Biennale College, which is a creative development workshop for micro budget films. And as I did that, I got involved, you know, with VR very quickly starting in 2014 and started making my own films in VR and worked on the president of the Biennale and the artistic director of the International Film Festival, Alberto Barbera, to try and convince them that VR was going to be the next big thing that they should look into as a film festival. So this led to them trying VR with me, and that's when we were given, Liz and I, the opportunity to try a pilot edition in 2016, which led to the making of our VR island in 2017, where we started our first real edition of Venice VR as curators.

[00:04:31.425] Liz Rosenthal: And Michelle and I actually met back in 2007 and we've been friends and working together since then. So it's been a really wonderful collaboration.

[00:04:41.651] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, I actually had a chance to go out to Venice in 2019. You brought me out to be able to not only be on a few panels, but also to see the island that's there in Venice. And I was really quite impressed with not only the production of what you were putting together, but also just the history of the Venice Film Festival and what it means for the larger film industry. Maybe you could give a bit more context if people are not familiar with the Venice Film Festival and how it kind of relates to the larger film industry.

[00:05:10.802] Michel Reilhac: But what people may not know is that Venice was the very first film festival in the world before Cannes. And this year is the 78th edition of the International Film Festival in Venice. So it is really the mother of all festivals. And it's to the credit of the current artistic director of the festival, Alberto Barbera, to have enough open-mindedness that he would trust us, basically, to develop this idea of a new section of VR within a traditional film festival. And what's really amazing is that the team at the Biennale is really embracing it as a true art form because it's the only festival to this date that treats VR on exactly on the same level as feature films, as far as how the work is presented. We have an international jury giving three awards that are given the same night as the feature film awards. So it is a way of contributing to elevate the art form, you know, to a full-fledged legitimacy.

[00:06:23.168] Liz Rosenthal: And it was quite amazing in our first edition because we were looking for a suitable venue and it was really hard to find the right place on the Lido where the film festival is based in Venice. And Michelle and I were in the midst of selection and the president at that time called us to look at this island, the Lazare Silvecchio, which hadn't been inhabited or used for, was it about 200 years?

[00:06:46.468] Michel Reilhac: Over a century, nothing had been... done on it.

[00:06:50.011] Liz Rosenthal: And it was, ironically, a plague quarantine island. So it was totally amazing being given this incredible venue to build for our exhibition. So that was our venue three years before COVID struck. And unfortunately, we weren't allowed to use it despite being a plague quarantine island last year. But hopefully we'll be back again next year.

[00:07:12.446] Kent Bye: So, yeah, last year was the first virtual edition and we have another virtual edition here, but there's also different satellites around the world. And so are there going to be any things that's happening there on the VR island within Venice or is there anything happening there locally or is the only thing that's happening in real life at these 14 different exhibition spots around the world?

[00:07:31.682] Michel Reilhac: The film festival itself is happening live totally normally. The only thing that is not going to be live is our section, is the Venice VR expanded section. But this year, unlike last year, we're going to have a VR gallery. It will be a room with 14 headsets that will allow people who are physically present in Venice to access our selection. The market will also be live for the 15 projects that we have selected with Liz that are going to be coming. The teams will come to pitch their projects to our guests who will also be physically present looking for partnerships, co-productions, distribution deals, etc. So there will be a live aspect to Venice VR this year. but it will be small compared to what we do usually. The island will remain deserted this year and we will be back on the island next year.

[00:08:30.388] Liz Rosenthal: So all of the VR events are happening virtually along with viewing the projects online. So the socialising, the parties, the talks and everything are all happening on our VR chat world.

[00:08:46.291] Kent Bye: Yeah, so last year you had a VRChat World and there was also a number of different selections that were available through Viveport. So maybe you could talk about the logistics of how, if people wanted to get access to it, what do they have to do? Is it freely available? Do they have to register? Do they download all the different individual experiences from Viveport? Maybe just give a little bit of a rundown of the logistics for if people listening want to get in and actually see a lot of this selection, what do they have to do?

[00:09:10.318] Michel Reilhac: Like all festivals, the guests that want to attend and participate need to get an accreditation. They need to register like they would if they were coming physically to the event.

[00:09:21.989] Liz Rosenthal: But our VRChat world, our VRChat Venice expanded world for 2021 will be available for anyone who has a VRChat account. So in the VRChat world, yeah, for free, exactly. It's not going to be a private world, it's publicly accessible. So it will launch Actually, it's going to be ready to view on the 31st of August, which will be our press day. And in the VR Chat World, we have various areas. The most important area probably is the World's Preview Exhibition Hall, where you can get to preview the 37 projects in selection. So they all will have preview rooms that you can go into, where there'll be trailers and 3D assets. So there'll be mini worlds in themselves. And then we have a gathering area where you can hang out and meet with people. And you'll also be able to experience our new section of VR Chat World Gallery, which we're really excited about, where we've featured 34 projects. So VR Chat Worlds that Michelle and I have selected out of several hundred that we visited over the last months. And they are all public worlds, so they're all free to access. But if you want to go to any of the special events that are happening, because we have some really great live events happening in our VR chat world, you have to get an accreditation as well.

[00:10:44.467] Michel Reilhac: And the accreditation costs 100 euros.

[00:10:49.343] Kent Bye: Okay, so there's three main sections here that you have as part of the VR selection here at the Venice Film Festival. You have the competition, how to competition, and then this VRChat world's gallery. So maybe you could talk a bit about the differences between the stuff that's in competition, the stuff that's not in competition, and then this new selection that you have this year.

[00:11:08.167] Michel Reilhac: The competition is made up of 23 projects that are all world premieres or international premieres. What that means is that there are works that have not been seen before. In the case of world premieres, it will be the very first opportunity to discover them. And international premieres are works that have been already shown in their country of origin, like an American piece in the US, for instance, but has never been shown outside of their country of origin. All of the works in competition are truly precious because it's a discovery for each and every one of those works. And they come from all countries. It's a very wide range of genres, of themes, and cultures that they originate from. Liz, you want to talk about the best of?

[00:12:00.592] Liz Rosenthal: Absolutely. So our second section is the best of section. So Michelle and I make a selection of projects that have launched since our last Venice VR, so since last September 2020, and we selected 11 projects. So those are projects that aren't eligible for competition because they've already done all their premieres, but we feel they're the best representation of the strongest work that we've seen across all the different genres and formats over the year. And we have two other tiny sections as well, the official selection, that have one project in each. The first is the Biennale College VR section where we have one project, La Valentos, that was developed during the Biennale College, which is a project from Brazil. And then we have a special out of competition, that special event, which is called In The Mist. And the reason we've had to have this special section is that we couldn't show this project due to the restrictions on the platforms that we're using, Oculus and Viveport. And it's something that's actually become quite an issue this year, that we haven't been able to show projects that show any nudity or sexual content. and are sensitive in other ways. So we decided it was such a strong piece in The Mist that we really wanted it to be in selection. But because it couldn't be published on the platforms, Oculus and Viveport, we're showing it in the satellite venues and in Venice in location.

[00:13:30.381] Michel Reilhac: And the reasons why it couldn't be shown on those platforms is because there is a set of moral criteria that you need to abide by in order to be selected to be present on the platform. While we completely understand this, in effect, it forbids a lot of the independent work done by artists that do not comply with the moral code from accessing the platforms. So we're actually doing a panel on the 8th of September about this particular issue. What are the options for independent artists that do not comply with the family value moral system in these platforms? What are their options to be distributed?

[00:14:12.755] Kent Bye: It's interesting. So the stuff that's in competition is going to be all new stuff. The stuff that the best of VR expanded is going to be stuff that maybe have already premiered other places and maybe shown at other festivals and the VR chat gallery. Just a comment on the VR chat gallery. I know that Maria from Rain Dance did a whole VR chat selection. as part of the Rain Dance 2020. So was that a bit of an inspiration to see what she was able to do in curating that list of VRChat worlds? And is that, maybe you could talk a little bit of that, the story of how that came about to be able to actually have a selection of VRChat worlds within the Venice Film Festival this year.

[00:14:46.133] Liz Rosenthal: Absolutely, well we showed our first VRChat Worlds actually last year in the festival in September, and we had projects like Finding Pandora X, which was a live performance, and we built our world as well in VRChat so we became really inspired by the platform. And because of the pandemic I spent a lot of time, Michelle did as well, in VRChat visiting worlds and I know Kemp we've spent some evenings going to look at some of the worlds actually that we featured in our VRChat worlds gallery and I think why we wanted to focus on these worlds is because we just believe the creativity that's exploded on this platform is extraordinary and a lot of it has been due to the pandemic And it's really demonstrated that social VR is an incredibly potent place for creators to get together, to collaborate, and to make extraordinary experiences in a social context. And we've seen how these platforms have just exploded over the last year. There are platforms that have been developed to work together on, to play together on, to meet your friends on. And I think VRChat, though, is a platform that really allows creators to freely, freely create extraordinary and diverse projects. And that's why we've chosen VRChat as our base and also as a representation of different works. But yeah, Maria was a big inspiration. Also, we spent a lot of time in VRChat and she's been an amazing collaborator on Venice VR through Viveport. They're our partner once again this year. And what she did in Raindance was really inspirational.

[00:16:26.762] Michel Reilhac: And for me, I fully became aware of what was happening in those social platforms about a year ago when I was looking for what platform, what collaborative work platform would be the best for us in the college, which is our creative development workshop at the Viennale. because we could not hold this workshop physically like we usually do in Venice. So we had to find a way and I didn't want to do it on zoom. So I started exploring, you know, what were our options. And I was shocked to find that and this was over a year ago, that there were over 200 existing operational platforms that were options for us, you know, to work as a group with tools with creative processes that were available to do that. We chose one called Raum to hold our workshop, but I was shocked to discover the profusion of options that were out there. So starting to explore VRChat and discovering the worlds that had been created by individuals, by people that do not consider themselves as artists, people who have such an agile understanding of the tools of unity to build worlds that they, for some of them, have been able to build very complex worlds in three, four months. Some of them have built two, three different worlds in a year. I was just blown away by what they're doing. And I was also really fascinated by how these people who are doing this, and some of them do it completely on their own, some others help each other. There's a sense of community and collaboration within the VRChat worlds community that is amazing and totally non-commercial. I was shocked to see how that model actually challenges the traditional model of production of work, you know, artistic work with a whole system of producers and makers and creative technologists and all the whole team of people and all of a sudden you get this one person building this whole world with lots of interactivity and beautiful almost by themselves. So this to us, I think, is key that we're representing this new trend in VR, like a new frontier within VR of options for people, you know, to be individually creative without any kind of structure supporting them.

[00:19:01.122] Liz Rosenthal: And also what's really extraordinary is that a lot of these people would not call themselves artists, yet the work is outstanding, or they work in communities together. I mean, for example, we have a community called the Metaverse crew that I know can lead me to some of their meetups. And a lot of them are based out of South Africa, and they've worked on several of the projects that we selected, we've got two projects, three projects actually of theirs in competition. So they're all individual artists who are working collaboratively with other makers and coders and designers. So we've got exploring home, a spirit of place and bliss in the era of a storm. And in our VRChat worlds gallery, we've got other worlds that they've been involved in, like the Amaze train station that was used as a incredibly beautifully architecturally designed base for a kind of hackathon of VR projects by artists because they couldn't hold their usual hackathon, which was on a train, used to be on a train from Johannesburg to Cape Town. So they built a train station to make it happen. So it's Rick Trewick who set up the community, we've got one of his worlds as well. And then of course, I want to make a big mention to the Prefabs community, because Fiona, who is one of the creators of The Devouring, which is a seminal game, a horror game on VRChat, that is super fun and of course in our VR world. VRChat worlds gallery, she really helped us put together the list and she curated a really big list of about 200 worlds that we visited and have taken selections out of there.

[00:20:38.055] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was just going to mention the Prefabs community is where I got connected to after seeing what was going on in Raindance and just discovering this whole community of people that are really helping each other and building tools to be able to actually help build stuff on that platform. Because you do have to kind of jump through a lot of hoops, not only building in Unity, but also the social flavor of Udon and everything that's happening within VRChat. So I guess people look at the list and go start to visit the worlds. But it's also nice to be able to have a gallery space to be able to stay within VR and launch into these different experiences. So maybe let's turn to the curation of this year's selection and maybe let's start with what type of themes that you were discovering or seeing. I know there's a lot of focus on storytelling, so that's going to be a center of gravity. There's also different aspects of agency, interactivity and game like elements. And I think there's traditionally been like two different types of awards that are kind of the more interactive experiences versus the more narrative experiences. and then maybe even like a 360 video passive experiences. I don't know if that's how that breaks down with the different awards, but maybe you could talk about the selection this year and what you were seeing in terms of the themes and your, I guess, curatorial intention with what type of stuff was really jumping out at you when you're deciding if this is going to be a chosen piece that's going to be featured within the Venice Film Festival.

[00:21:54.138] Michel Reilhac: There's definitely a trend that is becoming stronger and stronger and that sort of will make us have to reconsider the names of the awards we're giving. And that trend is the blending, the mixing of game and storytelling. This is definitely happening, you know, in the game industry where narrative elements are becoming more and more significant. But for us in VR, I would say, that it's definitely been something we've been witnessing over the past couple of years and which is strengthening. It's really hard to distinguish sometimes whether an experience should be qualified as a game or as a story. It's really both. So this sort of hybrid format of a story world where you as the viewer have to do stuff or to solve clues or you know, find things to make the story progress and move forward. is a very exciting new way of involving the viewer. And there are many, many different ways of doing this and making you, the viewer, be a part of the story actively. Because if you don't solve the problem, or if you don't find the clue, if you don't do what is expected of you, then nothing happens. The story will just not move forward. That model is not new in itself. It's been around for a while. the ways that creators are finding to make it constantly surprising, challenging at different levels is new. And one of the pleasures of, I think, our curatorial work this year has been to play along with this, you know, and just dive into this and see how does that work. And we've had to spend much more time in works that demand your time, you know, more than just watching passively, you know, a 20 minutes story with a beginning, middle and end. So this new type of relationship with narrative content, I find incredibly stimulating and very specific to VR. And I would say also the second aspect is the social dimension, like we just talked about VRChat, but more globally beyond VRChat, because there are other platforms, as you know, like Rec Room, Old Space, and many others. The live performance aspect of what can be experienced in VR also changes the paradigm of what we consider performance. When you can be choosing your place in a situation, you know, in a set, and when you can interact in real time with performers who themselves are spread out around the world, but yet we are all together, viewers and performers, in the same time and in the same virtual space, participating in making a story unfold, That particular connection with the story world and the performance of the dancers or the actors around you, that experience is unique and it's growing, it's developing and becoming more and more complex.

[00:25:12.153] Liz Rosenthal: I would definitely say those are the two kind of main thematics, but just to say, in Venice, we really like to select projects that are a wide representation of VR and we know that's so large, so we have a really strong selection 360 video as well. So on one extreme, there's a 360 video, the linear pieces, and on the other extreme of the multiplayer live performance projects and social spaces. And there's anything in between. So we have several single player experiences in competition. I would say the majority of the projects are interactive single player story narrative projects. But it's super interesting just thinking about the different communities who are creating artistic VR, because you have the more traditional sort of artists who work in the model of a single author, who are traditionally more likely to be selected for festivals like Venice or Sundance or Tribeca. And then there's the games community, who are the authors of those types of games that Michelle was talking about. Those come out of game studios. who have really very little to do with the film festival world. And so for them, it's a lot of explaining of, you know, why they should be in Venice. And then there's this huge community on VRChat and the sort of social world space. And those are sort of three main communities that I think I would say we are selecting works from. And then there's works across all the different genres and formats. But at Venice, we really want to show excellence across all of the formats. That's where our starting point to have a very balanced programme that isn't just focusing on social VR or isn't just focusing on narrative games or isn't just focusing on single player. It's really a wide expression with everything that's happening.

[00:26:59.953] Michel Reilhac: I think it's worth mentioning that there is a frustration this year in our work is the fact that we cannot represent because of Covid, we're entirely online, we cannot present any kind of physical installations. And this, despite the Covid, remains a strong trend in what artists in immersive media are interested in. So it's been difficult for some of the artists and the producers to consider adapting what was designed and thought and conceived as a very complex installation in the real world, in the physical world that requires a space, you know, and maybe even a sort of a set, to adapt that into a linear experience that can be experienced remotely. It's interesting to see that despite the COVID, the desire to use VR as a medium of expression within a physical installation format remains very strong. And this year, some of those works have been sort of watered down to a linear version, you know, to be included remotely. accessible selection. So that is a bit of a frustration and I think we can't wait to be back on the island to show the work in their original version, which means physical installations in some cases.

[00:28:25.875] Liz Rosenthal: But at the same point, I think we wouldn't have seen the explosion of social VR if COVID hadn't happened. So there's also projects like Bedlam, which was a physical installation, a very, very elaborate one, which has now been redesigned into something that's quite groundbreaking as an immersive virtual world space. So we're really excited about that project. And it's an entirely new platform that's been built. And this is the sort of first project that's going to be shown on it. So at the same point, we wouldn't have probably seen projects like Finding Pandora X last year, or Welcome to the Seventh Sphere, Welcome to Respite, or Exploring Home, or Bedlam if the pandemic hadn't happened.

[00:29:07.278] Michel Reilhac: But at the same time, we have a piece like Le Bal de Paris, which is definitely a performance piece. And it's remarkable. It's something we haven't said, but they have decided, with the help of private sponsors, to finance the full-scale performance piece for 10 audience members at a time. in Venice, inside Venice at the Conservatory, the Music Conservatory in Venice, which is an amazingly beautiful building that the tourists don't know in Venice because it's used as a conservatory. And they will be running the show, the full show, the full installation during the whole duration of the festival at the same time that we're showing their linear adaptation of this work in our competition.

[00:29:50.600] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, well one of the places I always like to start when I'm looking at a competition is, okay, what are the live events live performances or what are the kind of the immersive theater type of events that I have to schedule a time because there's a limited amount of people that can get in and you have to set a time. And if you don't get on the list at the very beginning, then there's a good chance you're not going to be able to see that. So I know you mentioned the seventh theory, Welcome to Respite, which I had a chance to see previously at Tribeca. So are there any experiences that you have to either live performances that you have to either be there or things that you have to kind of sign up for because they're kind of limited live performance immersive theater type pieces?

[00:30:27.300] Liz Rosenthal: Yeah, so we have four projects, like performances. First one is Exploring Home, which is by Sarah Lisa Vogel, and it's set in VRChat, so you have to reserve that.

[00:30:39.491] Michel Reilhac: It's two people at a time only. Yeah.

[00:30:42.133] Liz Rosenthal: And so there are quite a lot of performances for that. So, but yes, so it's quite limited. So everyone who's listening, please rush to book that. It's a beautiful dance performance in a really cool world. And the second one is the project that you just mentioned, The Severance Theory. Welcome to Rescite or Respite in American English. And that was at Tribeca before. So it's an international premiere. That's another bookable performance. I'm trying to remember how many people can go to that. I think it's probably about six now.

[00:31:14.528] Michel Reilhac: Yeah, well, there's one, one can be the main interactor and the others can be present in a more passive way.

[00:31:22.089] Liz Rosenthal: And then Bedlam, which I previously mentioned, I think it's for 10 people. And the fourth one was, is in our best of section. It's not a trilogy, which is an immersive sound piece, which is bookable, which premiered in Tribeca.

[00:31:38.715] Kent Bye: Okay. Yeah. And I know not is something you also sign up for, but there's no limitations. I don't think in terms of how many people can see that at a certain time, I think, but it is a live performance conceit that they want to have you go to three different locations and places and listen to something unfold over space and time, which was a lot of fun.

[00:31:56.366] Liz Rosenthal: And then we have, I mean, they're not bookable and it's sort of more first come first serve. We have five events during Venice VR that are going to be really great. So there's a huge rave and club scene happening in VRChat. And we're really happy we're featuring three of the most well-known clubs. So that's going to be exciting. And then we have a wonderful performance called Mycelia, which is an artist called Nanotopia who plays mycelia or fungi. She's going to be playing her fungi live with biosensors and performing this very, very beautiful crystal world with fungi. And it's such an exquisite world. And it's one of my favourite evenings I had in VRChat this year, and the avatars are absolutely spectacular. So we've got some great events lined up. And also we're doing a special edition of the Jean-Michel Jarre concert, Welcome to the Other Side, which was the biggest live streamed concert this year. That was New Year's Eve, that was funded by the Ministry of Culture in France. So we've got a special new edition of that happening.

[00:33:05.891] Michel Reilhac: And we also have a meditation session in a beautiful world inside VRChat, and we will have four world hops with different world hopping guides each time, one of them being hosted by Liz here.

[00:33:24.585] Liz Rosenthal: Yeah and then we have Fiona's going to be hosting one and Little Poe that many people will know in VRChat who is the VRChat documentary maker and then our producer Mike Salmon who's been incredible and is a massive VRChat enthusiast and who's actually I should do a shout out to him as well who's been an amazing guide to us through the platform.

[00:33:46.636] Michel Reilhac: Absolutely.

[00:33:48.443] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's great. I know I went through The Devouring both with Mike Salmon and Joe Hunting, Little Poe. So been able to kind of meet up with different adventurers within VRChat over the past year. So that's been a lot of fun to kind of check out some of these different locations and places. I know that when you look at some of these different experiences, there's different contexts and different topics that are being covered. And so maybe I'd love to hear just as a way of kind of exploring the main competition selection, what type of stories are being told within the immersive space this year that you saw were covering stuff that's relevant and what's happening in the world, but also using the immersive medium to start to tell that story in a unique way.

[00:34:25.477] Michel Reilhac: It's hard to say because there's not like a prevailing theme or subject that would be above everything else, but there are recurrent patterns that I think we can see. I mean, some of them are underwater. The underwater and the water element in general is a very fascinating field to explore in VR. And we've seen a lot of underwater worlds with, you know, both fish, coral and experiences of being underwater and exploring underwater. We have some of those both in the VR chat worlds that we are representing and in the works in the competition. Some of them, like the story Sand Beach, are about using the underwater world as a metaphor of the history of our planet and the dangers that come with it. Global warming is definitely a preoccupation that comes through a lot of the works that we are seeing. I feel that there's also a trend towards using VR for well-being. By that, I mean I'm struck by the number of pieces that are soothing, that are aiming to help us calm down, or meditate, or feel better. Sometimes simply through sound, sometimes simply through aesthetics. There's a piece like Anandala that is purely about AI creatures that are completely abstract, that sort of react to your presence and that you can sort of domesticate while floating in the sky with beautiful psychedelic colors, but it can also be pieces that just provoke a spiritual experience through the environment that you are evolving through. So that to me is a very interesting trend. And then one last one I'd like to mention maybe is the social awareness rising subjects. A piece like Container, for instance, from South Africa, is a piece that really calls your attention on slavery and oppression today, and how this is one and the same trend, and how you need to position yourself, you know, towards issues like this. The piece like Re-educated that takes place in China, you know, in the political camps, prisons that are in Eastern China, is a very provocative piece that makes you be aware of what is going on as we speak in China. So VR has that power to really engage the viewer in social issues, sometimes very tough issues that remain with you, that stick with you, and that provoke you in thinking, well, what should I do? How should I react? Much more than a 2D representation.

[00:37:29.370] Liz Rosenthal: It's quite interesting isn't it that you can go from the sort of like micro to the macro thematics are so broad, but there are those projects that are so personal where you're so emotionally involved, you're inside the world or the head of somebody else like Goliath, for example, which is a project. by the Anagram team that follows a real-life story of someone who suffered schizophrenia and was in institutions for 10 years, and you go inside his reality, so it's called Goliath playing with reality, and it uses the aesthetic and the mechanisms of games, of multiplayer games, because that's what actually enabled him to start connecting with people again and having a life. So you go from projects like that and then you go to these projects that really zoom out and look at the state of the planet and the cosmos. So projects like Genesis, which is a project about the evolution of the planet since its creation and the cycles of extinction and creation and And then projects like Space Explorers, which take you right out into space. And then the project that Michelle spoke about, the Starry Sand Beach, where you're looking at these microscopic starry sand particles in the sea, and it takes you on a kind of mythical journey that's both sort of mythical and legendary. It's described as a scientific fairy tale, and then the whole creation of the Earth. So you're going from these very personal stories and these huge stories about the cosmos and about who we are.

[00:39:05.201] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think one of the other things that I noticed, at least when I was actually at the Venice Film Festival 2019, was that there was the whole production element of people financing different projects. And I know that there is sometimes that there's some things that were funded by Venice that then has like a special selection. And maybe you could talk about that in general, like the importance of funding some projects, but some of the selections are not funded and some are, or if they are funded, there may be in a special selection. So maybe you can just explain how that works a little bit, because I think, you know, funding these projects, I think is a huge challenge for a lot of artists that they want to make the work, but there's not always the resources. And I think that's one of the unique things of providing a production bridge to be able to allow some of these projects to even get started and to exist.

[00:39:47.822] Michel Reilhac: Just to make it clear, the Venice Biennale funds VR projects only through one channel, which is the Venice Biennale College VR, which is a creative development workshop through which we develop each year 12 international VR projects. out of which we select one each year and which we finance with a grant of 60,000 euros. And then the piece is premiered at the Venice VR. This year, the financed piece from College VR is called Labyrinthos from Brazil, as Liz mentioned. But just talking about financing, you're right. It's very tricky. And depending on where you live, if you're lucky to live or co-produce with France, for instance, or Germany or Scandinavia, These are countries in Europe where there's a very strong public support system still in place, where you can apply for grants with public funds that are not refundable, and that allow you to really launch your production and finance it. But if you come from other countries, you know, in Asia, or in South America, or even in the US, where there's just no public funding system, you really need to find other ways to finance your piece. And this can be through a pre-sale to a platform like Oculus, for instance, or a straight out commission. you know, from the platforms that will require an exclusive right to distributing your content. But going back to Venice, I just want to stress that Venice also is the only festival that is actually active on the three different phases of VR as a production. The first one is the development, as I said, and that is channeled through the Venice Biennale College VR, 12 projects selected every year from all over the world. The team's producer and director are invited to Venice. We spend a week together with them with all kinds of experts to help them develop the project and out of which we choose one that we will finance. The second aspect is the financing and this will be happening next week. At the same time as Venice VR, it's the Venice Production Bridge as part of the market in Venice, where we invite 12 international projects that come from everywhere and that are looking for their financing. So they're not done yet and they're looking for partners. Those partners can be investors, grants, organizations, distributors, co-producers. So we invite those 12 projects, represented by their producers, and we invite a whole set of international potential partners who come to Venice or attend remotely and listen to those projects that are pitched by their producers. Then we organize one-on-one meetings to help them identify who could be involved in the projects. And in the past years, it's been incredibly effective, helping a lot of projects find their financing. And then the third phase is the exhibition with FNSVR. Go ahead, Liz.

[00:42:55.082] Liz Rosenthal: And it's quite interesting looking at our selection because we've got projects like Goliath that's in competition, which started at the Biennale VR College, then went to Creative XR program that I executive produced and designed and got co-production finance. because it was at the market as well, at the Venice market, where it met Oculus, and it's got UK funding, British Film Institute funding, Creative XR funding, CNC funding. So it's very interesting. And now it's back in competition, which is wonderful. So it's been in all the different parts of what Michelle described. So that's what's so wonderful about the Biennale is the fact that we have this ecosystem and I think that's what's really important for VR because it's so new and it's so hard when you're working in the new medium to attract finance distribution that you do create these ecosystems. One country I also want to do a shout-out for is Taiwan, because we have seven Taiwanese projects in selection this year, and Taiwan has got such an amazing support system, and it really shows when a country gets it right, the effect that it has. And these projects are so diverse, they're across all the different genres and formats, and they're quite extraordinary, the Taiwanese, how they work Internationally as well, they're really, really open in the way they co-produce, so projects like The Last Worker and Bedlam, which originated out of the UK, have been financed and there's no other territory that would work in a similar way.

[00:44:32.582] Michel Reilhac: Yeah, I just wanted to add to all this that the one thing that remains missing for all productions is a distribution channel for them. Right now, like we said, there's a sort of a censorship effect that happens, you know, if your project does not fit the moral criteria of the main platforms. But even for the majority of those projects that would fit the criteria, it's very, very difficult to access the distribution platforms. So there's really a need for diversifying the kinds of platforms that would be available for those projects to start reaching an audience and reaching those audiences that some kind of income from commercial distribution starts happening.

[00:45:18.884] Liz Rosenthal: And also just the discoverability, because I think we all know that on platforms like the Oculus Store, which is fantastic, but the curation for independent projects is really tough. Or on platforms like Steam, which all these platforms are known to gamers, and I guess it's gamers who are catered for, but anybody else who has a different interest or a different angle, it's really hard for those projects to stand out.

[00:45:43.008] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's probably one of the most frustrating things for me as a journalist trying to cover this area is that, you know, there's kind of like an opportunity to see these pieces, either you were there or you see this in the small window. And then sometimes things come out and they get released later. Sometimes it's two or three years later or a year later, or just there's a delay, but it's really probably one of the more frustrating things about this is a lot of this amazing work that's there. And I love seeing it, but with having the entire industry so focused on gaming, has created it such that there's not as many robust distribution platforms for people to be able to actually pay for some of these experiences and experience them. I mean, there's a whole immersive theater worlds and whole communities that are things like Sleeping No More and then She Fell, those types of, you know, you're there and you see it. And so there is an appetite for those live immersive type of things, but the virtual reality translation of those still is not the distribution aspects are not as robust and I appreciate the fact that you as curators are going out and and sifting through all the stuff that's being created and featuring it and allowing an audience in the world to be able to see how the medium itself is developing. But yeah, the lack of having then the final phase of the, and then you can go watch this at home or the creators can actually get a return on the investment or they could have more self-planning and stuff. So you do have this situation where there are all these production companies that are funding these things, but the whole funding process I think is hampered by the fact that there isn't a clear ending for the distribution at the end to be able to make more funding available. But yeah, I don't know what the solution is. I know the Museum of Other Realities has One opportunity for other festivals have been using that as a distribution platform. But even then, for the creators, there's not a lot of clear funding for that to happen. I see a lot of these projects going and being presented in museums. But then with COVID, there's a lot of museums that have been shut down. So then there's yet another constriction of the potential paths towards monetization for some of these different projects. So I think the people that are involved are in it because they love the process of innovation and creation and being able to tell their story. But I think the frustrating thing is that there's so much of this that's kind of lost into these ephemeral performances, one-time events that then have a hard time getting out into the wider world. So I don't know what the solution is or what other things. I feel like in some part, the pandemic has kind of force a solution to be able to at least come with some stopgap solutions like the Museum of Other Realities or the Viveport with limited release cycles, but it still doesn't address the deeper issue of having a clear vision for where this is going to go in five or ten years.

[00:48:19.680] Michel Reilhac: Can I say to this that we haven't mentioned that one of the things we're doing with Venice VR this year again is a network of satellites. There are 14 cities around the world who are going to be hosting a venue where the people of this area can physically go and access our selection. But beyond the idea that it extends our audience, it really works also as a test to see if there's a desire for an audience to come and see this kind of content, which is not, like you said, games. And we started this system last year, and it worked beautifully. And we see that when you format an offer, when you aggregate this content, and you make it clear that it is an event where you can see the best of creative VR that is not your standard games that you find on the platform, There's definitely a very, very curious audience about this that exists. So each of these satellites, each of these cities, is proving that if you shape the offer in the right way, if you give it a clear identity, and by that I mean if you create a collection of high quality works and offer it for viewing as an event, there is an audience for this. and the offer is different than just offering games. I think it's also interesting to multiply those kinds of experiences to start building awareness that there's more to VR than just games. It's now happening, it's starting to happen that important artists are looking at VR as a mean of expression, of artistic expression, and those people are really the ones that are elevating VR to the level of being a full-fledged art form like cinema or the visual arts.

[00:50:17.794] Liz Rosenthal: I'd quite like to talk a little bit about what's happening now on social VR platforms and metaversal platforms, and I'm actually going to be moderating a panel during Venice. Michelle's looking at independent distribution and the access issues and I'm going to be moderating a panel on social VR, virtual worlds and the metaverse. And we're going to be talking about how we can look to future models. And I'm kind of excited about some of these platforms that are developing. And just, I know there's been so much press around NFTs, but you know, this is going to be the area, how these platforms are going to develop, where creators are going to start finding ways to monetize their work in different ways. So we've got a really great panel. There's Keira Benzing, who's from Finding Pandora X, who's going to talk about live performance models. And obviously, it's really hard, as you mentioned, Kent, you know, a lot of these projects are bootstrapped. So she's going to be talking a little bit about what she has done and where she's going. I've got a writer, futurist, Theo Priestley, who's got a blog called Metapunk. who's been in the space for quite a long while, and also Rick Trewick of Eden and the Metaverse crew, who's going to talk about his experiences, because Rick's been spending a lot of time on different platforms and finding ways to, he's been selling avatars that he's made as NFTs, and been exploring different models. So I'm quite excited about this area and just looking about the different platforms that are being developed. So the platform that was developed by the former DV group crew, so that's Antoine Cardon for Bedlam, he's got a new platform he's developed which is hosting Bedlam that's going to allow, it's a white label platform for live events and performances. And then there are things like Eddie Lau, a sandbox, who's developed his own platform for events. So I think this is going to be, you know, this is something really exciting, I think, for makers. And it's a completely different way of thinking and a completely different model.

[00:52:15.956] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. I, I just going to Venice, I know that there's lots of international projects and we're on the road. We talk about Taiwan and, you know, as you mentioned, Eddie Lau and China. And I think there's also WebXR and other things that are potential opportunities for having what they call web three or all the just sort of decentralized web that there's other projects that are out there, like Webiverse that are starting to push forward. But. things that are getting away from the normal distribution channels. I think that that is something that I expect to see continue to develop over the years, especially as open standards like OpenXR start to have integrations. And so you can develop something with the SDK for Oculus, but it could also potentially have other integrations and other distribution options. And so I think we're still at the very beginning and a pain point in terms of not having that final leg of distribution that disrupts the overall continuation of the medium. Once I get settled, the artists will be able to kind of sustain themselves. The funding won't be so much of a treacherous journey. And then we can see more of this work thrive out there. Because like you said, there is an audience for this stuff and to go and see it. So, but yeah, as we start to wrap up here, just a few questions. Since you are curators, you're really on the frontiers of seeing what's happening on this digital culture and what's happening with the type of stories, the type of experiences. But I'm curious to hear from each of you what type of experiences each of you want to have within VR.

[00:53:38.605] Liz Rosenthal: This year has proved that I've fallen in love with social VR and the kind of experiences I've seen on VRChat. And it's made me want to put a headset on. Whereas before, I would say that it was more of a struggle. Even as a curator, I'm excited about seeing the work. But I think twice before doing it. Now I'm happy to jump in if I know I'm going to be there with other people. enjoying and exploring something and collaborating together in a space. But one of the things I'm particularly interested in, it's always really hard to describe the genre because I don't really want to say well-being, but it's projects that are kind of, I would say introspective, or give me some kind of sense of you know, exploring consciousness, exploring mind-body issues, thinking about the world in new ways, or visualizing the world in a way that we need to. And I think, you know, art is about that. Art is not just about filtering our world and having a version of our world according to an author. It's about how we have to envisage what we want to create in a way. If you set that intent, it's really important. And that's what I think VR is really exciting as a medium for. And so those are the kind of projects that I want to see and be involved in.

[00:54:55.104] Michel Reilhac: On my side, I really am interested in works like In the Mist, this piece that could not be on the platform because it's too sexually explicit. I want to see works that do not comply with the very narrow code of moral family values, because I think it is the trademark of a new art form to go crazy, to go wild, to be provocative, and to explore the limits and the margins. And because of these constraints that distribution through the main platforms impose, there's almost a kind of self-censorship happening right now in the creative world of VR, where everything is so clean, everything is so conforming with this moral code. And you see very few works that are off that system, just because they know that if they are made, there will be no way to be seen, aside from festivals like ourselves, where we're happy to show provocative work. but it doesn't make much production sense to do those kinds of works because you know it's going to be so difficult to show them. So still, if VR is going to truly become a contemporary way for artists to express themselves and reflect the world that we live in today, It has to be provocative. It has to break the mold. It has to go beyond the limitations that are imposed by the system that we already have for distribution. So I'm eager to see work of that nature with no moral strings attached.

[00:56:46.231] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling? what it might be able to enable.

[00:56:59.115] Liz Rosenthal: So I'm going to go back to what I said before. So we've got so many issues in the world that we're facing. And it's a real moment in time where we're at some kind of, it almost feels like we're some kind of threshold of humanity. And obviously VR is a, you know, technology is incredibly powerful and many people have many reservations and worries about technology, which are perfectly valid. I think about how it's going to affect us as human beings. how it's going to invade our privacy, how it's going to take over our agency. But I'm actually interested in how you use this incredible medium to start. It's such a powerful medium to start visualising and being together and collaborating in spaces together to build places and environments and ways of being together that we see as important to exist as human beings. And I think because of the sense of presence, the embodiment, the sense of being there. There's no other medium where you can do this more effectively. So that's what I see as exciting about this medium and why I'm in it.

[00:58:10.016] Michel Reilhac: I agree, I agree. And I would add to this, I see VR as a tool, as a vehicle to also transcend identity. What I find fascinating, the more I use VR and the more I am in VR through an avatar that I choose, I realize that the game of being someone else or being dressed as someone else has very far-reaching implications. into challenging the very, very fundamental concept of who we are, of identity. And the option that VR gives us to play with identity, with genre, with age, with identity in general, is a very, very powerful tool. Also a dangerous one and a tricky one, because it can really lead to all kinds of, you know, schizophrenic traumas. But on the positive side, I think it's an amazing way of exploring and empathizing with others. For instance, when you do a VR experience, when you are given the option to change gender and experience a situation from another gender's point of view, it's really strong in terms of making you understand what it means. You are in the skin of someone else. And having that empathy opportunity, you know, to fully understand someone else's point of view is incredibly powerful and in from an educational standpoint, it can be very, very useful and very effective. If I'm thrown in the position of the legal immigrant, or if I'm thrown in the position of a terrorist, I all of a sudden see things completely differently. And it's very, very different than watching this, you know, on a flat screen. So the opportunity of playing with identity through VR is, I think, a very fascinating tool for how we're going to relate to one another and to the world in the near future.

[01:00:31.141] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[01:00:36.366] Michel Reilhac: Come and join us in Venice VR. We'll be there.

[01:00:40.650] Liz Rosenthal: We've got to say the dates, which is really important. So the festival's happening over the 1st to the 11th of September in real life, but Venice VR Expanded, the virtual version, well, Venice VR Expanded is virtual, is happening from the 1st to the 19th of September. So we've got almost three weeks to experience the project. So please come and join us. Buy an accreditation if you can at the Biennale website. And if you don't, come and join us in the VRChat world. But we're looking forward to sharing.

[01:01:10.209] Michel Reilhac: We'll be there almost all the time.

[01:01:14.390] Liz Rosenthal: Michelle and I are going to clone each other. That's what's going to happen. And then we're going to be in real life and in the virtual world.

[01:01:19.492] Michel Reilhac: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

[01:01:21.713] Kent Bye: Nice. Well, I'm looking forward to getting a chance to dig into a lot of these different experiences and to see the different selection. I'm always excited, especially with Venice. There's a lot of world premieres, a lot of stuff I haven't been able to see yet. So I'm excited to dig in and see what the trends are. And yeah, thanks for being able to join me here today to be able to describe your process and your journey and also to describe this fifth edition of the Venice VR Expanded. So yeah, Michelle and Liz, thanks for joining me today. Thank you. So that was Liz Rosenthal and Michel Riak. They're the curators of the Venice VR Expanded Selection at the Venice Film Festival. So I have a number of different takeaways about this conversation is that first of all, well, there's just always an amazing selection of pieces at the Venice VR Expanded, and I'm really looking forward to continue to dig in. I've already got a chance to see some of the different pieces, and I just want to see all the different stuff and potentially follow up with some more interviews. But also just very interesting to see the expansion out from both the competition and things that are not in competition. So the stuff that's not in competition has already either been released or premiered elsewhere. And there's the competition that's either the world premieres or international premieres. So lots of really great new experiences that also really excited to dig into. Like I said, if you do want to see it, you do have to get an accreditation through the Venice Film Festival. It's €100. You'll be able to get some codes to be able to download all the experiences within Viveport. There are some of them that are only available on Oculus Quest. Also the VRChat worlds gallery. There's a world that's the Venice VR Expanded 2021 world that it's just publicly available. You can go in there at the basement level. They have lots of different places where you can kind of see a sneak preview, some trailers and some other information about each of the different 39 projects that are featured within the film festival. And then if you go and explore out into some of the buildings, there's some portals that'll take you into 34 different VRChat worlds that are in a number of different selections of of either hangout spaces, water worlds, some musically-based experiences, some horror-intense experiences. And yeah, just a selection of different VR chat worlds. Most of them are on the PC. There are maybe five or six or seven or so of them that are also available in the Quest. So, if you only have the Quest, then you're going to be limited in terms of what you're going to be able to go to see. But if you do have a PC VR, then go into the VR chat within the PC to be able to see all those different experiences. So again, there's lots of really amazing different stories that I'm just starting to dig into, and I'm excited to watch more of these and be able to unpack them more. And yeah, also just worth noting that the Venice Film Festival is one of the only major film festivals, well, it's the first film festival that was created, but it's the only major film festival that also has virtual reality experiences in competition at the same level as all the other film industry. I think it is really elevating VR as an art form, which means that you end up getting a lot of the big-name projects that want to premiere and competition because some of the other different selections at Tribeca, they have their own special awards at Tribeca. Sundance doesn't really even award awards. And SXSW also awards some things, but I don't know if it's actually the same sort of award ceremony as their film festival. I mean, SXSW is its own entity with lots of different things that are going on there at that festival as well. But anyway, definitely check out some of the different experiences and I hope to see you in the VRChat world. I'll be checking out a lot of different stuff here over the next couple of days and kind of popping in and out of that VRChat world. And like I said, that's a good hub to be able to go and check out some of the different stuff. If you do register, you also get the process of getting more connection details for how to get into the private instances of those VRChat worlds. But there are also public instances that you can also go check out and kind of get a taste and flavor of some of the Venice Film Festival. So that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list of support podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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