The Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories (FIVARS) is holding a hybrid event where the IRL component in LA starts today October 15th, and the virtual festival starts on October 22nd. FIVARS has been curating independent and avant-garde immersive stories since 2015, and I had a chance to talk with founder, executive director, and chief curator Keram Malicki-Sánchez who provides some highlights of the interactive and 360-degree video featured pieces at FIVARS. The interactive pieces will only be available at the West Hollywood location in LA, and all of the 360-degree videos will be available remotely.
Even if you’re not planning on attending FIVARS physically or virtually, Malicki-Sánchez shares a lot of interesting trends that he’s seeing as a curator who sifts through a lot of the early experiments and prototypes of immersive storytelling. He also eloquently describes his curation process and philosophy that is able to tap into the larger collective zeitgeist of stories that need to be shared right now, and how the immersive nature of XR provides a visceral way to deeply connect to other people’s wide range of human experiences.
Malicki-Sánchez is also a visionary when it comes to using interoperable and open WebXR immersive technologies to host both his VRTO conference and FIVARS festival (see my previous conversation with JanusWeb developer James Baicoianu and him here.) So I’m looking forward to checking out the latest updates and upgrades of visual aesthetics that leverage the latest build of Three.js when the virtual portion opens up next Friday.
You can get the latest information on programming at FIVARS.net and get ticket on EventBrite here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/fivars-festival-of-intl-vr-ar-stories-fall-2021-los-angeles-tickets-122313391647
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
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[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So I'm really, really excited to have Karim Litsky-Sanchez on today because Karim has been the co-founder, executive director and curator of the 5Rs Festival. That's the Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories. If you're in Los Angeles this weekend on Friday, Saturday, Sunday from October 15th to 17th, There's the interactive portion of the program that is there But if you are remote then the remote version is going to be happening online from October 22nd to November 2nd That's going to be a subsection of just like the 360 videos that are showing there So Karim has been really on the avant-garde of both curating the emerging immersive storytelling patterns within virtual and augmented reality, but also creating a whole WebXR immersive experience that, you know, Karim also runs the VRTO Virtual Reality Toronto conference that has had to go online. And with 5Rs, there's also this online component that is using WebXR technologies to be able to create kind of that online festival experience that you may see in something like the Museum of Other Realities or with the London Film Festival's Expanse. But this is all using open web technologies, so it's really on the bleeding edge of innovation when it comes to what is going to eventually become the metaverse. There's also an element of the metaverse in terms of creating different experiences. You're creating portals and going into these different worlds. Right now, a lot of those worlds are being created within the context of these self-contained immersive 360 videos, but also the interactive pieces. There's a bit of how the types of immersive stories that are happening are really on the bleeding edge of innovation when it comes to just exploring what's possible to communicate the wide range of the human experience. So Karim gives a nice overview of not only some of the pieces in the program and the trends that he's seeing in terms of immersive storytelling but also at the end we talk a little bit more about the technology stack that he's been building up and What the intention is overall for this process of curation and what's it mean to create selections like this? So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Karim happened on Thursday, October 14th 2021 so with that let's go ahead and dive Dive right in.
[00:02:25.933] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: My name is Karam Malitsky-Sanchez. I am the founder executive director of the Five Hours Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories. I also run the VRTO World Conference and Expo. Five Hours started in 2015. And for the first time in our seven year history, we are moving from Toronto to an in-person event in West Hollywood, California, and also a two week WebXR based event.
[00:02:55.352] Kent Bye: Great. So I know you've been curating a lot of these immersive stories that are out there and you know, there's a lot of stuff from 360 video, but also interactive stuff and also other immersive installations and other things I think you're expanding out into now that you're doing some in real life stuff. So it sounds like you're going to have some of the selection that's going to be there starting on Friday, October 15th in LA there. So if you're in LA, you can go check it out. And then it sounds like there's going to be some selection that is going to be not all the pieces, but maybe a subsection of those. They're going to be available on the virtual edition. So maybe let's start with what's going to be only exclusive to the inner life show. That's opening up on Friday.
[00:03:36.240] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah, so obviously it's very difficult to get people to be able to see many of these experiences at home. It's a lot of work to open up these executable files and have all of the dependencies that they may require to have the right headset because not everything runs on everything. But we just had a really wonderful programmer here who helped build the Mixed Reality Toolkit. And he was opining again on the importance of OpenXR, just to be able to overcome this crazy obstacle of multi headsets, multi modalities. You've got stuff on the Oculus Store, you have on SideQuest, on the App Store, on Steam and Vive. And it's just way too much to ask an audience to handle all that remotely. So it comes a point where you just have to be able to build an environment where all of those things can feel like a seamless, singular experience. So that's what we're doing is we're trying to consolidate. We're actually using a little bit of get available code called Revive to aggregate these different experiences into a single dashboard so that my docents who have to show up and who cannot be expected to understand all of these things in the short amount of transmission time that we have are able to basically look at the experience that a customer wants and launch it and be able to help guide them through all of its idiosyncratic elements and how to navigate it and so on. Of course, It goes without saying that when you are a bleeding edge festival in the immersive space, a lot of the experiences are like the paint is still wet, right? So you don't necessarily have tutorials, you don't even have a sexy way to enter and exit sometimes. And so all of those things we try to shave off. the mold lines and allow that to feel more seamless than it really is. And again, we'll go back to the content creators sometimes and say, listen, you've got to add a teleportation mode because the glide mode is just taking way too long to get from one point of interest to the next. And sometimes they'll be able to turn it around quickly within a week. So to answer your question, the interactive experiences are the ones that are primarily going to be featured at the event, but we will have our entire 360 catalog. And the nicest thing about it is that because HP has graciously given us some of their computers and a series of HP Reverb G2s, we're actually able to show our 360 content in the highest resolution that we've been able to do up until this point, you know, short of having some varios on hand. So the pixel density and the display on the G2s is better than the Quest 2. It looks really, really good. It's nice to be able to play files that are like 6K. We can even in some cases attempt 8K, but it gets a little patchy for these really long experiences. Like one of the most interesting changes for this show is that the average runtime is like 20 minutes. We're getting pieces that are 35, 40 minutes. I remember when somebody had a 40 minute 360 piece, they would call it the world's first feature film in 360, but now that's the norm. But yeah, some of the interactive pieces are the passengers from Canada, where you're sitting on a train in an immersive space, and you're being able to zone in on the thoughts of the different passengers around you. We've got the magic of flight that comes from Hage Goldfarb, who used to work at Facebook's 360 division, and his collaborator, Thomas Wallner. And that's actually a web-based immersive education experience in 16 episodes around the theme of flying. We've got Pin Up the Movie, an interactive documentary that is also in the web. And you're basically sifting through tchotchkes and mementos on the desk of a pinup model's life and going into her stories. But you're also looking at themes about legalities and protection and safety and how laws work in different countries and cross-gender considerations and like how aesthetic has changed. It's really like a wonderful look at the global culture, not just of pinups, but of like who we are as people. And so that's a multimodal piece in the sense that it's web-based interactive. We've got OnboardXR doing something called the Aquians, which is a underwater immersive VR performance. This one is spearheaded by Brendan Bradley. And another telephonic experience called Next Time with John Ertman and Evan Needen. This is a comedy, but it's a one-on-one phone call. And you're basically getting a call from supposedly a person, but it's an actor who is going to guide you through a sort of crisis scenario. And then really amazing pieces from China. There's one called the Mind VR Exploration that takes you through classical Chinese architectures and shows the poetry in the design, the snow on the ground, the bells, the distant mountains. It's a beautiful contemplative piece. I won't go through everything but some that sort of pop out. Mementorium is from Canada. It's a story about identity and belonging through a branching narrative in VR, and you uncover memories of gender and sexuality bias by going through the mementos in a room. that transports you into different dream-like environments. And those are tied to like post-it notes that are memories of like how a teacher would address the boys versus the girls in the classroom during a math test or how competitiveness in sports made you feel. So you go through this three-dimensional scrapbook of a person's life and see how identity is formulated. Jordan Dies in Space is another Canadian piece where you're doing a similar thing. You're going through a person's memory of their life after being jettisoned into space and having to pick up these surreal cues to stay conscious before the oxygen in your space suit runs out. And it goes from like raining cheeseburgers to like dodging meteor showers. And it's funny, but it's also viscerally terrifying and anxiety producing. And you have to work your way through the anxiety of these different formative beats in your life. And a final example I'll give is a piece called Homecoming, a meditation on the natural world by Katie Turner out of the US. And this one is an audio guided spatial tour that uses a website, but then you actually get a box of designed elements, physical elements that cover the four elements. So you participate in a guided meditation and then you complete tasks with items in the box. to reestablish your connection to the essential elements of earth, air, fire, and water. You blow bubbles, you hold stones, you anoint yourself with lavender water, et cetera. And so you have this, again, multimodal, multisensory experience to just reconnect you to the natural world and reactivate all of your senses, which is, I think, a really good thing to have at a VR festival. We really wanna remember that the eyes and ears are not the only participants in the show.
[00:11:04.967] Kent Bye: Okay. Yeah. A quick follow-up question. It sounds like there's two performances and I know that the onboard XR has previously done some shows that were in Mozilla hubs, meaning that people could see it remotely. Are they doing some performances in virtual spaces that people can sign up for remotely? Or is it only for people that are co-located there in LA that are going to be able to sign up either for the onboard XR or for next time?
[00:11:31.638] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: The onboard XR is a virtual web XR space. I believe that it is built in hubs, a white label custom hubs cloud build out. And so anybody who buys a ticket for the in-person will also get the ticket for the two week online show and onboard XR is included in that ticket. And so is the telephonic next time experience for the first 15 people who register for that. And then we give discount codes for the remaining ticket holders.
[00:12:05.425] Kent Bye: Oh, okay. Can they do the phone thing remotely or is it only for people there?
[00:12:08.688] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah, no, you get a phone call. And actually at our last show, they did not do a comedy. They did a horror one called Claws. And it was amazing how terrified people were that they were gonna be receiving an actual phone call and that it was supposed to be scary. Like, I think that the anticipation was far more extreme than the experience ever could hope to be. But it's really worth noting just how much the psyche of preparation is and thinking somehow the immediacy of a phone call seems so much more exposed than the intermediary of the internet. I don't know why that is, but Maybe it's because they have your number. Your number is attached to a person, an address, a place. I don't know. But it was worth noting that you might think, oh, telephone. They had party lines in the 90s. How is this part of a futuristic tech immersive show? I think it's actually an all-encompassing feeling of having somebody dial your phone number and say, we're going to get into some business right now.
[00:13:13.723] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah, that sounds really fascinating to check out. And as I, as I read through the program, I mean, if I were in LA, I would probably want to go to five hours and check out the interactive stuff that I haven't seen because the three 60 video stuff is going to be available later. That'll be able to be watched from the comfort of my own home. But as I'm looking through the stuff, there's also stuff that I've personally seen from other festivals, including Icarus and jailbirds and Madrid Noir, which is actually released on the Oculus Quest if people want to check that out. Mind VR Exploration and Myriad. And then Samsara, which was great. I really loved that. Squingle is actually on the App Lab or if it's on SideQuest, but that's a really amazing looking piece that I haven't had a chance to try out yet, but I know that's available for folks to check out. And then the Passengers, I know they've had a couple of iterations at a couple of festivals. So it looks like a mix of things that have been on the festival circuit, There's also a lot of stuff that I haven't seen that is kind of like another opportunity for stuff that may have been submitted for a while for the festival circuit or may have been premieres. So what I see Five Hours as is sort of like the Indiecade of immersive storytelling, kind of like the independent spirit, which Raindance has a similar kind of vibe, but I feel like the curation that you're doing, you're also looking at other aspects of looking at the medium itself and how it's evolving.
[00:14:37.558] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah, so what I would say is that when you see something that's been at other festivals, of course, that's part of our consideration. Is this overexposed? Do we need to allocate time and space where we have all of these other submissions which have never been seen before? And part of the thinking is if we're going to be here in person, you may not have had the opportunity to see the piece that won Venice or that was a big standout at Tribeca. And so we're bringing it to you in this case to West Hollywood. So anybody within Los Angeles or San Diego or San Francisco, we have people that are driving from all those places can see it in person, you know, and they may not have the particular headset or whatever to get that going. Sometimes people will come just because they don't feel like setting up their vibe again. But here we go. We have these standout pieces from the last eight months. We don't ever show stuff that's longer than 12 months old, with very rare exception, just in case you find something like that. It's generally those pieces that we say, cool, like now we're going to bring this to you. You might've heard about it, but you didn't get a chance to see it. And then we do have a series of world premieres or North American premieres that we've been highlighting throughout the week as well. Of course, it's always difficult to get the story out about every one of these pieces, but yes, there are some unorthodox selections. For example, we have a piece called Alien Secrets that is, a really cool, almost Gonzo-like mid-90s Gen X feeling about the nature of the truth around UFOs and UAPs, et cetera, et cetera. Why it's in the festival is because I wanted to... And it's on YouTube. You can find this on YouTube. It's a whole series. So you'd say, well, why do I need to cover it? Because sometimes you need to take something and put it in a different context with a different kind of spotlight on it to think about it in a new way, in a different way, and in a curative way. And I feel like this piece is a demonstration of how you can see a grassroots homemade movement rising up that's looking at these tools and thinking about how to tell their stories anew. And this vector of like, do it yourself, and kind of roguish cultural approaches to outre topics rising up into not only the 360 sphere, but this festival sphere is the kind of spirit that used to co-mingle at the Toronto International Film Festival with works by, you know, Denis Villeneuve or whatever. And it was the cross section of those two things informing each other that was where the electricity really was. And finally, All of these pieces are in competition, right? So they get People's Choice Awards for Best Passive or Best Immersive. They may have become available in the interim on the Oculus Store. Also, a lot of people who go to the Oculus Store are never going to look at these things. They're only looking for fitness games or first-person shooters or for Beat Saber DLCs, and they may not be looking to download a five minute story. But if we focus on it, we can say, you should pay attention to this. This is like an extraordinary work of art of storytelling that will stay with you for years to come. And that is the point of a festival is to draw attention to outstanding works and to be able to frame them in a meaningful way so that they can be considered a new.
[00:18:09.077] Kent Bye: The thing it reminds me of is in some ways these curators like yourself and 5Rs and these festivals are creating a selection of different experiences for people to go have. A lot of times at the film festivals you'd actually build up immersive installations that would create this magic circle that you would step into and then go into the VR experience. Imagine with some of these regional festivals, especially when you have just an interface to be able to show whatever they want, you don't have that luxury to do that installations. It takes a lot of time and resources and money to do that. But in VR, you can start to do that a lot easier, which is to create these spaces that then create portals for you to then almost like the early days of Yahoo, when they would create the selections of websites. I think of those early days of creating those doors and those portals into these websites to go check out. Well, in some ways you're creating a interface to be able to do essentially the same thing of creating a virtual space that, well, it's an actual space that you're doing the actual festival at, but on the online version, you're creating these virtual worlds that are then creating these portals into these other experiences. And I expect that this is like the beginnings of what I expect to start to be able to do in the metaverse, which is to go to one single place and have that museum experience, very similar to say the museum of other realities, which has been doing this on the online space with the virtual festivals, but taking that, but rolling your own and building on these open standard technologies with WebXR and allowing people to have that same type of experience, which is you've created a context for people that allows them to have that same feeling as if they were going to museum. And when you see something that's in the context of museum, you may look at the art differently. And I think that's part of what the virtual reality is able to do is to be able to create that experience. And so I feel like where you're doing is in this interesting hybrid where you're still have a foot in the IRL world, but also building the foundations of the metaverse and this kind of immersive art curation in these worlds that is using technology that isn't fully baked yet, but you're.
[00:20:08.160] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah, I mean, there's another layer to it, which is that it's not a gallery in a high tower where you are standing before it asking yourself, what is the meaning of this? In fact, in another way, I want to elevate certain experiences to say, all of this is valid work. These strange, sometimes cobbled together experiences are not just demos. They're not just prototypes. They are the complete value of their creation. They have either taken language and expressed it via a new method of transmission, or they have taken technology and revealed a utility for it that was not previously known. And when I would go to IndieCade, there would be all kinds of small footprint experiences that might be like a chapter of a person's life, you could never sell on the Steam store. You know, if you put that on the Steam store, people would ask for their de facto two hour refund and the developer would be totally screwed over, but also it just wouldn't be taken seriously. They'd say it's too short, I don't get it. But in the context of IndieCade, you go, why is this here? What is this about that I need to look at it that somebody else decided this passes whatever threshold of merit is required. And if you look closer, then you go, oh, you know what's hard about this piece? Or you know what's nuanced? Or you know what's subtle? That is what you're trying to pull out. Again, I've probably used this analogy with you before, Kent, but it's like when you get a $300 bottle of wine and you go, why would you spend 300 bucks on something I could buy for a buck 50 at Trader Joe's? You have to learn how to drink that wine. You have to learn how to receive the bottle and open the bottle and decant it and let it sit on the tongue and know about the history, the soil, the grapes, the people, the sun that year, was there a volcanic ash? Was it manifesting? And then you start to go, oh man, this is like a really rich, experience that can extend my vision of what is possible in this medium. This does not have to be a ham-fisted, overbearing, holy crap that blew me away medium. There's a ton of space here for suggestivism and subtlety and nuance and contemplation, and to just be able to be hit from a totally different angle. the curation of this show is designed to consistently upset your expectations of the medium. And to say, no, these are not nine wonderful animated high-level pieces that anybody in the family can enjoy. One of them is, just in case you forget that this is not just an experimental show, and this one over here is produced by a major studio, and this one does this, but here's something that totally screw with your expectations. And so it's like a kaleidoscopic quilt, mosaic. of pieces that each unto themselves will demonstrate something important. We have to also be careful in the curation not to have overlap. Like, yes, I've seen nine pieces about people searching for their own mother and their identity and like which one this year, all of them are meritorious, but which one this year does the best version of that until we get to the next six month mark? I do want to say that there's an important layer about it happening in Hollywood now. I could have done this perhaps in Toronto. I did it in West Hollywood because California is got the lowest rate of transmission of covid right on the coast, like not on the inland. You have much higher rate of vaccination. And so it's a little more possible to consider doing something like this where our peers like at Indicate are not quite at the position where they can do that yet. We're doing it in very small batches, a two hour block will get you in and we're doing like two to four people per block. So financially, it's not the way that we're gonna make our money. We have to think about the UX, like when you're doing VR for 40 minutes, you have to wear a mask and a disposable eye mask and you have clean boxes and you have to have turnover. How does that even work? So again, Fiverr is now trying to figure out what is the UX for a pandemic VR experience at extended amount of time? where we stand by our guarantee that you will never be in a lineup. That's part of the experience. I mean, 5Rs is not just showing VR stuff. It's how do you show VR stuff? And finally, West Hollywood is literally where we are, is at the border of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. And that means the agents from Endeavor and ICM and CAA and William Morris and the people working in virtual production and the people in Silicon Beach that are tech people and game developers and the film studios and the actors and all of those things converge here. And so I want to ensure that this is not a show attended by the same VR community, but is truly bringing people from all these disciplines together to talk about the future of virtual production. And we have at this show, I got Samsung to graciously loan me a 75-inch, an 85-inch, and a 95-inch 700-nit output high-density 4K frame so that we can do an eco NFT showcase. And there's a lot of FUD and confusion around what NFTs are and their validity and game developers don't like the NFT people and people who are concerned with the environment don't like the NFT people and the NFT people don't get got. So I said, well, let's open up a conversation on this row of stores in Beverly Hills where they sell $100,000 mattresses and say, You probably don't know what NFTs are. You're not quite sure how to get into it, or you're somebody who thinks that they're filthy and destroying the environment. Let's put all of that into a conversation in a huge, beautiful screen from Samsung that will allow you to purchase them from a QR code at the end and figure out how do you do an eco NFT show in Beverly Hills? So it's not that I'm an evangelist for NFTs. I could talk about the potential value of being able to mint things and do collaborative, decentralized, smart contract work in the future and help self-piloted creators and alters be able to manage the provenance and the legacy and the payouts and the commissions and the audiences of their own works. But All of it folds together. All of it is designed to speak to itself, to say, how does all this collectively move forward? And how is it presented to an audience? And all you have to do as the audience is just push one green button.
[00:27:24.027] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, we're kind of left on NFTs there and I want to go to other things, but just a quick thought is that I've seen many sides to this discussion from everything from that it's a big multi-level marketing pyramid scheme that is destroying the earth and the environment to the potential of the future of self-sovereign identity to a way to actually compensate creators and create a real viable business model, especially when you talk about things on the web where we want to get away from surveillance capitalism. And we look at something like Twitch where people are donating or Patreon, there's this kind of patronage way of passing money on. And I see NFTs as another mechanism to kind of facilitate that type of patronage, even if larger cultural aspects do feel a little like a multi-level marketing scheme sometimes. you got to buy in early and then it's basically like tulip bulbs of the 21st century.
[00:28:14.345] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: But you know, Kent, like when the VR wave that we're in started up, there was the same amount of charlatans that were like sifting around saying, you know, I'm going to make my money quick in VR and I'm going to upsell you on this and that promise and whatever. And now it's happening again with the whole metaverse thing where all of a sudden there's all these metaverse experts that come out of the woodwork and they're here to sell you this or that opportunity. all of that stuff will eventually burn off and it'll turn into the fundamentals that are going to really make it move forward. So yes, that's a whole other conversation we could have, but you're right exactly that that sort of micro Patreon that exists inside of the asset itself is really important. And it brings up an idea that like, I just got my looking glass portrait from Toronto when my teammates came into town and I was thinking, hmm, this'll be interesting. Like I can use the Blender add-on app to output an asset of the 5Rs logo into my looking glass factory that'll sit at the reg desk, but could also be an NFT. And that could then appear inside of my VR performance later on. And I just think that all of these things work together to forge versions of a future that in practice reveal new angles that just talking about it may not. Watching somebody walk by the window of this gallery and see our step and repeat that says 5Rs with like a bunch of company names that they have no idea what these companies do is like landing on Mars for people. They come to the front window and they see this Samsung, the frame showing this bizarre art with these artists' statements and then QR codes that say, you can auction and buy this right now. And they're like, buy what? a moving animated GIF? What is that? And then they come in and they see their looking glass portrait and they walk up the stairs and they see a bunch of people wearing blindfolds turning around in circles, right? The whole way that that feels... And they see clean boxes and they have to deal with COVID protocols. To me, this is an absolutely fascinating puzzle. And you kind of have to iterate and just spin it over and over and over again so that the burn-in teaches you what the optimization is for all of this.
[00:30:33.873] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's really fascinating. And as I'm looking through the 360 video program, I had a question about whether or not Monte Gelato was going to be made available remotely, because I know that I had a chance to see it at Venice and actually do an interview with the creator. That would be one of my personal recommendations of ones that I saw and really opened up my mind into this whole new realm of what does the montage mean in 360 video? In this particular case, the montage in a 2D film is often used to show a passage of time in the context of a story that's being told. But in a 360 video, they go to one location and take all these footage of this one waterfall, 50 kilometers from Rome, and show all the different movies that were shot at this one location in Italy. And it's just like this anthropological study of being able to see all the different stories and the trends and all the associative links, it really opened up something in my mind about, wow, this is like a whole new potential for taking a little sample of a culture or to be able to dive into the history of a place. And just really mind blowing, but I didn't know if that's going to be made available for people to be able to see after the in real life version.
[00:31:45.245] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Right, yes, Monte Gelato is an absolute standout, David Rapp from Italy. It's a 27 minute piece. And as you said, it looks at over 180 films over the course of the last century, really, that have been filmed at this little waterfall by an old stone building, like a mill. And interestingly, at the end of the film, I don't think this is a spoiler, but they show it to you in a 360 view, a stereoscopic 360 high-res view. And in real life, or in let's say VR life, it is really actually an unassuming place. It's just like being at a little parquet with a brook. But in the films, it looks absolutely epic and they have all these backplates and dioramas and stuff that they do with it to make it look like all kinds of locations from like Jupiter to the Roman Empire to whatever you can imagine like wartime Second World War. And what's brilliant about it is that they map in space where the film was shot. So if it's in the path that's away from the river, then you have to turn around and look behind you. And if it's up in the sky, it'll be positioned correctly in 360 space. And I just can't imagine the amount of work that this was to do. But it does remind me of William Gibson's Spook Country, you know, where they're doing these tours of Los Angeles and they're finding these digital effigies of like, River Phoenix dying in front of the Viper Room, you know, when you go to that location and mapping the history of a place over time. And I do foresee in the future that we will basically have the equivalent of a jog wheel, where you'll just be able to fast forward and rewind what happened at a particular destination. I feel like you and I spoke about this at VRTO one year, but Monte Gelato puts this into practice in such a completely beautiful way to get a sense of cinema history in just one location and all the spirits that live there that might be unassuming to you, but is everything. So yes, we will put that, it'll be streaming via our Amazon web service powered cloud in our WebXR theater. And you basically just click on its poster and then you will be enveloped by 360, and you can look at it in the magic window mode on your desktop by dragging it around with your mouse, or you could look at it in the best way possible, which is by clicking on the little VR icon, which will put it into a binocular view, and you could enjoy it either in something like a Quest using Oculus browser, or just on your phone using a Google Cardboard, actually.
[00:34:17.860] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's definitely one that I would recommend for stuff that I've seen. And I look forward for more people to be able to see it. Cause I have a really great conversation with the director of David rap to unpack that. you know, actually when I go to these festivals, I do all these conversations and sometimes I'm not able to get them out immediately. So I'm glad that there's opportunities for people to go and see it in some fashion. So hopefully take this opportunity of some of the different interviews with directors I've done of pieces that are showing at 5Rs for people to go check out. Cause it's always nice to be able to say, Hey, you can go check this out right now. And then listen to this. Cause it's always preferable for people to actually see the piece and then listen to it. Although that's not always possible. But I wanted to ask you a bit about the technology for the online version, because I know you've been developing this really amazing platform with Janus VR and WebXR and really continuing to experiment and tinker and push forward what's even possible with the type of gatherings and online exhibitions that you can do in WebXR. I'm really impressed with what you've been able to achieve so far. And I know that you're always tinkering and improving, pushing it forward. So what, what's sort of the new things that you have in terms of this next edition of 5Rs that's going to be opening up in about a week or so?
[00:40:32.845] Kent Bye: Awesome. That sounds amazing. Yeah. We, we were just in the WebXR design summit a day or two ago where you were on the optimization panel, diving deep into the weeds of how to make all this stuff work. So you, everything from the high end programming of the content to, you know, the deep low level optimization from Blender into getting all the right settings to be able to actually make it look cinematic and interesting. And so.
[00:40:57.059] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: I feel like still I know absolutely nothing. I'm a complete imposter. I shouldn't be here. It's an endless, bottomless journey. And honestly, being on the WebXR Summit on a panel about optimization, I feel like I was the last person who should be there. And yet, all of us are sitting there relating to each other going, I hear you. I totally had that challenge. I had that problem. everybody is welcome to this. You don't have to feel like this is some truly black box, black art. It's just a matter of time and effort over that time that will get you building the tools to express your dream to not to be, you know, but it really is just a procedural effort that says, how do I put one thing into place and how do I expand upon that? And how do I extend that? And then you get better and better at it.
[00:41:46.701] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I'm looking forward to seeing the latest iterations of all the online portion of this, which opens up on October 22nd, and goes to November 2nd. So in about a week or so, there's a lot of things that are happening. I'm missing a lot of the Vancouver International Film Festival, the London International Film Festival, I think is going until like this weekend. And so if you haven't caught that, you can see that online. If you're in LA, you can actually go to see the five hours. And then from October 22nd to November 2nd, you'll be able to see a lot of this content and check out a lot of this really cutting edge WebEx are experimentations. And, you know, like I said, you're really been leading the pack when it comes to using open platforms to be able to facilitate a lot of this stuff. I know there's been other options that have been out there with Museum of Other Realities, I'd say, you know, is another big leader in terms of actually creating the experiences, but it's in a traditional, you know, you download the app, but this, I think for me is really exciting just because it's sort of leading us into the future of this type of interoperability that we want to leave into. So it's a challenge to be able to eat your own dog food. But you know, here's the values of that openness and interoperability that you're really having that independent spirit embedded into even the technology that you're building here for it.
[00:42:57.050] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Thank you so much for that acknowledgement. It is a really heavy lift to be kind of on your own and just stapling things together until they work where there is no necessarily path. But I'm so excited to see people from film studios buying tickets for this show and they will come and watch it and they will come and learn from it and they will extend into new models. Like I just don't want to just make the immersive opportunity just a repainted version of the previous paradigm. I just really think it's important to continue to poke at the veil and see really what different approaches we can take for all of this and break out of old models of revenue and old models of ticketing. They have their time and place for sure, but this is not meant to be that. This is not meant to be radio on the TV. It's meant to be its own unique thing. If I may, I just want to say one or two more of these pieces that I thought were really beautiful. There's a piece called A Frequency at Lavernoch, which they were tweeting about being in the festival today. They said it was like one of the first pieces that is in Welsh. that you would see in a 360 festival experience. And it's an interpretive dance piece, but it's about the Welsh language and telling those stories. There's Breaking Bread, which is again, sitting with a family, an Afghan family of refugees who have moved to the U.S. and how they're acclimating and what their days are like and just having this perspective of Afghani refugees living in an American suburb and that intimacy in the center of the table with them as they learn English from cartoons on the TV or go to school and come home and then pray with the chants coming out of their Android device. It's just a fascinating look at other people's experiences. and Katya, Be Your Own Dentist by Jonathan Sims. I think this is Jonathan Sims' third piece at Five Hours. And Jonathan has been a VFX person and editor of things like Invader Zim and American Gods and all kinds of really wicked cutting edge shows. But here he uses Katya, who's a phenom on YouTube with over 2 million viewers to make this really edgy avant-garde piece about, well, being your own dentist. And it's sort of a violent comedic thing that reminds me of anything between like the Cremaster cycle and like a John Waters musical comedy. And that is really extraordinary. And I'll say finally, a piece called Lena's Journey by Wes Evans, which is a 35 minute film about a woman who grows up and she plays music with her dad as a child and then she has her own daughter. And then she starts to exhibit signs of mental breakdown and psychosis and bipolarity. And you feel this journey with her as things start to emerge and you're looking at them yourselves as the viewer. And it's just a reminder of how powerful the spherical video format is to tell stories like about mental health and intimacy and how people look back at you in those positions, how her daughter looks at her while she's in the asylum. And I wept at the end of this piece. I was really, I didn't know I was going to weep. It's like when you start sweating, playing supernatural and you're like, when did I start to exert myself? This intellectually and emotionally is the same thing where you are so invested. That self-awareness that you're watching a movie is long gone by the time, you know, it's basically stuck with you. So again, sometimes people look at a festival, that's a 360 festival. It's really way, way more than that. Once you put the thing on your face and you experience it, these are experiences that'll change you.
[00:46:49.801] Kent Bye: So I always like to ask curators, like if there's any themes that you see in terms of the selections and themes and trends that you see emerging within the selection this year at 5Rs.
[00:47:01.116] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Well, yeah, and it's not just in the selections, but in the submissions as well, we see a lot of themes and trends. One of them is about identity and gender and sexuality and how we express ourselves and how we're formed and how our idea of how we need to express ourselves is formed. A lot of exploration around that in so many different permutations and I think that's telling that we're seeing a lot of it in this particular medium. Another thing is COVID stories are now boiling to the surface. People talking about what the isolation felt like, wanting to reach out, to be touched, to be seen, to have a sense of relief, of insanity, of boredom, of ennui, of uncertainty. So as the fossil record that Five Hours can be, five years from now, you'll look back at the catalog and go, wow, look at all the things that came out of the people who lived through the pandemic. And to that point, there's a piece called Surviving 9-11, which comes from extraordinary pedigree. The filmmakers have created some really important previous works, but this one is about the last woman who was pulled out of the wreckage. And there was only 18 survivors. Did you know that? I thought there was many more, but only 18 people survived the collapse of the tower. And she, was buried under the rubble for 27 hours and they interview her specifically directly in this piece and then you meet her family and you go back to the site with her for the first time and nobody who's seen it comes out dry-eyed. It's an angle of that moment that you cannot get in any other way that I've seen. Just her standing in the office building and all of a sudden the sky is filled with paper and asking like, what is going on that the entire sky is raining paper would not be an angle that you would have perceived. So again, those like first person perspectives of historic moments of locations like in Monticellato are happening. Trends, huh? Trends. I'm seeing things about the experience of surveillance and being surveyed and what it feels like to deal with a world of like gated communities and 2FA and multi-factor authentication. And one piece I'm really excited about is from the Islamic Republic of Iran by a 32 or 33 year old film student named Siavash Nagshbandi. Nagshbandi, I apologize for that. But it's called forget past world. And it's built upon the idea that you forgot your password and now it's going to ask you some of your personal questions, you know, like where were you born? Where did your parents first meet? What was your pet's first name? And in this meditation, he realizes that it's evoking for him a whole memory of his past. of his grandparents, of the house where he grew up, of the neighborhood where he went to school. And so he volumetrically captures these effigies of these different members of his family and their singing and their mealtime as he's basically being prompted to remember his password. And I thought, That's interesting. Where's all that data stored when we're all dead and the whole world is just overrun by AI and grey goo? Will it find this layer where we input all of our forgotten password secondary information as the biography of a race that it no longer knows? That's a good question. I mean, there is a layer of it there, right? So, I mean, but it's extremely diverse. There's things about ecology that are emerging, like Myriad is a piece looking at the Arctic and the animals that live there. And you feel the wind whipping around you and the cold and the isolation that these animals experience. But there is a lot of concerns about ecology, like homecoming, that's looking at reconnecting to nature. It's like horror films, right? They always represent the zeitgeist and perhaps immersive media is like horror films where what's really on the tip of our tongues is the thing that we're going to spend our efforts and our money to make that next project with. These are not like standing and looking askance at like, what does the market want? That's not what this work usually comes from. This work comes from an immediate, important need to tell some sort of story about the present or the near future. And I think that's also what's really exciting about this work is that the material is usually a very immediate reflection of the zeitgeist.
[00:51:44.883] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's why I always love going to these festivals, because I do see that the pieces that have been in production for so long are also kind of meeting where the culture is at in terms of this concrescence of these ideas or these thoughts or these trends. And I feel like the process is like tapping into these deeper archetypal dynamics and flows and moments of concrescence that people are presenting to us all fully baked, but has been in the process of being developed for a long time, but sort of meeting the culture for what's emerging right now. So it's always interesting to go and see what emergent trends as a viewer that you see. And that's when I would go to the different festivals and conferences from 2014 to the very beginning of 2020. it was the same type of thing where I would go to these different events and conferences and through the conversations and the people that I would meet, you would get tapped into the zeitgeist of what was emerging in that moment. And I feel like the same thing happens with these types of immersive art pieces, where you can tap into that same type of experience. And so it's always exciting for me to check out the selections and ask the curators what they're seeing, because it's a bit of like reporting on the cultural trends that are emerging through the transmission of art through these immersive mediums of storytelling.
[00:52:54.336] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah. It's always really freaky when you go to like the NAB show or CES or even like an IndieCade where you know that the tech you're seeing or the content you're seeing is not going to hit the mainstream for three or four years. And I've seen games that suddenly have a release on Steam that I saw at IndieCade four years ago. And I think, whoa, what future have I been living in? And It's this quantum field, right? Like what of these things is going to actually manifest and meet the reality when it collapses versus which were just possibilities of a potential future for release. And that's another thing about festivals is half of these films may never, ever, ever see the light of day again. You know, the master files could be lost. I've seen that happen where like you have the last build of that that will ever exist. And that's that kind of transience of a festival is so beautiful. It's like a ship arriving to port that has a bunch of goods from some far off continent and it'll be gone by dawn. So that's part of the joy for me that makes it just an unstoppable fascination.
[00:53:59.130] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think you've been able to articulate the core reason why I'm so drawn to both experiencing this work, but also covering it, because I do think it's on the frontiers of where all this is going. And to me, it's the bleeding edge of innovation when it comes to exploring what this medium can do. So it's these creators that are really pushing those edges. So super excited to be able to dive into all of this and unpack it more. But as we start to wrap up here, I'm curious for you, what do you see the ultimate potential of all these immersive experiences, immersive storytelling, and the open web and all the things that are kind of bleeding into the metaverse? And what do you think it might be able to enable?
[00:54:35.208] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Well, you know, we talked about 5Rs, I think about a year ago on your show. And at that moment, we were different people because we were in the middle of a pandemic. It didn't even have a vaccine, I don't think, or there was just the beginning traces of one. And Oddly enough, the metaverse just wasn't a mainstream idea. And since then, Zuckerberg said, we're going to make a metaverse. And since then, it was on 60 Minutes. And since then, the general public is talking about it. But back then they weren't. So now our job is to not sit and dwell on what is now, but to say, where could this possibly go? And will small festivals like mine that are working on fringe ideas suddenly be washed away in this enormous mainstream cognitive current that's coming towards us? Where do things like us end up? Do we end up growing and swelling up and becoming something different and more mainstream because we were early? Or does our responsibility lay in forging new estuaries that will continue to disrupt the mainstream and the expectation. So I don't know the answer to that. I do know that I've since had a lot of large tech company type groups reach out to me and say, where's the metaverse going? And I can only base it on what I've grown up from. And again, I go back to the days when the internet was first being made available to us and we were given all of these tools for free to be able to reach out to people from around the world and share our research and our data and our forums about our hobbies and interests and learn from each other and basically pen pal each other. And we didn't have these paywalls and gated communities and two FAs and every single freaking thing, including an NVIDIA driver requiring you to sign into somebody and tell them that you've logged in. You could just share data for the sake of sharing it. Jin said something really interesting on Twitter the other day. He said the problem with talking about the metaverse as a wide variety of spaces that are sovereign and unique unto themselves is that it actually goes counter to the possibility of having true interoperability. And now you have all these avatars that are bespoke on their own armatures and all their own technology, which is causing greater fragmentation. And so you have this tension between like consolidation and consistent armatures for these technologies, and then the threat of homogeneity and the dangers of homogeneity. For the historic record, this past week, we all saw what happened when Facebook suddenly was taken down. They couldn't even get into their own building because the IoT was tied to their servers. The For a second, the birds came out, the sun was shining, there was fresh air. People were like, I never liked Facebook anyways. And then all these other people were like, I can't log into my quest anymore. I can't work out. I can't find my family photos. And I don't know where the history or my support group is for diabetes. But that kind of monoculture is extremely dangerous. So I'm on team heterogeneity. I'm on team diversification. I'm on team like never centralized. And I can only hope that these sorts of experiences expand our notion of our backyard. They teach us about other cultures, other people, other languages, other experiences, and in thus doing foster better understanding, more curiosity, more learning, more knowledge, the ability to back out of an ideological corner and allow yourself to be transformed and learn some new information. So whatever the tools are and whatever the methods of using those tools are to empower that is what I hope the ultimate potential of this will be. Ultimately to allow us to break up any intellectual ontological metaphysical calcification and truly live like a richer, broader, more open and receptive life. Awesome.
[00:59:00.863] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left and said that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:59:07.387] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Continue to support each other. There is abundance in the universe and we don't have to create fiefdoms and we don't have to fight with each other or tear each other apart. Give credit for the work that's done by others and acknowledge that work and you can build on top of it and still be wonderful and special and have power. So let's not plow over the pagan burial grounds in order to build our churches. and let's continue to give the small teams that will forge the paths for us the support that they require. That's what I ask of you. And I thank you for doing this incredibly hard work, which you constantly wanna give up on because it's worth it and it's enriching. And thanks, Kent. I really, really always appreciate that you really give people the opportunity to extrapolate things that have to constantly be compressed down to the size of a tweet. So thank you.
[01:00:03.028] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. And the five hours festival is happening in person from October 15th to 17th. So that's Friday, Saturday, Sunday, $85 to be able to get a two hour block, which also includes the online virtual show, which runs from October 22nd to November 2nd. So I'll be there at the virtual showing and look forward to checking out all the stuff and seeing the new social VR platforms and all the different technology and all the pieces as well that are going to be showing there. But if you are in LA, go check out some of the interactive pieces that are going to only be there in person and. Check out all the other workflow and all the pandemic-friendly displays that you've been able to create there. And yeah, look forward to seeing what else you're able to put together with all the talks and everything else. So you go check it out. If you search for 5Rs, you'll be able to find all the schedule and you get the Invent Bright. And yeah, thanks so much, Karen, for coming on. Just the way that you are able to articulate all this, it feels like I'm hearing poetry or hearing something. It's very clear that you think very deeply and profoundly about all this and where this is all going, and with a lot of deep intention for what you can do to be able to push it towards the future that you want to create, bending this arc towards justice, towards this more interoperable and heterogeneous and pluralistic world that is built upon all these interoperable open technologies. And you really, like I said, eating your own dog food and walking the talk and not just saying it, but actually doing it. And it's amazing to see what you've been able to put together. So highly recommend folks check it out. And if you're in LA, go check it out in person. And if not, then we'll see you in the metaverse.
[01:01:29.970] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Thank you, and thank you to my co-producer, Stephanie Greenall. I need to acknowledge her for all of her hard work. 5hours.net, God bless you, Kent, whatever that means to you, and thank you, and see you at the show.
[01:01:43.395] Kent Bye: So that was Karim Litsky-Sanchez. He's the founder, executive director, and chief curator for the 5Rs Festival. That's the Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories. And again, it's happening in Los Angeles on October 15th to 17th in person, or if you're remote and online, there's going to be an online component that starts from October 22nd to November 2nd, and you can get more information at 5Rs.net. So, I have a number of takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, I always like hearing how Karam articulates what it is that he does in terms of creating these different pieces, but also why. Like, why is this important? Because I think there's this independent spirit of this underground avant-garde being on the bleeding edge of culture and being willing to sift and sort through all the chaos of what's out there and define the deeper patterns and what is really sticking. And the thing I really appreciate with Karim as a curator is that he's always looking for the underlying things that's opening up new possibilities for what's possible with the medium. And also just featuring a lot of the different work that may fall through the cracks of a lot of the other festivals. I mean, there's only a handful of other different festivals that are out there. And just to give more opportunities to feature some of the different work that's happening, especially with the 360 video because more and more a lot of the festivals are sometimes paring down the 360 video selections that they're having. But this is also something that Karam has been pioneering and has been really on the frontiers of trying to use these immersive WebXR technologies and actually was on the WebXR Design Summit that I helped curate with the WebXR Awards. The Polly's, Ben Irwin and the rest of the team put together a whole nine hour summit that I was hosting and moderating this past week. Karen was on that panel talking about optimization, because there's lots of different low-level things that you need to do in order to make the most immersive experiences and to really push the limits for what's possible, both from a visual aesthetic, but also from the number of polygons and the architectures they're building. So really looking forward to seeing what they've been able to put together for 5R. That within itself, all the different worlds and interactions, it's a whole other part of this interface between the immersive technologies and the web has continued to evolve, especially with these events, because these events become these moments to be able to have these deadlines, and there's lots of crunch in order to actually push and finish up a lot of things. So a lot of things get launched in incremental progression through these events that are happening. Also, it's just really interesting to hear a little bit more about the program. Because I'm not in L.A., I'm not going to see a lot of the different interactive experiences. Some of them have had a chance to be able to show at different film festivals that I have been able to catch. But if you are in L.A., definitely take advantage of dropping by and checking out some of these experiences. Also interesting to hear a little bit more about we're coming out of aspects of the pandemic, just in the sense of just gathering. Obviously, the pandemic is still happening. Not everybody is completely vaccinated yet, and we're certainly feeling the impact of the Delta variant of the coronavirus still. There's still a lot of potential risks for having in-real-life gatherings. But certainly, I think over time, I'm seeing more and more folks starting to get back together and having events, especially being inside in closed spaces. There's lots of different protocols to make sure that that's still a safe experience. So there's a limited number of slots for that interaction within those in real life components of five hours in LA. And there's the whole virtual component that starts up on October 22nd, which I'm looking forward to be there and check out a lot of the program there. And yeah, like I said, just the way that Karen was able to articulate this process of curating these different pieces. Cause I do think that this is a part of building out the metaverse, which is going to be a part of building worlds, but you want to be able to go from one world to the next. I keep going back to how. Philip Rosedale talked about Metcalfe's Law, which is that the value of a network is worth the square of the nodes that are in that network, meaning that if there's more connections to other pieces of content or more people, whether it's people or whether it's other links to other resources, the more you start to interlink these different worlds together, the more valuable that network becomes and more interesting it becomes. Just like the internet is so valuable, Google's whole business model is to collect all the different aspects that are happening on the internet and try to grade the search engines and see what's the most popular, based upon what people have been linking to each other. Obviously, that's been evolving. The PageRank algorithm has been evolving over time and trying to adapt with how the web itself is adapting for how people are actually communicating. I do think there's a lot of parallels when it comes to looking at how the metaverse or this immersive virtual world, spatial computing, confluence all these different aspects of presence in virtual worlds are all coming together, that there is going to be a need for that type of curation, of creating worlds that allow you to launch off into other worlds to discover. This has been a debate within whether or not there's going to be, say, a master map the approach of something like Decentraland, which is, there's a number of different plots of land, and then you map it out on a city. I do think that that is going to certainly happen, because it's very compelling to be able to just walk through the town to be able to see these locations. But I think a lot of times, those may also end up being portals into more evolved worlds, where those plots end up being more installations that then allow you to Set a bit of the magic circle in the context but allow you to go into that immersive world that is not constrained by that topology of that virtual world layout because while that's viable it's also very limiting there's also a Non-Euclidean approach which is higher dimensional meaning that you just look through these menus and you're able to get to these experiences without having that spatial interface, but I With something like these film festivals, they've been really, I think, on the frontiers of starting to map out a lot of the best practices between setting up an overall space, and then you have the installation space that allows you to step into that magic circle, and then have this transition liminal space that allows you to then set a larger context to go into that more fully immersed experience. I'm excited to see how that continues to evolve and develop with what 5Rs is doing. Again, I'd also point to the Museum of Other Realities, which I think has really been building out a lot of those different installation spaces with a lot of these different virtual worlds. Definitely check out the Museum of Other Realities. London Film Festival, I think, is actually the last weekend this weekend to be able to have your last chance. The Vancouver International Film Festival ended last week, and then Fiverr is going to be starting up here on October 22nd. Augmented World Expo is coming up. There's going to be a lot of people that are coming back and going to the in-world event. And then DocLab is also coming up. I'm looking forward to that as well. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported 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 voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.