This is the 26th & last episode of my Venice Immersive 2022 coverage, and I wanted to end with this discussion amongst film and immersive critics about the various challenges for reviewing and critiquing immersive art and entertainment. This is a continuation of two previous conversations that I also participated in during Venice Immersive 2019 (I hope to air the recordings of those here soon), and the major conclusion back then was that the challenges of the limited distribution of immersive stories makes it difficult to cultivate a broader audience for reviews and critiques.
Fast forward to 2022, and many of these distribution challenges by and large still exist, although it is slightly better given more immersive stories showing up on the Meta platform and Viveport has the most robust selection of immersive stories, even though Steam still is largely games only. But the challenge for immersive festivals is that they’re still having many challenges trying to attract the mainstream film critics to pay more attention to the selection of immersive stories.
It’s under this context that there was another gathering of mostly film critics who occasionally write about immersive work and myself who is solely dedicated to covering immersive stories, immersive art, and immersive entertainment.
- Moderated by Michel Reilhac & Liz Rosenthal (co-curators of Venice Immersive)
- Federica Polidoro (Contributor, Repubblica, L’Espresso, Vanity Fair, Il Foglio Quotidiano)
- Kent Bye (Philosopher and Founder, Voices of VR Podcast)
- Róisín Tapponi (Contributor, Frieze Magazine, Sight & Sound, The Guardian, & Founder of Habibi Collective and Shasha Movies)
- Xan Brooks (Film writer & novelist, former associate editor at The Guardian)
A big takeaway for me is that the editors, who are driving mainstream journalism coverage, are still not fully bought in or are just simply are not aware. Lots of really interesting insights from XR press relations specialist Jessie Cohen and Nicole Kerr who represent a number of different experiences as well the Venice Immersive festival itself, and they’re on the frontlines of translating and holding the hands of journalists who are still getting onboarded to VR.
As an independent journalist (supported by Patreon), then I have the freedom to choose to cover the experiences at Venice Immersive, but that doesn’t mean that I’m immune to the market dynamics of it being a niche or a niche of the entire XR industry. And I can’t claim to have fully figured out how to sustain the coverage that I’m already doing (did I mention that I have a Patreon?). But I’ve also very passionate about the topic of immersive storytelling and think it’s vitally important to cover it anyway despite all of the many ways it doesn’t make sense.
One insight that I was able to share during the meeting was the interdisciplinary nature of XR as it’s fusing together insights from video games, human computer interaction, neuroscience, web design, UX, social media, podcasting, film, music, theatre, dance, architecture, and beyond. My episode #1000 of the Voices of VR podcast features 120 different perspectives about the ultimate potential of VR, and it’s helped me immensely to get a firm grounding for how different design disciplines are bringing different insights into the medium.
I’ve been digesting my insights more and more into a variety of different talks, including my recent talk at Storycon where I gave a fairly comprehensive primer on Presence, Immersive Storytelling, and Experiential Design (certainly the most comprehensive talk on the topic that I’ve given so far).
The foundation of my approach has been through the lens of oral history and in trying understanding the underlying process of experiential design through the different backgrounds and lenses. It’s through understanding the roots of creation that helps me understand the different decisions, tradeoffs, and the realms of potential that were either explored or closed off within their experience.
I suppose my personal motivations are more philosophically-driven to more fully understand the principles of experiential design by seeing as much work as I possibly can and to talk to as many creators as I possibly can (while still being able to produce and release all of said interviews).
The XR and immersive storytelling industry is still nascent as compared to the film industry, and so it’s still not clear what role or function immersive criticism plays in the broader ecosystem. A theme that came up was knowing and understanding your audience. For me there’s a dual role of trying to provide guidance on an overall selection for people on-site, which for me happens via Twitter threads like I did for Venice, Tribeca, SXSW, and Sundance.
The second part is the more in-depth interviews that I do to help unpack the experience, get more context on the creator’s design process, share things that worked or didn’t work, ask questions for anything I didn’t understand, share some of my own phenomenological impressions and peak emotional moments as a form of ad-hoc memory capture, and perhaps smuggle in some of my deeper analysis, criticisms, or praise.
I’m also able to discover more about the narrative structure of the piece during this phase as it’s usually impossible to fully understand an interactive experience with branching paths on a single playthrough. Because I’m limited for how much I can interrogate an interactive piece with limited time constraints and under festival conditions, then being in direct dialogue with the creator is a huge crutch to more fully understand anything that I might have missed before.
Perhaps part of the challenge of covering these more immersive and interactive forms of media for those who are coming from the more passive and linear realm of film criticism is it rubs up against the constraints and limitations of linear media for how film criticism has traditionally been done. Again, calling back to the need for an interdisciplinary fusion of methods.
These are just some of the thoughts that have come up from this discussion, and I’m sure I have a lot more thoughts on the topic across different contexts and conversations with others.
I think it’s important to note that there’s a pure physical endurance and mental capacity to be able see all of the work. Watching all of the Venice Immersive pieces in competition is nearly 15 hours worth of content with another 6 hours of content out of competition, and then 6-8 hours worth of VRChat Worlds Galleries. As someone who is completely dedicated to covering the immersive selections, then I find it a lot easier to do that when I’m fully 100% committed to trying to see everything rather than trying to drop in and out over multiple days.
After attending over 100 events over the past 8+ years, then I’ve cultivated a capacity to see a large amount of immersive content in just a few days. But even I would benefit from having access to some dedicated press stations for some of the content that are not the installation pieces. Being able to just drop in and see something would make it a lot easier for those who are not able to block off entire days of their schedule.
I’d recommend tuning into the panel discussion to hear the other challenges and constraints from the other more film-oriented critics. Again, I’m not limited by those same constraints and so I am free to go and do 26 interviews totaling over 24 hours worth of coverage of Venice Immersive. And if you enjoy this coverage and find it valuable, then please consider supporting me over on Patreon at patreon.com/voicesofvr so that I can keep following my passions and covering this space to the best of my ability.
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[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. It's a podcast that's looking at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. You can support me on Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So this final episode that I'm having from this series of 26 total interviews from Fitness Immersive 2022 is this panel discussion that took place on Sunday, September 4th, 2022. It was called The Art of Reviewing Immersive Art and Immersive Entertainment. And so It was a continuation of a number of different discussions that happened back in 2019 that I have recordings of and haven't had a chance to release them yet, but hopefully we'll at some point hear soon. There's this larger question of, how do you cover this immersive art? It's a new emerging form. up my own way. Here are the Voices of VR podcast where I'm kind of blending different dimensions of oral history and going there and seeing these experiences and trying to recount different dimensions of what I experienced, but in the conversation with the creator. So it's a way to speak about and talk about these experiences in the context of a dialectic. But what is the process of doing reviews and how do you even think about the different dimensions of these different experiences? And so there's a number of different film critics, people like Zan Brooks, who's a freelance writer and broadcaster, a former editor at The Guardian, as well as Federica Porradoro, who's an Italian journalist who's been covering the Venice Immersive each and every year and covering a lot of the film stuff, but also usually does a little bit of a coverage of Venice Immersive, as well as Roshan Tapani, who's both a film and video curator and a critic and a PhD candidate based in London, writing a lot about the films, but also starting to look at immersive art and immersive entertainment, immersive storytelling as well. And I'm also participating on this panel talking about my own process and philosophy of how I think about this. And as an independent entity and journalist, I'm able to have a lot of wee way to try to forge my own path of finding ways to do that. So it's a great continuation of a lot of these different themes and topics. And I think there's a number of different ideas that are coming out of this conversation as well. I wanted to share it out with the broader community because I think it's a bit of an open problem. There's plenty of different criticism that's happening in terms of immersive games, but this whole immersive storytelling dimension, there's not a lot of other folks that are really paying attention to it. I'm trying to do my part of in-depth coverage here with this podcast that marks my 26th interview that I'm publishing from Venice Immersive 2022. and around 23 hours total of coverage and so it's a quite a deep dive of what's happening there but there's a need for lots of other people to cover this field as well to have a whole ecosystem of critique and reviews as these creators are creating these different pieces And if you're actually interested in hearing a discussion with each of the different pieces and competition this year I recommend taking a listen back to episode 1121 where I talk with Paula Weiss to do a little bit of a spot review for each of the different 30 pieces and competition as well as some of the other Selection as well. It's about a three-hour conversation So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the voices of VR podcast. So this panel discussion happened on Sunday, September 4th, 2022 at the Venice immersive in Venice, Italy. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:32.292] Liz Rosenthal: Hello, everyone. Welcome to today's session, the Art of Reviewing Immersive Art and Entertainment. I am Liz Rosenthal. I'm the co-curator of Venice Immersive with Michel Reac. And we're going to be moderating this discussion today. So, I'm delighted to introduce our panellists, who are all esteemed writers and reviewers and makers in some senses. So, I'm going to start in the far end with Zan Brooks, who is an author, a film writer, was a former editor at The Guardian and has been writing about film for many years and came to our first Venice Immersive back in 2017. I dragged him over from his very busy schedule reviewing the film competition and he's been a great supporter and has written several articles about us, I think, for The Guardian. And then I'm going to move on to Roshin Taponi, who is a contributor for Freeze magazine from the art world and also has some really exciting film projects. She has a VOD platform that specialises in films by women filmmakers in the Middle East region and is involved in many different initiatives across the film and art world. And then moving on to Kent Bye, that I think most of us from the immersive world, well, everyone knows Kent Bye. He has an incredible podcast called Voices of VR, which has a completely extensive collection of interviews and reviews of, I think, every single piece of immersive content that's ever been shown. What are you up to?
[00:05:09.435] Kent Bye: I've recorded around 1,800 interviews and I've published 1,120 so far. When did you start? It was May of 2014 so it's been over eight years now.
[00:05:20.558] Liz Rosenthal: Yes, so Kent has documented this whole movement and art form from the beginning. And then moving on to Federica Polidoro, who is an Italian journalist who works across print journalism and television and has covered Venice Immersive since the beginning as well, and has really been our voice in Italy and been a great enthusiast and supporter of Venice Immersive, also comes from the film world and as an academic as well as a professor. And we are holding this event as a continuation of a forum that we held back in 2019, which was our last physical edition since this year, where we had a panel of critics and also had an in-conversation with Laurie Anderson, who's an amazing multimedia artist and who was the president of our jury actually that year, but has shown her work in our selection twice. And it's a really important subject because At Venice Immersive, we started this section together because we really wanted to show the immersive arts are an art form. They may be nascent, they may be very new, but this is an art form that's arrived and should be recognised as an art form and not as R&D technology, not a gimmick, and something that we should really exhibit and experience in the best possible way, and we've been very lucky at the Biennale that we have a platform to do this in this beautiful space. So at Venice we very much believe in an ecosystem. Projects are developed here in the Biennale College, so we're involved in helping ideate and develop new immersive art projects. We at the Film Festival have a market, the Venice Production Bridge, where we help projects that are in an advanced stage of development. find potential partners and financiers, and then with Venice Immersive we are showcasing the best completed projects from around the world in official selection, in a competition, in an A-list festival, and representing them as the best in this new emerging area. So the final piece of the puzzle is really how does an art form exist if it is not reviewed, if it does not have cultural commentary around it? Does it become an art form once commentators and experienced critical thinkers and writers start considering what this language is? So that's what we're going to be discussing today.
[00:07:51.693] Michel Reilhac: One of the outcomes of a discussion we had three years ago was really saying, this is a little bit of a chicken and egg situation. How can you have platforms to review work when the distribution of work is such an issue? It's difficult. All the works that we are displaying here Many of them will not be visible after this. They will not be on a platform. They will not be accessible to just about anyone. So how do you try and push the agenda of distribution to make sure that the work can be seen, can be accessible easily, for anyone to experience, and then so that the review can be exercised, that journalists can see the work. And then those reviews would help distribution as people are aware of them. So this sort of chicken and egg situation is something that will hopefully work itself through over time. But this was one of the things we left our discussion with. Now we are three years later. Do we feel that there's a difference? And to start this, I would really be interested in knowing from each of you, what are your constraints? There's a big difference between the way you work. Can't we could start with you because you're your own man, you're your own media? But maybe not. You need to tell us. And then maybe, Zan, with The Guardian, it's interesting to understand what kind of constraints you have when you are ready to review immersives so that we can understand the sort of backstage aspects of reviewing to understand where it's coming from. So maybe, Kent, since you are probably the freest.
[00:09:43.634] Kent Bye: Yeah. In looking at other media, because of the lack of distribution, there's been a drop off of how they've been even covering it because people can't see the work that is being talked about. So I've had to figure out, how do you cover a piece of work that most people will likely never see? So it's actually driven me more towards an oral history perspective to be able to get a bit of the context of the story of the creator, what's their process, but also It gives me an opportunity to do a bit of a memory capture of like, here's what I remember from the experience. So then for people who haven't had a chance to see that experience, they can at least listen to the conversation with the creator and the maker and my experience of it. And then because I get to see an incredible amount of work, how does it fit into what else I've seen? What's new? What are the innovations? How are they pushing the medium forward? And I think over time it's actually driven me to more of a philosophical approach of like, what are the principles of experiential design? What are the elements of presence? What are the contextual domains? What are the aspects of the character that are being developed? And how is the story being structured and being unfolded? And so all those different aspects of the quality of presence, the character, and the story, and the context, each of the pieces are kind of exploring different dimensions of that. And so even here, I guess part of my role of trying to see things is that there's probably more pieces of work that people are gonna be able to see, and I always get questions of like, you've seen a lot, what should I see? So then the next question I have to ask them is like, well, what do you wanna see? Because it's like, what are you interested in? And so for me, I found the most useful aspect is to break it down by qualities of presence. And so you have the active presence in the agency, the ways that you're engaging with the material. You have the mental and social presence. So you have the social dimensions, and you have the puzzle mechanics. You have embodied presence and environmental presence, the degree to which that you're embedded into a space. So there's environmental design, but there's also embodiment components. So how does it make your body feel with the sensory experience? And then finally, there's the emotional experience of how does it move you emotionally. And so, as I was looking at, like, seeing all the different experiences this year, I tried to say, what is the center of gravity of each of these experiences? What are they really focusing on? As I walk away, what's the quality of presence that really sticks with me? And then categorize things by that way, so that as people are like, oh, I'm really interested in seeing the latest in innovations of gaming and interactivity. And so, we'll go see these experiences and Peaky Blinders and Eggscape and just see Fight Back and Rock, Paper, Scissors. These are all the different types of experiences that are focusing on that specific quality of presence as their main focus. And so it's a dual function of trying to be real-time reporting of what's happening so that as people are coming into the festival, what should I see? What should I focus? What can I not miss? And then the other process is I try to suspend judgment as to what is the favorite after I have a chance to have an extended conversation with the creator to say, okay, what were you trying to do? What was your intention? What you were trying to do? And then at that point, it's what was the intention for what you were trying to do? How do I feel? And is there a gap? Is that gap there because of something that I missed because I just was overloaded and I missed something and there's something that was more on me? or is this a universal problem that everybody's experiencing? And it's impossible for me to know whether or not that gap is a personal or universal, so the best I can do is just say, here's what my experience was, and then sort of leave it back up to the rest of the community to listen, and then have more of a deliberative process because there isn't a lot of other reviews doing this, and so it's difficult for me to calibrate. myself against what the other critics are saying in that sense. So that's at least my process of how I think about it. And so it's kind of involved like see all the work as much as I can, talk to as many creators as I can, and then put as many of those conversations out to the community to help do a sense-making process.
[00:13:24.039] Liz Rosenthal: So Kent, have you ever been approached by more mainstream media or other media outlets to write or report for them?
[00:13:32.511] Kent Bye: I haven't, but I was thinking about doing that more this year because someone who works as a critic of VR games was asking me, like, what happens when you don't like something? And I was talking to Eric Cohen from IndieWire and he said that at this stage of the VR community, it's sort of analogous to, say, the experimental film or avant-garde films where there's a smaller group of people where the makers are also reviewing it. So you have this sort of relational dynamic where you kind of feel bad if you really attack your friends or people in a small net community. So it's difficult to kind of just say, this sucked, I hated it, you know, because it's like there's not a lot of other critics out there to kind of like weigh it. It's sort of a responsibility to be like, so there's that dimension I think in the XR industry, but also I think there will be a need to sort of really do more of a written deconstruction of things, of like just an overview of like the innovations. And I been considering doing that this year but just to kind of produce like I've already done 15 hours of interviews at this point and so I'll be doing some more but it's like just to digest that takes two full weeks of just processing and getting it out yeah and I'm sort of a solo patreon supported and so it's this is an art form is not on a lot of media's radars because of the lack of distribution meaning that the people that are reading this, how do you frame it in a way that makes sense of people who haven't seen the work? So you have to speak about it in a generalized terms. And so I think I'm at a point that I could probably do that, but I haven't been approached, but I've been considering it.
[00:14:59.489] Liz Rosenthal: No, it's very interesting because you're so right, it's such a small community that I forget about that aspect, that you have such a direct relationship with the makers, whereas when you're coming to film reviewing, for example, Zan, it's much more, there's obviously often a barrier between you and the makers. You're serving the general public, I guess. So, yeah, moving on. sort of in terms of constraints, like pitching to The Guardian, for example, what's it like to pitch to them? What are the constraints you can see in this area?
[00:15:32.670] Xan Brooks: Well, obviously, my situation is very different from Kent's. I mean, if you're in traditional media, writers work with and to a large degree for editors. And editors like to feel an involvement in the subject, an involvement in the piece. They like to feel to a degree that they're the authors of the piece as much as the writer themselves are. And if you're a writer wanting to write about a certain subject, almost the worst thing you can get is an editor who knows nothing about that subject. That's almost the shutters coming down right there and then. All writers have to be good salesmen to be able to be commissioned. They have to do a good sales pitch even if they're within an organisation, otherwise they kind of die on the vine within an established organisation. But an editor who doesn't know anything about the subject is that's quite a hard hurdle to get over in the very first instance. And actually it kind of works. It works more through all kinds of journalism than perhaps it should, almost to an alarming degree. I remember doing some stints on the news desk at the Guardian, and what would happen there was the news writers would gather in the morning and you'd try and come up with a couple of ideas, and then you'd go over to the desk editors and say, oh, there's this, this, and this, and then they'd say, no, not that one, maybe that one. And what I got occasionally, occasionally I'd find something really interesting and I'd go over and say, what about this? And their response would be, there's nothing about that on the wires. And I would say, but isn't that what makes it news? That there's nothing, it hasn't been reported yet, isn't that good? But if you're under pressure, if you have perhaps a certain insecurity, you are gonna disregard out of hand something that you don't know about. With VR, XR, whatever, you're telling the editor to take an absolute leap into the dark. And the only way I think journalists at this point can get away with that is if they are known and trusted by the editors. If they haven't screwed up. If they haven't let the editors down before, the editor might be prepared to take a punt on the complete unknown. The other factor obviously thrown in with all this is that if you're talking about traditional film reviews, particularly traditional film reviews at somewhere like Venice at a festival, they are very much a part of an established system. Reviews of films in Venice matter. That's almost the only time that a film critic can feel like a superhero. A film critic at a festival can make or break a smaller film. You can, on the back of a good review, sell a tiny film to sort of 30 territories just on the basis of one review. But... It's built into the system that then it has a kind of knock-on effect. It can help a film reach a wider audience. Here, I don't know. And even within the film criticism at a festival, when, you know, occasionally, you know, I'll tweet, I've just seen this great film here at Venice, or I've just seen this great film at Cannes, and you'll get kind of a couple of replies that say, oh, is this one of these films that you only show to critics and we can't see it? And you think, well, that's the nature of a film festival, a first look film festival. You're not going to be able to see it yet. But you'll be able to see it next year. You'll be able to see it in six months. Here, that doesn't necessarily apply. You may never see it again. I may never see it again. So therefore, that's another hurdle to kind of get over. And I guess the third hurdle is that reviews are limited. There's limited space for reviews in newspapers. I teach journalism to students back in the UK, and so many of them want to say, I want to do reviews, I'm going to do some reviews. And you think, don't pitch reviews. And that's what I would always say when I was an editor. You would get so many kind of unsolicited reviews coming in. You think, well, we've got reviewers, so don't just pitch straight reviews. The way around that is to fold the review into a wider piece. If you can tell a wider story about VR, about XR, about what's going on on this island, then you can almost smuggle some reviews in there.
[00:19:43.250] Federica Polidoro: That's totally true. I agree with you. You have to find absolutely some strategies. Because if I go to my editor in chief and I say, well, I would like to write about immersive. The first thing is, what is immersive? I don't understand at all this. If, for instance, I say, well, there's a piece with John Legend in the immersive, she just answer, well, that's perfect. You can write. So you just start from John Legend to just two lines, and then maybe 1,600,000 about something you really like. But you know, you have to convince the editor, by the way. And so you have to find strategies. I'm sorry.
[00:20:32.232] Xan Brooks: Yeah, there's all kind of little sharp corners that all journalists learn to kind of turn. So a review, a standalone review, probably isn't going to get published in any field, certainly if you're a freelancer writing. But a review feature is a solid proposition. If you can tell a wider story, if you can make connections between a number of different works, if you have a strong news angle in there, you can get your reviews in like a kind of Trojan horse of the feature.
[00:21:02.389] Michel Reilhac: Well, maybe Federica, you can. How similar and how different is it in Italy for you?
[00:21:08.813] Federica Polidoro: Well, the first issue in Italy is that journalism, you know, the regular one on paper, they are very old. Journalists are very old, from 65 to 100. They are still working even if they are retired. So if you go and, you know, I'm 40 now, but I'm just a teenager for them. So you cannot write about anything. And if I go out and I say, but, you know, now it looks like I can write about immersive because, you know, Biennale let me write about that, so I can do that. I have a little bit authority. So you cannot do at all because you are just nothing. So you just try to think, how can I just, you know, create a hook for them to convince that it's the right time? So you start thinking. Well, I don't know, mister, there's a new trend and I heard about with these teenagers, you know, with teenagers that are influencers. And so they just told me that there's something really interesting in the immersive and these influencers They want us to talk about this. And I think that we have absolutely do this and not miss the subject. And so about the trends, we have to talk about, I would like to say, immersive. It's a mystic experience. But you have to write. And you want to be paid. And above all, you want that the pieces reached the audience, I don't want to be read just by old people that never will come to the Highland, or I would like to talk to my students. They are between 23 and 27. So I start to talk with them and say, well, for you would be more interesting this subject on this other one subject. And then I try to have a confrontation with my mom and, you know, I tried several strategies. And then when I finally found something really strong, a formula, I would say, this year we will get into the uterus of immersive. So my boss said, wow, what is that? Uterus? So I got my piece published, and I got published in the National Issues. That is something that I'm really focused on. Because sometimes you can write really in a specialized newspaper, and it's quite fun. But even you would like to involve people that doesn't know anything about the virtual reality. Because until seven years ago, I didn't know Nothing. I don't even own a Game Boy. So when I just arrived here, I thought, well, it will be just something really technical thing. But then it was just conquest. And my aim now, it's convince people, bring people to the virtual reality. And that's what is my purpose.
[00:24:21.628] Liz Rosenthal: Thank you, Federica, because I've been trying to explain to my parents what I do for many years. And I need you. So, I want to bring Roshin into this discussion, because Roshin is new to Immersive but comes from a different generation, sorry, the rest of the panellists, and has a really interesting take, because you write for different outlets and work on different channels. So, yeah, I'd love to hear how you see you would approach this.
[00:24:50.306] Róisín Tapponi: Yeah, I mean, I really agree with what Kent was saying about when people ask what to see, it's like, well, what kind of thing do you like? Because I work across mainly the art world, but in film, fashion, for Vogue and GQ, or for The Guardian, or for Freeze, or for a really vast range of different types of publications with different audiences. And I think it's that diversity of form and of content and, you know, just kind of diversity of storytelling in immersive, which is really appealing. And my job with writing about it, I guess, is to get people within these cultures, subcultures, to become excited about it because a lot of young people, who I know at least, don't, you know, just because we're young and we are tech, what's the word, like, digital native. You know, people don't really... The general youth do not know about VR in nearly as much depth as any of you. So that is what I feel like I have a responsibility to do, to sort of bring it to the culture, really. For example, I'm doing this article for Galdem, which is a platform mainly consumed by young women of colour. And I've spoke to some amazing, amazing creators since I've been here and at the breakfast that Liz hosted yesterday with women, I keep wanting to say curators, creators. So that's like a responsibility that I have. As for how I want to speak a bit about how I've accessed immersive as someone who is not so well-read, as it were, on immersive experiences. And I really found that it is the diversity of the form that has made there be easier entry points than others. For example, the frame rate, you know, they were using 3D scanning technology and from an architectural background and, you know, kind of was, exhibited like a multi-channel video installation. So that was something that I, from an art background, found very accessible. And then I've had totally different experiences and immersive where I've never, I had no sort of entry point and I just had to trust and really just open my mind to what I was experiencing. So I feel like in many ways I am my audience because I'm not coming from a specialized perspective. I'm just coming as someone who is open-minded, who wants to learn, and who also wants to be really faithful to the intentions of the creators that I'm speaking about, who are very hungry to access the kind of culture and to access the wider audience beyond a immersive specialized audience.
[00:27:52.789] Liz Rosenthal: I want to ask you a little bit about, because you write for the art world, and the idea of scarcity in the art world is something that's valuable, and in the film world and the media world, mass distribution is important, and so art gets written about if it's scarce, whereas media doesn't. How would you pitch something like Immersive into Freeze? Because obviously there are things like video art, there was a big issue on collectability and distribution, but it's still something that's written about. So how do you think, is it something you feel Immersive could be pitched in?
[00:28:29.144] Róisín Tapponi: Yeah, I mean it's very interesting that, I mean the films that I work with through my programming and through this Habibi Collective and Shasha and these kind of organizations that I run, I'm usually dealing with films that I haven't even seen because they're just so unavailable or through my academic background, even with my PhD, like it wasn't something that my supervisor was really aware of. So I feel like what Zan was saying about, you know, you are constantly dealing with people who aren't so aware of what you want to write about, work with, just because they have not had access to it. You know, that makes it quite difficult, but just then totally relying on trust. And it comes from a, I mean, very, very similar to what Sam was saying, but, you know, just having been at Freeze for so long and really having the trust of the editors, they kind of give me free reign at this point. And I have taken many leaps and bounds with that. And in a way, I still, you know, there is still constraints because they, Many of the editors who I've spoken to so far have been like, okay, but break down the tech. They're all very concerned about the tech element of VR, XR. And I think a lot of the editors, at least that I've spoken to, have just in a way struggle to see VR beyond its technology, when so many creators that I've spoken to have so emphasized the storytelling aspect that is at the heart of VR and XR. So yeah, that's, I mean, a kind of roundabout way of saying that it is something that not many people have experienced, but in the same way that As long as you've kind of had that experience, I mean, when you're writing a standard exhibition review, as long as you've seen the show, and your editor trusts you, then, you know, it's okay. But I am keen to kind of push that and write more features, opinions, and really share, you know, what my experience is that other people can't necessarily experience.
[00:30:36.274] Michel Reilhac: I'm curious, now that you've given us an insight into the context in which you operate, I'm really curious to know if, from your point of view, there is anything you feel that we, and when I say we, we the community of people involved in pushing VR as an art form, we could do or we should do to help you, to help creating more space for reviews on what it is that we are doing. Makers, creators, producers, curators, and this is for anyone, is there in your practice any advice or any feeling you say, it would help me push my cause, you know, alongside you, if you did this? Is there anything that we should know Because I don't think it's worth going in circles and saying, we know distribution is difficult. It's difficult to access the work. So we know that. And we all work on this. But is there anything we can do now that would help?
[00:31:45.178] Xan Brooks: If I could chip in on that, speaking as the village idiot on this panel, I suspect I'm probably not alone. There's other idiots out in the village. Most journalists covering this stuff are going to be babes in the wood with this stuff. So as much hand-holding as possible in these early days of it is useful. Beyond that, it gets annoying. When you're dealing with sort of publicists over at the casino who are kind of steering you towards stuff and saying there's this and you need to do this and this and that, then it's annoying because then they're telling me my job. At this stage though, that is, it's essential. So this festival here is a huge first step along that path in terms of just good curation, in terms of saying these are the different sections, this is the kind of the rough roadmap into this sort of terra incognita for a lot of us, into this kind of wild open frontier where we will get lost otherwise. So as much There's much kind of steering at this point, whether it's just in individual sections or just kind of gentle words of, this exhibit here has slight connection with this one here. If you're looking to kind of develop a theme to write around, all of that at this point I think is really crucial.
[00:33:13.110] Michel Reilhac: Can I say we have Jesse here, Jesse Cohen. And Nicole. And Nicole? Where is Nicole? Oh, Nicole is in the back. Jesse and Nicole are here to help us do that. I assume that the hand that needs to be held is your hand. Oh, very much my hand. And it needs to be held by people like Jesse and Nico, or by ourselves, or by the group.
[00:33:35.830] Xan Brooks: Which you are doing, but I'm not sure it's happening elsewhere. And until that happens, and also, I guess, in terms of advice, don't be scared to reach out and grab a hand. You know, people are going to come here and kind of wander around dazed and overwhelmed, and those are the people that need very careful steering, I think.
[00:34:02.623] Michel Reilhac: Sorry, I was just going to say, I mean, I don't know, Jessie or Nicole, if it rings a bell and if there's something you want to say about this, because you are hand holders, aren't you, in this process? Does that sound like something?
[00:34:18.390] Liz Rosenthal: And you've worked for many years, working so hard on bringing media to this new form.
[00:34:25.613] Jessie Cohen: So I think a lot of the work that we do as publicists that kind of have a niche in this space is to help reporters find ways to translate the work that the content creators are making so that it feels approachable for editors and that editors can feel convinced that it is relevant for their audiences. And that is difficult to do without established distribution platforms. And there are very few PR people that want to be involved in this space for all of these reasons. It's a little bit cart in front of the horse.
[00:35:05.413] Michel Reilhac: Yeah, chicken and egg and all this.
[00:35:07.834] Xan Brooks: I'm prompted by saying that, by just speaking to people back at the casino, where I've said, I've just come back from VR and you've got to get out there. And they're like, well, what's there? I said, there's just everything. It's massive. And almost saying that scares them. They kind of back away. That it's great and there's loads of it. For some reason, it dazzles them.
[00:35:29.228] Jessie Cohen: Well, I just wanted to add that I think, as a publicist, that there is no better way to introduce new reporters to these mediums than S Immersive. It is so polished, so beautiful, so dynamic, so well curated, that if you're interested in this space, that this becomes a real destination. And that is such a special thing as a publicist to be able to offer, and of course as a director or content creator to be here, you have this platform that has been created.
[00:36:04.850] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just wanted to jump in in terms of, I remember attending Sundance 2016, and then Sundance 2017, and then 2016, there was a lot of authors that were writing about it. And then slowly over time, authors stopped writing about it, because a lot of the pieces they were writing about never got out, they didn't get clicks, and they sort of disappeared. And I'm looking at it like, this is some of the most mind-blowing, amazing work that I've ever seen. that deserves to be covered. So I feel like part of what I see the overall immersive media is, is that it's actually requiring a fundamental paradigm shift for how we've done things before. And so that's why it's like using the medium of the podcasting to be able to like tie in oral history and smuggle in a little bit of the reviews and my own phenomenological experiences. But I feel like part of the challenge of immersive media is that it's actually a fusion of an interdisciplinary fusion of gaming and web design and social media and film and music and theme park design and architecture and theater, dance and embodied practices. These are each individual disciplines. they're all being mashed up together. And so what I think is sort of needed in some sense is sort of like a interdisciplinary approach across different ways in which that the established kind of silos have been broken up into how media is understanding this. And that what the immersive media is actually asking us is for us to really challenge those silos and those taxonomies and to break it down and to actually have a new way of looking at these things. Which is why I've sort of gone on to this, like I have the freedom as an independent journalist and sort of a, you know, one man show just doing my own thing that I have the leeway to be able to do that, which has its own challenges for how I sustain this in terms of, you know, really focusing on this as a thing that I think is really viable and important, but isn't necessarily seen as viable and important and sustained in the larger culture and community. So I just wanted to add that as a perspective because I feel like some of these discussions are kind of getting at the root of how the immersive media is a philosophical provocation for us to like fundamentally rethink about how we're doing everything.
[00:38:08.582] Jessie Cohen: And I know we're going to pass to Nicole. Can I add one thing? That I think that everyone should, you can tell your editors, but also if you're a content creator that's here and you're working with a publicist, there is no established set of reporters or critics for these mediums. So when I'm pitching Zan, which I have done plenty, and he's a film reporter, it's easy for a film reporter to say, I don't cover immersive. or an art reporter to say, I don't cover VR films or something like this. And I remind you all to not get distracted by the technology and to focus on the storytelling, because that is the centerpiece. I mean, for someone like Kent, you have this unique ability to really go deep, and it's so valuable. But I really do try to always bring people back to the art form or to the story. And that also is so much of what everyone here is doing. Innovating. OK, Nicole.
[00:39:05.460] Michel Reilhac: I think this idea of focusing on the content is truly what we are about. This is why we changed our name from Venice VR to Venice Immersive to really translate that we're focusing on the content. And I do agree that the more we veer away from the technology that is used to tell a story, the better we can access the real reason why stories are told and told in this way.
[00:39:30.047] Nicole Kerr: I think it's important to add that as the publicist for this program, we take a lot of time with Liz and Michelle going through the entire program, project by project, to learn about each one so that we can create niche sheets that are available for journalists so that when it goes back to what Zan is saying about like, you know, journalists feeling overwhelmed as a lot do at festivals at times because they have a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. We do try to focus on that storytelling and make it as easy as possible for journalists, especially newer journalists that are coming into this medium for the first time that may have that sense of overwhelm and we try to make it as easy as possible and to offer them projects if they're particularly interested in gaming or if they're interested in female creators or if they're interested in you know art we try to point them in the direction of those projects in particular so that we can make it as easy as possible for them and I think that's a really proven to be successful to bring some new faces from journalism into this space.
[00:40:43.656] Liz Rosenthal: I guess, you know, it is a challenge. We are part of a film festival and the critics here are concentrated on cinema. And I think, Kent, your point is very, you know, very poignant because, you know, when we're talking about what could you recommend, in fact, it is about creating multidisciplinary and writers who take a kind of platform agnostic approach. And we were thinking about that, you know, in 2019, it was something we really, you know, we became very aware of about this idea of cultivating new writers. You know, maybe that's a mission that we should be involved in.
[00:41:20.673] Michel Reilhac: Federica, did you have any reaction? How can we help you?
[00:41:24.182] Federica Polidoro: Well, I have a little bit different point of view, because I think that we have to create the audience. We cannot just go and say, we have a subject interesting to talk about. So for me, we have to start going into the university and legitimize the virtual reality throughout the academic speech. And so if, for instance, we would create a bound with a circuit of universities, institutions, and even museums, I don't know, in general, cultural institutions, with a participation of young students like mine that are just in front of us, or young people from all over the world. And maybe create, I don't know, some, how can I say, itinerary? Yeah, so after the Venice VR, a selection of VR theme going around the main university in Europe, in United States, and whatever. So you start going through the art of the future, telling them, this is the future. It's not just the metaverse as Zuckerberg called it. Metaverse is just nothing if you put in paragon of what we have in front of us. But it's kind of hard, even to me, explain them Have you ever been in the virtual reality and they start talking about something that is kind of a PlayStation thing? But it's not. And for me, it's kind of hard explaining them that it's a really deep experience. So for me, we should start thinking about academic writings, essays, studies, research, about everything we have since now, starting from what Biennale and Festival of Venice did. Because it's here that virtual reality became an art before it was just technology, right?
[00:43:42.382] Questioner 1: Well, thank you very much for your interesting panel. I just wanted to add that we are a group of academics, of scholars, Italian scholars. We're working on the Voir, and we won a European research project in ERC about Voir and immersive arts. We totally agree with, of course, this last intervention, because it's important to bring virtual reality at the university. So we are organizing many things in this direction. And we thank you very much for your concern, because this is a really important field. And perhaps we can participate in some way Our project is called An Icon, meaning an icon that is not real, an icon, because it negates its essence of image, trying to conceal itself and try to be environment, to be a real world without a frame, so without the classic topics that are used, the classic devices, I mean, like a frame to produce images. So we are trying to think philosophically and from the point of view of filmology about this subject and trying to for instance trace the differences between the cinematic language and the voir and we are based in Milan in the department of philosophy so I think that we started to do the work that you mentioned
[00:45:09.037] Federica Polidoro: Yeah, for instance, I was really interested in the Bazaine complex of the mummy, because in VR it just doesn't happen anymore for many reasons. So it's this philosophical point of view that we need to investigate.
[00:45:26.045] Questioner 1: And we also have a section of reviews. So we are here because we are very interested in what you have to say about this subject. And it is called Who Are Forum, and the first series of articles devoted to who are and they are in a magazine that was a historical magazine of cinema for Italian landscape. that is Cineforum, and we added this space, this section that is called VRforum. But unfortunately, until now, it is in Italian, but we are going to translate this because we will have also an academic journal called Anicon, which is more academic with the articles, essays on the theme of presence, the presentness, on the theme of unfriendliness, on all these philosophical topics that are about this. Our PI is Andrea Pinotti. He's a philosopher and a specialist of aesthetics, but also of Habib Harburg.
[00:46:21.622] Michel Reilhac: I think it's interesting to bring up the subject of the fact that academics and the field of universities can also be a source for analysis and building the methodology around reviewing VR. Roisin, did you have any reaction to this? Because once again, you're newer in the field, and how do you think the field can help you?
[00:46:44.973] Róisín Tapponi: Yeah, well, I mean, in regards to the point about academia, as someone who's also in academia, I think that maybe it's probably different in Italy, but I feel like the institution that I'm in in the UK, it's one of, you know, the oldest universities, and it's all this blah, blah, blah. And for that, I feel like they are very disconnected. And I feel like that's pretty much the standard for all these kind of old, prestigious universities. And I don't go to universities for really cutting-edge, immediate discourse. So that's something that, as a journalist, I really tap into much more than with the kind of academic work that I do or the way that academia exists in criticism in the contemporary in the UK. And yeah, as for what I need, I'm just here to learn, to be honest, and to listen to creators. I feel like my responsibility is to be faithful to the intentions of the creators who so generously share their thoughts and their work with me and break it down for me as well and explain it in a really clear way for someone who's not so educated in the kind of specialized areas. And also just to see what kind of writing that creators want to see, because I came in here with the idea that I was going to write a lot of capsule reviews, but from speaking to creators, it seems like people are more enthusiastic for there to be opinion pieces or features, rather than capsule reviews, specifically for the kind of publications that I'm writing for. So yeah, that's really what I need, I guess. It's more like, not what I need, but what creators need in terms of how they want to reach the culture and reach these mainstream art, fashion publications and how I can help there.
[00:48:44.613] Liz Rosenthal: Great, thank you. Oh, we've got a question from the audience, from Sam.
[00:48:50.632] Questioner 2: Hi. Thank you, everyone. I just wanted to pick up on what Kent was saying about the interdisciplinarity, because I think that is absolutely crucial. I guess a question... Liz, you mentioned it's happening affiliated with the Film Festival, but of course the Art Biennale is going on at the same time. And I was wondering about whether you had explored having a presence during the press events for the Art Biennale, for the Architecture Biennale, so that's one question, so that it kind of is an opportunity to get visibility in those... subject areas, and then also whether there is an opportunity to explore engaging press through the virtual worlds. So press that aren't coming necessarily to Venice, but there is an opportunity to, you know, bring... I'm thinking, for example, of the V&A when they did the press event in... with Preloaded for Alice in Wonderland. So, yeah, just... I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on that.
[00:49:41.502] Liz Rosenthal: Well, I'll start with the second question, actually, because Venice Immersive was virtual for the last two editions. We actually did have to... We based our festival within VRChat. We had physical satellites in different venues around the world and we had a small space in the casino where we were showing the works. but the way that we engaged with people across the world was through our chat world and we had to bring in journalists through there, so it was quite interesting. I think Eric Cohn came in and he was very interested in IndieWire and it's very difficult because obviously you need to have journalists who actually own headsets and that's why the physical aspect of Venice is so important because we're bringing in writers and audiences who would never get access to this medium easily. But, of course, we have concentrated so heavily on the social VR and the metaverse side of the exciting work that's happening in the space in our world section. And there are huge communities on these platforms and VRChat. There are millions of people on VRChat. And they, of course, there are influencers on VRChat. and there are completely different writers and influencers who are in those spaces, so it's very true there are completely new, as we have tapped into new creative communities who are completely disconnected from the film festival world, most of these makers who make essentially user-generated content, do not consider themselves of artists and completely have no understanding and before now little interest in this world or are completely ignorant of the world. There are many writers, I mean there are many commentators and bloggers and writers who have huge audiences and it's very true that it's something we need to cultivate too.
[00:51:35.629] Kent Bye: Just quickly, I wanted to jump in and say that something that a lot of the journalists need to have access to the VR in order to cover it, and so they have to be already bought in, so that point. But one of the things I wanted to mention is that I've been thinking a lot about what does it look like to use VR to cover VR, which hasn't yet really been explored at all. So how can the medium of 360 photo spheres within VRChat, can that be used to be able to talk about the architectural forms, or if you think about experiences that unfold over time, then another way to take snapshots and then do a pointing out of different things or video walkthroughs of 360 videos within a VR chat world. I know that Ian Hamilton actually from Upload VR went with Kevin Max of Nama Unki and did a whole walkthrough and did a whole brief video description. So I think that actually ends up being like a little guided tour that I think it's very compelling to take that guided tour aspect and have the creator talk about the creative process, but also to have them point out different things that you might miss. And that translates fairly well to 2D video, but I've been thinking a lot about, well, what's that look like in VR? What's it look like to have a 360 video that talks about another experience? That right there requires a whole layer of having access to that world. And I think VRChat is probably a good place to begin because those are public worlds and there's probably ways to start to capture that. But as we move forward, I think eventually, and to really start to interrogate these experiences, it'll be a challenge to start to think about, okay, how can we start to use the medium of VR to unpack what's happening within the VR medium?
[00:53:09.416] Liz Rosenthal: So I know Screaming Colour, you have a question. Yeah, a comment. So Christopher in VRChat, your idea, Screaming Colour, with Deirdre, has directed one of the projects, the Worlds in competition this year, Gumball.
[00:53:24.641] Questioner 3: Yeah, I just wanted to share a quick thought on the coattails of the mention of VRChat, because I have heard many, many times this weekend how difficult it can be for your work to be seen, you know, distribution, everything. A lot of people here will have their work shown this weekend and assume that it can never be seen again, because they can't be seen on the Oculus Store. But I just wanted to urge everybody to take VRChat seriously and not underestimate its power because I would really be willing to bet money that at least 80% of every single experience here can easily be ported and uploaded to VRChat and experienced in its full potential. So it's a really great way to get your work seen. Not necessarily monetizable yet, per se, but to get your work out there, absolutely.
[00:54:09.741] Michel Reilhac: Just to piggyback on what you're saying, Kolar, I think it's really interesting to understand that the reason why we're so eager to place a focus on VRChat this year here on the world builders community is exactly for that reason. is that not only is it a place where you can share easily with other people, but it is a platform in itself that is available anytime to anyone. Yes, you cannot monetize yet that access, but just the fact that your work is available and accessible all the time makes a huge difference with the distribution challenges that non-online works are facing.
[00:54:54.561] Federica Polidoro: If I can just, I want to add something. Okay, it's not monetizable, but we have to enjoy this moment of freedom because within two, three, four years we won't do what we can do now. And now we can do mainly everything we want. So we have to be involved.
[00:55:11.116] Michel Reilhac: Almost. There's still some moral criteria that still are... I think they exist in VRChat. They also exist in VRChat. Although I've heard that there is a dark VRChat, like there's a dark internet. I don't know, I've never... It all happens in the private instances.
[00:55:33.643] Kent Bye: Is there? What? Sorry? There's public and private instances, so there's quite a lot of other things that are happening in the private instances in these rooms. The dark side of CRChat.
[00:55:41.045] Liz Rosenthal: Absolutely. But we actually, last year when we, because we created these very elaborate Venice worlds, we did have preview rooms of all of the experiences. So we did do some journalist tours. I mean, we took Kathy Hackel, who's a very well-known Forbes writer who writes more from a business and technological approach. We took her on a tour. It's a fantastic place to showcase work and also the other thing is you can film within VRChat. So you can actually, there are camera tools on your basic avatar interface. So there are so many things that you can create within the platform very, very easily.
[00:56:23.330] Michel Reilhac: Any other thoughts on where we are? I mean, I'm taking notes, and as I'm hearing what you're saying, you're triggering all kinds of ideas that I think we can piggyback on and that I would like to use as a conclusion in a moment. Anything else that you see that you feel would help?
[00:56:45.172] Federica Polidoro: I just noted something, I was talking with them before. I just land in the Highland today, this year, because it was a mess with the other, you know, the main competition. And the first feeling is that we are really forward here. They are still talking about identity, about LGBT, blah, blah, blah. We are forward, because in the VR, we could be basically whatever we want. No one are just saying if you are something or something else, if you are transgender or, and as rightly, She suggested me and it's a really brilliant idea. Just getting into the VR is having a transgender experience. So what I feel is that we are already living in the future and this is so exciting for me.
[00:57:43.688] Kent Bye: I want to just like, I don't know if I agree with that, just because there is a piece here called Kindred, which is actually still covering those issues of transgender. So I think there's a difference between the contextual relationship of different issues in the culture and embodiment. I think those can be different. Like you can have an embodied presence with Avatar, but that doesn't mean that we've somehow transcended the issues around gender.
[00:58:08.429] Federica Polidoro: I read, well, you know, we got into the theater on the Lido and we saw many movies about this subject and it looks like that it's a At least for me, I feel that it's a subject already, you know, we overpassed it in virtual reality.
[00:58:32.704] Kent Bye: No, there's still experiences that cover that as a topic and we have not surpassed it.
[00:58:38.329] Róisín Tapponi: I think especially when you know you are like a white woman, it's not something that is directly experienced. you know, there's so many stories that people still need to share from their own identity perspective that they're conflicted with. And I think that actually VR is really empowering for a lot of creators of color from what has been shared with me to really, you know, use a diverse set of media and technology to really very faithfully represent such, you know, a diverse range of stories. And I actually think VR can be really effectively used to express identity in its real diversity, and not so much transcending identity, but really grappling with it in a really effective and productive way.
[00:59:29.893] Federica Polidoro: Well, just the fact that you are so ubiquitous and at the same time in a different place, it's like, at least for me, my experience, it's, you know, you are a kind of Nicholas God yourself, you know?
[00:59:46.259] Róisín Tapponi: I'm Arab, so I mean...
[00:59:51.639] Liz Rosenthal: I think you were talking in general. I think it's a language thing Federica was saying, talking about one as in you.
[01:00:00.386] Xan Brooks: The other thing that I'd say is that a lot of the conversation today has been how do we bring VR to criticism but of course criticism has to come to VR and the best criticism is kind of sympathetic to the form and it's going to be really interesting over the next 10 years or so to see how what we think of as criticism as arts journalism responds and kind of maps itself onto this new form and I guess It's sort of happening already. I mean, it's interesting what Kent was saying about VR reviewing within VR. And it seems to me, just grappling with it myself, coming from a film background, I'm used to sitting in a dark room with lots of other people and I have like a notebook and I'll sit there in the dark kind of scribbling stuff so I can get lines from films down and observations at the time to refer back to later, whereas obviously here you can't, you're in your headset, so it's full immersion, so then you have to take some time afterwards to kind of write notes. It's also, I think, part of a journey of criticism and maybe journalism in general from the presumption of objectivity to subjectivity. When criticism was first started, often they didn't have bylines. You never used first person. It was never, I thought this. There was this notion of the writer being simultaneously anonymous and godlike. It was the sort of the judgment. That has obviously changed down the decades of 100 years or whatever we've had film criticism. But I think that that is now going to be... That's just built in. If you watch a film and there's a bum, unnecessary scene in it, that's the director's fault, that's the film's fault. If you can't work the controls and you can't work your hands and you keep colliding with the wall, then that's on you to a large degree. And that will have to be reflected in the criticism of the piece. You're as much a participant as a consumer, and that is going to have all kinds of interesting implications and a ripple effect through how we begin to frame and discuss VR on mainstream platforms, whatever those platforms will be.
[01:02:23.095] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things I just wanted to, leveraging some of the ideas there in terms of the role of the critic, because the distribution aspect of these festivals is less of a thing from what in the film role, but for me it's a lot about how do I describe this in a way that could have other people want to see it or identify that they want to experience that, but I've mostly leaned towards the oral history part and not writing formal reviews and I'm a little bit hesitant to do that because there isn't a wider community to have like other perspectives to do that because you know when you're the sole critic then it feels like that's like way too much weight that I wouldn't want to put onto myself. But I do want to sort of bring up this idea that Agnes Callard has talked about when she talks about epistemology and knowledge in terms of what is the truth. And she talks about breaking down the Socratic method of how you believe truths and avoid falsehoods. But in order to do that, those are actually two separate algorithms that require a deliberative process of having a community process that's saying, what is the truth about this? And so at these festivals, there's a bit of a calibration process where you say, what do you like? What do you like? And then if you're the only one that likes something that that's your favorite, will that It could be something that is just really attuned to you. But in thinking about the jury process of how to establish what is the winner amongst all these different pieces that have very different things that they're doing, how do you use as a baseline between all these different qualities of presence? And then do you go back to the emotional impact of how the story is moving you? Thinking about the medium in that way, but also what is the truth in terms of your critique? And so for me, I try to hold loosely about what my own opinion is. as much as I can. So when people ask me, what's your favorite, it's sort of a question that I do have some things that I do really like, but then I want to talk to the creators, and then after that process of talking to the creators, a lot of my insights sort of change from that. But then still, it's like, do I want to sort of take a declarative saying, here are the best of experiences? Because there is this kind of need for People have limited time and attention. What should they see? But also, what is the role of that critic to sort of amplify things to get out and to find an audience that otherwise wouldn't? And so I guess there's this dilemma that I have with trying to have my opinions, but also hold them loosely. And so by holding them loosely, it's in more of a dialectical conversation in the interview process with the creator. So bringing the creator in the conversation, and then sharing that as a conversation, and then putting it out. So it's a little bit of like, how does that get translated into the critique, I think is still a bit of an open question, for me at least, as the field is so nascent in its being that it feels like a lot of weight to put on to have those. But if there was a community, I think I would feel stronger of maybe voicing that more, knowing that there was other perspectives, because as someone who's oriented towards pluralism, I wouldn't want to have like a single authoritative view and understand in the future how you describe the essential aspects of the experience so that it eventually finds the people. And I think that's the sort of challenge of matching the total possibilities of experiences with the people that watch it.
[01:05:25.787] Michel Reilhac: Yeah, well, there's no reviewing or criticizing without identifying the audience you are reviewing for. I guess that's what you're meaning. And this is something that is still in development. I think, Federica, you wanted to say something?
[01:05:39.618] Federica Polidoro: Yes, I want to say something about the criticism. Because the criticism that we knew, the one that we studied, in the academy doesn't exist anymore, upon my personal point of view. Or at least we have a really small audience that we cannot rely on when we are talking about a subject so important. So I think that we have to find a way to intrigue the new audience. And I'm always trying to talk the simplest way. For instance, I have a six-year-old kid, Aurelio. And so I'm starting to talk about virtual reality with him when he was really young. He was just arrived when I landed here. So he grew up listening to these two words, virtual reality. And he always asking me, what is this virtual reality, mom? What is that? What is this? So I need to catch his attention. And I try to explain to him, well, it's another kind of... world of reality. For instance, you touch this, you can feel it with your palm, with your hands. But in virtual reality, sometimes this is not true. There's a short cutting of senses. And he tried to think, and then maybe after a couple of hours, he came back and say, what are you saying, mom? Can you please explain me better what it means that I can build a pod with my voice? So this kind of strategies, too, helps people to be intrigued. Curiosity is some way to reach a biggest audience, because there's something that happens so strangely. We just saw the Bardo movie by Iñárritu, and the main character was flying. We know that Iñárritu loves the main character flying as Marcello Mastroianni in Eight and a Half. Bardo was a very immersive experience. It could be shot for immersive. And as a matter of fact, you know, especially the pieces about Desaparacidos that it was from a previous project showed in Cannes. I don't know, Michel, if you saw the video. It was really immersive from the beginning till the very end. And probably, if it was an immersive experience, it could be more interesting, since it's not at all, you know.
[01:08:16.790] Liz Rosenthal: I mean, it always seems that, particularly him as a director, is trying so hard with the tools of cinema to be immersive. He's trying to move out of the screen, almost. And you almost feel that just... use a mass of technology.
[01:08:31.400] Xan Brooks: But he did that in Cairn a couple of years ago. He did... Carne y Arena. Carne y Arena, yeah. Which had sort of dodgy optics, though, because it was basically stretch limoing guests out to an aircraft hangar outside town and giving them some champagne and then stretch limoing them back. And then it was all about Mexican immigration and things like that.
[01:08:51.407] Liz Rosenthal: So it was... They didn't have... I said they should have taken our shoes away and made us walk back. Yes, exactly. They took your shoes away and then they gave them back to us with a glass of champagne.
[01:09:03.468] Michel Reilhac: Maybe shoot you. Unless there are other questions, I think we're going to wrap. As a conclusion, I would just like to share a few insights that I got from everything you said. And starting with what you just said, Federica, really ties in with Zan's hand-holding request. And this idea, I think it was you, Kent, who said, This idea of translating part of the experience in VR through flat devices such as teasers or trailers or excerpts that sort of help understanding, I think is a very good idea to try and bridge. It's about bridging what we do, the community that we are with more established communities, whether it's in the performing arts or in cinema. And I think this is something we really need to work on to try and take away the friction or the intimidation that this new media represents for almost everyone. And Federica, you said something that really brings up an idea that we started discussing with Landia, who did a panel here on sustainability and trying to be aware of how we can reduce the carbon footprint, for instance, of our productions. And what you said about the link with universities and local touring, I think is a very, very interesting idea. We should maybe start thinking of a format where, as a festival, we gather interested producers and makers of a selection within our selection of maybe 10, 12, 15 works. And we make them as a touring package. And then it happens here in Venice. And then we take it around in the Veneto region to universities, but also smaller areas. And we try and find financing to have the headsets. So it may not work for installations, but for standalone pieces, where it could tour and reach more people and make the reviews that are done on these more impactful, because more people could see them and read them. I find this idea having a very, very interesting potential. And I think this is something we should think about. And also, because this is a main issue, paying the makers and the producers for that tour so that we generate funding so that there is income generated from touring.
[01:11:32.616] Liz Rosenthal: And it's interesting because in the cinema world there are distribution networks in academia that's very different, that's very lucrative, or used to be very lucrative for cinema.
[01:11:42.708] Michel Reilhac: So I think there's a real potential. And then just two last things that I wanted to say, and this comes from what both Jesse and Nicole were saying. It really makes me think that there's a lot that we can probably do in trying to break the intimidation, again, of immersive by not using immersive. and saying, this is a story, let's say, I have Celine here in front of us with her piece, Fight Back. Fight Back is really a piece about empowering women by saying, you can fight for your dignity. You can fight for who you are using different ways of doing this. And we can focus on that, on the theme. Yes, it's an interactive piece, but it could be attracting a whole audience if we sort of short circuit the technical dimension of it. And not even using it to game, but maybe not even using the game. And I'm speaking in a format like this in a film festival. And the last thing I come out from this panel with is something that you mentioned, and I think there was a little bit of understanding with Roshin between you and Roshin and Federica. It's when you're talking about identity and when you're talking about we're all transgender when we are in VR, I think it's actually more a question of analyzing what it means to be able to choose your identity. What does it mean to have that power to not be submitted any longer to what fate has decided for you? Whether you're born a woman or a man, you can, in VR, be a sausage or a banana. And it's absolutely fine. And no one is going to question that choice. And I think that's what you were relating to. Yes, thank you. More than transgender, which is a very loaded concept. Choosing your identity is quite transgressive, because this is not something you've been able to do up until now. So I think there's a lot of perspectives and ideas that, at least for us, come from this and that we can explore. And as we know, this is something in the making. The community, the art form, everything. If there are no other questions or comments, I think we're going to close this. Do you agree, Liz? Absolutely. Unless any of you want to add something as a conclusion?
[01:14:06.910] Xan Brooks: The only thing I'd say, which I think has been implicit in the whole conversation today, is that we're talking about the problems of it. It's the best problem to have. It's the best problem to have, to have the shock of the new and say, how do we make this just... accessible to people and not scare them off. Far better that than if we were sitting here saying we've got these old bones that we're flogging again that we've been flogging for a hundred years. How do we sort of paint them up and make them look sort of semi-different? This is, you know, this is the great challenge but far better than the alternative.
[01:14:40.286] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I just wanted to say that there's been a lot of talk about the metaverse and the future and the potential. And I've done a number of interviews with Monica Bilaskita, who talks about how it's the science fiction writers and the storytellers who are creating the narratives and stories that imagine the future that we want to live into. And the technology is a part of that, but it's actually the storytellers have more power, and that a lot of the myths and metaphors that we think about to imagine this future has been a lot of dystopic Ready Player One and Snow Crash. But for me, when I think about what is happening here at Venice, to me, coming into the island, into this space, and going into the portal, into these magic circles, into these other realms, and coming back out, that to me is sort of the essence of what I think of what the metaverse is going to be in the future, which is these interconnected spaces that we go into and we receive story and we understand it by ourselves and we're able to come out of it being changed, or being empathetic to other stories, or just learning about a potential future that hasn't happened yet. And so I think what you are doing here, and what other film festivals have been doing for many, many years, starting with Sundance in 2012, when Nani de la Peña's Hunger in L.A. first aired, in the festival context that you have this evolution of these distribution spaces that are kind of like the prototype for what I want to see the metaverse be, which is that there is this access to these stories and immersive experiences and how to make that more from this very custom bespoke implementation that we have here at Venice, but as we grow that out into the future of these interconnected worlds, that it'll be much more accessible for an audience and get all the distribution things settled out. But for me, I think this as a model of coming into this space is kind of like a framework that I like to think about as the future of the metaverse and the future of where this is all going.
[01:16:30.004] Michel Reilhac: Thank you. Thank you very much, all four of you. Thank you for your thoughts and sharing. Thank you for all of you to being here and sharing this very interesting brainstorm with us. I would just like to remind that at 5 o'clock, we have our traditional daily Meet the Creators that will be hosted by Liz.
[01:16:51.917] Liz Rosenthal: Yes, and we have five projects that we're going to be discussing today. I'm trying to remember what they are. Sorry. I know we have Lustration with Nathan. And who else do we have, Michel?
[01:17:02.479] Michel Reilhac: Sorry. So today we will be talking with authors of Rock, Paper, Scissors, of Nyssa, On the Morning You Wake Up to the End of the World, Lustration, and Stay Alive, My Son. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here.
[01:17:24.544] Kent Bye: So that was Sam Brooks. He's a freelance writer and broadcaster specializing in cinema as well as Roshan Tapani, the film and video curator and critic and PhD candidate based in London. Myself, Kent Bye of the Voices of VR podcast, as well as Federica Polidoro, an Italian journalist who covered the Venice Immersive since the very beginning, as well as the Venice Immersive curators, Liz Rosenthal and Michel Riak. So lots of different good stuff that's discussed here in terms of ideas for both Liz and Michelle to be able to, as they move forward, ways to think about this. How do you communicate this? For me, a big takeaway, I think, is the role of the editors. And if the editors are not bought in, then there's not going to be a lot of different coverage of this. Again, this chicken-and-egg problem that was really unpacked a lot more in the context of the conversations from 2019, where the lack of distribution makes it difficult to talk about these things because you're basically trying to talk about them in a vacuum. For me, the way I tried to deal with that is to see the experiences, treat it like a theatrical performance that I get to see, and then the form of documentation through oral history interview to be able to talk about the process of creation, and for me to have an opportunity to kind of smuggle in different dimensions of critique, as Zan was talking about, how you can kind of smuggle in different critique in the context of these other features, in the context of these immersive stories. I'm able to smuggle in a little bit of my own opinion, but being in conversation and dialogue and have it as a conversation because there's lots of different design trade-offs. It's not like there's one thing that you could have done when you're creating an immersive experience. It's also blending in together different dimensions of game-like components from active presence and the film cinematic storytelling, and mood and music from the emotional presence, and then you have the different dimensions of human-computer interaction and choices and the social media from both the social mental presence, and then you have the dimensions of embodiments and environmental design and elements of architecture and theater and dance and contemplative embodied practices. So for me, that's a challenge of trying to understand all these different elements of presence. And then from there, the spatial medium is able to create a context. And then the character that's being revealed through different pressures of the characters being put in situations. And then the story and the different story structures. And so I'll include in this podcast a link that I gave at StoryCon to my framework that I use to be able to understand all these different multidisciplinary fusions of all these design disciplines and storytelling modalities that are all being blended together and fused together. So you can take a look at that as a discussion for how I approach that, as well as going back and listening to episode 1121 with the recap of the 30 different pieces and competition that I did with Paula Weiss, just to have an opportunity to talk about each of the different experiences. And yeah, I guess for me, the challenge is that as I am talking about each of these different pieces, and oftentimes these pieces are not released in a timely fashion, usually when you go to like a film festival, You'll see the film, and it'll come out soon, later that year. There's a way in which the critics can help to either get distribution for that film or open up different opportunities for different markets. Just a bit of a calibration process for the market. But because the distribution is still... there's not very many different stores that are available. There's basically the Oculus Store and the Steam Store. Steam doesn't really handle much immersive stories at all. Viveport is probably the most prolific distributor of a lot of these different immersive stories that are at these different festivals. And then Oculus, they've been so focused on games that a lot of these stories have fallen by the wayside in the way that there's a disconnect between the biggest platform, which is the Metaquest and Oculus ecosystem, but because of the lack of distribution that just creates this fracture where sometimes there'll be a piece that shows here, it'll go on the festival circuit, it may not come out until a year or two later. And so I'm releasing all these different interviews now, but you may not have an opportunity to see that as an audience. And so there's this disconnect between the coverage of these different types of pieces and people that aren't able to actually see them. which creates this larger chicken-and-egg problem for most of the other media that doesn't even cover it at all, and they just don't pay attention to it. It has this weird vacuum of not a lot of discussions or criticism from a cultural context, but some of what I think is the most interesting work that's happening in the XR industry. It's kind of like this weird place that I find myself in, this liminal space of covering this stuff that a handful of people get to see, and that has this huge influence for the shaping of the future of the medium. But yeah, it's difficult to cover, difficult to understand. Not a lot of other people are taking a deep look at it. So yeah, it's kind of like just trying to do my part of witnessing and getting all this stuff out there. And I've got a huge backlog of hundreds of interviews that I've done with these other pieces, and some of them I've released, but again, because of that gap, it creates this weird fracture between how to cover what's new and novel versus it is in the film festival circuit, and then after that, it becomes more widely available. Yeah, I'm trying to do my best as a one-man shop and, you know, independently funded. So, if you do value this work, I should just give a shout-out that I am largely supported by Patreon. And if you want to support this work, then please do support me there. Yeah, just to be a witness to a lot of this work and to also just tell this larger story of this unfolding of this medium over the past eight-plus years now that I've published over 1,100. And I guess this is episode 1,100. 1944 so yeah, and I have lots of other interviews I've already recorded and I want to continue to do that to get out there so hopefully it'll be useful for folks to be able to understand both the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and It's been very helpful for me to help to understand the deeper patterns And I wanted to also just mention that as I go on-site to the different places, there's a way that I'm trying to see everything as fast as possible. And then to do a Twitter thread, to give enough of a spot digest of a piece, you know, 280 characters, and to give a sense of, is this an experience that people want to see or not? Or is this one to be on their radar? And what do I find interesting about the piece? And to try to tell a little bit about that, and all within the context of one tweet. So it's a little bit of an alchemical digestion of, was going to be the thing that is going to help describe what this experience is. There's this real-time element. As people are going to these festivals, there's lots of stuff to see. Oftentimes, more stuff that's available to see than they'll have time to see or just is not available to book and see everything. It's difficult for people to see everything, so there's a need for, as a journalist, to see everything as much as I can, as quickly as I can, and to broadcast out to the larger community, here's what is happening. Here's what you should try to see. That's another function of that real-time coverage versus the more in-depth coverage, which I'm doing 26 interviews and 23 hours of coverage, doing a really deep dive and excavation of all the different insights and forms and the different trends that I see. Yeah. And I just wanted to acknowledge that there was a bit of a conflict, a disagreement and some unsettledness in this conversation that I felt in real time, where there was a bit of miscommunication at one hand. And then on the other hand, there was this thread of a conversation that was talking about issues of gender and transgender and how just because within the context of virtual reality, you're able to choose your gender expression. maybe more fluidly, for me that doesn't necessarily eliminate all other aspects of gender in terms of being able to transcend it, especially when it comes back to your physical representation as well as the larger cultural dimensions of some of these issues as well, especially LGBTQ plus issues. So I just wanted to point that out because it's a very slippery slope just to say, OK, just because you can say, let's say, change your race within VR, all of a sudden that's going to allow us to transcend race. And we've now gone beyond any sort of issues of structural racism. I think there's some parallels there in terms of whether it's race or whether it's gender. There's a difference between an expression of identity and some of the larger cultural context of some of these issues. And I think there was also some legitimate miscommunication that was happening there that was not quite understanding what exactly was said and was left unsettled in the moment. But yeah, I just wanted to address that here in this moment as well, because I understand the larger point, but I also disagree with some of the logical extreme of some of those conclusions. Anyway, this is kind of wrapping up my coverage. I just want to reflect on that, just because it's kind of a unique process that I go through to do all this stuff. There's a dilemma of, I'm able to capture so much more stuff than I'm able to put out, and so it just takes a lot of time. It's a month after the festival now that I'm just now getting out these 20 different interviews, 26 total. But, yeah, it just takes a lot of time and energy to digest and process all the stuff that's happening there. Anyway, hopefully you've been enjoying this drop of 20 plus interviews from Venice immersive And yeah, I'll be going to the if a doc lab and rain dance is coming up I'll be a judge on that and there's also the five hours festival that is having a number of different experiences as well That's coming out So definitely check out 5Rs, check out Raindance, and then IFADOCLAB is the next big event that I'll be at, connecting to the documentary community. Casper Sonnen does a really amazing job of curation there, looking at the bleeding edge of what's next in terms of the emerging forms of documentary and immersive storytelling. Really look forward to seeing the latest selection there at IFADOCLAB. 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 Lister-Soprano podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.