#973: Sundance New Frontier 2021 Sneak Peak + Virtual Film Parties & Gatherings

Sundance New Frontier 2021 features 14 immersive experiences that will be accessible via the $25 Sundance Explorer pass starting on Friday, January 29th until Wednesday, February 3, 2021. The New Frontier site will also be hosting virtual premiere parties on their “Film Party” platform featuring six films at a time within a 3-hour window. This will be a chance for the directors producers of the 71 Sundance films and New Frontier pieces to have their own virtual premiere party throughout the festival. The schedule will be displayed within the Film Party virtual environment, but you can also see it in this PDF of the premiere schedule.

sharifrilotI talk with Shari Frilot, Senior Sundance Programmer and Chief Curator of New Frontier, in order to get a sneak peak of the 14 experiences at Sundance New Frontier 2021, as well as as overview of all of the virtual gatherings & film parties, the New Frontier Gallery Space, and the four virtual cinema house screenings (details below).

There will be a Virtual Film Party Bar that is VR-enabled as well has webcam support where clusters of 8 people will be able to have conversations within an opt-in, audio bubble that needs to be initiated. The capacity will be 250 people, but new instances will be spun up once it reaches capacity. The Film Party premieres for each of the films will be capped at 250 people. All of the New Frontier directors will be having their premiere parties on either Monday, February 1st or Tuesday, February 2nd.

The New Frontier Gallery will also have infinite instances of 250 people, but there will be no webcam support. There will be VR-chat enabled though, and so this will be a great place for the VR community to gather.

There will be an unofficial New Frontier Opening Night Party in the Virtual New Frontier Gallery on Friday, January 29, 2021 at starting at around 7 or 8p PST.

There will also be a virtual cinema showing four films in virtual reality as a part of the Explorer Pass. Capacity is 200 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Here’s schedule for the Virtual Cinema House for Sundance 2021:

  • Friday, January 29, 8 pm MST (7 pm PST) – Documentary Shorts
  • Sunday, January 31, 3 pm MST (2 pm PST) – Station to Station
  • Monday, February 1, 7 pm MST (6 pm PST) – Users
  • Tuesday, February 2, 4 pm MST (3p PST) – Mother of George

Also, for fans of simulation theory, there’s a midnight documentary called A Glitch in the Matrix, which premieres on Saturday, January 30, 2021, 10 pm MST (9 pm PST). Individual movie tickets are $15 each, and there are still tickets available for a number of screenings.

Facebook sent all of the Sundance 2021 directors Oculus Quest 2 headsets, and so these Sundance New Frontier virtual spaces could a really good opportunity to connect and network with the independent filmmaker community.

You can catch all of the other details for Sundance 2021 in my interview with Shari below (or you can also check out No Proscenium Podcast #278 for more context & information from Shari & Active Theory).


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

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So this podcast is going to be trying to give you an overview of all the things that you need to know to be able to participate in the 2021 edition of Sundance. So Sundance, usually you have to travel all the way to Park City, Utah. It's very expensive. And you get to see a bunch of films, but even when you're there, it's hard to get into the films a lot of the times. But I've been going for the last five years in order to get to the Sundance New Frontier. That's where they show all the emerging technologies with augmented reality, virtual reality, different experimentations with spatialized sound, different live performances. And so there's lots of experimentation of looking at what's next. Well, this year of the 2021 edition of the Sundance New Frontier is all virtual. So you just need a $25 Explorer Pass from Sundance and you can get access to all 14 of these experiences. But the other really cool thing about Sundance this year is that the Sundance New Frontier is taking charge of trying to create these virtual spaces to be able to have these after parties and ways to be able to network and connect to people, because a big part of the Sundance experience is the people that are there. And just like Burning Man was able to take an existing culture and start to bring it into the virtual reality, I expect this year that there's going to be lots of people from the film industry that usually go to Sundance are going to be hanging out in some of these different virtual spaces. So it's kind of a unique opportunity for you to go and meet some of these different filmmakers and people from the film industry. And there's going to be a social space. So there's a number of different social spaces that are going to be available. There's going to be a gallery for the New Frontier. There's going to be a film party, like bar area. And then for each of the films, there's going to have a premiere party. After that film is premiered, you can go and actually get access to a ticket. There's still some tickets that are available. They're $15 per ticket. So this is no better chance right now to be able to go see some of the films that usually are at Sundance, but also Shari Freelow as the chief curator of the Sundance New Frontier. I had a chance to talk to her and be able to explore all the different 14 pieces that are going to be featured within the Sundance New Frontier. And we break down all the different performances, augmented reality, WebXR, and all the immersive six degree of freedom experiences that are going to be there at New Frontier 2021. So hopefully this podcast will give you everything that you need to know to be able to navigate the Sundance 2021 and to be able to also participate in other things that are there, including the virtual cinema, which is going to have four different films that are showing there as well. So we'll go into some of the timing of that at the end. And hopefully by the end of listening to this, you'll have everything you need to know to be able to participate in the Sundance 2021. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of The Voices of VR Podcast. So this interview with Shari happened on Friday, January 15th, 2021. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:54.894] Shari Frilot: Well, I'm Shari Frillo. I'm Senior Programmer at Sundance Film Festival and the Chief Curator of New Frontier at Sundance. We kind of got VR going in Hollywood studio for the movie business when we premiered the Oculus technology at our festival in 2013. And we premiered VR technology with Nani de la Peña in 2012.

[00:03:21.030] Kent Bye: Great. So I've been to the New Frontier for the last six years, and I always love coming to the New Frontier. And I remember doing an interview with Milo last year at the end, and there's always this existential dilemma of there's always more people want to see it than you have the capacity to have the ability to see it. With COVID this year, you have a distributed virtual festival with the New Frontier where you're now able to have pretty much anyone in the world can come and see some of these experiences. So maybe you could just give an overview for what people are going to be able to potentially experience with this virtual iteration of New Frontier 2021.

[00:03:58.408] Shari Frilot: Well, when we realized that we had to build the festival and make it available virtually, we basically kind of took everything apart to figure out, well, how are we going to do this? We show this incredibly challenging show that has all kinds of formats. What are we going to do? So we started from ground zero and looked at what we were doing in Park City. We were presenting the work in a building. to people on headsets and computers. And those people had computers and phones. And then we realized the people are now in homes, but they still have headsets and computers and phones. So we realized we were always showing, presenting, and building New Frontier on top of the biodigital continuum. And we would just need to use the computers in people's homes and the headsets in people's homes to present the festival. So once we figured out that we would do that, we would have to find a company, a web developer that will allow us to do that. And we talked to a lot of folks and we ended up, you know, we really just kind of turned to our creative technology community and found Active Theory as a company that had been, they'd been a play at New Frontier before with Chris Milk. and since then have been really active on the bleeding edge of the field, developing websites that are interchangeable with device access and touch points. And they had some really great tools that we really needed because we needed platform for hundreds of people to come together, to be able to talk in the way that we talk via webcam, and to be able to present this really crazy cutting edge work ranging from like single channel works to fully immersive theater experiences. So we built that gallery. We built a gallery and we're presenting 14 works ranging from single channel work to creative browsers on WebXR to immersive VR experiences, AR works, sound installations. And it's all a 250-person gallery that you can go to and experience all these works and meet and talk to other people through proximity audio chat. And it then spins up. If you're the 251st person, it spins up to another room. So it's infinite in that way. Boy, did that solve a lot of problems for us. in terms of access. So we realized, okay, wow, okay, we can do this. If we can do this, we can solve another issue that the main festival was having, which is how are we going to keep our community together? How are we going to bring filmmakers together with the creative technologists? How are we going to bring filmmakers together with their audiences? Where are the photo ops going to be at the festival? And so we realized, OK, let's do this. Let's build another venue for the films to have film premiere parties at the festival. So we created Film Party. And Film Party is another venue that is basically a really large, beautiful bar. And it's got six screens around it. And the way that it works is that when films premiere on the main venue, after their Q&A, the film teams will come to film party and then find the screen that has the photo of their film. So you saw Passing. Passing just world premiered. You come over to film party, there's the photo of Passing. In film party, you can go there, have photo op, and then go into one of the smaller rooms. So it's six screens, and every screen has a smaller room that connects to that screen. And that would be the private party for passing. Now in this phone party venue, there is also webcam proximity chat. So that is to say, if I saw you in avatar and got close to you, I would ask you if you wanted to chat. And you said, yes, I can either talk to you audio wise, or my head in my avatar would turn into my webcam. So my webcam would be an avatar and webcam with a glass of wine with my webcam. But we basically just talking to each other the way that we talk right now as we have been zooming our lives since COVID. So that's film party. Film party is that main bar is 250 capacity, but again, it spins up another instance of the room if the 251st person comes. So it's infinite in that way. The smaller rooms that are specific to the various films are 250 people capacity and it's capped. And what's so exciting about this venue and the whole site is every three hours, there are going to be new films coming on to film party for their film premieres. So it's going to be always vital and teaming with new people, new artists, new community, new conversations throughout the entire festival. And you'll be able to identify the artists on the platform because their avatar has a gold sash.

[00:09:13.578] Kent Bye: Nice. Yeah, well, throughout 2020, there's been a lot of virtual conferences that I've gone to. And most people, when they think about the virtual conference, they think about, okay, here's the talk and we're just going to have a talk and we're going to have it on Zoom and you call it a day. That's the conference. We've achieved the virtual conference. But for me, a lot of the magic of the gathering together face-to-face at these conferences would be those serendipitous collisions that you'd have within the hallways. And what I think is exciting about the approach that you're going to be taking here is that you're going to have a bunch of films, which is going to establish a certain context that people watch that film. Then you're going to have an opportunity for people to go connect with each other on the basis of that film, but also connect to the filmmakers. So just a quick question, because I know that usually when you go to Sundance, there's like all of these films that are happening all at the same time and all these different theaters. Is it pretty much the same where if people wanted to buy tickets, they can buy a ticket to whatever they want to see? Because in the past, it's basically been also a huge constraint in terms of how many people could actually go see. So is there limits to how many people could go see certain caps that you've put on these different films that are showing and introducing that artificial constraint? Or can as many people that you have the capacity to go see these films, can they still go see them and then come into the film party afterwards?

[00:10:29.853] Shari Frilot: So the way that the main festival platform works is that there are caps on those films. Yeah, there are capacities for those film screenings. And you can access those screenings through buying a pass. There's lots of different levels of pass for the film screenings, day passes. You can also buy single tickets. So that's kind of how the films are accessed. Now, with New Frontier, any pass will get you into New Frontier for the entire festival. It's also globally accessible, and it's all on demand. And that pass is called the Explorer Pass. It's $25. So it's really cheap. It's really accessible. So if you go and see a movie with a single ticket, with not a pass, you went to go see Passing with a single ticket, and you wanted to go to the premiere party, you would have to buy an Explorer Pass to access the party. But then you would have access to all the parties, and New Frontier Gallery, and the Cinema House. You could watch films in VR in the Cinema House as well.

[00:11:30.563] Kent Bye: Okay. So the Explorer pass, is that included automatically with some of the passes? I know that when people go to Sundance in the past, they would buy a certain pass and they would just have automatic access to things like new frontier. Is that similar this year where if they've already bought a pass, they may already have access to that.

[00:11:44.810] Shari Frilot: That's right. New frontiers available to all pass holders.

[00:11:49.260] Kent Bye: Okay. So if you bypass and you can go to new frontier, you can go to any of the parties, which I think is for a lot of the different festivals in the absence of having like, here, we're going to have this talk at this time, we have a panel discussion, then it can be a little tricky because you have people from around the world. When do you know when to meet up and when do you go there? And so you have the festival premieres. Do you have any panel discussions or anything else that's going to be happening in terms of talks within the context of these different spaces that you've created virtually?

[00:12:16.375] Shari Frilot: Well, there is a beyond film program on the main platform. That's the panel program and discussions. It'll all take place on the main platform, but there are no panel discussions per se. in New Frontier because of how the chat works. You can talk to eight people at a time, but you can't do like a kind of an overall address. The way that we've dealt with that in terms of making sure that the artists are spotlighted in the gallery, if you go to, let's say, Changing Same portal and you open it up and you can either experience the piece or there's a little button says meet the artists. And that's like a nice 10 to 20 minute chat with the artists so you can see who they are and learn a little bit about their process.

[00:13:03.276] Kent Bye: Okay. I just saw a demo that you walked me through some of the different interface and coming from a VR perspective. My initial take is that some of the rooms that are going to be audio only say the new frontier area, that'd be really good to be in VR because it's probably gonna be a higher fidelity experience to have a webcam on, which in that case, you just are using a 2D interface and that's like the film party. Then you request that you want to talk to somebody. It's similar to how Museum of Other Realities does it so that if you want to enter into the same instance as that person to be able to have a high bandwidth conversation, then you enter into that circle around those people and that up to eight people can talk. In the film party, you could be on your 2D interface and have your laptop or potentially even your cell phone if it's built on WebXR. For me, I think that's a key part of the accessibility of being able to get a diversity of different people that are in that. And that the VR is really adding, if you're in the new frontier, you could have a more fuller embodiment, but you may just have a face of your photo rather than your webcam, which is a little unfortunate that you can't also have like your full face and be in VR at the same time, but you know, you have to choose one or the other.

[00:14:12.117] Shari Frilot: Yeah. Well, a couple of things. The website is not accessible on the phone. It's right now, this is like our 1.0. It's not functional on the phone. It's optimized for a computer and VR. And I think that's a droid observation about what it's going to be like in VR versus the laptop. There's no webcam chat when you're in VR because you're in a headset. But when you're in VR, and you can be in VR in any of these and talk to people who are also on the laptop, your avatar has different functionality. You can move your hands, you can reach out and touch, and your avatar looks just more fluid. And it's definitely worth mentioning that when you're on VR in the New Frontier Gallery, if you can go to the edge of the platform, you will have a phenomenal experience of where these venues are situated, because they're situated to orbit alongside the International Space Station. So you can see the Earth moving below as the venue orbits the Earth, and it's just beautiful.

[00:15:19.010] Kent Bye: Yeah, I listened to the interview that you did with Noah Nelson of No Proscenium, and you had mentioned that Oculus is sending Oculus Quest 2 headsets to all of the Sundance filmmakers, which is exciting because there's a potential that there's going to be a lot of Sundance filmmakers and VR headsets. And so that'll, I think, be quite an opportunity for if they are exploring the extent of meeting with people in VR. that it's actually a very difficult thing to meet and talk to filmmakers when you're at Sundance. I mean, you have to go to the premiere and even then it's very difficult to have access to them. So this, to me, feels like quite an opportunity for people within the VR community if they want to start to network and talk to all these different filmmakers and, you know, start to talk about VR and what they're doing. It feels like there's going to be a lot of really interesting opportunities to connect to the filmmakers in ways that you could never really have access to that before.

[00:16:07.772] Shari Frilot: Yeah, it's huge that Oculus is providing this donation of headsets. It'll be the most headsets that we've ever been able to use to build the New Frontier exhibition. And, you know, we really wanted filmmakers to be able to experience this site in headset as well as on laptop, because in headset, they can see all of the work, the full lineup of New Frontier Gallery works. But we also, as a film festival, we still hold very sacred the magic of cinema on a big screen. And so there is a third venue that we built on New Frontier called Cinema House. And Cinema House is a VR-only venue. where you can go in to a cinema house, 200 seat cinema house, meet with people, talk and have conversations 10 minutes before, and then take a seat and watch movies on this massive screen that's underneath the International Space Station and the planet. It's basically a mock-up of the Egyptian, but the ceiling is windows that look out to the earth and the International Space Station. And so we wanted filmmakers to feel this and to be able to gather in a way that we're unable to gather right now in a cinema house. And of course, there will be a party and film party after these screenings. But these are the places to meet filmmakers, because the filmmakers, they all have the headsets. They all know when these screenings are. And one of them, in fact, has a screening themselves in Cinema House Users by Natalia Almada. So you're absolutely right. And this has always been the goal of New Frontier to expand the cinema culture by hybridizing the creative community and creative practice by bringing the cinematic imaginations of filmmakers together with the creative technologists of our community. When you do that, magical things happen.

[00:18:03.480] Kent Bye: Yeah, I mean, part of the other challenge with these virtual conferences is getting people to really commit to attending. And I feel like part of the magic of Sundance is that you have people that have basically given up all their normal obligations a day to day. I mean, certainly people still have phone calls and whatnot, but more or less people are transported into this other world of Park City and they fully immerse themselves and committing to all of the variety of different experiences that are available. And that to me has been the hardest to recreate. The closest that I've seen in 2020 was Burning Man with trying to have this alt space translation of the Burning Man experience where you could go around all these different things. Here you're essentially talking about these one-off films and to still kind of recreate that feeling of an event that you're there and you're really committed to that full context. And I think the challenge for the virtual editions of that have been, aside from things like Museum of Other Realities, where you could have a seamless experience where you fully commit to the virtual hallway and be able to go in and out of different experiences. The way that the new frontier is set up is that it's a WebXR, but there are some WebXR web-based experiences where I can imagine you could go directly into those. There's some AR, there's some performance, there's some PC-based VR, which means you have to do some sort of download and context switch. But at least there's a meta hallway type of area where if you wanted to go watch these experiences on your own, but then kind of hang out, you could hopefully run into people. And this is always the challenge because you have to have people that commit to go hang out in a room if there's nobody there. And if there's nobody there, then people don't stand there. Then it can be hard sometimes to get a critical mass of people to run into if there's no functional reason to be there. And I think that has been the challenge. And I'm glad to see that the film party is there, but I think there's still the challenge for the New Frontier section of And people are just going to hang out there persistently on their laptop, or are there going to be a crowd there to be able to run into? Cause that's always been the magic of the new frontier is that you're able to watch these experiences, but you've always been able to create this context for people to like connect to each other in a way that feels like. they're already out of time when it comes to this ritual experience of Sundance. And then you go into New Frontier and then you go into all these other adventures and then you have your mind opened up and then you have an opportunity to talk to people. So yeah, that's what I see as the opportunity, but also the challenge is it actually takes a lot of deliberate intention for people to watch all the content and then make time for people to go see these different experiences. So I don't know if the new frontier is also going to have like a film party premiere for each of those, or if there's going to be a schedule of these so that people can make sure that they watch the experience and then go have an opportunity to connect to the creators.

[00:20:42.497] Shari Frilot: Yes, this is a central, like at the heart of what New Frontier is. The reason why we have always built an exhibition around a lounge, around a social space, is because first and foremost, we believe that every work is completed when we have the conversation between us about the work. And so that's why we work with Active Theory because they were able to give us spaces that can fit hundreds of people, but are able to talk to each other. And this is the reason this issue that you're pointing out is the reason why we built Film Party and designed film party in the way that we did in terms of the flow of people. And by the way, one of the screens in film party is dedicated to New Frontier. So then what you have is new people coming on to the platform every three hours and New Frontier has a room for the whole time. There's going to be constant new people. The feature here is the work and the people. The community is one of the main headliners of New Frontier. It's the new film teams, the new business people that are interested in talking to people, new press wanting to cover, new audiences who have seen films, different kinds of films, 70, 71 films. And so what we're hoping to create is a very teeming, vital social environment where you can meet new people throughout the entire stretch of the festival, a reason to come back. There will be specific receptions for new frontier projects on Monday and Tuesday and film party. So that way you can really find the artists and interact with them personally in film party.

[00:22:30.746] Kent Bye: So usually when Sunday, it starts, it usually starts like on a Thursday this year, it's January 28th. When is all these experiences going to be available?

[00:22:38.704] Shari Frilot: It will start on Friday, the 29th, all the way through the 3rd.

[00:22:42.831] Kent Bye: Okay. So people should see all the experiences as much as they can. And then the Monday and Tuesday will be the opportunity to connect to the creators.

[00:22:50.404] Shari Frilot: That's right. Yes.

[00:22:51.742] Kent Bye: Okay. Well, let's talk about the program a little bit. First, let's start with the performances because performances are always like, whenever I go to a conference, that's like, okay, make sure if there's time to performances, know when those performances are and try to get on the list. Because if there's any constraint of that, that's always the hardest thing to see. So let's start like, what are the live performances and are they ticketed or what's the deal with, I think I saw at least two that were flagged as performances.

[00:23:16.910] Shari Frilot: You know, so there are actually three performances. And everything that is on the New Frontier platform, you just have to make an appointment to. Once you have the pass, you don't have to buy a ticket to them. But you do have to show up on time. So Seven Sounds is a live performance, for instance. Seven Sounds by Sam Green. This is a sound performance that he is collaborating with J.D. Sampson, who's my favorite DJ. And you basically just have to show up to the gallery at the time that the performance starts, give yourself enough time to take your fully charged cell phone, to read the QR code, to toss the piece onto your phone. And then they will tell you to take your phone into bed to experience that sound work. Beyond the Breakdown is another performance that's a creative browser work by Grace Lee, Tony Patrick, and Lauren McCarthy. And this is something that you need to make an appointment to do because you go in six people at a time and you enter into a creative browser conversation along with a human AI team that helps everybody on the browser, all the participants to do a world building exercise on what we want our world to be in 2050. And it's very emotional. It's very personal. It's very vulnerable. It's a really beautiful thing to do while you're orbiting the earth. Rich Kids is another performance by Javed Alipour, who is a British theater talent, really formidable. I saw two of his works at the Electric Dreams Festival in springtime and was really struck by Rich Kids, which is a piece that he and his collaborator perform live and ask you to follow along with your cell phone on an Instagram account. that chronicles and tells a story about these insanely rich kids of Iranian military who are doing a lot of confidential stuff. But these kids are like really rich and conspicuously rich and putting all their stuff out there for folks to see. And it's really smart and kind of epically drawn. And then I would say that the final performance is a VR performance space. It's a live theater experience. It's called Tinker by Lou Ward. And in this performance, you need a headset and you go in and others come in with you to kind of observe you being The central character of a drama, you're essentially a child and you're in a crib and you meet your grandfather, who's played by a live actor. And you grow up with grandpa in his workshop, tinkering in his workshop. And as you grow older, grandpa grows older and starts to experience mental failings because he's got Alzheimer's. And it's, this is a very personal work for Lou, really kind of done this homage to his grandfather. It's a really emotional, really sweet, So full of heart, you know, Lou's been working on this project for years now and it always caught our eye. And it's amazing what he's been able to do to be able to present a live theater experience virtually in VR. This is one of the more cutting edge projects to catch up to.

[00:26:36.226] Kent Bye: Okay. So those four pieces, it sounds like people should check in. Are you able to reserve or you just show up or, or you have to make appointments? So how do people make appointments for some of those?

[00:26:47.095] Shari Frilot: So there's a schedule published on the website for Seven Sounds and Rich Kids. With Beyond the Breakdown, when you click onto their project, you will be able to make reservations for their experience, as well as tinker.

[00:27:01.989] Kent Bye: OK. Okay, great. I saw some augmented reality experiences. I know last year there was a augmented reality experience that you could walk around town and see these different dance performances by Gilles Jobin and the years faster has been 10 day are, which has been an augmented reality experience. It's always been like one or two augmented reality experiences though. What's on the AR front this year in terms of things that people may be able to see on their phones?

[00:27:26.674] Shari Frilot: Before I go into telling you what you can see on your phone, I should mention in terms of the performance, there is a documentation of Dynasty Handbag's Weirdo Night. This is on demand, so you can just go and see it. But it's friggin hilarious. It's so funny. And she's the legendary performance artist that had a live night in L.A. called Weirdo Night at the Zebulon. And so when COVID hit, she decided to produce a show with her presenting to nobody. And it's really, really funny. It's like a send up to late night review. Patty Harrison is actually in it. And it's just really hilarious. So, but yeah, to get back to your question about what you can see on phone, there's an AR work that comes to us from the National Board of Canada and Atlas 5 called Fortune. And this is a piece, it's a really fun, lighthearted animation documentary about a counterfeiter that you will be able to read a QR code on your phone to toss it to your phone and you will have it after the festival to show anybody. But it's also a set of Snapchat filters as well. So they're looking to expand the world, the story world of money and the value of money into Snapchat and the filters there.

[00:28:49.213] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that Nadia Lopena a number of years ago started to do some experimentations with WebXR and web-based platforms. And I saw that there was some experiences this year that were also WebXR or web-based, which I was excited to see just because, you know, as we're all virtual and going distributed, then there's a lot of frontiers for really fleshing out what the potential for using the web as a distribution platform might be. So maybe you could talk a bit about some of the web-based experiences that are going to be here at New Frontier this year.

[00:29:17.208] Shari Frilot: Yeah. Well, there are three projects, I believe. Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler is a really interesting creative browser built on WebXR, where when you open it up, your laptop screen turns into a kind of primordial pool. It's undulating. And if you mouse through that pool, you will start to find the artists' names. And when you click on those artists' names, it will bring up another window that presents various kinds of work. Like Terrence Nance has a radio broadcast. You know, Sophia Lee has a short film. Idris Brewster has a really cool web AR radio player, I would call it. But really what it is, it's these islands with domes around the islands. People are on the islands. And if you zoom into the bubbles, those domes, music plays. And that's in another separate window. So really, you can move around the traveling, this piece, listening to Idris's music while experiencing different works inside of this work. Stephanie Dinkins' work is also on WebXR. It's called Secret Garden. And it's a spatialized installation, essentially. that features a garden, and six black women are in this garden. Six black women from different times of, it's kind of like a time capsule. There's a woman who's a slave, there's a woman who's living in New York in the 20s, somebody who's in a suburb in the 50s, there's a professor, there's a AI woman that's based on black women. And the closer you get to them, they tell you their stories, and you're meant to move around in the space and meet these women, and the way that she's edited their narratives build upon each other. So you have this kind of continuous story of Black women across time. And this piece, if the health regulations permit, will also be presented at the Onyx Studio, New Museum's new studio in Midtown in New York. And they will be projecting exactly the same thing that we will be projecting in the gallery in space. So there's like that really nice biodigital continuum presentation there.

[00:31:33.218] Kent Bye: You said there was one more that was a web-based one.

[00:31:35.441] Shari Frilot: Well, the web-based is also the beyond the breakdown that I mentioned. That's a performance that's also web-based.

[00:31:42.108] Kent Bye: Okay. Yeah. And so maybe let's get into the VR headset experiences. Maybe you could just talk a bit about what people can expect with downloading these different binaries and be able to actually jump into six degree of freedom VR or 3DOF VR. I saw that there was at least one 360 video piece that was four feet, which premiered at Venice back in 2019, showed at Sundance 2020, but maybe just talk about some of the experiences that we're going to be having available for the VR experiences.

[00:32:09.978] Shari Frilot: Yeah, Four Feet High is the 360 experience that's in the lineup. They've been developing that project over the course of the years, as you pointed out, and they finally finished it. And what was the big surprise for us is that not only did they come to us with the world premiere of the final episode of the VR series, they also had a full series for television that was different. and complementary to the VR series. And so we select the VR projects, and then we have another separate team that selects the indie episodic. And they fell in love with Four Feet High. So this is actually the first project that has been featured at Sundance in two separate sections of the festival. So it's kind of a historic moment. And it's really, really, really great. Oh, yeah.

[00:32:56.252] Kent Bye: I was able to talk to the team at Venice and they were talking about how they got funding to do basically the, I guess, four VR episodes and then a whole other like five or six 2D versions. And so they were kind of shooting it at the same time and they were able to get it all shot as I understood before all of the COVID lockdown started. So they had all of this footage that they've been working on. So that's great that that's also going to be available. If people like the VR version, then they can potentially also get a ticket to see the whole premiere of the entire episodic series as well.

[00:33:24.481] Shari Frilot: Yeah, yeah, it's great. The rest of the lineup, I've already mentioned Tinker as a performance that is also a VR project. The other projects are really amazing. I mean, you know, Kent, when we first started putting this together, we were very nervous about not getting anything, you know, with the COVID lockdowns. And so in anticipation, we condensed our program and then the submissions didn't go down. We got just as many submissions as we ever got. And so the quality of the program this year is incredibly high. And so we're really excited to bring these projects. So To Miss the Ending is a project that I found at the London Film Festival Expanded, which was a tremendous program. And this is the project that won that prize there. So it's a British project that is personalized and lets you live next to a river that is constantly changing. and developing. And there's companies and buildings that are being built around this river. The river disappears, the environment degradates and becomes hazardous. And the people who you're living with on this river that used to be a river, now you're faced with how are you going to survive? There's the option of uploading your memories, uploading your consciousness presents itself. And it's really a beautiful, really powerful, very intelligent experience that really examines, you know, what is the worth of memories? You know, what does it mean if we have to do this? What does it mean to being human? Time capsules are something in the lineup. I've mentioned to you Secret Garden, To Miss the Ending is a time capsule. Another one is called The Changing Sane, which is a VR project by Michelle Stevenson and Joe Brewster. the father of Dries Booster, by the way. We've got a family in New Frontier this year. It's the first time. This is the beginning of an episodic series, a six-doc project, that is really looking at the living history of racial terror in the US. In this episode, you're a black man on a suburban street. You're just walking around. It's really beautiful. It's peaceful. And then all of a sudden, you're taken in by a police. And you're taken to jail. And as you're walking through the jail, the history of the jail, history of slavery converges upon your journey. this is the beginning of a number of works that they're building to really have the audience experience not only the trauma of racism today, but its roots, its living roots in our history. And as you experience a track toward a post-racial utopia. It's intense, it's also really respectful, and it's really vital in today's environment. Prison X is a project by Violeta Ayala that comes to us from Bolivia. And this is a native vision that's really, I've never seen anything quite like it. It's a kind of meta narrative where you get to play this kid Inti who got busted trafficking cocaine and got sent to prison. And then you're going to prison and you're meeting the people in the prison. So like really wild characters in the prison. Some of them are deities. And, you know, you really kind of like come away with the profound power of setting the narrative and controlling the narrative. Super smart. Namu is the newest piece that's coming out of the Baobab Studios. We're really happy to have them back at the festival. They're so great. You know, their stories are so beautiful and accessible and vital. And this is a piece about a little boy who grows into an old man. And it's all next to a tree that holds the baggage of all the different phases of life. And it's just beautiful and moving and emotional and gorgeous experience. There's a piece that's from Poland that we're really excited about. It's called Nights. It is not really a story. It is an erotic poem. It's an experience. And I would actually suggest people turn on a fan before they go into headset so that they can experience the full force of what this is. Because you're in the headset and you meet this blue figure that if you touch it, your controllers will give you a haptic relationship with this being. And they use ASMR, which is actually a part of the Polish language, and they really inch it up so that the sounds get inside of your skin. So it's a very sensual experience, nights. That is a piece from Poland that I think this first time we've had a chance to showcase work from that country at New Frontier.

[00:38:21.797] Kent Bye: Wow. That's really exciting. That's a really good overview of everything. I'm really excited to check everything out. The one thing that I'm struck with this year at New Frontier is that all the pieces are using what's essentially mundane, commercially available XR technologies. Whereas a lot of times when I go to New Frontier, you have all these cutting edge, like bone conductance speakers and weird haptic devices and really elaborate installations that require people to be co-located in the same place. But this year going virtual means that a lot of these experimentations have to be more of pushing the limits of what the existing technology is without relying upon any extra stuff. And I know that that's always been a little bit of a blocker when it comes to say previous years, taking new frontier virtual, because it just wouldn't make sense. A lot of the stuff you wouldn't be able to even have the same type of experience if you didn't have all these extra hardware. So I'm excited to see both an experimentation this year that you're starting to experiment. What's it mean to go virtual and make these things more accessible, but also moving forward when at some point we do get over this, if we do, when I'm hoping that we do at some point in the future where we have gatherings again, and we don't just have everything virtual all the time, but just to find out how there's a balance between having a section of the program that continues to be made available virtually, and even in what happens with Sundance, if there's success enough with this model to be able to replicate different aspects of that to make it more accessible. It's too soon to be able to tell for sure, but I'm hoping that at the end of the festival, at least we can see some lessons learned to build this out in the future, to think about this as a distribution platform and how to continue to evolve and iterate on that and to make these experiences that are so amazing, more widely available for people to see them.

[00:40:11.854] Shari Frilot: Well, certainly now that I realize all these years building New Frontier in Park City, that I was actually taken for granted half of the hardware that was in our venues, I'll never do that again. I'm definitely going to engage people where they're at. And our reality is in our homes. Our reality are in installation and buildings together when we come together. That's our reality. But it's not going to stop the fact that we go back home and that we're always on our devices that are networked to each other. That is our reality. And that's where New Frontier needs to address and sit on. And really, now that we know we can build it that way, I don't see going back and not doing that. Hopefully, you know, we'll be able to have the means to continue building on the biodigital terrain in a full way in this way. And, you know, in a certain way, what was happening with AMC and the theaters in our art house culture, you know, being endangered by COVID, by the studio system, really inspired us to build Cinema House, you know, to really kind of keep close to what we got into this to begin with, the magic of the cinema experience. And so we're keeping that flame alive in the hopes that it will continue to show and shine importance on the experience of seeing movies on a big screen together so that our art houses can thrive and continue on the other side. Hopefully we'll be there when we come out of this COVID. And, you know, we've been talking about this a couple of years with the rising of streamers and them going into partnerships with our filmmakers and listening to our filmmakers having great experience, you know, getting budgets to make movies that they want. And then they're streaming. They're like, whoa, where's our audience? I don't know who the audience is. I've not seen them. If you're not in a theater, you don't know where your audience is. And that's why we built Film Party, so that filmmakers can see their audience, talk to their audience. And this is a vital thing that we're trying to address that's on the landscape. It's a need. And I do hope that we can continue to either do this or provoke somebody to do it so that filmmakers can be with their audience and keep our cinema culture healthy and alive.

[00:42:27.603] Kent Bye: I know that each year you write a mission statement, kind of reflecting upon things. And I know previously you've talked about the biodigital continuum, which has been a theme that you've mentioned here today, but just curious to hear a little bit about what you were able to set the deeper context for this gathering as you reflecting upon both the quality of the moment of this time with the pandemic, but also with going virtual in this way. But yeah, just curious to hear other thoughts that you had as you were reflecting and putting together that statement this year.

[00:42:57.795] Shari Frilot: I mean, you know, ever since we were all locked down around the world, you know, I watched human society change fundamentally all at once. Like within two weeks, we learned how to live differently, different lives, different habits, different priorities. You know, I've watched myself moved from a person who traveled all the time, didn't travel anywhere and making friends with my neighbors for the first time, you know, spending time at home that I never got to spend, you know, and it changed me. And I know that everybody has that story, whether it's spending time at home all the time or doing essential work. and having that work be recast within the context of COVID, we all watched ourselves gain a different consciousness all around the world. And this is a momentous moment for our species, given the fact that we are also facing climate change. Climate change is more important than COVID in terms of how it is affecting, you know, we live through the fires in LA. You know, I was almost choked to death with the fires. I was living right next to them. You know, I'm in Portland. You felt it too. This year got us to really think differently and act differently. And I wanted to build a venue so that we can actually take these things to heart. to really feel the gravity of what we have endured this year. And as we continue on, taking on the challenge of climate change, what does it mean? And that's why I wanted to put New Frontier, it's another reason why I wanted to put New Frontier next to the satellite, beyond the fact that we actually are in a satellite, like quite physically, we were coming from that satellite, to put us on the satellite, to put us in orbit around our earth, our home, this miracle, this cosmic miracle, to really consider our life on Earth in a space of art. Not in the space of conquest and space conquest, but of art. And to really kind of reconsider and hold our festivals close to us as we think about our life on Earth and what can we bring back to Earth. Astronauts, when they go to space, they come back with a totally different perspective. And I felt like after this year, we all have a totally different perspective on what it is to experience life on Earth. And I'm hoping that the seven days of the festival, spending time next to the International Space Station above the Earth, we can come back from that experience enriched by the artistic works and films of the festival and bring something new back to our life on Earth.

[00:45:53.174] Kent Bye: Hmm. Great. And, uh, and finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of immersive technologies and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:46:06.381] Shari Frilot: Well, you know, I I've always, the reason why I was drawn to film in the first place is it's transformative effect. it's the ability to transcend boundaries of my body. You know, like I shared with the filmmakers the other day in our orientation, they asked us to talk about the film that got us into this business in the first place. And for me, it was my parents accidentally brought me to go see Satyricon. And I'd never felt in my body the way that I did after watching the movie. My biochemistry was off the charts. I was seeing things in a new way and I was just moved in this way that I'd never felt before. And that's the power of cinema. That's the power of storytelling. And as our society is using the moving image, the role of the moving image is it's shifting from like a passive experience that really works on your biochemistry. It moves from that to being a language of how we actually communicate to one another. It's taken on a different audience engagement. And what's great about VR and these XR technologies is that it brings the immersion back into the cultural experience. And it brings brand new qualities of transcending our limitations. to be able to scale our smaller existence, to connect with other people, to be able to feel and experience places and things that it's physically impossible for us to go. It's physically impossible for us to go and party next to the International Space Station. But through VR and through these technologies, we're able to do it. And we get something from that. I'm still in it for the same reasons. It's that transformative effect that storytelling as it merges with technology can scale our existence. And if there's any time that we need to scale our small existence and what we see in our backyard is right now facing climate change.

[00:48:12.660] Kent Bye: Great. Is there anything else that's left and said that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[00:48:18.215] Shari Frilot: Well, I guess the only thing that I would say is when you come to New Frontier, take photos. This is live. It's a one-time experience. You know, when they gave me the link to the platform, I was like, Oh my God, this is amazing. I started like taking screenshots and littering my desktop with all these photos. I was like, Oh my God, I have to clear my my desktop and I started throwing them away and I realized, oh my God, I just threw away something that could never regain. That was the record of the festival. And so I would encourage people to take photos when you're on there, take photos of you and your friends, take photos of the celebrities that you might meet, take photos of the moment and keep them because these are the festival records. You'll never see this again. You'll never be in that place again. It's the reason why photography was important. So screenshots, New Frontier is going to be just as important to capture and save your festival experience.

[00:49:13.331] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yeah. And the Explorers Pass are $25. Is there going to be any limits to how many of those are made available? Are they going to sell out?

[00:49:20.740] Shari Frilot: No, it's infinite because New Frontier, those venues are primarily infinite. Some of them are limited, but, you know, it's 250 people at a time. And if you're the 251st, it'll spin up another room and you can bring your friends.

[00:49:34.817] Kent Bye: Okay. Yeah. So $25 for the Explorer pass, get access to all the new frontier. You can also buy individual tickets if those are available by passes. And it's a lot cheaper this year to attend Sundance, all things considered how much it usually costs to travel to park city and all the accommodations, you know, it's a steal to be able to. buy a headset and get into VR and be able to experience all this stuff rather than traveling and still have access to the people there. So I'm excited to see this year's edition. I think each year there's always these mind-blowing innovations that are happening within immersive storytelling and just really appreciate what the artists are doing. And I think that what you've been able to do, really listening to the artists and following the artists and being able to, in some ways, get a sense of where the larger culture is going to be going in the future. Anyway, Sarah, thanks again for joining me here on the podcast and yeah, I look forward to seeing you here in the metaverse on all the different virtual spaces here at the Sundance New Frontier.

[00:50:27.033] Shari Frilot: Yeah, likewise, Kent. Thanks again for having us. It's always such a pleasure to talk to you.

[00:50:31.179] Kent Bye: So that was Shari Frillo. She's the chief curator of the Sundance New Frontier. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, I'm super excited to see this edition of the Sundance New Frontier. Like I said, in previous years, I've gone for the last five years. This will be my sixth straight year. It's always got a lot of really innovative experimentations when it comes to the future of immersive storytelling. And I'm just excited that a lot of this program is going to be widely available for folks to be able to experience. And WebXR is a big trend, I'd say, you know, with being able to actually show some of these experiences with the web technologies and find the affordances of these, what I'd say is a new distribution platform that I haven't necessarily seen a lot of experimentations with WebXR. I think Nani Del Pena, a couple of years ago, had a piece that was more of a platform rather than an immersive storytelling piece. And I know that Chris Milk has done some experimentations with music videos, but just as a platform, that's going to be something new to check out. There's augmented reality pieces. And yeah, generally I'd say that what I expect is that there's gonna be ways for people to go see all the different immersive experiences. I think there's gonna be a little bit of an informal party on that initial Friday night. That's usually when the Sundance New Frontier party is. There's actually gonna be a screening in the virtual cinema that's happening on that Friday at around 7 p.m. Pacific or 8 p.m. Mountain. There's a documentary shorts, which are the shorts program that would normally show in Sundance. But if you haven't explored our past, you can be one of the first 200 people in the virtual cinema and be able to see that. And then on Sunday, they're showing station to station at 2 p.m. Pacific or 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, which is not a Sundance feature. It's like a film that showed there previously. And Users is one that I'm really actually excited to see. That's on Monday, February 1st at 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. And then on Tuesday, February 2nd, there's a film called Mother of George. It's going to be at 4 p.m. Pacific. Those are the four different films that are showing in the virtual cinema. One of the other films that I'm really excited to see is this film called A Glitch in the Matrix. It's a midnight documentary covering simulation theory. The premiere is on Saturday, January 30th, 2021. at 9 p.m pacific or 10 p.m mountain time so i've got a ticket to that and it's very difficult to get access to sundance tickets but there's still some available so now's the time if you want to actually get access to some of the tickets to see the movies go to that first and as the new frontier opens up there's going to be a number of different performances my recommendation is to try to see if you can get on the list for those first and then try to see all the other stuff by that monday and tuesday is the time when all of the Sundance new frontier directors are going to have their premiere slots within the film party context. And so there's going to be the virtual bar of film party. That's infinite number of different instances. That's where you can have either a webcam or you go up to people and you create an audio bubble, which allows eight different people to be able to have conversation at the same time. and then you have to look at the schedule to see what the premiere times are for the films to be able to see roughly when their schedule is going to be for the film party premiere their party that goes off in a screen that's linked from the bar that's going to be in the film party they're going to have one instance of 250 people. So you have to either get in or not get in. And then there's going to be like a three hour window when that film party is going to have. So imagine that's going to maybe start when the film actually shows. So you can obviously be watching it, there's a q&a that's going to be on YouTube afterwards. So after the q&a, then there's going to be this migration into the film party. So hopefully that's enough of a flow for people that may be involved in creating the film. Maybe they'll be hanging out there at their premiere party. But if you want to have an opportunity to be able to connect to different people, that's one of the big things about Sundance is to get into the party. And so this is like a public party for the filmmakers to have an opportunity to be able to connect to their audiences. And I imagine that they're going to want to hear some feedback. And so probably a good recommendation is that for whatever films that you actually have tickets to, to go see the film and then go hang out and be able to have more of an intimate one-on-one conversations with not only the directors, but other people that were there to be able to get some insights into the experiences. The New Frontier Gallery does not have webcam enabled, which means that's actually going to be a really good place for you to be in virtual reality because there's not going to have a higher bandwidth way of having a webcam. I imagine that most people that are in the film party bar as well as in the screenings are going to be maybe in these 2D interfaces but because Oculus sent every director these VR headsets you may have some of the filmmakers that are like experimenting around with being in virtual reality and being able to have their full embodiment of these avatars to be able to express themselves and they may just be experimenting as well. I also expect to see just a lot of the different filmmakers kind of going and just checking out the new frontier for the first time when usually there's so much that's going on for some of these filmmakers that it can be difficult for them to make some time. I imagine that may be similar though. They're usually booked from the beginning to the end with doing different media and different interviews, but hopefully they'll take some time to be able to actually dive into all the different immersive spaces that are made available here. And it is on the International Space Station perspective, so you're kind of flying along the International Space Station and you see the Earth below you. It's also quite an impressive environment as well, all built on WebXR, available through PC as well as VR headsets. I haven't had a chance to actually try it in VR, so I don't know, like in terms of performance-wise, how well it holds up, but I'm looking forward to being able to actually check that out as well. And also I just got really excited about hearing all the different experiences that are going to be at this Sundance New Frontier. I've found that the more that I know about the overarching story of all the different pieces, that it helps me to just get really hyped up and want to go experience everything as quickly as I can. In this case, there's only like six full days of the Sundance New Frontier that are going to be available from that Friday, January 29th up until that following Wednesday, February 3rd. And so it's only six days to be able to see all this different stuff. There's only 14 experiences, but there's lots of other films and other stuff that is going on as well. I'm really excited to see how this goes out. It's a bit of an open question as to see whether or not there's going to be a bit of a momentum for people kind of hanging out. The film party bar is probably the one place since an infinite number of instances and it kind of be a hallway type of environment and context for people coming in and maybe going into one of the premiere parties for one of the films. But a big thing about Sundance is to be able to be on the bus and hear what the buzz is and what people are talking about and what they're seeing. And so hopefully they'll be able to get people who want to recreate that aspect of the Sundance, but it is going to take a little bit of deliberate intention for them to be able to come in here. The only place to be able to get the schedules for all those premiere parties is, you can look at the schedule and kind of extrapolate, but the actual schedule is going to be in that new Frontier spot. So the schedule will be there to be able to know when these different parties are. And the new Frontier Gallery, I think, is also going to be a potential hub for the immersive XR community to be able to be hanging out. But a lot of the different XR experiences, you're going to have to be able to download onto your computer, which means that, you know, once you get the binaries and everything downloaded, you'll probably be offline going through all those different experiences. But if you do want to just kind of hang out generally in a place to be able to talk to other people attending, then hopefully the Sundance New Frontier Gallery will be a place where people are just generally hanging out, where you'll be able to run in both to some of the filmmakers and some other people that are attending but that Monday and Tuesday are going to be the days in which that all of the different New Frontier filmmakers for sure will be there but hopefully like I said the opening night that Friday that's probably going to be a good time to have an unofficial opening party for the Sundance New Frontier. I'm going to be there hanging out after seeing a bunch of the experiences over the course of that day and trying to meet up with other people within industry so Yeah, hopefully just generally, there's going to be some opportunities for you to, to be in these spaces. The big existential challenge with having these social gatherings within these virtual spaces is that unless there's a specific time that you're going, then it can have this ghost town effect where no one's there. You go in there and there's no one there and you kind of have to like stand there and then you have to see these different conversations. And so hopefully there'll be other people that are also just milling about and being able to connect to each other and. there'll be the hallway type of experience within Sundance. And so yeah, from all my experiences of other virtual conferences, that's the sort of dilemma is that sometimes it just takes people like, if you do want to meet up with people, I'd recommend going and just meeting up in those spaces so that with other people come along and then you can start to connect to other folks as well. So. Anyway, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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