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Venice Immersive explores the Metaverse as a new Artistic Medium

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“RENCONTRES” by Mathias Chelebourg

The Venice international film festival is a chance to explore, revel and immerse oneself in different realities, to escape and explore through the big screen. Well, this year festival-goers will be able to take escapism one step further.

Venice and Virtual Reality

On a small island, just a short water shuttle ride from the main festival headquarters on the Lido, visitors can step into the metaverse. They can play games, or “world hop” with a tour guide, dress up in costume with background dancers, or even help Coco Chanel develop her Chanel No. 5 perfume.

From the 1st-10th of September, we get an in-person glimpse of the future of storytelling in a program curated by Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac. The aim is to showcase what the future holds for virtual storytelling and the new mediums open to film makers and the public.

@michelreilhac and @LizRosenthal
Michel Reilhac and Liz Rosenthal@michelreilhac and @LizRosenthal

“It’s the biggest edition we have ever done,” Rosenthal said.

Virtual Reality at the film festival has evolved over the last two years since the Covid-19 Pandemic struck and forced the event to go virtual for a while. So for this grand return to the Lazzaretto Vecchio, Venice VR Expanded is getting a rebrand.

Dubbed “Venice Immersive”, the focus is less on the “tech” aspect and more on the creative possibilities virtual or expanded reality can offer. At least 75 in-person projects, 5000sqm of exhibition place devoted to 360° videos, XR works, installations, virtual worlds or even live performances. Of the 43 projects, only some require a VR headset, a veritable buffet of creativity.

“We did not want to focus on one technology like VR, but to try to represent all kinds of different ways of offering an immersive experience,” Reilhac said.

Venice Immersive is one of the duos most ambitious challenges since they began co-curating the festival’s side event in 2017. Giving tours to small groups to explore virtual worlds, also known as “world hopping”, people can hang out, go to beaches or forests or even science fiction places, and do various activities. And film makers have not hesitated to make use of this new medium to exercise their talents.

A new medium full of promise

Chosen to showcase the promises of the new art form is “Framerate: Pulse of the Earth,” one of the multi-screen installations on display focused on changing landscapes and made with 3D scanning technology.

To experience “Framerate,” audiences enter a dark room where they’re surrounded by screens that act as “holographic portals” into vast scenes, like a 200-foot cliff eroding and crumbling into the sea over a year or a forest transforming across 12 months. You can stand anywhere in the room, move about and choose what to focus on, whether it’s the cliff or a single pebble.

Matthew Shaw and William Trossel
Framerate: Pulse of the Earth”Matthew Shaw and William Trossel

Matthew Shaw is the director of “Frame Rates”. The work is the final result of painstaking labour and lots of trial and error. For more than a year, he and his team faced the challenge of capturing scenes daily, in Norfolk and Glasgow and coming up with the technology to help create his masterpiece. The aim of the installation is to show the alterations to the planet caused by nature and human-led industry.

“We don’t just make art works,” Shaw said. “We build the tools to make them work as well. It wasn’t just can we 3D scan something on the scale of the landscape, but can we scan it while it moves?”

Shaw is just one of the pioneers of the new immersive art forms on display at the festival. Another high-profile project is Mathias Chelebourg’s “Rencontre(s),” featuring the voice of famous French actress, Marion Cotillard.

In a “multi-sensory haptic experience,” the viewer get to step back in time to 1921, into the shoes of Gabrielle, “Coco” Chanel as she and Ernest Beaux create the famous and celebrated Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Mathias Chelebourg
Excerpt from RENCONTRESMathias Chelebourg

If this doesn’t pique the visitor’s interest, they can jump into an interactive VR game set in 1920s England inspired by the television show “Peaky Blinders,” featuring the voice of the one and only Cillian Murphy, or as fans of the show know him, Tommy Shelby.

Russell Harding, Tim Jones
Excerpt from PEAKY BLINDERS: THE KING’S RANSOMRussell Harding, Tim Jones

Other installations are prone to more serious topics such as “Stay Alive My Son,” in which the player steps into the shoes of a Cambodian genocide survivor.

Victoria Bousis
Excerpt from TU VIVRAS MON FILSVictoria Bousis

Both Reilhac and Rosenthal hope that cinema lovers at the festival venture over to Immersive Island to try out some of the experiences. They hope to bring immersive arts to a whole new level and have it become an artform in its own right.  

At the moment, “there is no real market for immersive arts,” Reilhac said. The creators at Venice are doing it out of passion and curiosity. But he thinks that could change.

“It’s the birth of a new art form and possibly a new industry,” he said.