New Technology Immerses Audiences At Sundance Film Festival

Jan 26, 2015
Originally published on January 27, 2015 11:14 am
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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And today in All Tech Considered, the cutting edge of storytelling. At the Sundance film Festival this year, there's a section called New Frontier. It's devoted to virtual reality - experiences that make you feel like you're suddenly transported to another place. NPR's Mandalit del Barco is in Park City, Utah, checking things out.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Creators at Sundance's New Frontier showcase are demonstrating what they call immersive experiences. They put on virtual reality goggles and headphones and it's like you're physically in a movie. You can run through a leafy forest. You can walk through epic natural environments or escape giant attacking Japanese monsters.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIRTUAL REALITY GAME)

DEL BARCO: One of the most popular projects at New Frontier is called Birdly, a flight simulator for the 21st century. You get to be a bird. I try it out, stretching face down on what's sort of like a horizontal massage chair. My hands are strapped into paddles to flap my wings, rising and diving, soaring through the sky like a hawk.

Woah. So I'm flying over downtown San Francisco right now. You can see all the buildings. There's a bird flying right next to me, oh, my God.

A fan blows the wind into my face and hair and through the goggles I'm in the sky.

This is kind of scary. Birdly is headed up by Max Rheiner at the Zurich University of the Arts.

MAX RHEINER: Flying is of course one of the oldest dreams of the humans, so we try to incorporate this kind of feeling and experience of flying simulator like you do when you're dreaming.

DEL BARCO: Other installations are more like nightmares. One computer-generated project by former journalist Nonny De La Pena puts you on the streets of Syria as it gets bombed. Another project by performance artist Oscar Raby places you in front of a scene his father witnessed in 1973 during the regime of Augusto Pinochet, a mass execution of 15 prisoners.

OSCAR RABY: This is Santa Lucia Hill. Right on this spot. My father was an Army officer in part of the military dictatorship in Chile.

At my father was an Army officer. When I was 16 years old he told me the story of that day.

DEL BARCO: Raby says in this piece he hopes to reflect on and even revise history. Last summer his father tried it out.

RABY: When he finished he took the mask off, he looked at me very seriously and told me you changed it and then he hugged me, and I realize that he meant that I changed the memory of that day. I gave him another version of the same day.

DEL BARCO: Shari Frilot is a senior programmer for Sundance. She curated the New Frontier program and says this intersection of real life and virtual reality is meant to spark conversations.

SHARI FRILOT: To let v.r. break through our tribal lizard brains (laughter) and tap into something that is really vulnerable. So when we take those goggles off, you know, we're in an elevated state of consciousness, you know. I don't know how else to say it, and then we can offer that to one another.

DEL BARCO: Most of these projects are still in the developmental stage, though at least one will be for sale this spring. That is a virtual reality game based on the Iranian revolution of 1979.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIRTUAL REALITY GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) We can for change on this brutal and illegal regime.

DEL BARCO: This game is a creation of Navid Khonsari. He worked on big video games like "Grand Theft Auto" and "L.A. Noir," so he as a strong sense of how to create cityscapes. In this game, you're placed in the midst of street protests and you go through a tough interrogation. Khonsari says he wanted to create empathy for the people who live through this.

NAVID KHONSARI: I really believe if you can spend time in another person shoes you have a greater understanding for their experiences and that's certainly part of our goal here.

DEL BARCO: But the true test of these virtual reality projects will be whether people will actually want to pay money to experience any of this. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.