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SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime screenshot

Spheres Wins Best Virtual Reality Award At Venice Film Festival

Guest writer Kate Parkinson was at Venice VR for the world premiere of Eliza McNitt’s three-part virtual reality project.
Over the last week you’ll likely be aware that VRFocus has been covering all the news related to immersive experiences coming out of this year’s Venice Film Festival.  Now the festival has revealed the winners of its annual awards, with Eliza McNitt’s interactive virtual reality (VR) experience Spheres securing the top prize.
SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime screenshot“I’m truly honoured to receive the award,” McNitt said in a statement. “It’s remarkable to experience the oldest film festival in the world embrace the newest forms of storytelling.”
Spheres is a three-part series which takes viewers on a journey through space, discovering the sounds and the songs of the cosmos. The first chapter, Chorus of the Cosmos, narrated by Millie Bobby Brown turns the solar system into an instrument of sounds, inviting the viewer to play and listen to the planets as they sing. It made its debut at Venice this year. Jessica Chastain narrated the second chapter, Songs of Spacetime, about black holes and gravitational waves which premiered at Sundance in January.
The final part, Pale Blue Dot, on the origin of sound from the Big Bang is narrated by Patti Smith and debuted at Tribeca earlier this year.  All three episodes were shown together for the first time at Venice VR.
In a joint statement, Venice VR curators Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac said, “Spheres is an amazing VR experience that succeeds in blending thorough scientific discoveries with the most spectacular immersive rendering.”
Awards also went to Chuck Chae for The Nut Job spin-off Buddy VR, which shrinks users to the size of a mouse (see VRFocus‘ recent interview with developer Red Rover here) and Benjamin Nuel for Isle of the Dead, inspired by the painting of the same title by Arnold Böcklin.

Buddy VR

For the second year running, Venice Film Festival dedicated an entire island to the world’s best virtual reality experiences. Lazzaretto Vecchio, or VR island as it’s become known, featured 30 world or international premieres.
“Venice is the only festival in the world that is treating VR in this way,” said Rosenthal. “We have an official section with a jury and it is curated and exhibited in a beautiful way that gives an appetite to audiences.”
While the Venice Film Festival came under fire this year for only having one female film director competing for the Golden Lion top prize, on VR island there was a more balanced gender divide and many of the standout pieces were directed by women.
Alongside Spheres, notable experiences included Make Noise by May Abdalla where participants use the power of their voice to smash through the barriers faced by suffragettes during their fight to win the vote for women. Awavena, by VR pioneer Lynette Wallsworth, takes viewers deep into the Amazon on an ayahuasca journey, telling the story of the first Yawanawá woman to become a shaman. Umami by Landia Egal and Thomas Pons puts users into the body of a man on death row as he relieves his life through a series of Japanese dishes. And Home After War: Returning to Fear in Fallujah by Gayatri Parameswaran takes viewers into the home of a real Iraqi family who had been displaced by war but decide to return, even though entire neighbourhoods had been booby trapped by improvised explosive devices.
“Out of thirty projects in competition, twelve were directed by women,” said Rosenthal. “Our selection reflects the large number of exceptionally talented women who are working in the VR space.”

As we’ve seen in the last two years especially, film festivals are taking VR much more seriously now as a creative medium. As VR’s impact increases VRFocus will continue to bring you all the news regarding developments.

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