For anyone even slightly prone to emotions, the New Frontier at Sundance this year was a roller coaster in all the best ways. Last year the big buzzword at Sundance for VR was “immersive storytelling” this year I’d like to replace that catch phrase with “storytelling with all the feels” because I cried through my entire first day at the Festival.
It’s not hard to imagine how creativity in VR combined with even an ounce of soul could be emotionally encompassing, but this year we saw those expectations exceeded in new ways.
In an interview with Saschka Unseld, Creative Director of Oculus Story Studio about his latest piece Dear Angelica, he told us,
In a way the stories we tell, shape the world and the people who watch them. That legacy, and that importance of the kind of stories we tell was something that was to me really important.
And it seems that many creators this year shared his same vision developing experiences meant to impact the viewer in a meaningful way. In fact, it was hard to interview any artist of a VR drama without getting a teary-eyed reaction when they talked about the purpose behind their work.
So without further ado, here are all of the things that made me cry at Sundance and a lot of other people too. Enjoy the heart swellz.
Before trying this experience an Oculus employee warned me that I might “feel things.” I laughed at his weird phrasing until the end when he took off my Rift to reveal zero composure. Dear Angelica plays with VR illustrations to share the colorful memories of a daughter who recently lost her mother. What I loved most about the piece is the way you transition through the story. Parts of the illustrations dissolve or fade into the background subtly as new pieces of the story come to life mimicking the way our minds flow through memories.
Hue is an interactive film about a man who lost his ability to see color. What makes it so captivating is the use of digital puppeteering to create an emotional push and pull throughout the story.
Viewers are able to coax and guide the main character suffering from depression, but are unable to force him to do things for himself. I found myself cradling the man off the floor and pulling his limp arms across the room relating to the gravity of his footsteps. By playing the role of a nurturer, you become deeply invested in the character, finding yourself wishing you had as much patience with yourself during the grayer days in life as you do with him.
Out of Exile: Daniel’s Story
Director Nonny de la Peña is known for her unique style of storytelling, developing VR experiences around audio from real life experiences to bring viewers into the center of conflict in a very raw way. Her latest piece is no exception, using a recorded conversation between Daniel Ashley Pierce and his family during a religious intervention over his sexuality.
The tension in the room is very real as you watch a family divide in gut-wrenching ways. The piece ends with LGBTQ youth sharing stories of triumph and hope.
Women on the Move
I was only able to get a peek of one Oculus VR for Good project, but it was enough to get excited about the potential impacts of this initiative. Women on the Move is a 360° short documentary following the story of a group of women challenging the traditions of their tribe, to build a brighter future for the generations of girls behind them.
Their message of ‘you go girl’ transcends space and I found myself wishing I could give these women a hug from a million miles away.
Let it all out folks. Our hearts were meant to explode.
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