Last year was still a big leap: the virtual reality selection of the Venice Film Festival was also shown in dozens of other cities around the world, under the title Venice VR Expanded. It was one of the many initiatives with which the cultural sector tried to stay afloat in a time of confinement. If the world cannot come to us, was the thought, then we will go to the world.
Now it seems to have gone from incident to tradition, because Venice VR Expanded can be seen once again around the world this year, including at the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam. It would be great if this continued to be the case, because it is an enormous wealth to have the art of the world of virtual reality so close at hand.
In 2017, the Venice Film Festival, part of the city’s art biennale, was the first of the major film festivals to focus entirely on the immersive VR medium, receiving its own competition. Since then, the festival has become the international stage for artistic virtual reality. In its early years, the festival featured the virtual first steps of established filmmakers like Tsai Ming-liang and Roger Ross Williams and visual artists like Laurie Anderson and Marina Abramović.
Those types of names are missing from this year’s roster, which consists of 34 titles, of which 20 compete in the competition. Probably in part because those established creators tend to incorporate their VR works into larger-scale installations, which cannot be done in the context of screenings in dozens of venues around the world. But perhaps also because the VR world is now starting to develop its own big names, separate from the older art forms.
For the first time this year, a Dutch production has also been selected for the festival’s competition: Angels of Amsterdam by Avinash Changa and Anna Abrahams (also a VR programmer at Eye). That work is given a somewhat broader frame in Eye, in which visitors sit at a bar counter in both the real and virtual worlds. In real life it’s in the Eye restaurant, in the virtual world we dive into café ‘t Papeneiland, a classic pub on the corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht.
There, the stories of four young women in 17th-century Amsterdam come to life: Elsje Christiaens, who was sentenced to death at the age of eighteen; Maritgen Jansz, who went through life as a man; the black Juliana, who came to Amsterdam as a slave, and the prostitute Catalijn Laurens, alias Soete Cut. Surrounded by the wealth of the Golden Age, they bite the bullet.
Anyone who makes eye contact with one of them often hears harrowing experiences of women trying to make ends meet on the outskirts of the city. These are presented in musical shows full of modern influences. Like the decor of the pub, a mix of classic and contemporary elements emphasizes that the issues facing these four women remain painfully relevant.
fragments of lives
Eye completes the Venice VR Expanded program with two more productions by Dutch and Flemish filmmakers. While Angels of Amsterdam focuses on immersion in another possible world, each of these projects emphasizes the interactive possibilities of virtual reality in their own way.
In Apart/Samen by visual designer Demian Albers and writer Micha Hamel, the viewer navigates through the story of a couple. You first discover how he and she parted ways by collecting all sorts of objects in a cheerfully animated world that evokes snippets of their lives. Those moments resurface in the clever structure of the story when you see moments from their lives together.
The virtual reality experience Hands-on Hamlet by the Flemish theater group CREW, presented from September 1 to 5 in collaboration with the culture house of Brakke Grond, gives the viewer an even more active role. With the VR glasses, you walk physically and virtually in the world of Hamlet, in a digital reconstruction of Elsinore Castle.
Venice Film Festival
Even though Cannes’ main contender took place this year and later and featured a larger selection, the Venice Film Festival has still managed to open up a slew of big names for the 78th edition of the world’s oldest film festival. .
The festival opens on Wednesday with parallel mothers, the latest film by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, who two years ago received an honorary award at the festival for all his work. The 22-title competition also includes films by, among others, Pablo Larraín, who jackie now it’s the biopic of Lady Di spencer gifts; the first Netflix productions of the greats of cinema Paolo Sorrentino (The hand of God) and Jane Campion (the power of the dog) and the directorial debut of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal (the lost daughter† Ridley Scotts is out of competition the last duel (starring Ben Affleck, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer) and Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of the sci-fi epic dune good for glitz and glamour.
In the parallel program Giornate degli Authoric a Dutch production has been selected: Three minutes: a lengthening by Bianca Stigter, in which three minutes of amateur cinema shot in the Jewish city of Nasielsk, Poland, in 1938, are turned into a feature film to unravel all the secrets of the images.
Venice VR Expanded, September 1-12, Eye Film Museum.