In January 2007, the Sundance Festival launched its New Frontier section as a laboratory aimed at showcasing experiments in storytelling. Back then, independent movies were still getting theatrical releases, Netflix was merely a DVD-by-mail service, and Steve Jobs had just announced that Apple would release a phone in June. Ten years later, the digital revolution has reshuffled the cards. It has taken the music industry a decade to reinvent itself in the age of the immaterial. Film and television, however, are still in the early days of their digital transformation.
Virtual reality, a new playground for filmmakers
Over the years, New Frontier has achieved recognition, embracing innovation and artistic risk-taking. In its early days, the section hosted digital installations at the crossroads of contemporary art and film. Ever since, New Frontier has explored the convergence of art and technology, two moving fields that mutually stimulate each other creatively. In 2011, the Sundance Institute also launched the New Frontier Story Lab to seed innovative projects from new media filmmakers.
The history of New Frontier chronicles the accelerated growth of new media and its influences on storytelling, from video mapping installations to interactive documentaries. Since 2012, it started including short films and experiences in Virtual Reality, which is poised to become a major creative platform for 21st century filmmakers. Last November, New Frontier launched an artistic residency focused on virtual reality storytelling, in collaboration with cinematic VR pioneers Jaunt Studios and the MIT MediaLab. Shari Frilot, curator of New Frontier, believes virtual reality is the next mass medium.
New Frontier 2016: an eclectic lineup driven by VR
The upcoming edition emphasizes the emergence of virtual reality as a legitimate filmmaking form, with 30 VR films and experiences (selected from nearly 300 projects submitted), 11 installations, 3 feature films and a performance.
Shari Frilot, speaking to Cool Hunting, says “the 30 pieces that we settled on really reflect the advancements in the tech that is involved, as well as various kinds of artists from various parts of the world — from iconic filmmakers touching this medium for the first time to brand new artists who are doing everything themselves”.
In 2016, New Frontier welcomes again regulars such as interactive & VR pioneer filmmaker Chris Milk, who will be presenting his travelling installation “The Treachery of Sanctuary”, and Nonny de la Peña, the “godmother” of VR journalism, whose latest project Kiya makes the viewer a witness to a tragic domestic violence event using a blend of 3D animation and real audio recordings from 911 calls.
Among this year’s most ambitious projects are “The Martian VR Experience” by Robert Stromberg, a 20 minute real-time experience inspired by Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”, created by Fox Innovation Lab. The full experience, designed for Samsung’s GearVR headset, will be released in 2016 as paid content on MilkVR, the South Korean manufacturer’s immersive content portal.
“The Holo-Cinema”, an immersive installation by Hollywood special effects wizards ILMxLAB, will enable participants to step inside iconic story moments, walk around the performing characters, and explore worlds as they portal inside a fully experiential environment.
A collaboration between Intel and USC’s World Building Media Lab, “The Leviathan Project”, based on Scott Westerfeld’s sci-fi novels, blends virtual and augmented reality to enable audiences to experience story worlds, building bridges not only between the digital and physical worlds, but also between movies and videogames.
The Sundance Festival will also be hosting several panels, with topics ranging from immersive journalism to the evolution of storytelling. A selection of events and panels will be streamed live on the Festival’s website and YouTube channel.
Find out more about some of the most exciting projects screened at New Frontier 2016 below: