If you’ve ever dreamed of attending a prestigious film festival, now’s your chance.
In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the VR portion of the annual Tribeca Film Festival is moving online this weekend. If you have an Oculus Quest or Oculus Go (sorry, Rift owners) you can watch this year’s Cinema360 line-up, a collection of 15 short films curated into four playlists, through April 26. It’s a shrewd move in the face of the current climate that, beyond keeping people safe, removes much of the unnecessary exclusivity that surrounds festivals.
And it’s something you should definitely check out. This collection of films definitely suggests VR filmmakers are still getting to grips with the platform; there’s still a strange discomfort to watching 3D video without being able to move your head, or fighting off blur, but as usual there’s a suite of fresh ideas, new perspectives and inventive storytelling. We rounded up each below.
Program 1: Dreams To Remember
Focused on fantastical experiences and real-life adventures, this offers a selection of dream-like films, often masking more troubling undertones. Rain Fruits, for example, is a brilliant, tough story of a boy from Myanmar migrating from his lucid home, where rain forms what he affectionately calls rain fruits, to the unforgiving streets of Korea. Though deeply concerning both as a story and a microcosm for a wider situation faced all over the globe, the piece finds poetry in its profound narration and beauty in its rain-dusted visual style. Dear Lizzy, meanwhile, is a Yellow Submarine-style, half-music video animation that mines gold from its acidic visuals, set to the backdrop of a girl reading a letter to a missing friend.
Less arresting is 1st Steps, an earnest attempt to document man’s mission to the moon in VR that rarely feels like it knows what it’s doing with the platform. It frantically zigs and zags from one style of shot to another, barely giving you a chance to gather your bearings, providing a sensation perhaps akin to the disorientation of space itself. Nevertheless, it’s chock full of amazing imagery and atmosphere. Forgotten Kiss, meanwhile, is a pleasant, if inessential pantomime of a piece retelling a Russian fairy tale.
Best Film: Rain Fruits
Program 2: Seventeen Plus
As its name implies, Seventeen Plus moves on to more mature themes, and it sets out to prove it straight away with the fantastic A Safe Guide To Dying, a fresh dystopian story of VR’s chilling possibilities, fully integrated with the platform and fighting its way to a more hopeful outlook on life. Black Bag follows on in tone with a darkly unsettling piece about the fetishization of high octane action as a supplement for the mundanity of life. It’s abstract, perhaps a little too much so, but makes a mark with some searing imagery and ambiguity.
The Pantheon of Queer Mythology, meanwhile, is a pretty eye-opening envisioning of Deities as bastions of queer representation that begs for multiple viewings to decipher its imagery and narration. Finally, Saturnism is a brilliantly amusing expansion of Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, which puts you in the unfortunate position of the latter character. It’s silly, but well done and uniquely able to put a smile on your face in the midst of being eaten by a giant.
Best Film: A Safe Guide To Dying
Program 3: Kinfolk
Focused on home and family, Kinfolk holds some of the selection’s most warming and memorable films. Ferenja, for example, tells the story of a young girl coming to terms with her mixed-race upbringing, finding herself struggling on both sides. The piece is informative and culturally rich, adding a balanced voice to the topic of identity in 2020. The Inhabited House ingeniously invites you into the director’s grandparent’s house, then maps old family videos to their locations in the room, effectively bringing memories to life. It’s a novel idea that I’d love to be explored in deeper context. But it’s Home that steals the show here, depicting a beautifully staged family reunion at a Taiwanese grandmother’s home, casting viewers as the owner. There’s real family chemistry to the party, offering a rare glimpse into another way of life that seems truly authentic and caring.
Best Film: Home
Program 4: Pure Imagination
The final playlist might not have much connective tissue, but it’s a chance for the selection to have a little more fun, like with Lutaw, a Pixar-esque short animation the shines a spotlight on the work of Yellow Boat of Hope, a charity that provides transport to schools between islands in the Philippines where, amazingly, some students had been swimming to school. Attack on Daddy is a decidedly more ludicrous bit of playtime in which a father and his daughter find themselves trapped in a Wendy house. It’s cheesy and, frankly, a little student film-level, but an amusing concept nonetheless.
Elsewhere, Upstander is a short, sweet message of sticking up for people. Spinning out of Oculus’ VR for Good program, the piece presents a fairly routine look at bullying that’s strengthened by a powerful ending message. Finally, Tale of the Tibetan Nomad offers an engaging look into Tibetan folklore.
Best Film: Lutaw