Terrence Malick, Changwei Gu Among Filmmakers Linked to Cannes XR Program

From Terrence Malick to Changwei Gu, there are some familiar and high-profile names associated with the Marché du Film’s Cannes XR program.

Dedicated to immersive entertainment, this week’s Cannes XR has two main ambitions, according to Guillaume Esmiol, deputy director of the Marché du Film.

The first is to support the XR community with a competition, conference, networking platform and development showcase as well as financing and distribution opportunities.

The second ambition, says Esmiol, is “to explain XR to traditional cinema,” so that film execs and creatives attending the Cannes Film Festival in person or virtually can learn more about the medium.

For the fledgling but fast developing XR industry, connections with the film industry are seen as key to help it grow in the future. The skills of storytellers and production talent are all needed to create the compelling content that XR requires to reach wider audiences.

These connections are clearly visible at Cannes XR. “Evolver-Prologue,” a music-filled immersive film that is executive produced by Malick (“The Tree of Life”) and Edward R. Pressman (“The Crow”) is set to be partly unveiled at Cannes XR. The project reteams Malick and Pressman, whose first creative collaboration dates back to 1973 with Malick’s feature debut “Badlands.”

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Meanwhile, leading Chinese filmmaker Changwei Gu leads the jury of the VeeR Future Award 2021, a cornerstone competition of the Cannes XR program. Gu’s debut directorial feature “Peacock” vied for the Palme d’Or in 2004 and he was the cinematographer of “Farewell My Concubine,” the only Chinese-language film to have won the Palme d’Or.

Cannes XR is to showcase 50 titles within its XR3 virtual reality exhibition, which it has put together in collaboration with NewImages Festival and Tribeca Festival.

Each of the three festivals’ VR selections will be made available at the Museum of Other Realities (MOR), a virtual exhibition space. Marché du Film badge holders with a tethered VR headset can gain online access through the MOR app. Those without a VR headset can experience XR3 onsite at the Marché du Film or at a number of location-based VR stations around the world.

Cannes XR has partnered with VR content platform VeeR and VR software developer Unity to curate its showcase of 21 immersive entertainment titles within the XR3 program.

Sixteen projects are available to view in the VeeR Future Award, while another five can been seen in the Unity for Humanity showcase.

Surveying the selection, Cannes XR program leader Joséphine Bories says many of the projects deal with issues such as mental health, sexuality, human nature and the environment.

“Deep,” for example, is billed as a restful, calming “meditative underwater space that reacts to your breath” allowing participants to rise up from the ocean floor as they inhale, and drift back down as they exhale, and to explore caves, ravines and open ocean.

Elsewhere, “Biolum” by French director Abel Kohen is pitched as a cinematic VR sci-fi/factual experience that thrusts the user into the role of an experienced diver exploring the abyss, who discovers bioluminescent parasites are infecting ocean flora and fauna.

VeeR co-founder Jingshu Chen says that this year’s VeeR Future Award showcase has expanded from 360° films to also include the more immersive 6DoF VR experiences.

The success of the Oculus Quest headset means that more money is now being invested in 6DoF content, and more creatives are exploring ways of telling stories in 6DoF. This has pushed up the range and quality of the selection, and made the VeeR Future Award more competitive too, says Chen.

Good examples of 6DoF experiences include “Madrid Noir: Looking for Lola,” a Madrid-set interactive animation about a young woman searching for clues about her recently deceased uncle. “Samsara,” meanwhile, allows audiences to be transformed into different beings’ bodies and experience the world from new perspectives. “The Hangman at Home,” meanwhile, is inspired by the iconic Carl Sandburg poem that begins: “What does the hangman think about when he goes home at night from work?”

That’s not to say 360° films are not in the running. Live action 360° films in particular can provide an emotional connection with viewers that animated immersive projects can sometimes struggle to replicate.

Indeed, Chen stresses that each of the 16 projects vying for one of two awards – Best VR Story and Best VR Interactive Experience – will be judged on three key criteria: storytelling, emotion and innovation.

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