The Tribeca Film Festival is known as a showcase for upcoming independent movies. But, as we move towards an increasingly digital world, it's opening its doors to other forms of storytelling, including virtual reality (VR) technology.
The 15th annual New York film festival, which will run from the April 13 through 24, will feature 28 VR experiences. While most of them require the solitary activity of putting on a headset and watching the 360-degree film, much of the VR content will experiment with techniques that filmmakers hope will catch on with the mainstream.
"I don't think it's necessary for VR to become a mass participatory event, but I think it is definitely expanding to be more palatable to the masses," said Loren Hammons, an interactive programmer at the Tribeca Film Festival.
As the popularity of virtual reality technology grows, more artists and filmmakers are experimenting with the medium's potential for interactive storytelling. Still, for it to be a game changer, it needs to be adopted by a broad audience.
A new report from Greenlight VR and Road to VR estimated that 2.3 million VR headset will sell this year in the U.S., which is less than 1 percent of the population. The companies do expect sales to grow to 136 million in 2025. The Wall Street Journal reported that another firm, SuperData Research, recently readjusted its global VR sales projections to $2.86 billion, down 22 percent from figures released in early March.
Nick DiCarlo, vice president and general manager of immersive products and virtual reality at Samsung Electronics America, said it sees a lot of potential in VR given consumer response, but understands its still not there.
"Our vision is that VR can become a mainstream technology," DiCarlo said.
To further bolster adoption, the technology company is actively working to introduce VR to more people through events at places like South by Southwest, the NBA all-star weekend and the Tribeca Film Festival. It also kept its Samsung Gear VR headset price at $99, and made it compatible with six of its Samsung Galaxy phones.
"VR is in early days, but products like Gear VR are ideally suited because they are simple to use, and self-contained, and powered by a smartphone millions of people already have," DiCarlo said.
At Tribeca's Virtual Arcade, 13 VR exhibitors have booths where attendees can chat with the filmmakers and view their VR work, as well as head to two lounge areas to chat with other festivalgoers about what they saw. The experience mimics going to a movie theater, except instead of sitting for one movie people can bounce around to a bunch of short films.
VR content ranges from Penrose Studio's "Allumette," a 20-minute story about an orphan girl living in a cloud city, to Wevr's "Old Friend," where the viewer stands in the middle of an animated psychedelic dance party. Creator Tyler Hurd said he was trying to capture the experience of going to a dance party with friends.
Hurd added that while the experience is for one person right now, the team may make it "multiplayer" in the future. That said, there's also something for people standing around waiting for their turn with the headset — viewing the person doing the VR experience themselves.
"It's basically a music video, and you're in the center of it, and there are lot of fun characters that come and go and do these synchronized dance routines," Hurd said. "It's more of a linear experience that is trying to get the viewer dance… When (the user) gets in there and does it themselves, people can watch from the outside."
Other experiences include Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël of Felix and Paul Studios hosting a simultaneous VR viewing, where everyone in the audience will be able to watch the content at the same time. Lajeunesse and Raphaël will "tour" them through the worlds they have created by talking them through the experience.
Chris Milk, co-founder and CEO of VR production company Vrse, said that VR is still in its nascent stages, but there's no reason why it won't evolve in the future. Vrse will have several projects at Tribeca this year, including "The Click Effect," an immersive journalism project about click communication between dolphins and sperm whales as well as "My Mother's Wing," which documents a mother coping with the death of her two children during Gaza war.
Milk, who started his career as a director working with artists like Kanye West, The Chemical Brothers and Arcade Fire, compared the potential development of VR to the emergence of moving picture and sound in the 1800s. From that technology came movies, radio, television and even the telephone, he pointed out.
"I think that with enough people having regular access to the technology, and there being experiences that people want to engage with, (it can be adopted by the masses)," Milk said.