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The Sundance Institute is expanding its support network into the world of virtual reality.
The arts organization that Robert Redford founded has teamed with Jaunt Studios, a groundbreaking creator of cinematic virtual-reality content, to create the Sundance Institute New Frontier | Jaunt VR Residency Program, aimed to empower and support artists applying new technology to new forms of storytelling.
What will come from this use of virtual reality in storytelling? "A lot of the answers will be coming from the next generation of filmmakers that are jumping into the sandbox of this medium," said Kamal Sinclair, co-director of Sundance's New Frontier program.
The first artist selected for the six-month residency, the institute announced today, is Lynette Wallworth, an Australian whose work "Coral: Rekindling Venus" screened in the New Frontier program in 2013.
Wallworth's current VR project is "Collisions," which tells the story of Aboriginal elder Nyarri Nyarri Morgan, who has lived like his ancestors for the previous 40,000 years did in the remote Pilbara desert in Western Australia. The work examines the changes the elder has seen as he and his people have encountered Western science and technology.
"Collisions" is produced by Nicole Newnham (a Sundance Film Festival alumna) and Cori Shepherd Stern (who produced the Oscar-nominated documentary short "Open Heart").
Wallworth "comes from the visual-art segment of storytelling," Sinclair said, adding that her work so far on "Collisions" revealed "an idea for the immersive experience that we thought was quite powerful."
Three more artists will be selected for the residency in the next few months.
The first VR exhibit debuted at the Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier installation site in 2012. The headset used then morphed into the prototype for the Oculus Rift player.
Because of the technology which require goggles and earphones to fully immerse the senses VR is usually a solitary experience, compared to an audience watching a movie together. Even so, Sinclair said he believes VR "will be a compliment to film, rather than competition to it."
Sinclair cited the experience from this year's festival, when Kirby Dick's documentary "The Hunting Ground," an exposé of sexual assault on college campuses, premiered at Sundance. By coincidence, New Frontier debuted "Perspective, Chapter 1: The Party," a VR exhibit by Rose Troche and Morris May depicting a "date rape" at a college party and putting viewers in the place of both the victim and the perpetrator.
"I had grown men coming out of [the exhibit] with ears in their eyes," Sinclair recalled. "There's something about the immersion [into VR] that is very compelling."