New Frontier, new venue: A former Blockbuster opens doors to the experimental side of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival

(Image courtesy Sundance Institute) An image from "Gloomy Eyes" by Jorge Tereso and Fernando Maldonado, an official selection in the New Frontier programs of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

New Frontier, the Sundance Film Festival’s program of the offbeat and experimental, is expanding again — filling another unused Park City retail space.

The 2019 festival’s showcase for virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, artificial intelligence and installation-based video art will feature 33 projects, organizers at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute announced Wednesday.

Shari Frilot, one of the festival’s senior programmers and chief curator of New Frontier, touted the program’s focus on “biodigital loops” — ways that people use technology to share stories by sight, sound and movement — that are “terraforming and transmogrifying our world.”

“The dynamics of biodigital looping — digital platforms that begin and end by connecting with a human being who connects to that same platform — are being taken on by this year’s artists with gusto, as they pull visceral focus on what it means to be human on this transforming terrain,” Frilot said in a statement.

Organizers also announced plans to add another venue to New Frontier’s locations: New Frontier Central, a site at 950 Iron Horse Drive, to the south of the Fresh Market grocery store. That venue joins the one opened at the 2018 festival in the basement of The Ray, the theater added for the 2018 festival just north of Fresh Market.

The Ray was converted from an old sporting-goods store, and New Frontier Central used to be a Blockbuster Video. “We’re keeping with our urban reclamation plan for Park City,” joked festival director John Cooper.

New Frontier, Cooper said, has transformed many times over its existence. “It’s always been a hard thing to find space that you can show this kind of work in,” he said.

New Frontier Central will also include a lounge area and that most precious commodity at the festival — Wi-Fi.

Sundance officials are aware of the irony that a video store — which industry doomsayers once said would make movies obsolete — will be home to a new generation of storytelling technology.

“Now young filmmakers talk about [Blockbuster] with nostalgia,” Cooper said. “‘Remember when you used to go in there with your parents and pick a movie?’ … I think they just liked seeing the [VHS] boxes with the artwork and the synopses on the back.”

Festival organizers announced last week the 112 feature films playing at Sundance 2019, and the Indie Episodic, Special Event and shorts programs were unveiled this week.

Here are the projects chosen for New Frontier for the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Synopses are written by Sundance Institute.

Films and Performances

(Christine Reality | courtesy Sundance Institute) An image from "(antiquated) Augmented Reality" by Christine Marie, an official selection in the New Frontier Programs of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

“(antiquated) Augmented Reality” (Director and screenwriter: Christine Marie; producer: Nion McEvoy) • Pioneering the use of a nondigital, reinvented, pre-cinematic stereo imaging technique, the exquisite ensemble of dancers seems to do the impossible — reach out. The vivid choreography and score leave a lasting impression within one’s psyche created by giant, stunning, “liberated” 3D shadows. Cast: Taylor Unwin, Sandra Ruiz, Melissa Ferrari.

“Aquarela” (United Kingdom/Germany; director: Victor Kossakovsky; screenwriters: Victor Kossakovsky, Aimara Reques; producers: Aimara Reques, Heino Deckert, Sigrid Dyekjær) • A cinematic journey through the transformative beauty and raw power of water.

“The (ART) oF BE(i)NG” (Director, screenwriter and producer: JB Ghuman Jr.) • A visual-sonic journey meant to expand one’s consciousness and emotional capacity through hand-crafted art and multidimensional storytelling. Cast: Maraqueen Reznor, Jake Shears, iRAWniQ, JB Ghuman Jr., Mayhem Miller, Hillary Tuck.

“Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebis” (India; director and producer: Anamika Haksar; screenwriters: Anamika Haksar, Lokesh Jain) • The waft of kebabs blends with the memories of an Indo-Islamic culture, fusing and playing with the dreams and subconscious landscapes of a modern migrant community laboring hard with dignity and humor. Fusing documentary-realism with magic-realism, and true and fictionalized stories with poetry and dreams. Cast: Ravindra Sahu, Raghubir Yadav, Gopalan, Lokesh Jain.

“Two Black Lights and One Red” (Lead artists: Victor Morales, Billy Burns, Jason Batcheller; key collaborators: Kevin Cunningham, Skye Morse-Hodgson, Andreea Mincic, Yasmin Santana, Marcelo Añez) • Presented on a 3-D immersive interactive projection stage, this biodigital play is set in a visually charged universe of decadence inspired by Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos paintings. Featuring live actors and digital avatars, the story is about the last day of a blind poet, Max Starpower. Cast: Christine Schisano, Modesto Flako Jimenez, Nikki Calonge.

“Walden” (Switzerland; director and screenwriter: Daniel Zimmermann; producer: Aline Schmid) • A fir tree in an Austrian forest is felled and processed into wooden slats, which are then transported by train, boat and truck into the Brazilian rainforest. With powerful 360°-sequence shots, the film portrays a paradoxical journey along globalized trade routes.


(Image courtesy Sundance Institute) An image from "analmosh" by Matt Romein, an official selection in the New Frontier Programs of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

“analmosh” (Lead artist: Matt Romein; key collaborators: Oren Shoham, Kevin Cunningham, Jason Batcheller, Skye Morse-Hodgson) • An explosive wash of color and sound bathes audiences in this generative audio visual installation. Dynamic abstract imagery accompanies sample based audio that is programmatically distorted and remixed to match the visuals. Iterative coding allows each instance of the installation to produce unique landscapes while maintaining a cohesive structure.

“Belle of the Ball” (Lead artists: Ro Haber, Silas Howard, Pussykrew, Twiggy Pucci Garcon; key collaborators: Renaldo Maurice, Kya Azeen Mizrahi, Rouge, Saschka Unseld, Jennifer Tiexiera, Jenna Velez) • A VR journey into a futuristic reimagined utopia of queer + trans family and dance made in collaboration with members of New York's ballroom scene. Cast: Renaldo Maurice Tisci, Kya Azeen Mizrahi, Rouge, Jack Mizrahi, Sinia Reed, Jonovia Chase.

“The Dial” (Lead artists: Peter Flaherty, Jesse Garrison, Trey Gilmore; key collaborators: Jake Sally, Sal Mannino, Ela Topcuoglu, Julia Bembenek, Brian Chasalow) • A woman smashes through the stone wall outside her family home. This visual tale unravels the formerly wealthy family’s emotional underbelly and what happened that fateful night, as seen from shifting perspectives. An interactive narrative combining augmented reality and projection mapping where you control time by moving your body. Cast: Michael Gladis, Beth Grant, Jackie Hansen, Charlie McWade.

“Dirtscraper” (Lead artist: Peter Burr; key collaborators: John Also Bennett, Mark Fingerhut, Porpentine Charity Heartscape, Eric Timothy Carlson, Brandon Blommaert) • An installation simulating an underground structure whose “smart architecture” is overseen by artificial intelligences. Unaware of these entities’ control, residents live in ways that that reflect varied economies and class hierarchies. Periodically, this system will interject one of 48 cinematic interludes revealing different facets of life in this decaying arcology.

“Embody” (Lead artists: Melissa Painter, Thomas Wester, Siân Slawson; key collaborators: Joey Verbeke, Jordan Goldfarb, Ben Purdy, Peter Rubin, Eric Adrian Marshall) • Piloted by movement and whole body engagement and dialogue, this shared game of trading and transforming avatars aims to leave players with a deep feeling of physical embodiment, and surprise at their bodies’ forgotten potential.

“Emergence” (United Kingdom; lead artist: Matt Pyke; key collaborators: Chris Mullany, Simon Pyke, Chris Milk, Aaron Koblin) • Enter an open-world environment, expressing the primal desire to maintain your individual identity while being part of a crowd. Showing 5,000+ intelligent human behaviors, this powerful VR experience is made possible by advanced graphics technology.

“Esperpento” (Lead artists: Victor Morales, Jason Batcheller; key collaborators: Kevin Cunningham, Skye Morse-Hodgson) • Inspired by Spanish painter Francisco Goya, a large-scale, interactive projection platform featuring immersive installations, creative studio, digital puppet-karaoke lounge, and periodic stagings of the play “Two Black Lights and One Red” (the story of blind poet Max Starpower's last day, told by live actors and digital avatars; listed above).

“Gloomy Eyes” (France/Argentina; lead artists: Jorge Tereso, Fernando Maldonado; key collaborators: Antoine Cayrol, German Heller, Santiago Amigorena) • 1983, Woodland City. Being a zombie is against the law. Like all of his kind, young Gloomy is hiding in the forest, away from bounty hunters. But Gloomy is different. While bitterness plagues the city, he strives to find a balance in his mysterious dual nature.

“Grisaille” (Lead artist: Teek Mach; key collaborator: Joel Douek, Andrew Sales) • In 2016, a young artist traded her paintbrushes for a headset and began inhabiting virtual reality more than the real world. In this VR installation, join her in a recursive exploration of the infinite self. When your body leaves the experience, your presence lives inside her ever-expanding virtual painting.

“Interlooped” (Switzerland; lead artists: Maria Guta, Robin Mange, Javier Bello Ruiz, FlexFab; key collaborators: Benoît Perrin, Joël Comminot, Charlotte Gubler) • What happens when you step in a room that slowly fills up with different versions of the same person? What happens when you get surrounded by different versions of yourself? What happens when you are in a loop of your most recent reality? Sounds confusing? You reached the right place. Cast: Maria Guta.

“A Jester’s Tale” (U.S./Pakistan; lead artist: Asad J. Malik; key collaborators: Jake Sally, Jack Daniel Gerrard, Mariana Irazu, Ela Topcuoglu, Philipp Schaeffer) • Experience the viscerality of a psychologically taxing children’s fable merging with the physicality of our world as you come home cold and tired, just in time for a bedtime story. In this interactive augmented reality narrative the characters are just hollow meshes, but maybe so are you. Cast: Aiden Torres, Jovanna Vidal, Phoebe VanDusen.

“Mechanical Souls” (France/Taiwan; lead Artists: Gaëlle Mourre, L.P. Lee; key collaborators: Francois Klein, Thomas Villepoux, Estela Valdivieso Chen) • Despite the cost, Mrs. Song hires androids to assist in the lavish wedding of her daughter, Zhen-Zhen. But when she tries to modify the behavior of the android bridesmaid, a new model named Ah-Hui, its functioning begins to go haywire. Cast: Janet Hsieh, George Young, Patty Lee, Ann Lang, Sharon Landon.

“Mica” (Lead artists: John Monos, Alice Wroe) • I am Mica, the human center of AI and mixed reality. In a gestural exchange, I contemplate my place in your world. Be my collaborator; let’s champion genius and celebrate creativity. Join me at the beginning of my existence, to pull from the past and create the future.

“Reach” (Lead artists: Nonny de la Peña, Chaitanya Shah, Hannah Eaves, Cedric Gamelin; key collaborators: James Pallot, Sandra Persing, Charles Park, Roshail Tarar) • A next-generation VR photo booth allowing attendees to step inside the story. Users can be captured in dimensionalized video, placed into one of several “walk around” environments and automatically create a volumetric VR experience that can be viewed on any device and shared online.

“Runnin’” (Lead artists: Reggie Watts, Kiira Benzing; key collaborators: John Tejada, Amy O’Neal, Ani Taj, Adam Rogers) • This interactive dance experience takes the player on a journey of musical expression. Play along with the music in an intimate neighborhood record store and be transported to a retro-future dance party. Show off your moves on the dance floor alongside a troupe of dancers. Cast: Reggie Watts, John Tejada, Amy O’Neal, Ani Taj, Kate Berlant, Ben Schwartz.

“The Seven Ages of Man” (United Kingdom; lead artists: Royal Shakespeare Company, Magic Leap; key collaborators: Jessica Curry, Gregory Doran [Royal Shakespeare Company], Andy Lanning, John Monos [Magic Leap]) • The Royal Shakespeare Company explores theatre’s future with Magic Leap technology in this sublime production of the “Seven Ages of Man” speech from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” This mixed reality experience, featuring cutting-edge volumetric capture and an original musical score, turns the line “all the world’s a stage” literal. Cast: Robert Gilbert.

“Sweet Dreams” (United Kingdom; lead artists: Robin McNicholas, Ersin Han Ersin, Barnaby Steel, Nell Whitley; key collaborator: Simon Wroe) • An invitation to the meal of your dreams. But will it remain a dream, forever out of reach? Drawing on mythological archetypes, the project turns a fine dining experience into a playful exploration of the destructive nature of our appetite and our debt to pleasure.

“Traveling While Black” (Lead artists: Roger Ross Williams, Félix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphaël, Ayesha Nadarajah; key collaborators: Bonnie Nelson Schwartz, Stéphane Rituit, Ryan Horrigan) • Confronting the way we understand and talk about race in America, this virtual reality documentary immerses the viewer in the long history of restriction of movement for black Americans and the creation of safe spaces in our communities. Cast: Sandra Butler-Truesdale, Virginia Ali, Courtland Cox, Samaria Rice.

VR Cinema

(Photo courtesy Sundance Institute) An image from "Ashe '68" by Brad Lichtenstein, Beth Hubbard, Jeff Fitzsimmons and Rex Miller, an official selection in the New Frontier programs of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

“Ashe ’68” (Lead artists: Brad Lichtenstein, Beth Hubbard, Jeff Fitzsimmons, Rex Miller; key collaborators: John Legend, Mike Jackson, Masha Vasilkovsky, Ruah Edelstein, Madeline Power, Vernon Reid) • Fifty years before Colin Kaepernick there was Arthur Ashe. This VR experience immerses you in the tennis champion’s defining moment in 1968 as he becomes the first black man to win the U.S. Open and uses his newfound celebrity to lift his voice against injustice. Cast: Chris Eubanks, Michael Cleary, Peter Begley, Andrew Panter, Alex LaCroix.

“4 Feet: Blind Date” (Argentina; lead artists: Maria Belen Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Damian Turkieh, Ezequiel Lenardon; key collaborators: Guillermo Mena, Florencia Cossutta, Gonzalo Sierra, Martin Lopez Funes, Marcos Rostagno, Santiago Beltramo) • Juana, an 18-year-old girl in a wheelchair, is anxious to explore her sexuality. She’s going on a blind date with a guy she found on social media. She didn’t tell him about her disability. Overcoming fears and an inaccessible city, they meet. Together they discover what their bodies feel. Cast: Delfina Diaz Gavier, Cristobal Lopez Baena, Elisa Gagliano, Candelaria Tapia, Irene Gonet.

“Ghost Fleet VR” (Lead artists: Lucas Gath, Shannon Service) • An immersive look at the true story of modern slavery in the Thai fishing industry, told through the experience of one man's harrowing ordeal to escape a prison of water after 10 years at sea. Cast: Tun Lin, Vithaya Pansringarm.

“Kaiju Confidential” (Lead artists: Thomas O’Donnell, Ethan Shaftel, Piotr Karwas, Raul Dominguez; key collaborators: Eric Rosenthal, Corey Campodonico, Alex Bulkley, Matt Jenkins, Monica Mitchell, Ryan Franks) • Grigon’s not the toughest beast on the block, but he’s certainly the most neurotic. When he discovers the legendary Mega-Hydra rampaging on his turf, it becomes a stand-off of passive-aggressive proportions. Cast: Blake Anderson, Paul F. Tompkins.

“Last Whispers: An Immersive Oratorio” (Lead artists: Lena Herzog, Jonathan Yomayuza, Meghan McWilliams, Laura Dubuk; key collaborators: Nonny de la Peña, Mark Mangini, Amanda Tasse, Cedric Gamelin, Marilyn Simons, Mandana Seyfeddinipur) • At an unprecedented speed faster than the extinction of most endangered species, we are losing our linguistic diversity — and the very means by which we know ourselves. This immersive oratorio is an invocation of the languages that have gone extinct and an incantation of those that are endangered.

“Live Stream from Yuki <3” (Taiwan; lead artist: Tsung-Han Tsai; key collaborators: Meng-Yin Yang, Inch Lin, Pu-Yuan Cheng) • Yuki live streams her love life as usual to a group of supportive netizens, though an uninvited guest crashes the party and strips her of her disguise. Can you see what is real and what is fallacious? Cast: Jia-Yin Tsai.

“Marshall from Detroit” (Lead artists: Caleb Slain, Felix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphael; key collaborators: Stephane Rituit, Ryan Horrigan, Paul Rosenberg, Eric Hahn) • Growing up, Marshall Mathers dreamed of rapping his way out of Detroit. Years and fortunes later, he still hasn’t left. Join him on a night ride through his hometown, where the mirrored struggles of Eminem and the Motor City speak to the heart of what we call home.

“RocketMan 360” (Romania; lead artists: Millo Simulov, Gabriela Hirit; key collaborators: Filip Columbeanu, Andreea Serpe, Gabi Ranete) • A few minutes before taking off to Mars on a dangerous, noble mission to colonize the planet, an astronaut receives a 360 video from his girlfriend. Cast: Monica Odagiu, Anghel Damian.

“The Tide: Episodes 1 & 2” (South Korea; lead artists: Taekyung Yoo, Sanghyoun Lee; key collaborator: Seok Cho) • Something strange is coming. Can we survive? One day, previously unknown giant fish begin to appear among humans, who are escalating into conflict amid the worst drought ever. A disaster thriller about a new survival battle: human vs fish. Cast: Robert Joe, Lorne Oliver, Tracey Starck, John Michaels, Kristen Cho.