Eyes and ears aren’t enough for the New Frontier program, the most experimental part of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
“New Frontier’s always had an interest in immersive storytelling, storytelling that engages the body,” said Shari Frilot, the Sundance programmer who curates New Frontier, whose slate of 27 programs was revealed Wednesday.
Many of the works in New Frontier are virtual-reality programming, which require headsets that seem to surround the viewer with image and sound.
One work, an animated adaptation of author Neil Gaiman’s “Wolves in the Walls,” makes the viewer a participant in the story, Frilot said. The work’s creators, Pete Billington and Jessica Shamash, workshopped the piece with an immersive theater troupe, Third Rail, to figure out how to make the characters move in relation to the viewer.
This year’s programs also include augmented reality and mixed-reality, which use a smartphone to incorporate computer-generated objects with real images taken by the phone’s camera.
The New Frontier will be on display in three Park City locations during the festival. The Kimball Art Center, at 1401 Kearns Blvd., will play host to immersive dance and VR, mixed-reality and AI works. Mobile VR programs will be shown at the VR Bar at the Music Cafe, at 751 Main St., after the concerts are done. And The New Frontier at The Ray, downstairs in the former Sports Authority storefront in Holiday Village, will be home to a full range of new-media works.
The location at The Ray will also feature The Box, a mobile VR cinema that seats 40 people on swivel chairs — a bridge between the solitary effect of wearing VR goggles and the communal experience of seeing a movie.
“It brings a warmth and a new meaning to the experience,” Frilot said.
Two of the projects dabble in artificial intelligence. Perhaps the most arresting example is “Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made by Many,” which takes a cue from Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel “Frankenstein,” which will celebrate its 200th birthday in January.
The work invites a group of people to meet a machine intelligence that asks questions. “The questions it’s drawing out from the audience are about their hopes and their fears,” Frilot said. “Those are the qualities that are feeding the artificial intelligence.” Those answers are processed, along with pre-programmed knowledge of Shelley’s novel, to explore age-old issues of creative and scientific boundaries.
The works in New Frontier, Frilot said, are made by “artists who are wanting to tell stories in certain ways, and as a result creating new technology to do it.”
Frilot cited the work of Australian filmmaker Lynette Wallworth, whose new work “Awavena” takes viewers into the lives of an indigenous Amazonian people. As she was working on the film, Frilot said, a headset manufacturer approached Wallworth about partnering on the project, providing technology to match the story she’s trying to tell.
Some of New Frontier’s titles are one-of-a-kind events that meld film with live performance. One of the highlights will be “A Thousand Thoughts,” a film portrait of Kronos Quartet, the legendary classical music group. The film is narrated live by co-director Sam Green, and Kronos Quartet performs the soundtrack live onstage.
The 2018 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 18-28 in Park City, and at venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort.
How to Sundance
When • Jan. 18-28
Where • Park City and venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.
Passes and ticket packages • On sale at sundance.org/festivals.
Individual tickets • Go on sale starting Jan. 16; $25 for the first half of the festival in Park City (Jan. 18-23), $20 for Salt Lake City screenings and for the second half in Park City (Jan. 24-28).
Information • sundance.org/festivals
Here are the events and programs in the festival’s New Frontier slate:
Films and Performances
“Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences” • Directed by and starring Cory McAbee (“The American Astronaut,” SFF ’01). “A live sci-fi event, presented in the form of two master’s classes, featuring music, animation and artwork. Topics include the colonization of other planets, sentimentality reform, transdimensional drifting, the proper way to view the universe and the reason that humans exist.”
“Organ Player” • Written and directed by Narcissister; cast: Narcissister, Sarah Lumpkin, Oscar Lumpkin, Bernard Lumpkin, Carmine Boccuzzi. “This hybrid performance/documentary film explores how ancestral data is stored in our bodies, impacting the lives we lead. On the personal level, the film investigates how the artist’s complex family history compelled them to create the masked, erotic performance character Narcissister.”
“★” (Austria) • Lead artist: Johann Lurf. “This film, compiling shots of clear night-time skies from throughout film history in chronological order, reveals that what humans may regard as an absolute image is actually quite unstable. This instability occurs not only of evolving technological parameters, but also as a result of period-specific trends in culture.”
“A Thousand Thoughts” • Written and directed by Sam Green and Joe Bini, featuring Kronos Quartet: David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt and Sunny Yang. “A live cinema portrait of the legendary classical music group the Kronos Quartet. Green narrates the film and Kronos performs the soundtrack live. A meditation on music itself — the act of listening closely to music, the experience of feeling music deeply, and the power of music to change the world.”
“Awavena” (United States/Australia/Brazil) • Lead artist: Lynette Wallworth (“Collisions,” SFF ’16); key collaborators: Nicole Newnham, Tashka Yawanawa, Laura Soriano de Yawanawa. cast: Hushahu Yawanawa, Tata Yawanawa, Mutum Community. “The Yawanawa, an indigenous Amazonian people, see immersive technologies as tools they can co-opt to share their connected worldview. Inviting artist Lynette Wallworth to their community, the Yawanawa share the visions of Hushahu, their first woman Shaman, and our technology renders visible the luminous world they have always known.”
“Experience Realistic Touch in Virtual Reality” • Lead artists: Andrew Mitrak, Greg Bilsland, Joe Michaels, Jake Rubin; key collaborator: Dr. Bob Crockett. “HaptX brings realistic touch to virtual reality for the first time. The innovative technology lets VR users feel the shape, movement, texture and temperature of digital objects. By providing advanced haptic feedback and natural interaction, HaptX enables unprecedented levels of realism in virtual experiences.”
“Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made by Many” • Lead artists: Lance Weiler, Nick Fortugno, Rachel Ginsberg; key collaborators: Nick Childs, Hunter Owens, Brandon Powers. “By challenging dystopian perspectives around Artificial Intelligence, this immersive experience reimagines Shelley’s seminal work to examine the cultural ramifications of pervasive, ubiquitous technology. Participants interact with an artificial intelligence, co-creating a shared narrative around the implications of unleashing this naive, intelligent ‘monster,’ both mythical and imminent, into the world.”
“TendAR” • Lead artists: Samantha Gorman, Danny Cannizzaro. “A humorous and provocative installation that combines interactive storytelling, AR and emotion/face recognition technology to promote discussion about current topics in biometric data and artificial intelligence. Your guide: a fish-like creature who amusingly analyzes the partners collaborating in the experience, their emotions and the world around them.”
Virtual/Mixed Reality Installations
“BattleScar” (United States/France) • Lead artists: Martin Allais, Nico Casavecchia; key collaborators: Arnaud Colinart, Raphael Penasa, Andrew Geller, René Pinell; cast: Rosarion Dawson. “New York City, 1978: When Lupe, a Puerto Rican-American teen, meets fellow runaway Debbie, the Bowery’s punk scene and the Lower East Side are their playground. This coming-of-age narrative explores identity through animation and immersive environments as Lupe’s handwritten journals guide users through her year.”
“Chorus” • Lead artist: Tyler Hurd; key collaborators: Chris Milk, Megan Ellison, Justice. “Crystals, lasers, monsters, heroines. Transform into fantastical female warriors in this social virtual reality experience. Six people can band together to battle evil in this epic journey of empowerment, all orchestrated to the song ‘Chorus’ by Justice.”
“D***girl 3D(X)” (United Kingdom) • Lead artist: Sidsel Meineche Hansen; Key collaborator: James B Stringer. “D***girl 3D(X) is the non-binary version of EVA v3.0, an avatar purchased online and appropriated by the artist. Through D***girl 3D(X), the viewer becomes a post-human pleasure-seeker in an encounter with a submissive clay-like sculpture.”
“Elastic Time” (Switzerland) • Lead artist: Mark Boulos; key collaborators: Robin Mange, Javier Bello Ruiz. “A mixed reality interactive documentary about space-time, narrated by astronomer Tony Stark (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). A real-time hologram of your body is integrated into the observatory room; using the controllers, you bend space and time to your will, creating black holes, wormholes and time portals.”
“Hero” • Lead artists: Navid Khonsari, Vassiliki Khonsari; key collaborators: Brooks Brown, Mark Harwood, Sinclair Fleming; cast: Masoume Khonsari, Perla Daoud, Samer Sakka, Sam Sako, Said Faraj, Sue Shaheen. “An immersive, large-scale installation that explores humanity in our modern era of civilian warfare. In this vérité VR experience with multi-sensory engagement, participants embark upon their own primal journey. When everyday life is disrupted by profound crisis only human connection can inspire hope.”
“Spheres: Songs of Spacetime” • Lead artist: Eliza McNitt; key collaborators: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Jess Engel, Arnaud Colinart. “Dive into the heart of a black hole and uncover the hidden songs of the cosmos. In this interactive VR experience, the breakthrough discovery of gravitational waves transforms how we see the universe. Fall into the darkness, and you will find the light.”
“VR_I” (Switzerland) • Lead artists: Gilles Jobin, Caecilia Charbonnier, Sylvain Chagué; key collaborators: Jean-Paul Lespagnard, Carla Scaletti, Camilo De Martino; cast: Susana Panadés Diaz, Victoria Chiu, Diya Naidu, Gilles Jobin, Tidiani N’Diaye. “Blending art with technology, ‘VR_I’ resulted from the encounter between Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin and the founders of Artanim, Caecilia Charbonnier and Sylvain Chagué. In this contemplative virtual dance piece, five spectators, immersed together and in real time, four use avatars to investigate a performance among surprising effects of scale.”
“Wolves in the Walls (Chapter 1)” • Lead artists: Pete Billington, Jessica Shamash; key collaborators: Edward Saatchi, Saschka Unseld, Jennine Willett, Zach Morris. “All is not as it seems when 8-year-old Lucy‘s imagination proves to be reality. Help her discover what’s hiding inside the walls of her house in this immersive fable, based on the work by Neil Gaiman, and choreographed by New York‘s critically acclaimed immersive theater company, Third Rail.”
“Zikr: A Sufi Revival” • Lead artists: Gabo Arora, John Fitzgerald, Matthew Niederhauser; key collaborators: Selim Bensedrine, Igal Nassima, Jennifer Tiexiera, Wilson Brown. “This interactive social VR experience uses song and dance to transport four participants into ecstatic Sufi rituals, while also exploring the motivations behind followers of this mystical Islamic tradition, still observed by millions around the world.”
Mobile VR Lineup
“Dinner Party” • Lead artists: Charlotte Stoudt, Laura Wexler, Angel Manuel Soto; key collaborators: Rachel Skidmore, Bryn Mooser, Erik Donley; cast: Malcolm Barrett, Sarah Sokolovic. “A short virtual reality thriller that dramatizes the incredible story of Betty and Barney Hill, who in the 1960s reported the first nationally known UFO abduction case in America.”
“Dispatch” • Lead artist: Edward Robles; cast: Martin Starr, Julianna Guill, Graham Shiels, Beth Grant, Samuel Stricklen, Kelly Jenrette. “A small-town police dispatcher faces the greatest challenge of his career during an all-night crime spree.”
“Eyes in the Red Wind” (South Korea) • Lead artists: Sngmoo Lee, Jongmin kim, Youngsam Jung; key collaborators: Jaehyun Park, Myuonggoo Ji, Youngsik Yu; cast: Sungmi Kim, Jaehyun Kim, Jeongmi Lee, Nara Kim. “Friends and family members gather to throw a ‘soul scooping’ ritual, to pacify the soul of a drowned man. When a possessed shaman reveals the murderous truth behind the death on the table, lust and secrets come to the fore.”
“Masters of the Sun” • Lead artists: will.i.am, apl de ap, Taboo (all of The Black Eyed Peas); key collaborators: Pasha Shapiro, Ernst Weber, Sara Ramaker, Eddie Axley. cast: Rakim, Queen Latifah, Jason Isaacs, Stan Lee, KRS-One, Slick Rick. “In 1983, Los Angeles was spared from utter destruction driven by an ancient evil. The ghetto became ground zero for a drug epidemic that transformed citizens into soul-sucking zombies through Z-Drops, until a ragtag crew used one weapon to take their city back: hip-hop.” Based on a Marvel comic.
“Micro Giants” (China) • Lead artist: Yifu Zhou; key collaborators: Teng Wang, Shuyi Qiao, Jia Zhang; cast: Pantawit Kiangsiri. “A computer-generated VR experience that gives an unprecedented and highly engaging perspective of insect life. When participants enter into the micro world, tiny flowers and insects in normal life now become mighty trees and beasts.”
“On My Way” • Lead artist: Yung Jake; key collaborators: Mike Rosenstien, Ari Kuschnir, Andrew Schwartz; cast: Yung Jake. “In a Tesla, multiple Yung Jakes rap about money, cars, drugs and things of that nature, among interactive elements.”
“Space Explorers: A New Dawn” (Canada/United States) • Lead artists: Paul Raphaël, Felix Lajeunesse; key collaborators: Morgan Spurlock, Ryan Horrigan, Stéphane Rituit; cast: Jeanette Epps, Jessica Meir, Victor Glover, Michael Gernhardt. “Experience the journey of NASA astronauts as they navigate the trials and sacrifices of their training and missions. An immersive VR experience that shines a light on mankind’s most ambitious endeavor to understand our planet, our universe and our origins.”
“The Summation of Force” (Australia) • Lead artists: Narelle Autio, Trent Parke, Matthew Bate; Key collaborator: Anton Andreacchio; cast: Jem Autio Parke, Dash Autio Parke. “In a moonlit suburban yard, two brothers battle one another in a mythic game of cricket. A study of the motion, physics and psychology of elite sport; a cosmic, dreamlike and darkly beautiful metaphor for life.”
“The Sun Ladies VR” • Lead artists: Maria Bello, Celine Tricart, Christian Stephen; key collaborators: Wesley Allsbrook, Tim Gedemer, Mark Simpson; cast: Maria Bello. “An in-depth look at the personal journey of Xate Singali: from her roots as a famous singer in Kurdistan, through ISIS sex slavery, and to her new life as a soldier on the front lines as she starts a female-only Iraqi fighting unit called the Sun Ladies.”
“Your Spiritual Temple Sucks” (Taiwan) • Lead artist: John Hsu; cast: Ctwo, Sun Ke-Fang, Han Chang, Andy Tsai, Wei Hao Tseng, Liu Kuan-Ting. “Mr. Chang arrives to his “Spiritual Temple,” a place that represents one’s destiny. To solve his marital crisis and financial problems, he summons his guardian: The Thunder God. They attempt to tidy his life, which turns out to be a big mistake … with hilarious consequences.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned a cast member that Sundance Institute erroneously listed for the VR project "Space Explorers: A New Dawn."