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Venice dedicates entire island to VR (2017)

If you thought that the Venice Film Festival had lost its relevance, think again. The oldest film festival in the world embraces the future of cinema by hosting the biggest and boldest presentation of virtual reality ever seen at any film festival. And they do it in a way that only Venice can – with an immaculate sense of style and aplomb. The main big news is that Venice will dedicate an abandoned island in the lagoon to the presentation of the world’s best VR productions.

Head of Submarine Channel and VR director, Michel Reilhac, who co-programs Venice VR with Power to the Pixel founder Liz Rosenthal, takes us through the Festival program and the VR pieces in competition. Reilhac reveals the Venice Biennale’s ambitious plans for Lazzaretto Vecchio. The island will be transformed into a virtual reality paradise during the Biennale from August 31st to September 5th, 2017.

There are several artists who come from the ‘flat world,’ like Laurie Anderson and Tsai-Ming Liang who are making their first forays into VR. That is one angle that we wanted to explore.


Scroll down to see the complete line-up.
Bookmark this page as we will keep updating it with new info and images.

Images by Michel Reilhac’s phone. Scroll down for more exclusive photos of Venice’s “VR island.”

Lazzaretto Vecchio

Located less than 50 meters from the Lido, where the festival takes place, sits Lazzaretto Vecchio. This small, abandoned island used to be a leper colony and a quarantine transit island between the 15th and 17th century. About a decade ago, the hospital and the adjoining buildings on the island were partly renovated to house a future Museum of Archeology, which has not materialized to date. Now, Lazzaretto Vecchio has found a new purpose.

Three of the former hospital’s extended hallways and galleries will offer plenty of space for Venice’s ambitious VR program. “We will have something like 4000 square meters to just do the installations,” says Michel Reilhac. But it’s not just about the space, he adds. The atmosphere on the island is “simply magical.” This will be the very first time ever that the island is opened to visitors.

Other news is that a temporary vaporetto shuttle line will run between the west side of the island which will connect it with the Lido. But you could probably swim the distance. Venice VR will literally be just a stone’s throw from the heart of the Festival and The PalaBiennale, which is one of the largest screening venues. The island alone is worth the short trip comments Michel, “There’s so much history in this place.”


Venice VR Competition at a glance

A major selection criterium of Venice is that all pieces have to be international or world premieres. The second criterium is of course the quality of the piece. 103 submissions were sent in from all over the world for Venice’s first VR competition. Among the 22 VR pieces that were selected are six room-scale installations, six Oculus and three Vive stand ups. Scroll down for a complete list of productions and a short description of each piece.

An international jury composed of John Landis (president),Ricky Tognazziand Celine Sciamma will award three prizes for all Virtual Reality films in competition: Best VR, Best VR Experience (for interactive content) and Best VR Story (for linear content).


VR Theater

Venice VR also features a dedicated VR theater with 50 revolving leather seats located in a huge hangar from the 16th century. Visitors can see three programs in competition. Highlights include the first VR piece, The Deserted (55′), by internationally renowned Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang. Additionally, there will be an Out of Competition program featuring previous VR pieces by directors who are part of this year’s Venice Production Bridge – the pitch market of the Festival.

A fifth program features three pieces from this year’s premiere edition of the Venice Biennale College Cinema – Virtual Reality which will be presented out of competition. The Venice Biennale College is a two-part pressure cooker-style training program that preps participants for a bright 360° interactive immersive future. Two projects (out of ten projects developed during this year’s College) have been made with support from Sony are presented alongside the third piece, a VR spinoff from Beautiful Things, which is one of the three “flat” films produced this year by the Biennale College Cinema.


The Sand Room, the installation Laurie Anderson
 is developing, is totally spectacular.


Venice Virtual Reality: Installations in Competition

There will be six installations that allow visitors to interact with the space and sometimes with actors. There are a couple of pieces that fall in the category of Reactive Theater; interactive VR experiences that use live performers, also referred to as “reactive actors.” Draw Me Close by the National Theatre and the NFB is a VR installation in which the actors “play” with the audience making the piece more immersive.

Hver Sin Stilhed (Separate Silences) (website)
by David Wedel with Elias Munk, Sine Lindstorff Kjeldsen, Marcus Aurelius Christensen, Anna Nøhr Tolstrup, Erik Engedal Christensen / Denmark / 17’ / Installation

Separate Silences is a live action piece for two people made by Danish students and featuring reactive actors. You and your sister are both in a coma. You are in hospital beds, facing each other. As you reminisce about your life, a dark shadow appears and you eerily get to experience what it’s like to meet death. “Really creepy but really effective.”

The Last Goodbye
by Gabo Arora, Ari Palitz
(@gaboarora) / USA / 20’ / Installation

A room-scale installation about a survivor, now an old man, who visits the concentration camp where his family died and where he was held prisoner.

Draw Me Close Chapters 1-2
by Jordan Tannahill
(website) / Canada, UK / 15’ / Installation

Draw me Close VR Jordan Tannahill installation by NFB National Theatre

An installation with reactive actors. A co-production between the National Film Board of Canada and the National Theatre.This is a very moving piece where you are dealing with your mother who is dying of cancer.

Snatch VR Heist Experience
by Rafa Pavón, Nicolás Alcalá
(website) with Rupert Grint, Luke Pasqualino, Lucien Laviscount, Phoebe Dynevor / USA / 5’ / Installation

Snatch VR installation

A small PSVR tie-in piece to the TV-series Snatch on Crackle – Sony’s free, ad-supported media streaming service. A tie-in to Guy Ritchie’s crime comedy from 2000, Snatch is a game where you need to crack the code of a chest. Starring Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint.

Alice – The Virtual Reality Play
by Mathias Chelebourg
(website), Marie Jourdren with Robin Berry, Josh Jefferies / France / 20’ / Installation

Alice – The Virtual Reality Play installation by Mathias Chelebourg, Marie Jourdren with Robin Berry, Josh Jefferies at the Venice Film Festival

Alice is an installation based on Alice in Wonderland. A combination of live action and animation. “The most sophisticated reactive piece I have ever seen,” says Reilhac. As Alice, you interact with characters who react in real time to what you say and do.

La Camera Insabbiata (The Sand Room)
Laurie Anderson (website), Hsin-Chien Huang / Animation film / USA / 20’ / Installation

The Sand Room virtual reality installation by Laurie Anderson at the Venice Film Festival

The Sand Room virtual reality installation by Laurie Anderson at the Venice Film Festival

The Sand Room virtual reality installation by Laurie Anderson at the Venice Film Festival

“Sand Room by Laurie Anderson is a spectacular interactive installation. The piece consists of huge spaces that you explore by flying or gliding. The walls are made of chalk boards that are filled with texts.” Reilhac stretches his arms out in front of him to illustrate how the flying works; by making the two Vive controllers touch each other. “There is a room in the piece, where, if you sing your song materializes into a sculpture. You can see all the sculptures of previous people. If you touch a sculpture you hear the song. It’s incredible what she’s done.”


List of selected works, continued…

Venice Virtual Reality – In Competition


Shi Meng Lao Ren (The Dream Collector)
by MI LI / Animation film / China / 11’ / Oculus Stand Up

A Chinese animation about a guy who lives under the freeways where he collects objects that people throw out of their cars. With a surprising reveal in the end.

My Name Is Peter Stillman (website)
by Lysander Ashton
, Leo Warner / Animation film / UK / 6’ / Oculus Stand Up

My Name is Peter Tillman VR

In this short animation you are a very disturbed man who is examining himself in a mirror. The movements of your head are mimicked by the animation in VR making you feel like you are him. Inspired by Paul Auster’s celebrated first novel, The New York Trilogy.

Arden’s Wake (Epanded)
by Eugene YK Chung / Animation film / USA / 16’ / Oculus Stand Up


Arden’s Wake is one of the most impressive animations done in VR today. This is a room scale animation. It’s a story about a little girl who lives on the water with her father.

by Nicolás Alcalá
(website) / Animation film / USA / 24’ / Oculus Stand Up
Melita is an ambitious animated sci-fi series with some interactivity by Nicolás Alcalá – an up and coming VR director. It’s a story about a young girl and her Artificial Intelligence being who are leaving their planet. (24”)

by Richard Mills, Kim-Leigh-Pontin / Animation film / UK / 15’ / Vive Stand Up
An animation where you become Nefertiti. As the enigmatic Egyptian queen you control a crowd of dancing slaves in a desert. And by raising your arms you can make cities rise up from the sand. A bit cheesy but very well done and entertaining.

Greenland Melting
by Nonny de la Peña
(website) / USA / 11’ / Vive Stand Up

A VR documentary by the “godmother of virtual reality,” Nonny de la Peña. You’re on a Greenland glacier with two scientists who talk to you about the melting icecaps. One of the first room scale live action VR pieces.

Nothing Happens
by Uri and Michelle Kranot
 / Animation film / Denmark, France / 14’ / Vive Stand Up

by Mathieu Pradat with Adde Fabrice, Djaga Maud, Denis Guillaume / France / 9’ / VR Theater 

Chuang (In the Pictures)
Qing Shao / Animation film / China / 5’ / VR Theater
A Chinese live action film with beautiful dreamlike visual effects about two children in a city suspended in the sky. The kids interact with huge floating objects.

Edward Robles / Animation film / USA, UK / 6’ / Oculus Stand Up

Dispatch VR by Edward Nobles
Two episodes from an upcoming VR animation series, You are a dispatch officer in a police station when an emotional distress call comes in.

Gomorrah VR – We Own The Streets
by Enrico Rosati with Marco D’Amore, Salvatore Esposito, Fabio De Caro / Italy / 14’ / VR Theater

The premiere of one self-contained large scene of a VR series that the creators of the acclaimed Italian TV neo noir drama series are looking to develop. The series features the same cast and the same setting, but in VR.

I Saw The Future
by Francois Vautier
(website) / France / 5’ / VR Theater
A pure visual exercize. Vautier took a 1960 interview of a very famous science fiction writer who was interviewed about the future. Everything he says is going to happen came true, or is developing today: Artificial intelligence, communications, robots, etc. Vautier took the black-and-white TV interview as a starting point and processed it to look like you are in a visual environment in the far future.

Free Whale (website)
by Zhang Peibin / Animation film / China / 7’ / Oculus Stand Up

Jia Zai Lanre Si (The Deserted)
by Tsai Ming-Liang
(imdb) / with Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi, Lu Yi-ching, Yin Shin / Taiwan / 55’ / VR Theater

Tsai Ming Liang THE-DESERTED VR Venice

Photo: Chang Jhong Yuan

A man is recuperating from an illness in the mountains. There, he meets his late mother, a fish and a female ghost who lives next door. Produced by HTC Vive.

Dongducheon (Bloodless) (website)
Gina Kim / South Korea, USA / 12’ / VR Theater

Gina Kim Bloodless VR

Based on a true story, Bloodless traces the last living moments of a real-life sex worker who was brutally murdered by a US soldier at the Dongducheon Camptown in South Korea in 1992. Shot on location where the crime took place.

The Argos File (website)
by Josema Roig with Joshua Furtado, Matthew Amerman, April Fritz, Jamie Slovon / US / 4’ / VR Theater

The ARgos File VR

An impressive VR-teaser for a very ambitious Hollywood-style movie about a futuristic destroyed city. Very well produced.


Biennale College Cinema – Virtual Reality

Out of Competition


by Flavio Costa / producer: Laura Catalano with Camilla Diana, Christian Burruano / Italy / 17’ / VR Theater

Denoise (Beautiful Things)
by Giorgio Ferrero / producer: Federico Biasin with Van Quattro, Danilo Tribunal, Andrea Pavoni Belli, Vito Mirizzi / Italy / 12’ / VR Theater

by Camille Duvelleroy, Isabelle Foucrier / producer: Laurent Duret / France / 10’ / VR Theater

These three projects were developed at Biennale College Cinema. Denoise (Beautiful Things) was entirely financed by La Biennale di Venezia. Chromatica was also financed by La Biennale di Venezia, with support from SONY.


Venice Production Bridge – VR

Out of Competition

Sens – Part 1 (more info on Screendiver)
by Charles Ayats
(website), Marc-Antoine Mathieu / Animation film / France / 10’ / VR Theater

Alteration (Oculus store)
by Jerome Blanquet / Fiction / France / 16’ / VR Theater

Mule (website)
by Guy Shemerdine / Fiction / USA / 6’ / VR Theater

Naive New Beaters “Heal Tomorrow”
by Romain Chassaing / Music Video / UK / 4’ / VR Theater


The four projects participated in the 2016 Venice Gap-Financing Market of the Venice Production Bridge.


Best of VR

Out of Competition


Dear Angelica (Oculus Store)
by Saschka  Unseld / Animation film / USA / 13’ / Oculus Stand Up

Miyubi (Oculus Store)
by Felix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphael with Owen Vaccaro, P.J. Byrne, Richard Riehle, Emily Bergl, Ted Sutherland, Tatum Kensington Bailey, Lindsay Arnold, Noah Crawford, Jeff Goldblum

Canada / 40’ / VR Theater


The Venice Production Bridge

For the second consecutive year, Venice’s gap financing market is open to both “flat” feature films and VR projects in development. 42 Projects have been selected to pitch, including ten VR pieces. The producers and directors of the projects will have one-on-ones with some 45 financers from all over the world. (Submarine Channel’s Ashes to Ashes was part of last year’s market).


Snapshots of Lazzaretto Vecchio

Article by Remco Vlaanderen



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