Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 27th, 2023
Back at SXSW 2023, they called it XR (for enhanced reality). The 2023 Tribeca Film Festival, however, exhibited all of their VR and AR experiences under the heading “immersive.” It’s still a brave new world, and everyone has a unique spin on it. I was lucky to be able to spend a little under half a day wandering through the expo hall where these fascinating projects resided. Below are my brief thoughts on what I saw.
Black Lands (Kinfolk Foundation/Idris Brewster/Micah Milner)
One enters this Augmented Reality (AR) exhibit via the real-world installation that has QR-code-like symbols embedded in the exhibit. One scans them with the provided iPad and suddenly an important African American figure from the past pops up to explain the significance of that spot to Black history. The idea is that soon we will all be able to explore our own particular cities using the Kinfolk app and discover important lessons related to African Americans and their achievements. I live in Baltimore and I expect that there will be much to see here.
Colored (Pierre-Alain Giraud/Stéphane Foenkinos/Tania de Montaigne)
Another AR exhibit that is also related to Black history, Colored recounts the tale of 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 2, 1955. Sound familiar? That’s because Rosa Parks would do the same thing 9 months later, only her actions would spur both a citywide bus boycott and a national civil-rights movement. Through a combination of onscreen film projection and in-space holographic reenactments, the 30-minute experience is a haunting journey into our very fraught past.
The Fury (Shirin Neshat)
Equally harrowing, if not even more so, is The Fury, in which we, the viewer, watch a 360º film of an Iranian woman seemingly seductively dancing for a large group of male guards. Except that through sharp cuts, after the camera shifts our perspective to that of the leering men, we see that the woman (Sheila Vand, The Rental), is increasingly marked by wounds, these coming from blows, cigarette burns, and possibly worse. It’s horrifying to be in the middle of it. But that’s what VR can do, place one at the center of visceral experiences.
In Search of Time (Pierre Zandrowicz/Matthew Tiernay)
An elliptical journey through memory, this 7-minute immersive film (which I watched sitting in a comfortable beanbag chair) proved the most elusive experience for me. That said, I appreciate the use of AI imagery and the exploration of the relationship of a father and son to time and to each other.
Monstrorama (Clément Deneux/Emilie Valentin)
Another AR project, Monstrorama places you in space where you interact with a monster of your choosing, picked from within a roster of horrific phantasmagoria. And even though I found myself stuck in a loop where I could not escape the repeated simulation of a werewolf attacking me (nor could I quite master the required hand gestures that would ostensibly free me), I still had a genuinely good time.
Over the Rainbow (Craig Quintero)
Along with The Fury, this was the most traditionally VR of the projects I experienced. It features performances of Taiwan-based artists in a museum-like space that morphs in front of our eyes into something quite visually spectacular. According to creator Craig Quintero, who was there at Tribeca, for whom this is the second such production after the 2022 All That Remains: “These productions break down the barrier separating spectator from spectacle and immerse the audience in the immediacy of the sensory exchange. The audience does not just ‘see’ the performance; they ‘experience’ it, becoming active participants in the event.”