Sundance New Frontiers Showcase, Full Turn (photo credit: SWP Media)
To most people, the annual event known as the Sundance Film Festival is a place to first see films made outside the industrial-scale studio system. The 10-day festival is recognized as the premiere showcase for the newest work by independent dramatic and documentary filmmakers. However, it is also a place for seminars and workshops on diverse themes, a music stage, and an exhibition space for cutting edge technology, the basis for the New Frontiers program of the festival.
Years ago, two of Pixar's founding engineers used a guerrille marketing approach, using the inside of a parked van, to demonstrate the potential of computer graphics in expanding the concept of animation. The development of digital media has continued ever since and New Frontiers 2017 was one of the "hottest tickets" with full waiting lists every day.
Here are just three examples of the creative installations that greeted Sundance attendees:
Tree: Tree was a virtual reality exhibit, part of New Climate program, that allowed a participant to experience of growing from germinating seed, into a giant tree, before being destroyed by fires and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. The VR experience produced a visceral sense of an existential environmental issue that should be of concern to everyone. The technology was created by a Peruvian digial media artist and supported by the Rainforest Alliance.
Riders of the Storyboard: was created by a collective known as DandyPunk that took place in a box-like place where the walls, floor, and ceiling of the room became their canvas. Light was "captured" in containers and placed upon the drawn surfaces by performance artists who moved randomly among the viewers. Design elements included mythological creatures, Celtic, Druid, and Egyptian symbols, all combined with animated movement on the surfaces directed by the performers. The art and technology was a 'tour de force' of creativity, worth multiple visits if you could get in, and easier to view than describe:
Journey to the Center of the Natural Machine: was a demonstration of augmented reality created by a California-based company, Metavision. AR applies holographic projections where a viewer could "touch", follow, and interact with components of the brain to understand its evolution as a complex natural machine. The visualized story lasted only a few minutes but could have gone on for hours because it was so fascinating, educational, and exciting to encounter.
It was impossible to catch all the New Frontiers offerings that occurred in two separate locations at Sundance. A Virtual Reality Palace was constructed to house an additional selection of installations, often from film subjects that were being shown, but only a lucky few had the opportunity to acquire tickets. Perhaps next year!