"Gnomes & Goblins" "Gnomes & Goblins"

Barring another reversal in the fight against the pandemic, the Venice Film Festival, scheduled for September 2–12, will be the first major film event to take place with a physical presence since March. But the festival’s virtual reality sidebar will remain purely virtual, playing out online under the banner Venice VR Expanded.

Venice has historically been ahead of the vr curve, honoring the medium with a competition since 2017. This year’s line-up of 44 vr titles, several of which are animated, is a typically rich selection. Wisely, the organizers won’t be asking visitors to don sweaty headsets — the works will have to be viewed on a dedicated online platform supported by HTC Viveport, Facebook’s Oculus, VRChat, and VRRoom. This rather limits their audience to those who own a headset or have access to one of the festival’s partner venues.

There are 44 vr works in all: 31 in competition, nine out of competition, and four that were developed as part of the Biennale College Cinema workshop. Big Hollywood and indie names are represented among the animated titles.

Jon Favreau, director of the Lion King remake, is here with Gnomes & Goblins (image at top), an interactive fantasy game he created. The project was first previewed in 2016; this full version has an improbable runtime of 120 minutes, according to the program. It is produced by Wevr, MWMi, and Golem Creations.

Also premiering is The Hangman at Home by Michelle and Uri Kranot, the Denmark-based luminaries of experimental animation. The duo previously ventured into vr with the wonderfully disquieting Nothing Happens (which was also released as a conventional short film). Their new work tells five interwoven stories that explore “themes surrounding acknowledgement and the awkward intimacy of humanness.”

"The Hangman at Home"
“The Hangman at Home.”

Several leading vr production houses are unveiling their latest works. Baobab Studios are presenting the witchcraft adventure tale Baba Yaga, which was teased in June at Annecy. Atlas V, the dynamic studio behind the SXSW-winning Gloomy Eyes, is back with Goodbye Mister Octopus, a coming-of-age story created in Quill.

Access will be open to anyone with a festival accreditation; special vr accreditations will also be issued. The jury is composed of vr filmmaker Celine Tricart (The Key), video game creator Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid), and documentary director Asif Kapadia (Diego Maradona).

Below are the animated titles we’ve identified in the line-up. Venice has not provided a breakdown of animation titles, so the list may not be exhaustive and we welcome identifications of other projects that contain animation. The full list of films at Venice VR Expanded can be found here.

  • Ajax All Powerful — Ethan Shaftel (U.S./China)
  • Baba Yaga — Eric Darnell, Mathias Chelebourg (U.S.)
  • Beat — Keisuke Itoh (Japan)
  • Gnomes And Goblins — Jon Favreau, Jake Rowell (U.S.)
  • Goodbye Mister Octopus — Amaury Campion (France/U.S.)
  • Gravity VR — Fabito Rychter, Amir Admoni (Brazil/Peru)
  • Great Hoax: The Moon Landing — John Hsu, Marco Lococo (Taiwan/Argentina)
  • The Book Of Distance — Randall Okita (Canada)
  • The Hangman At Home: An Immersive Single User Experience — Michelle Kranot, Uri Kranot (Denmark/France/Canada)
  • Recoding Entropia — François Vautier (France)
  • We Live Here — Rose Troche (U.S.)