MIFF reveals first of its kind Extended Reality program

MIFF-XR-Symphony-VRThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has unveiled its world-leading immersive cinema program – MIFF XR.

The first of its kind in Australia, the inaugural Extended Reality program encompasses augmented reality and virtual reality; a program that reflects and represents the very best of emergent 360° and interactive filmmaking. Available for free globally, with no head set or special tech required, thanks to this year’s festival, these experiences are more accessible than ever.

The festival’s first public online XR space – where audiences can meet, gather, mingle and discuss their experiences online – is a digitised replication of Festival Partner, The Capitol – RMIT University. Audiences from across the world are invited to come together in a fully immersive rendering of Melbourne’s iconic cinema, with its magnificent interior brought to life in spectacular 3D.

Visitors can dive into one of MIFF’s incredible XR offerings, resurfacing to chat through their experience, before they move into another transformative world. With nine XR experiences on offer – from leading Australian artists and MIFF alumni to international filmmakers and voice cast such as Charlotte Rampling and Edward Norton – there’s hours of immersive entertainment to be had.

“We’re excited to expand on our highly regarded VR program and introduce this new chapter to our audience” said MIFF programmers Kate Fitzpatrick and Mia Falstein-Rush. “We see XR playing a major role in the evolution of cinema as we know it and providing exciting and innovative ways for filmmakers to tell stories. We are thrilled to be able to welcome anyone with a computer, anywhere around the globe into our newly minted virtual world.”

Made possible with the support of filmmaker, artist and philanthropist Ling Ang, the new program was developed in partnership with award-winning VR studio INVR.

With a simple download, the MIFF XR platform transports visitors to Swanston Street, where trams, bikes and iconic Melbourne landmarks set the scene. On entering The Capitol, visitors create a personalised avatar and can strike up real-time conversations with others.

From here five different experiences can be enjoyed from desktop computers and devices with no need for special equipment. These include:

Winner of the NewImages Festival’s Golden Mask for the Best Experience in Virtual Reality, Bodyless uses creator Hsien-Chien Huang’s memories of Taiwan during the martial law period of the 1970s to conjure a surreal, distinctive world of overgrown foliage and ghostly presences. Immersive and illuminating, the work comments powerfully on new technologies’ inheritance of ‘old’-world tyranny and oppression.

Equally as poignant, Bridge to Sovietopia leads audiences through a series of 360-degree Soviet ruins – remnants of scientific triumph, crumbling temples of progress and sites of fading grandeur. Marie Alice Wolfszahn’s three chapters – ‘Progress’, ‘Productivity’ and ‘Ideology’ – each offer a fascinating window into a world of imagination and experimentation within the fields of science, industry and culture.

Lagos at Large is an immersive 360-degree documentary weaving audiences through markets and monuments to idyllic beaches and bustling streets, in a poignant love letter to the titular city. Jumoke Sanwo uses the perspective of poet Njideka and her bracingly affectionate words alongside a vibrant, percussive score to truly immerse audiences.

Bear witness to a Samoan rite of passage as IOPU takes audiences behind the curtain of a resplendent theatre following a queer Samoan-Australian performer who is about to take the stage. Through drama, dress and dance, Iopu Auva’a and Aaron Wilson explore the themes of alienation, acceptance and finding kinship.

Four years in the making, featuring 100 musicians from 42 countries, Symphony is a joyous, majestic work that seeks to introduce classical music to a new generation of audiences. Directed by Igor Cortadellas and guided by conductor Gustavo Dudamel, viewers are taken on an orchestral extravaganza alongside insightful incursions into instrument creation, as well as each sound’s effect on the brain.

In addition, three interactive experiences require viewers’ own virtual reality devices – such as Oculus Rift, Quest (tethered), and HTC Vive. These include: Paper Birds – produced by Baobab studios (Bonfire, MIFF2019; Invasion, MIFF 2016) the story of a child who has trouble seeing but is gifted with tremendous musical abilities.

Boasting a voice cast that includes Edward Norton (Fight Club), Joss Stone and Archie Yates (Jojo Rabbit), German Heller and Federico Carlini’s film evokes shades of Tim Burton’s fantastically dark oeuvre, exploring the friction between light and dark sand between our inspired and frightened selves.

Charlotte Rampling guides audiences through underwater caves filled with bioluminescent creatures in the SXSW Virtual Cinema Competition Audience Award winner Biolum. Be transformed into a deep-sea diver, navigating the ocean’s wonders and encountering a series of luminescent creatures in this dazzling interactive narrative VR experience from Abel Kohen which blurs the lines between biological truth and sci-fi.

Combining animation, character choreography and the sonic structure of ASMR, Nightsss distils the Polish-specific sounds of Weronika Lewandowska’s poetry for an erotic, sensorial experience that transforms the spoken word into audio-visual landscapes that cross language barriers.

The final unique experience, Fortune! uses augmented reality accessed on an android smartphone. Brett Gaylor, Nicolas Bourniquel and Arnaud Colinart’s (Notes on Blindness Into Darkness, MIFF 2016) piece follows one of history’s greatest swindlers, professional counterfeiter Frank Bourassa, who infamously printed an estimated $250 million in fake currency. A unique opportunity for audiences to enter the mind of the world’s greatest con man.

MIFF XR can be accessed until by 22 August by downloading the platform. The 2021 Melbourne International Film Festival is in online until 22 August and in cinemas 12 – 22 August. For more information, visit: www.miff.com.au for details.

Image: Symphony (film still)