VR Watch: Sundance creates a residency program in virtual reality

Sundance is pushing further into virtual reality, with the organization announcing a new residency program in VR.

New Frontier, the Sundance section that focuses on cutting-edge art forms, is creating the program with the co-backing of the VR company Jaunt. Initially it will support four artists.

The idea is to integrate VR filmmakers into the Sundance incubation system, known as the Story Labs, while also generally furthering the cause of cinematic VR, the immersive form of storytelling that’s distinct from the medium’s more gaming-centric uses.

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“The number of people who could shoot a 360-degree, virtual reality film is so limited, we felt we had to build a pathway to start increasing that capacity,” Kamal Sinclair, co-director of New Frontier, said in a phone interview.

Among the early residents of the six-month program will be Lynette Wallworth, whose film “Collisions” examines the clash of Aboriginal and Western culture in rural Australia. More will be named later.

Both nonfiction and fiction will be a part of the residency, principals say, but the program will focus on narrative pieces as opposed to so-called experiences or other forms.

The Sundance Story Labs offer an incubator of sorts for a range of screenwriters, directors, theater pros and others via their residency programs in which creators are given a place to work and develop their stories with professional advisement. Many works shown at the Sundance Film Festival came through the Story Labs. This is the first effort focused on VR

The move solidifies Sundance’s push into VR; the festival wing has been active in providing a venue for VR exhibits at New Frontier, last year showcasing a wide range of new work.

Jaunt, for its part, has increasingly aimed to be a force in the entertainment world, and has made various inroads, first launching a studio and then garnering backing from Disney and CAA.

The company says Sundance is a natural fit for further expansion.

“As we drive forward, our mission is to empower the next generation of artists and filmmakers,” said Jaunt Studios President Cliff Plumer. The launch of the Sundance Institute New Frontier | Jaunt VR Residency is further proof that cinematic virtual reality is a major force in the evolution of storytelling.”

Jaunt will offer equipment and technical support, guiding residents through the process of making a VR film.

The move is the latest effort to advance the cause of cinematic VR within the entertainment mainstream, and to bring together tech and creative worlds that have not always worked closely together.

“Whether it’s books or television or film or now augmented and virtual reality, this is all part of how we communicate with each other as a species,” Sinclair said. “I think we would really limit the potential of this medium if we weren’t looking beyond the tech and gaming world.”

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