VR title Finding Jakob by Olivier Pesch
"The future will either be virtual, or it won’t exist at all." This is the motto that the Virtual Reality Pavilion opened with in the presence of Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on the eve of the 8th edition of the Luxembourg City Film Festival (22 February to 4 March). The program arranged by the Film Fund Luxembourg gave a general overview of what is currently doing best in the field of visual technology. Practical workshops and round tables were offered to curious attendees and professionals, as well as VR installations and films, which punctuated the ten days of activities..
Launched in 2017, the Virtual Reality Pavilion has invested in the Casino-Forum of Contemporary Art this year, a site which previously served as the festival's headquarters. Alice - The Virtual Reality Play sessions were held in the Casino Black Box (Mathias Chelebourg and Marie Jourdren, France, 2017), a VR theatre production in which viewers can interact with the fabulous creatures of Lewis Carroll's tale. The sessions were full for the duration of the festival.
The Casino-Forum of Contemporary Art's Aquarium acted as a playground for other forms of immersive experience. David Wedelentitled's installation, Separate Silences (Denmark, 2017) offered the viewer a seat in a hospital bed. Once in this physical set-up, the viewer was invited to embrace the feelings of a character in a coma following a car accident. The experience could be described as hypnagogic as it plays on the idea of dream states.
An assistant accompanied the viewer throughout the story, ventilating them and occasionally awakening their senses – a welcome reminder that virtual reality can also be used for therapeutic needs (overcoming phobias or trauma for example). It is to this end that the US military used this technology about fifteen years ago; Harun Farocki focused one of his installations on this subject area (Serious Game, 2009-2010).
Helmets were freely available under the bay window at the Aquarium to members of the public who wanted to explore the worlds of ten films, including Altercation by Jérôme Blanquet (2017) and The People's House: Inside the White House with Barack Obama and Michelle Obama by Paul Raphael and Félix Lajeunesse (2017). Produced by the Luxembourg studio Samsa Film, Finding Jakob (2018) by Olivier Pesch immerses the viewer in a real thriller: a child, Jakob, has been kidnapped and the culprit must be found as soon as possible.
The viewer, whose point of view is relayed via a subjective camera, is caught in a plot in which he or she is unable to act or interact (physically or verbally) with the other characters. While the experiment quickly shows its limitations, by following interpreted sessions (Alice) and assisted facilities (Separate Silences), you quickly come to understand just how different the uses of VR can be. Placed at the heart of the show, the public blithely crosses the boundaries traditionally forged between the arts and video games, with those of a more sensitive disposition coming out feeling somewhat turned around.
Several practical workshops combining virtual reality and augmented reality were also available to schools who were always eager to learn about fun and modern equipment. Among the VR Day roundtables was a panel led by Michel Reilhac, which focused on the potential and new uses of virtual technology ("A new frontier for cultural creation?").
Practitioners (Toby Coffey, Mads Damsbo, Karolina Markiewicz and Pascal Piron) also enriched debates and answered questions from the audience. Hosted by Monique Simard, the second panel raised the issue of exploiting and financing VR films ("The development and distribution of immersive virtual reality content in 2018 and beyond"). The speakers of the day – Marie Blondiaux, Antoine Cardon, Marion Guth, Stéphane Cardin – stressed the need for independent production studios to unite against the creation of large companies such as Disney.
The Virtual Reality Pavilion successfully united audience expectations with the perspectives of professionals.