In Arles, virtual reality as in the cinema

What does one recognize that a festival works rather well ? Its duration increases from one week to two months. This is what happened to the VR Arles Festival between its first edition last year at the beginning of July and this year’s edition, scheduled from July 3 to August 31 as part of the Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles. The vocation is the same (to discover films in virtual reality), the place is the same (the Saint-Césaire convent), the selection meets the same criteria (the narration and emotion of a story more than the technical esbroufe) and the same categories (fiction, artistic creation, documentary) with a prize awarded by a jury of professionals, chaired this year by the director Michel Hazanavicius.

But the scale is quite different. Twenty films are on the program (15 last year) and when, in 2016, the head-on screenings could take place in the courtyard of the convent under the trees or in a room quickly arranged in a slight ambient hubbub, the organizers wanted this year to reproduce the ceremonial of the film session.

We reserve his film at a ticket office to be given a small numbered plate corresponding to a post number. After a possible wait, we let ourselves be guided inside one of the two viewing rooms occupied by the festival, where last year was held photography exhibitions and musical evenings. Both were equipped with computers and visiocasques provided by Intel, the festival’s new partner, to the co-creators of Fisheye, a photography magazine, and BNP Paribas.

One is dedicated on the one hand to documentaries, such as We who remain, about the rebellion in the Nuba mountains in Sudan, or an exciting exploration of the famous painting Le ménines by Velasquez, on the other to “artistic creations” such as the game S. E. N. S. VR designed around the world of comics by Marc-Antoine Mathieu or Night Fall, an enigmatic ballet inspired by Swan Lake.

Films with actors, set and sets are still rare

The other room hosts fiction, whether it is computer-generated animations (Dear Angelica, which received the special mention of the jury, the disturbing Nothing Happens, the homage to Kinoscope cinema) or short films with actors and sets. These are still rare, given the difficulties involved in 360 ° shooting. The VR Arles Festival offered only one last year, I, Philip, already with a solid reputation. But this second edition in program three, including the jury prize, Miyubi, a tragicomic fable of forty minutes (a performance, in VR !) with the appearance of a family satire serving as a reflection on the obsolescence of machines and … men.

In the halls, it is total black. Despite the twenty positions in service (9 HTC Vive, 5 Oculus, 6 Samsung Gear VR), silence is required, the back and forth are discreet and everyone advances in hushed steps for fear of parasitizing immersive experiences in progress, even if each spectator is already largely isolated from the outside world by his headset and his Oculus or HTC Vive. But the idea here is to show that virtual reality is not just a world of thrills and oxen effects but also a world of narration, intimacy, more or less touching stories for which it is welcome to create a kind of setting. “The VR Arles festival claims to be the artistic festival of VR,” explains Jessica Lamacque, one of the event managers on site. We wanted to create a climate of comfort and tranquility, especially since many people who come are still testing VR for the first time.” In the first week alone, the convent of Saint-Césaire welcomed 7,000 people.

VR Arles Festival, from July 3 to August 31. See practical information and programming on the website.
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