Even as TIFF celebrates its 40th year, another Toronto festival is attempting to showcase a future of interactive moviemaking. Founded by Keram Malicki-Sanchez, the inaugural Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories (FIVARS) is collection of short films made explicitly for Virtual Reality. The Festival runs Saturday and Sunday, Septemer 19-20, from 11-7 at UG3 Live (77 Peter St.) in Toronto, with tickets on sale for $10 in advance or $15 at the door.
Unlike the more conventional offerings down the street at TIFF, the short films in FIVARS take full advantage of Virtual Reality, experimenting with new filmmaking techniques to tell stories that simply would not be possible with traditional projection. Each film is viewed with a VR headset (in this case, the Samsung Gear VR) and offers a full 360-degree viewing experience.
In MansLaughter (Dir. David Marlett), for instance, four different scenes play out simultaneously, and you can jump between them as you rotate in your chair. The audio track changes based on the direction you’re facing, making the proceedings easy to follow even if you’re not staying with the director-approved through line (indicated with a blue dot that hovers above the scenes). MansLaughter not only tells a story, but it shows you what the characters get up to when they’re not the center of attention.
The other films are filled with similarly inventive material. Intimate Strangers (Dir. Adam Cosco) tells the story of two lovers searching for a third, capitalizing on the voyeuristic nature of VR and taking you to a more private setting. It also demonstrates how VR fundamentally expands the cinematic toolkit for directors. Since VR offers 360 degrees of motion, it’s impossible to see everything in a single viewing. You could stay with the actors, or you can look around the house to learn more about the people who live in it, and the film can change drastically depending on what you’re looking at. You’ll see (or miss) crucial moments of action that occur in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect, making you a part of the film as you actively seek out the most interesting perspective.
That limited field of vision makes VR especially well suited to horror. Sonar (Dir. Philipp Maas & Dominik Stockhausen) is a psychological short about an astronaut exploring an asteroid, and while you could watch your probe through the window of your ship, it’s perhaps more haunting to look at the monitor that shows you what the probe is seeing. Dismember (Dir. Ian Tuason) opts for more jump scares, but it’s no less effective as you sit (and spin) with the knowledge that there could be something evil lurking in the dark behind you.
FIVARS includes a total of 14 films from around the world, and none of them are perfect. These projects were made on a budget and the acting and writing are appropriately limited.
However, they are uniquely engaging, largely because you can’t see films like these anywhere else. These are not regular shorts converted for VR in post-production. Each was filmed exclusively for Virtual Reality and VR projection, allowing for worlds that are more interactive, immersive, and complete than ordinary cinema. Directors haven’t even begun to realize the full capabilities of VR, but FIVARS at least offers a glimpse at the artistic potential of an entirely new medium.
That’s why FIVARS is worth checking out if you have a chance. The films are short (around 5 minutes in length), and each attempts to push beyond our ingrained cinematic vocabulary. FIVARS introduces concepts that will likely be refined and perfected in future generations, a prospect that should be exciting even if you haven’t yet bought a ticket on the VR bandwagon.
The Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories runs from September 19-20, 2015 at UG3 Live (77 Peter Street) from 11am-7pm. Advanced tickets are $10, door price $15. This is a 19+ event. You can also check out a free preview of some of the films from 1-9pm on Friday, September 18 at Metro Hall (200 Wellington St W #130) in Toronto.