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SIFF VR Zone - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
Steve's Livejournal
SIFF's capsule summary: "This year, SIFF is excited to debut a new Festival venue: The SIFF VR Zone at Pacific Place. Produced by Seattle's WonderTek Labs, the program showcases a tightly curated selection of immersive and interactive storytelling from Seattle and around the world. The diverse slate includes a 360 African Storytelling section with innovative pieces from Senegal and Kenya; Greenland Melting, a new work from 'Godmother of VR' Nonny de la Peña and co-director Catherine Upin; breathtaking new experimental pieces from South Korea, China, and Australia; immersive 360 music videos from Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) and The Posies, and compelling new works by Seattle-based VR developers and artists. A 360 Youth section will showcase Tapestry 360, a slate of new 360 films recently created by seven Seattle youth, alongside 360 films created by a group of Syrian youth living in a refugee camp in Jordan, produced by Al Jazeera and executive producer Zahra Rasool. Check out the full list of content below the screening times.
    The SIFF VR Zone at Pacific Place will include both 360 Storytelling stations, presenting arthouse-level 360 video content and an Interactive Gallery featuring interactive experiential content in 8-10 individual booths." (90 minutes)
SIFF link: SIFF VR Zone

The Visigoths

SIFF's capsule summary: "The Visigoths is an intense romantic drama that puts you feet away from a young couple falling in love. It is a powerfully intimate experience of the fragility and hope of new love, bringing you onto the island that two lovers create for themselves, where only they can go – because only they know the way." (USA, 2016, 16 minutes)
SIFF link: The Visigoths

This film had two sets: a scenic patch of forest, and the main characters' sparse apartment. They fall in love in the former, and have a relationship crisis in the latter. 5 Fair

The story is fair. The actress is very attractive, but her acting is only fair. The actor's performance was good.

Overall, I rate the film fair.

I don't know what the title has to do with the film.

Languages: English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but if they were this film would rate an "R" for nudity.

The Sun Ladies VR

SIFF's capsule summary: "In 2014, ISIS invaded Iraq and targeted the Yazidi community. The men were killed, and the women taken as sex slaves. Some of the women who escaped started a female-only fighting unit called the Sun Ladies to bring back their sisters and protect the honor and dignity of their people.
    The Sun Ladies VR experience is an in-depth look at the personal journey of the captain of the Sun Ladies, Xate Singali. From her roots as a famous singer in Kurdistan to her new life as a soldier on the front lines, risking everything to stop the violence against her people.
    The audience will be faced with the question, 'What would you do faced with extreme inhumane violence against those you love?'" (USA, 2018, 7 minutes)
SIFF link: The Sun Ladies VR

The film is mostly the Sun Ladies' leader talking and presenting her soldiers, in and around a desert fortress. During some of the narration, scenes are illustrated with drawings overlaying the 3D landscape. 9 Excellent

Maria Bello provides the English translated voice for Xate Singali, leader of the Sun Ladies. Her voice performance was so strong I didn't even realize it was dubbed until I read the credits.

The material is moving, and the restraint of the illustrations of the narration adds to the strength.

Overall, I rate the film excellent. It is definitely the best of the VR Zone shorts I saw

Languages: probably Kurdish, dubbed into English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13", for narration of war crimes.

The Cabiri: Anubis

SIFF's capsule summary: "At the banks of the Nile River, in ancient Egypt, a man mourns his beloved wife. When the man finds himself in the underworld he is attended by the serpent daughter of Anubis, who gets him ready for judgment. Will the dead man's heart be light and allow his soul passage into eternal paradise? Or will the weight of life's trials be heavy upon his heart, drawing his soul down into the jaws of the beast who eats the hearts of those disallowed passage?" (USA, apparently 2018)
SIFF link: The Cabiri: Anubis

A modern dance company performs in a fairly large performance space, with some props, costumes, and aerial harnesses. 5 Fair

I appreciated the good dance choreography and excellent performances (which included an acquaintance). But I was less impressed by the production's use of the 3D VR medium.

Overall, I rate the film fair.

Languages: English (if any; I don't recall dialog).

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG".

Uplift VR: Maiden Flight

SIFF's capsule summary: "While launching into the heavens on a balloon ride's experimental flight, you find yourself overlooking a wondrous land calling out to be explored. During your descent from the clouds to the grounds below, you get the feeling that this could be just the beginning of a series of grand adventures." (USA)
SIFF link: Uplift VR: Maiden Flight

This started promising; before starting the show and putting on the VR headset, I stepped into a large basket that resembled some kinds of hot air balloons. The flight was just the balloon rising to a fairly high altitude, then descending back to where it started. 4 Lackluster

The scenery was blocky and simple, and not in an artistic minimalist way; it just suggested that the makers of the short just trying to fill the space with some scenery. The sound design was good; when I turned around, I had the feeling that sounds came from specific directions.

Overall, I rate the film lackluster.

Incidentally, we went on an actual balloon ride at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on January 15. [Link may be empty.]

Languages: I don't remember dialog.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "G".


SIFF's capsule summary: "What happens when a young female coder joins a male-dominated floundering startup that's deep in an identity crisis? UTurn is an immersive live-action VR comedy where viewers get to experience both sides of the gender divide in tech.
    ABOUT UTURN: There are 2 stories happening at once in this experience, one told from a female point of view, the other one from a male point of view. The way this has been done is by dividing the 360 space in 2 halves, with one story on each side. So you can choose which one to follow by simply turning your head/body around. You will only hear what you are looking at, but you can peek a little to the other side by bending your head or turning a bit, before deciding to switch. And you can tell who you are by simply looking down, you will see an actor's body, female or male. Finally, like in real life, the side you don't watch doesn't stop, it keeps going, so you will miss some of it, that is part of the experience." (USA, circa 2017)
SIFF link: UTurn

A software company is in a state of crisis. Some sort of attack has disrupted its servers. A woman software developer is the only one who understands the system well enough to resolve the problems. But when the male bosses offer credit to the woman's male co-workers, they don't bother to grant her the credit she deserves. (I mostly watched this side of the story.)

Meanwhile, something complicated is happening in the executive suite. Maybe it's a buyout, maybe an influx of funding, maybe something else. But the executives are in a panic, and don't have time to pay much attention to the near-collapse of the servers. 5 Fair

Although I appreciate the statement the film was making, I felt like the statement overwhelmed the drama. The technology jargon felt like the writers spent a lot of time listening to software developers talking about work, but didn't actually understand it very well. The premise was clever, and the camera work supported the directing.

I watched mostly the woman side of the story, where a woman had the leading role and a bunch of men flailed around. The actress there was good, but like their characters, the male actors weren't all that good. I didn't get much feeling for the people in the executive view of the story, because I mostly watched the other side of the film.

I'm not sure whether the title is explained anywhere in the film.

Overall, I rate the film fair. I admire it for its ambition, however.

Languages: English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13" for the strong language.

World One

SIFF's capsule summary: "Explore a massive, abstract Virtual Reality "paintscape".
    This artwork was created with the virtual reality painting program: Tilt Brush ​ ​https://www.tiltbrush.com/ and brought into the Unity 3D game engine: ​ https://unity3d.com/​ where interactivity and virtual reality​ authoring were done.
    By using the hand controllers, the viewer can fly/float/drift through the world. They are free to go where they want or simply sit and be in the space. The retail version​ of WORLD ONE contains a 'high resolution' in-game camera (on the RIGHT controller) which allows users to take 'snapshots' of interesting compositions, much like one would do while visiting an exotic location." (USA)
SIFF link: World One

This film is just a lot of abstract art, hanging on planes at irregular skews. The hand controllers allow flying through the art. There's no narrative; it's a self-guided tour. 6 Almost Good

The art was good, but after a while I went looking for something different, and I didn't find anything other than more of the same.

Overall, I rate the film almost good.

Languages: none.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "G".

Space Explorers: A New Dawn

SIFF's capsule summary: "Space Explorers: A New Dawn is a cinematic VR series about the new age of space exploration. Witness the lives of NASA astronauts as they navigate the trials and sacrifices of their training and missions. Space Explorers: A New Dawn will shine a light on mankind's most ambitious journey to understand our planet, our universe and our origins." (Canada)
SIFF link: Space Explorers: A New Dawn

This short was highly recommended by the docents, and it sounded right up my alley. But alas, the headset had technical difficulties, so I wasn't able to see this one.


SIFF's capsule summary: "This cinematic VR experience puts you in the backseat of a vintage Cadillac behind Ed and Mary-Helen as they journey down a Missouri country road to the cemetery where their estranged son Sebastian is buried. The interactive installation is a three dimensional story that features memorabilia from Sebastian's life as well as photos of past participants posing with objects that speak to their own personal stories of love and loss.
    Photographic Portraits by Julienne Schaer ('Hat', 'Mary', 'Newspaper', 'Bride' and Tagger Yancey ('GI Joe', 'Dog Card', 'Coming Out', 'Silence=Death', 'Mask', 'Feet', 'Pattern')" (USA)
SIFF link: Queerskins: A Love Story

I didn't see this one myself, but "J" did. After talking with a VR Zone docent, the docent strongly recommended it to J, and even invited J to stick around a bit past the schedule end of the 1 pm VR Zone time slot so J could see it. 8 Very Good

J said a lot of good things to me about it, that she found it moving. She didn't give it a specific rating, but I'm going to interpret her reaction as a "very good" rating.

Languages: English.

Ratings: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US. These films would have an assortment of ratings if they were rated.

Screening: 1 pm, "SIFF VR Zone" in Pacific Place.
Audience: full house, about 20 capacity.

Snacks: none.

Ads and announcements: no ads; in-person introduction by VR Zone docents.

Notes to myself:

SIFF statistics: 30 films (24 features, 6 shorts), 25 time slots, 2 parties. (J saw different VR Zone shorts than I did; I'm estimating that she saw about the same number of them.)

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