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Sundance Film Festival Reimagines New Frontier With WebXR

The Sundance Film Festival and its New Frontier program offers a venue for cutting edge artists to showcase their work and start conversations that can lead to rewarding careers.

Even in normal years, though, there’s not a lot of capacity spread around Salt Lake City, Utah. Plus, in 2021, there’s the pandemic to consider. Organizers of the 2021 event partnered with Active Theory to produce a WebXR-enabled festival that works across a wide range of devices, including the standalone Oculus Quest, in hopes of fostering those same types of conversations in the complete safety of physical social isolation. According to organizers, Facebook donated Quest headsets to the artists in the event who will be wearing gold sashes  — making them easy to identify for folks who might want to initiate those conversations.

“We hope this platform will allow people to meet each other, and bond inside a space of art,” said Shari Frilot, chief curator of the festival’s New Frontier program. “We’re hoping to put them in rooms with the buyers, sellers, other filmmakers…we’re hoping they will be able to have those conversations with people who will help them launch their career.”

A $25 Explorer Pass grants access to New Frontier with several spaces that can be explored as an avatar, and some only viewable in VR. There’s the New Frontier Gallery with a range of works including AR and VR projects to be shown 24 hours a day during the festival, with social functionality active from 11 am to midnight Mountain Time as well as Film Party with six screens available in an interactive bar-type setting. There’s also the Cinema House with short films being shown with the following schedule: 

1/29 8 pm Mountain Time:

  • This Is the Way We Rise
  • My Own Landscapes
  • Tears Teacher
  • The Fourfold
  • A Concerto Is A Conversation

1/31 3 p.m. MT

  • Station to Station

2/1 7 pm MT

  • Users (2021 US Doc Competition) – 2/1 7 p.m. MT

2/2 5 pm MT

  • Mother of George

You can purchase a pass here and be sure to check out the trailer for a sense of what the experience will be like:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=zPQOR9v8wOk%3Ffeature%3Doembed%26%23038%3Bshowinfo%3D0%26%23038%3Brel%3D0%26%23038%3Bmodestbranding%3D1%26%23038%3Biv_load_policy%3D3%26%23038%3Bplaysinline%3D1%26%23038%3Benablejsapi%3D1

The event represents a very notable test of WebXR as a technology and a potential preview of how more conferences and festivals will look in the future. For those unfamiliar, WebXR turns a page more literally into a site you visit. For Web developers, the technology offers a path to VR content creation while freeing them from store-based distribution. For users, a well-implemented site that is WebXR-enabled could enable viewers to access content on their phones, PCs, and VR headsets with no pre-downloading required.

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 28 to February 3, 2021. We’ll be visiting the festival to check it all out and hope to see you there.

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