It would be wrong to claim that virtual reality is a recent invention. The Laval Virtual trade fair, the world's largest event dedicated to the subject, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018, is there to remind us of the many older industrial applications of this technology, whether in aeronautics, medicine or architecture.
However, it is much more recently that VR has conquered the cultural landscape. For a few years now, authors, producers and artists have been discovering and taking ownership of this technology, passionate about the narrative and experiential potential of a medium that focuses entirely on sensation and immersion.
The democratisation of a new creative medium
The democratisation of the medium, linked to the appearance of headsets and then distribution locations open to the general public, has obviously contributed to its development. At the end of 2017, MK2 cinemas opened MK2 VR. No fewer than 26,000 visitors had attended the event six months after it opened – with a sell-out rate of almost 100%.
At the same time, major international festivals have featured VR selections: Sundance, Tribeca, the Venice Biennial, the Annecy Festival... And even though the Cannes Festival is putting off opening the doors of its official selection to VR, we recall the shock caused by the VR work by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in 2017, highlighting the screenings of more and more virtual reality projects.
A VR French Touch?
In an international scene which is becoming increasingly interesting, from Taiwan to South Africa to Canada, France stands out for the great creativity and diversity of its content.
In an interview with the CNC last August on the occasion of the opening of the Venice Biennial, director Michel Reilhac declared that: "France is part of the small leading group of countries in which VR is being invented. There is a lot of creativity here and perhaps especially in terms of storytelling. In the field of interactive fiction, that is to say fiction that puts the spectator in the shoes of a character, France is a pioneer. I think that there is a natural curiosity in France, a taste for artistic experimentation, which is valued. So in our country we see a lot of visual artists, independent film makers interested in it and experimenting with this form..."
Internationally, French productions are attractive. This is evidenced by the numerous selections at festivals and awards won by “made in France” creations. In April 2018, the Atlas V studio inspired the enthusiasm of the American press at the end of the Sundance festival where he presented the first episode of his series Sphere, featuring a black hole, and Battlescar, an interpretation of the punk scene from New York in the 1970s. In 2018, the Venice Biennial gave the Best VR Story Award to The Isle of the Dead (“L’Île des morts”) by Benjamin Nuel, which immerses the viewer in the famous Arnold Böcklin painting.
This deep dive into a work of art is just one example of what French virtual reality can do. Diversity of content certainly characterises French production, which profoundly revisits the art of journalism with The Enemy, art history with The Scream, and explores new forms of narration and storytelling in SENS VR.
French creation is also distinguished by the development of hybrid experiences combining immersive technologies with live performances. From Alice, illuminating Lewis Carroll’s work for contemporary audiences, to Fugue VR successfully presented at the last Lyon dance biennial, these original productions open the door to new forms of innovative, interactive cultural offerings where dance, theatre and virtual reality come together.
The Institut français supports virtual reality creation. Its platform, culturevr.fr, provides an overview of cultural innovation in virtual reality.
From 18th to 22nd March 2019, an Immersive Realities Focus, organised by the Institut français, welcomed 28 professionals from all over the world to discover creation in the sector. More on the Focus on Immersive Realities
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