In two years virtual reality (VR) has gone from being the awkward-nerd newcomer at the Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier exhibit to a curated collection of 30-plus productions, selected from almost 300 submissions - an exhibit now so popular it booked full within minutes of opening each day. Quite literally, there was a waiting line for the waiting line, with some attendees circulating to chat up the show's volunteers in the hope of snatching a no-show's turn at the goggles.
This film-buff feeding frenzy is exactly what the New Frontier set out to achieve in 2007 when the Sundance Institute established the program to showcase pioneering audience engagement experiments. "Ocular evolution really is a leap in the ability of storytellers to bring the viewer inside the gram of the story world," describes Shari Frilot, curator of New Frontier. "Now virtual reality is at a point where it's going to hit the market, and it's a mass medium. It's a breakthrough."
Frilot's point is underscored by the fact that the international pool of exhibiting artits is supported by major corporate names in VR - Samsung, Oculus VR (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Facebook), Vive, Fox, ILM and Jaunt (backed by Disney and CAA). Other New Frontier financial supporters include Fox Innovation Lab, Google, IM360, Nokia, The Time Warner Foundation and the New York Times. That's heavy-duty entrée for any alternative filmmaker.