“Alex Honnold: The Soloist” and “Glimpse” were awarded at Cannes XR x VeeR Future Awards on May 22, named best VR story and best VR interactive experience respectively. The winners were announced by jurors Zhang Ziyi and Bad Robot’s Hannah Minghella, who judged 18 shortlisted VR works alongside Michel Reilhac, Vicki Dobbs Beck, Kari Skogland and Doug Chiang.
The event, marking the third year of the partnership, took place online on a shared metaverse called “Alexandria,” created by Cannes XR and NewImages Festival.
Directed by Jonathan Griffith, two-part series “Alex Honnold: The Soloist” follows the famous rock climber and the star of “Free Solo,” using the latest VR panoramic shooting technology.
“That’s how I fell in love with VR straight away: it’s the best way to bring people into our alien world of climbing,” Griffith tells Variety about “the absolute passion project” of his career.
Also behind “Everest VR: Journey to the Top of the World,” he decided to “go bold” this time, getting rid of superfluous voiceover and music.
“In five years, we will all look back and go: ‘Why on earth did we ever use voiceovers in VR? That was horrible!’,” he jokes.
“It creates a disconnect, because that’s how you know that whatever you are seeing has happened already. I wanted people to take a personal journey with Alex. The idea of stripping back is the future of VR.”
Things get more personal in animated “Glimpse” by Benjamin Cleary – who won an Academy Award for his short “Stutterer” – and Michael O’Connor, as a panda called Herbie and a deer called Rice are forced to deal with a painful break-up.
Starring Lucy Boyton and Taron Egerton, the best VR interactive experience winner shows the process of finding and losing love – also touched upon in “Marco & Polo Go Round” by Benjamin Steiger Levine, where the world of a young couple is literally falling apart.
In another shortlisted project, “End of Night,” David Adler decided to return to 1943, showing a man rowing from Nazi-occupied Denmark to Sweden.
“I believe we have become numb to the constant stream of misery we are subjected to, but the power of storytelling can help us reconnect with other people’s struggles and our own compassion,” says Adler.
“My protagonist wants to tell you his story and fears you will judge him for it. I believe it’s important not just to tell stories that glorify but ones that display our weaknesses, too.”
Derek Ham – the founder of Logic Grip Inc – decided to highlight Negro League Baseball in “Barnstormers: Determined to Win,” admitting that the history of minority populations is often simplified and “not fully talked about.”
“I have been drawn to looking at Black History in America through this lens. In the U.S., there are agendas to soften history books and I want to be a part of the movement that counters that. We have to take an honest look at our past to understand the factors that impact our present day,” he says.
Alongside documentaries and animation, from Davide Rapp’s “Montegelato” to Japan’s “Clap” by Keisuke Itoh or Charuvit Wannissorn’s “Luna: Episode 1 – Left Behind,” comedies were also represented this year.
In “Area Man Lives,” directed by “That Dragon, Cancer” duo Amy Noel Green and Ryan Green, and boasting the involvement of Joel McHale and Ronan Farrow, the challenge is to keep a local radio station going as its new DJ.
“Laughter is such an intimate experience. I believe that comedy offers us the opportunity for those same feelings of strong connection and intimacy within a work, but it’s a little more challenging to master,” says Amy Noel Green, calling the project “absolutely nostalgia-fuelled.”
“I have so many dreams about how VR storytelling could move forward. I love the forms of film and television, but in those mediums, the viewer is incidental. I’m interested in looking for more ways to allow a story to unfold strictly based on the player’s interests: Where they look, what they engage with and what they say.”
“We were open to any kind of genre this year,” sums up Guillaume Esmiol, co-executive director of the Cannes Market, also mentioning the decision to open up towards interactive content.
“There is a lot of demand from the XR community to be a part of the Market, which is a good sign. It’s still a bit separated, but we can bring these communities a bit closer. Artists are interested in these new ways of telling stories,” he says, recalling “Evolver-Prologue,” executive produced by Terrence Malick or Alejandro González Iñarritu’s “Carne y Arena.”
While Griffith worries that VR projects are still “a bit sidelined” at film festivals, others want to be included.
“That’s why I even attended Cannes in person this year! I wanted to be on the ground to talk with people about the future of VR,” says Ham.
“We need the evolution of technology and storytelling to be shown together to make audiences and financiers understand where we are going.”
“We still think of ourselves as competing industries fighting for market share, but if we learn to bring the best of what each form has to offer into our projects, everyone wins,” adds Amy Noel Green.
“I believe the line between film and game will blur into an entirely new type of media that will become the dominant form of entertainment.”
The whole list of shortlisted projects here: