New Frontier continues its virtual explorations during a virtual Sundance Film Festival |

New Frontier continues its virtual explorations during a virtual Sundance Film Festival

Passholders create avatars to participate

This year's New Frontier at the Sundance Film Festival is a virtual venue composed of spaces passholders can explore in the form of an avatar. The spaces will give attendees access to artists and filmmakers for discussions and screenings.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

While this year’s virtual Sundance Film Festival pivots on the border of art and technology, the New Frontier exhibit has always felt at home in this crossroad.

That proved beneficial when festival organizers made an unprecedented decision to move all of its programming online, said Shari Frilot, New Frontier’s senior programmer and chief curator since its inception in 2007.

For the past 13 years, New Frontier has curated collections of experimental media works by creators who venture across mediums including biotech, mixed reality (MR), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

“The world ‘unprecedented’ is par for the course for New Frontier,” Frilot said. “It’s supposed to look radically different and completely new every year, because it is our job to really push the envelope of cinema culture. So, this year fell right into our wheelhouse.”

This year’s New Frontier virtual venue is composed of spaces passholders can explore in the form of an avatar.

“When you go onto New Frontier, you will end up in your own little Space Garden,” Frilot said. “That’s where you can set up your avatar.”

From there, passholders can visit three areas, and the first one is called The Gallery, she said.

The New Frontier Gallery is where passholders can experience the complete slate of live performances, AR, VR, and other emerging media works, according to Frilot.

“When you go to the gallery to see the work, you will be in a room that can hold 250 people,” she said. “You will be one of those avatars, and you will be able to talk with others in a chat zone. And up to eight people can go into that chat zone on the New Frontier gallery floor.”

Most projects can be viewed 24 hours a day, and the audio and video chats are open from 11 a.m. to just before midnight.

The next space is called Film Party, which is an interactive bar that features six screens and access to more intimate rooms, Frilot said.

Passholders can gather together with others in their avatar form, hang out and connect via proximity audio and video chat,” she said.

“The whole purpose of Film Party is to celebrate the films that are premiering in the Sundance Film Festival’s streaming platform, and it will celebrate five premieres every day,” she said. “When you come out of a world premiere and visit Film Party, you will see the title of the premiere on one of the screens. If you walk toward the screen, you will be asked if you want to enter the room. If you click ‘Yes’ you will join in the film’s room. Filmmakers will be there and many of the people who saw the film with you will be there. You will be able to have conversations with them.”

The last New Frontier virtual venue is Cinema House, which is Sundance Film Festival’s fully immersive social cinema house that is only accessible through a VR headset, Frilot said.

“We knew we had to build a cinema, because we are all in this business because we have been completely moved by the magic of cinema,” she said.

The Cinema House will screen a short films collection at 8 p.m. on Friday. The films are as follows:

• “This Is the Way We Rise”

• “My Own Landscapes”

• “Tears Teacher”

• “The Fourfold”

• “A Concerto Is A Conversation”

Other Cinema House screenings will include Doug Aitken’s “Station to Station,” at 3 p.m. on Sunday; Natalia Almada’s documentary “Users” at 7 p.m. on Monday, and Andrew Dosunmu’s 2013 drama, “Mother of George,” at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

All the virtual venues are designed to look as if they are orbiting the Earth alongside the International Space Station, Frilot said.

“So, when you’re in any of these rooms, you will see the Earth below and the ISS outside the windows,” she said. “It is an astonishing experience.”

New Frontier is also open to all Sundance Film Festival passholders.

“If you don’t have a pass, you can purchase an Explorer’s Pass for $25 and access all of New Frontier,” Frilot said.

To build a virtual exhibition this year, Frilot and her staff broke down and examined what they had been doing in the in-person exhibit in Park City.

“We have been putting together an exhibition by presenting work on headsets and computers,” Frilot said. “We realized that some of those people who will attend the Sundance Film Festival from home this year will still have computers, and many of them will have headsets. So, nothing really is changing except for the venue.”

So, Frilot and her crew partnered with digital-experience agency Active Theory to build a spatialized virtual platform that would be accessible via laptops, computers and VR headsets.

“While we had no idea of how we were going to do it, we did know that we were in community with amazing creative technologists around the world that New Frontier had brought to the Sundance Film Festival in the past,” she said. “Active Theory had been to the festival before, and that’s who we turned to.”

Frilot said she would love to see the virtual platform continue even when the Sundance

Film Festival returns to an in-person event.

“The huge silver lining in needing to reinvent the exhibition design is that more people can have access to New Frontier than ever,” she said. “In this iteration, all you need is a VR headset and a PC to see all of what New Frontier has to offer. If you have just an Oculus, you can see most of it. If you have a laptop, you can see half the exhibition and participate in all of the premiere parties. So, if we can afford it, there is absolutely no reason to turn back.”

New Frontier at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival

When: 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28, to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 3


Tickets and passes:



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