Virtual reality brings a New Frontier in storytelling |

Virtual reality brings a New Frontier in storytelling

Alan Maguire, The Park Record

If one thing was clear from the New Frontier installation at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s that virtual reality isn’t just a new step in storytelling, it’s a giant leap that can (virtually) put you in someone else’s shoes.

That "someone" isn’t necessarily a person, either. In the most eye-catching exhibition, "Birdly," by Max Rheiner, the user lies face-down on a large contraption that has "wing" panels extending out to each side. The user inserts his or her hands into the wings, puts on virtual reality goggles and headset, and immediately is dropped over the city of San Francisco (for anyone with a fear of heights, be ready for your stomach to drop). Flap your wings to climb, angle them to glide, twist and soar and feel the wind rush through your hair (via a strategically placed fan). It’s a safe bet that it’s the closest you’ve ever been to being a bird.

While "Birdly" is the most physically interactive exhibition at New Frontier, there are over a dozen virtual reality experiences that Sundance goers experienced throughout the festival.

Sundance Senior Programmer and New Frontier Curator Shari Frilot said the installation was busier this year than in years past. She attributed the change to the new New Frontier locale — at the Claim Jumper building on Main Street.

"Being on Main Street right at the mouth of the Transit Center has boosted accessibility and is bringing more people in," she said.

Many, if not most, of the artists who created New Frontier exhibitions seized on the idea of sharing experiences.

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"In discussions with the artists, they are finding this medium to be a powerful tool for creating empathy," said Frilot.

Three exhibitions demonstrated the idea of empathy by putting users into war-torn places far from Utah.

"Assent," created by Oscar Raby, puts the viewer (user? experiencer?) in the role of a father whose son walks through the father’s involvement with the Caravan of Death, "a brutal campaign that executed military detainees in Chile during the aftermath of the coup in 1973," according to the exhibition’s program.

"Project Syria," by Nonny de la Peña, puts the viewer in a busy city street. A bomb explodes and dust fills the air as people scatter. Later, the viewer is put into a refugee camp for those fleeing the ongoing violence. The camp grows and fills with more and more children before your very eyes.

"1979 Revolution: Black Friday," is an interactive video game from Navid Khonsari and Vassiliki Khonsari that puts the player in the middle of the Iranian Revolution. The game isn’t virtual reality, but is "designed to integrate an emotional, historically true narrative while giving players the experience of making moral choices under extreme situations," according to the program.

New Frontier offered some lighter fare, too — none moreso than "Kaiju Fury!"

"Kaiju Fury!" is a cinematic, virtual reality monster film by Ian Hunter that puts the user into Godzilla-type chaos. The film is experienced by utilizing Google Cardboard headsets — simple, cardboard-constructed virtual reality goggles that contain two plastic lenses. The user provides the true guts of the device — your own smartphone, which slides into the rear of the contraption.

New Frontier has been giving away Google Cardboard sets throughout the festival, but if you missed out, you can order one online (around $20) or even build one yourself by following the instructions on Google Cardboard’s website (Google it). You can even download "Kaiju Fury!" and a second New Frontier virtual reality experience, "Evolution of Verse," to your phone via the Google Play store.

Even if you’re not having a virtual reality experience yourself, it’s plenty of fun to watch the looks on the faces of people who are in another world.

"What’s so great about this show is that people never stop saying ‘wow!’ It’s been thrilling to watch," said Frilot.

The New Frontier installation at the Sundance Film Festival ends Saturday, Jan. 31, when it will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is located on the second and third floors of the Claim Jumper building, 573 Main St. It is free and open to the public.