The Tribeca Film Festival, based in New York and co-founded by Robert De Niro, will take on an interesting twist in 2017. The organisation responsible for running it announced that it would begin accepting applications, not only from traditional filmmakers but also from Virtual Reality (VR) creators.
The festival has previously screened VR films, but it has been a part of an event called the “Virtual Arcade,” which is housed separately from the main event and in which, no film screened has eligibility for film festival awards. Also included in the Virtual Arcade, were more traditional VR experiences, including experiencing life in solitary confinement and riding a dragon. This step forward by the festival’s directors means that VR will be put on “equal footing” with traditional filmmaking, sort of.
The festival has been quick to point out that while VR will be given equality with film, in that they will no longer be separated geographically, there is to be no confusion as to who the stars of the show are. A spokesperson for the Tribeca Film Festival commented that “film is the DNA of the festival, and at the core of it.” In other words, it’s unlikely that any major focus will be put on VR outside of novelty value.
However, at this stage in its evolution, regardless of extraordinary leaps forward in innovation and technology, the VR world is still very much in its infancy. While sharing the visual medium with traditional film, it’s unfair to compare such an advanced and well-funded industry with one that is still trying to work out where it fits. Tribeca, through offering VR a platform, but still maintaining expectations at a low level, offers the industry a chance to test itself out, and to experiment – exactly what it needs at this stage of it’s evolution.
The question which nobody seems to be asking is whether VR is a viable and sustainable option for replacing film as a long-form storytelling tool.