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NYFF Announces Convergence Slate, Including New VR, Immersive Cinema, and Interactive Experiences for Cinephiles

Exclusive: The seventh edition of the innovative program focuses on new modes of storytelling with visible names backing them, from Disney to Lupita Nyong’o and Rosario Dawson.

The famed "singing wells" of the Samburu people, a scene in a remote area of northern Kenya that has remained unchanged for centuries – and which they are determined will remain for many more. The purpose of the Samburu singing to their livestock is not only expressive, it also has function. Hundreds of animals may get watered at one time, each morani sings a hypnotic synchronicity, their animals know the trough where their owner is watering them because they know the sound of his voice recognising the pitch, sorting any issues of cattle getting mixed up without any physical way of organising them. The ‘singing wells’ is one of the most fascinating examples of the link between the morani and their animals, and poignant demonstrations of the bond the Samburu have with their ecosystem.~Stills shoot for "My Africa", virtual reality film set in Northern Kenya.

“My Africa”

© Georgina Goodwin

The Film Society of Lincoln Center has unveiled the complete lineup for its forward-thinking Convergence section of the 56th New York Film Festival, set to take place October 11 – 14. The seventh edition of the annual program is driven by innovative modes of storytelling via interactive experiences, featuring Virtual Reality, Immersive Cinema, AI, and more.

On this year’s Convergence, programmer Matt Bolish said in an official statement, “By expanding our virtual reality programming for 2018 it’s our hope to expose our audiences to compelling stories — documentaries, narrative pieces, games — that will both capture their imaginations and make them think. The addition of our ‘Arcade’ gives attendees the chance to really dig in, explore, and interact with the work, each other, and the storytellers shaping this exciting form.”

The program plays out during the annual fall festival’s final weekend, and will include several world premieres, from “What Goes Up/Must Come Down,” billed as “a combination of VR and video installation that takes viewers through the gorgeous Instagram sensation of the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival and the environmental destruction the lanterns cause once tourists leave”; “Blue Bird,” an immersive animated VR film; and “Hope Against the Haze,” described as “a journey into the citizen-led effort to rid the once pristine beaches of Mumbai of the trash that overwhelms them.”

Convergence will also host the U.S. premiere of “Cycles,” Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first ever VR short, plus the Rosario Dawson-starring VR experience “Battle Scar” and and the documentary “My Africa,” narrated by Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o. Convergence is programmed by Matt Bolish. The NYFF selection committee, chaired by Kent Jones, also includes Dennis Lim, FSLC Director of Programming; and Florence Almozini, FSLC Associate Director of Programming.

Presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, this year’s festival will open with Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite,” celebrate its Centerpiece selection with Alfonso Cuarón’s “ROMA,” and close out with Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate.” Check out the full slate right here.

The 2018 New York Film Festival runs September 28 – October 14. Check out the full list of Convergence offerings below.

NYFF56 CONVERGENCE EVENTS & DESCRIPTIONS

All VR projects take place in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Amphitheater and the Rose Studio (CMS, 10th Floor Rose Building)

VIRTUAL CINEMA PROGRAM

“Fire Escape”
Virtual Reality/Google DayDream
Dir. Navid Khonsari, USA, 2018, 45m
It’s impossible not to think of Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window during the opening moments of this sleekly rendered, interactive thriller. Cast in the role of an urban voyeur, our nightly sojourns onto a Brooklyn fire escape give us a front row seat to the dramas unfolding in the apartment across the street. The familiar—and safe—distance between audience and action is shattered when your “in-game” phone chirps; soon, we are not just watching events, but are thrust into a world of deceit and murder via text, chat, and immersive audio. This cutting-edge adventure from inkStories (Hero and 1979 Revolution), shown for the first time in its entirety, blurs the lines between game, film, and episodic storytelling, all while creating something entirely new.

“What Goes Up/Must Come Down”

“What Goes Up/Must Come Down”
Virtual Reality & Video Installation
Dir. Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill, USA, 2018, 10m
World Premiere
Each year as the celebration for the Lunar New Year winds down, tourists converge on a village just outside of Taipei to launch thousands of lanterns into the night sky. They represent the hopes of their owners, and as they soar into the darkness they make for one hell of an Instagram post. But what happens when dawn breaks, the tourists leave, and those thousands of wishes fall out of the sky? Ingeniously weaving virtual reality and conventional 2D filmmaking, Jongsma and O’Neill fuse two discrete documentaries about the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival into a singular whole, and suggest that our dreams may have staggering, real-world consequences.

VIRTUAL REALITY DOCUMENTARY PROGRAM

“The Drummer”
Virtual Reality – Documentary
Dir. Ana Kler, USA, 2017, 3m
An intimate portrait of Jesus, a street musician who performs every day in Manhattan’s Union Square.

“Hope Against the Haze”
Virtual Reality – Documentary
Dir. Tiffany Hill, India, 2018, 12m
World Premiere
Mumbai is on the verge of crisis: thousands of pounds of trash are poured onto the city’s once vital beaches every day. This piece helps you join the citizen-led effort committed to reclaiming a paradise in the heart of the city by removing 12 million pounds of garbage.

“My Africa”
Virtual Reality – Documentary
Dir. David Allen, USA/UK, 2018, 10m
Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o narrates the story of a young Samburu woman, Naltwasha Leripe, who takes audiences through her daily routine, from caring for livestock to saving a baby elephant from poachers.

ARCADE PIECES
Awake: Episode I”
Virtual Reality – Narrative
Dir. Martin Taylor, Australia, 2018, 20m
The mysteries of time, obsession, and the self are examined in this cinematic virtual reality experience. Harry is a prisoner, not only of his own home but also of his obsession with a recurring dream of his lost love, Rose. Audiences step into the character’s dream world, shaping the story as it unfolds around him. Participants’ actions will reveal layers of story, artifacts of the past, and vital clues necessary to save Harry, as well as reveal the hidden potential of humanity. Thought-provoking and entertaining, Awake: Episode I combines an engaging narrative with cutting-edge technology, showing the power of this immersive form of storytelling.

“Blue Bird”

“Battle Scar”
Virtual Reality – Narrative
Dir. Marin Allais and Nico Casavecchia, USA/France, 2018
Any mention of the New York music scene of the late 1970s conjures images of the Ramones and Talking Heads, crowded clubs like CBGB, and neighborhoods such as the Bowery and the East Village. When the fates of wide-eyed lyricist to-be Lupe (voiced by Rosario Dawson) and budding frontwoman Debbie collide, the two women form a friendship that leads them through the unique crucible of the Lower East Side’s punk subculture. A coming-of-age tale of two artists, this animated, episodic piece plays with point of view and perspective to filter New York’s past through today’s technology.

“Blue Bird”
Virtual Reality – Narrative
Dir. Dir. Armando Brown, Miranda Conway, Seth Greenwood, Vinod Krishnan, Allie Perdomo, Parnaz Rad, Belen Saenz de Viteri, Nicole Tylor, Chuzhong Xie, USA, 2017, 3m
World Premiere
A bluebird struggles to escape the caverns of a withered heart and find its way through the history of a scarred life in this expressive animated piece.

“Cycles”
Virtual Reality – Narrative
Dir. Jeff Gipson, USA, 2018, 3m
U.S. Premiere
Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” There’s a profound difference between a house and a home: the first is a structure made up of four walls, a roof, and a floor; the second is much more than a place. This experimental VR short from Walt Disney Animation Studios centers on this distinction. Inspired by director Jeff Gipson’s childhood recollections of spending time with his grandparents, this is a bittersweet meditation on memory, emotion, family, and all that goes into making a home.

“Cycles”

“Rone”
Virtual Reality – Documentary
Dir. Lester Francois, Australia, 2017, 15m
In the early 2000s, muralist Rone became a driving force within Melbourne’s street art scene. His distinctive large-scale portraits of female faces comment on both gentrification and the masculinity that dominated his artistic circle. His pieces can be found inside decaying buildings and on crumbling walls from New York to Tokyo, as well as in the National Gallery of Australia. Lester Francois’s vivid 360-degree film plunges viewers into Rone’s process and philosophy.

“Where Thoughts Go”
Dir. Lucas Rizzotto, USA, 2018
Virtual Reality – Experimental Documentary, 24m
In our hyper-connected world, technologies that should bring people together often seem to push them further apart; meaningful interactions feel scant, and emotions can be liabilities. Where Thoughts Go seeks to change that. Viewers take part in an ever-evolving social experience that is intimate in scale but vast in scope. While guided through a series of questions, players are invited to explore the thoughts, dreams, and memories of previous visitors to this poignant digital landscape, and in so doing, reflect on their own lives.

SPECIAL EVENT

“Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made by Many”
Live Prototyping Experience
Presented by Lance Weiler, Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab, 120m
It was an innocuous challenge, issued by Lord Byron 200 years ago, that sparked Mary Shelley’s imagination to bring Frankenstein to life. Join Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab as they bring this spark to NYFF Convergence with a special lab session mixing story, play, design, and AI. Working with lab facilitators, participants will prototype an immersive dinner party, where guests will interact with a custom-made “Frankenstein” AI through voice and text. The AI will engage in conversation, surfacing audience fears and hopes through personal stories. Those same fears and hopes will become the “body parts” that the AI will use to craft its own ghost story, questioning the act of creation and reminding us all what it means to be human.

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