Virtual reality exhibit transports film festival-goers

Posted on Feb 17 2017 - 7:30am by Lexi Purvis

The annual Oxford Film Festival is giving participants the chance to take a look into the future with the festival’s virtual reality experience at the Powerhouse.

Virtual reality is a form of new media, and it used to seem like technology one might only see in a sci-fi movie. For the week of the festival, it can be found for free in Oxford.

“New Media and Experimental are still different categories currently, but a lot of people are sort of falling into both of those fields,” Melanie Addington, the film festival’s executive director, said. “Experimental used to be very traditional, like you manipulate actual film. But the world of filmmaking has changed beyond that, and so a lot of experimental filmmakers moved more into New Media, which is sort of ‘how to present a story outside of your traditional, this-is-how-to-tell-a-narrative story.’ So, it’s a lot of different things.”

Nathaniel Pinzon and Kim Voynar work for a tech company known as Wondertek Labs out of Seattle that specializes in virtual reality. Voynar has been working with the film festival for around nine years and was able to help bring virtual reality to Oxford.

“The industry was small for a long time, but now there’s a huge demand for virtual reality” Pinzon said. “We’re lucky enough to be the most experienced at the time.”

Users can watch 10 different virtual reality films, which are all around the length of five or six minutes. That doesn’t seem like long, but so much can happen in those five minutes.

The Rock

“Escape from Calypso Island” poster courtesy: Oxford Film Festival.

The film “Escape From Calypso Island” features an Indiana Jones-like experience, placing users in the back of a moving truck as the protagonists fend off “bad guys,”all with the help of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The 360-degree setting results with the user feeling surrounded with people and sounds coming from every direction. It only takes about one minute to forget you’re sitting in the Powerhouse and not actually on an island with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Vanessa Brasher, the Powerhouse’s venue manager, made sure to experience the virtual reality for herself.

“Some of the films are so immersive it feels like you’re moving in your seat,” Brasher said.

Walking into the Powerhouse, people are lined up in chairs wearing goggles, twisting and turning in their seats trying to capture the entire film. Even watching people experience virtual reality is an experience in itself. It’s as if they’re witnessing a completely different world from the one in which they’re seated.

Aussie Warren, a volunteer for the virtual reality exhibit, also works in Ole Miss’ virtual reality lab and is able to help share the captivating experience with various audiences.

“Virtual reality this advanced is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid,” Warren said.

Virtual reality has become both more affordable and more available to households around the world. Companies like Wondertek Labs predict the technology will be as common as smartphones in the next few years.

“There will be all sorts of prototypes in the next five years that will blow people’s minds,” Pinzon said. “Virtual reality is going to become the new internet.”

Festival-goers and community members can step into the future, even if just for five minutes, at the Powerhouse this weekend. The virtual reality exhibit runs Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.