Thursday, 7/4/2019

New Worlds

Virtual Reality Made in Germany

New Worlds

In Germany, a lot more could be done in terms of subsidies for virtual reality projects. At least that's how the appeal could be understood that curator Astrid Kahmke made to politicians at the opening of Virtual Worlds, FILMFEST MÜNCHEN's VR section, on Tuesday. This concerns not just the financial scope; in her view, there ought to be more sources of funding that are geared specially to VR, as opposed to offshoots of film and video game subsidies, as well as support for the distribution of VR. FILMFEST MÜNCHEN's first virtual reality section has a strong French-language dimension, with France as the guest of honor and support for VR pioneers coming from Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec as well. However, numerous German entries in the competition prove that high-quality VR experiences are also being developed here.

These open up worlds that are normally not accessible. In INSIDE TUMUCUMAQUE, for example, users can hang out with bats and swim with the crocodiles in the Brazilian rainforest. This project by Filmtank and the Interactive Media Foundation was made possible by support from the Museum für Naturkunde (Museum of Natural History) Berlin. Accordingly, it's in the tradition of nature documentaries, but it expands these to let users experience the perspectives of animals from their own body. From the vantage point of a spider, things look very different.

A documentary approach is also taken in BLAUTOPF VR, though the experience is also an exciting adventure game. The user dives quite literally into a system of caves underneath the Blautopf spring in southwestern Germany, explores the depths of its chambers, and is all of a sudden completely alone. A secret lurks between the stalactites. These caves are not accessible to tourists; they can be explored only in the virtual world. This VR experience was produced using a photogrammetric analysis of tens of thousands of photos that were taken during an expedition lasting several days. A further experience seeks out a special place not in the deep, but far above the Earth's atmosphere. In 2ND STEP: FROM MOON TO MARS AND BEYOND, the user stands next to the Apollo 11 lunar module on the moon, then on the edge of a volcano on Mars.

While the experiences described above recreate real places, the spaces in other projects are almost completely a product of the imagination. In the German-French co-production ACCUSED #2: WALTER SISULU, for example, crude animated sequences of black-and-white drawings bring Nelson Mandela's mentor to life. In sync with the original audio recordings of the trial against him and other members of the ANC, for which no images or footage exist, a racist attorney rants as he walks around the viewer.

In drawings and the recollection of a professional colleague in BAUHAUS IN BAVARIA, the architecture of Walter Gropius develops to the point where the plans match the buildings that stand today. This 360-degree film by Schwarzbild Medienproduktion in Munich shows the Rosenthal factory am Rothbühl in Selb and the glass cathedral in Amberg from a completely new perspective. It explains the ideas of its creator as well as his friendship with porcelain manufacturer Phillip Rosenthal.

Other makers of VR focus entirely on the visual arts. The Masters' Visions series is a German-Norwegian-French co-production for Arte, among other things. At the festival, interested VR-nauts can literally step inside the paintings MONK BY THE SEA by Caspar David Friedrich, THE SUN by Edvard Munch, and WATER LILIES by Claude Monet. Only the third of these is not part of the competition. Standing virtually in the middle of these well-known paintings offers a whole new way of experiencing them.

Things turn completely abstract in the German-French co-production FEVER, which was already shown in Cannes. As hallucinatory as in a fever dream, disembodied hands float through the room and grasp the user while a report on warmth and the body is heard. This is definitely more a poem than a documentary, although the sensual nature of virtual reality definitely blurs the boundary between the two, in this and the other experiences.

The Virtual Worlds entries that were produced in part by German companies run the gamut of the medium, from 360-degree film to interactive VR game, from a documentary to an artistic approach. You can try out these exhibits yourself by reserving one of the few remaining time slots at or by turning up at the Isarforum without a reservation and being lucky enough to get an open slot. On Thursday evening, we'll see what the international jury says to VR made in Germany.



Benedikt Frank