Sundance 2019: XR & Inclusion

Filmmakers, celebrities, and movie buffs flood into Park City, UT once a year for the annual Sundance Film Festival. For a week, the small mountain town showcases films and exhibits, holds panel discussions, and plays host to parties into the wee hours of the morning. While the festival seems to be working hard to retain the independent spirit which drove Robert Redford to establish The Sundance Institute in 1981, it has grown to include the presence of major brands and the Hollywood scene. From Oprah to Awkwafina, Vice to Kickstarter, there is a lot to be seen in addition to ground-breaking filmmaking.

The Brigade loves collaborating with emerging tech brands and independent thinkers, and we were especially interested in the festival’s New Frontier programming which showcases XR (AR/VR/MR). We were also impressed with the number of events and panels focused on diversity and inclusion in the creative and tech industry. We left the snowy canyon feeling inspired and fueled by creatives determined to take advantage of this moment in time and technology.

Celebratin’ risk takers.

Mad Women VR

After a night scoping out the scene and adjusting to the high altitude mountain air, we woke up ready to hit the streets. Our first stop was the Mad Women VR Breakfast Club. We were really looking forward to reconnecting with and meeting new powerhouse women in the XR ecosystem.

Founded by, Jacqueline Bosnjak, partner and CEO of Q Department and VR Sound Technology start up Mach1™, Mad Women connects and inspires leading ladies in Media, Entertainment, Advertising, VR and Technology. With 300+ members and growing, Mad Women is a patron to power ladies and is not here to just party. The Brigade has loved our work supporting Mozilla VR and mixed reality tech, and we were thrilled to make new friends at this gathering.

The breakfast was held just outside of town at the St. Regis, accessible by a funicular. Yes, it’s a fun ride.

The incredible view from the funicular ride up to breakfast.
Nom, nom, nom
Can you spot us?

It felt great to be surrounded by leaders and creators of ground breaking work who are also determined to make XR an inclusive art form, technology and industry. These women are deft at networking and building solidarity, and we can’t wait for the next meet up.

The Female Quotient

Unconscious biases and prejudices are often reflected in our technology. From algorithms to search results, inherent bias can have a disproportionate impact on women and people of color. So how do we fix it? It seemed there was an abundance of panels, events, and films addressing these issues at Sundance. Clearly the impact of the Me Too and Times Up movements were felt deeply in the film industry this year, and it was particularly exciting to listen to female industry leaders discuss how projects involving women statistically yield better business results.

As demonstrated at the Mad Women breakfast, it’s clear that the voice of female leadership is prevalent in the XR scene. In a panel at The Female Quotient’s Girls Lounge Joanna Popper, Global Head of Virtual Reality for Location Based Entertainment at HP, noted that XR provides a unique opportunity for inclusion because, as a nascent technology, traditional systems of bias and discrimination are not woven into the industry they way they tend to be in fully establish technology and industries. This shows up in programs like ARVR Women’s Futurist in Residence, and Mozilla’s XR toolkit that empowers creator to make their own inclusive development space for their community. We happily noted the XR industry is taking a stance on creating inclusive products and ecosystems.

From left to right: Adrienne Becker, Joanna Popper, Kim Last, Robin Hauser.

New Frontier

Wanna experience XR? The Festival’s New Frontier is off Park City’s Main St. in its own zone, among a shopping center (which is kinda outsider cool). This part of the festival champions filmmakers and artists who expand, experiment with, and explode traditional storytelling. The exhibitions, films, and performances are dynamic and inspiring, supporting the festival’s declaration to celebrate risk takers.

Stand-outs include

Reach

Lead artists: Nonny de la Peña (the Godmother of VR), Chaitanya Shah, Hannah Eaves, Cedric Gamelin

A kind of next-generation VR photo booth, REACH is an interactive installation that captures users in dimensionalized video and then places them into a volumetric location of their choice, creating a room-scale experience that can be shared online. (Sundance.org)

REACH image courtesy of The Sundance Institute

Runnin’

Lead artists: Reggie Watts, Kiira Benzing

Step into a neighborhood record store and be transported into a retro-future world in this VR experience that sends you into a surreal, high-energy, interactive dance party, driven by Reggie Watts’s and John Tejada’s music track “Runnin’.” Pushing the boundaries of volumetric capture, dancers invite players to find a way to activate the magical jamboree around them and bring the dance floor to life through movement. (Sundance.org)

Runnin’ image courtesy of The Sundance Institute

Ashe ‘68

Lead artists: Brad Lichtenstein/Beth Hubbard/Rex Miller/Jeff Fitzsimmons

Ashe ’68 weaves together re-creations, period archival footage, and evocative sand animation to showcase Arthur Ashe’s internal pressures becoming the first African American to win the U.S. Open Tennis Championship. Viewers can join Ashe and feel what he felt at the pre-match press conference where reporters obsessed over his race. (Sundance.org)

Ashe ‘68 image courtesy of The Sundance Institute

We didn’t meet Oprah, or get a picture with Jake Gyllenhaal but we left Park City truly inspired by the diversification in the creative media industry. Creators and independently-minded industry leaders are aware that we are living in a pivotal time, and they are proving that it pays to take risks.


Heading to Sundance?

  • WEAR: Merino wool darling!
  • EAT: Harvest for the best Aussi style breakfast
  • DRINK: Campfire whiskey at High West
  • RIDE: The designated queue is heated, but be prepared to chase down your confused Lyft driver.