If you’re sheltering in place on this Memorial Day Weekend, check out the SXSW 360 videos that are now online through May 31. The VR experiences were originally meant to be available at the massive Festival in Austin, Texas, which was canceled due to the Coronavirus.
Like the work we recently saw from the Tribeca Film Festival, the SXSW 360 videos will only be available through Oculus TV. That makes life easy if you have an Oculus Quest, Facebook’s popular and perennially out-of-stock headset. It momentarily reappeared at the end of April, but it’s back to Notify Me status as we roll into the summer. Those bemoaning VR’s supposed lack of popularity might want to check out eBay where new Oculus Quests are selling for over $600.
The videos are also available on the Oculus Go, but you’re out of luck if you’re on the Rift S or using HTC or the HP Reverb HMDs. Even when we can overcome the lack of content challenge in VR, we seem to run into platform issues. As in the early days of Smartphones, everyone is trying to position themselves as a universal access point.
SXSW 360 Videos
Five of the seven SXSW 360 videos are having their world or American premiers at the Festival. Ferenj, one of the best projects at Tribeca, is also available here. And be sure to check out Notre-Dame de Paris as its origins lay in Ubisoft’s research for the video game, Assassin’s Creed Unity. As part of the project, Ubisoft is donating €500,000 to Notre-Dame’s restoration.
The following titles will be on Oculus TV from May 22 through the 31st:
After the Fallout (Switzerland, U.S.)
Directors: Sam Wolson, Dominic Nahr
This unforgettable 360-degree experience pushes past traditional documentary tropes to evoke the reality and emotional gravity of life in Fukushima, ten years after the 2011 nuclear disaster. After the Fallout is an immersive mosaic that takes us through surreal environments in the exclusion zone and explores the lives of families as they navigate a new world which they have had to adapt to.
Directors: Andrea Patiño Contreras, Katrina Sorrentino
While preparing for a winter formal at Northwood, a senior living center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Bill Mont, an 89-year-old self-made entrepreneur, reminisces about his life, including his most recent venture – sending people’s ashes to the moon. As he ruminates on love and loss, as well as his entrepreneurial projects and acquisitions, in a 9 minute 360 virtual cinema film, we experience what it’s like to have fun while aging! (World Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Ainslee Alem Robson
How is identity conceived? What does it mean for your home to be constructed immaterially via fragments of culture and oral history distorted by the filter of time and migration? This afrosurreal portrait of home traverses crosswalks, continents and consciousness, moments of cultural alienation, and the director’s childhood memories from Empress Taytu Ethiopian Restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio to the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — her mother’s home country. Ferenj reclaims Ethiopian-American mixed-race identity, redefines boundaries between memory and digital imaginary, and challenges reductive narratives of Africa.
Directors: Michael Ilako, Isa Paul Mohamed
70% of 20 million youth in South Africa have been victims or perpetrators of crime. Of every 100,000 youth, 37% have dropped out of school before matriculation. The documentary explores how these statistics can be changed by exposing youth to the opportunities of creative industries, which are sadly not known by most at-risk youth of South Africa. Ethan grew up in Muizenberg with his parents and siblings, due to tough economic times Ethan had to move to Grassy Park and live with his grandmother. Through Ethan’s lens, we want to take the user on a journey to experience the growth of the relationship between the child and mentor as they explore art and creativity together in Cape Town. (World Premiere)
Look at Me (Taiwan)
Director/Screenwriter: HE Wei-Ting
Zhang, like everyone in the near future, is addicted to the virtual world. A failed rendezvous with his girlfriend makes Zhang wander the city at night, where he discovers a club where everyone gives up the virtual world for physical fighting, to engage in “real interactions”, and where everyone actually looks at each other during conversation. (North American Premiere)
Director: Mélanie de Riberolles
On April 15, 2019, the world witnessed as Notre-Dame Cathedral was nearly destroyed in a devastating fire. As the tragedy unfolded, people began sharing memories of the cathedral with photos and videos reliving those moments. Others were able to relive their memories virtually through Assassin’s Creed Unity, the video game. Ubisoft has been collaborating with historians for years, meticulously collecting data and testimonials to build Notre-Dame in-game. Based on this 3D model, Ubisoft created a VR tour of Notre-Dame so people can get back to the cathedral and discover point-of-views that were inaccessible to the public, or elements of architecture that were destroyed by the fire, including the famous spire! (North American Premiere)
A Song Within Us (Taiwan, France)
Director/Screenwriter: Fangas Nayaw
A Song Within Us is a sound-interactive experience, with Ambisonic audio. During the experience, audience members will mimic the tribal leader, who will teach them to sing together. Viewers can receive visual feedback for the efforts. There are two versions of the project, both with spatial audio. One version is an individual, immersive sound experience, but we also designed an ambisonic dome for a physical installation. In the ambisonic dome, viewers will experience the project without wearing earphones, and five audience members can discover the piece together. (North American Premiere)
As with the Tribeca Film Festival, the SXSW 360 videos are only available for a limited time. Be sure to experience some of these incredible immersive storytelling experiences before the end of May.
If you’re in the States, enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. And if you’re out, keep your distance or wear a mask. This is one time when the solitary nature of VR experiences works very much to our advantage.
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.