Venice’s brave new world: my cosmic trip to Immersion Island and back

  • September 4, 2023
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On the Lazzaretto Vecchio, the small island home of Venice film festival’s Immersive section, I donned an XR headset and boldly went where most festivalgoers don’t

Traditional cinema hogs the limelight at the Venice film festival but there’s an array of wilder delights just behind the main site. Hang a right past the PalaBiennale theatre and a boat whisks you across to the Lazzaretto Vecchio, the small island home of the event’s Venice Immersive section. It’s a two-minute ride but it feels like light years away.

Venice’s self-styled “Immersion Island” is dedicated to showcasing emergent technologies – and by definition emergent storytelling. There are 28 XR (extended reality) productions in the main competition, together with 24 “world gallery” tours hosted by VRChat, and these run the gamut from interactive movies through 360-degree videos to the sort of imposing standalone installations you’d otherwise find in a modish art gallery. The medium is nascent and even the language around it is still bedding down. The works on the schedule aren’t quite films or games or art displays, although most will contain elements from all three disciplines. “We like to call them experiences,” says the woman on the desk with a shrug.

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