Whether putting moviegoers inside the yurt of a Mongolian tribe, in the studio with a musician or in the path of an oncoming train, filmmakers are blurring the lines of reality for viewers at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
This year's conclave of independent films in Park City, Utah, is devoting its New Frontier showcase to virtual reality film with 11 works, the largest such line-up in the festival's three-decade history.
The content is viewed on a wraparound-style headset that projects a 360-degree panorama, giving viewers the feeling of being in the action.
"I think it's one style of the future of the movies," says Fabian Troxler, co-designer of Birdly Flight Simulator, which gives users the experience of flying like a bird. "So, it's like, kind of immersive way of movies. So if you think about movie storytelling I think it's still important that the director is kind of influencing. This part is more kind of like having the freedom to do it yourself. So it's not really kind of a competition to the movie but a whole new experience for itself."
The New Frontier exhibit comes amid a growing interest in the technology in Hollywood as filmmakers and studios experiment with virtual reality. The attraction of virtual reality for filmmakers lies in simulating a personal presence for viewers, who until now have interacted with content merely as voyeurs watching a story unfold on a screen.
Filmmaker Vincent Morisset said that virtual reality is just another tool that he can use in his quest to make interactional films.
"I've been doing this, I've been pushing myself for the last 15 years, I've been doing interactive films, like for Arcade Fire, for a long time and I'm always approaching technology in a really pragmatic way. So, how can those tools make us connect the spectator and the piece in a different way. So, for me, it's all about that. What is the potential to tell stories differently, to connect, generate emotion and I think these headsets make you relate to your environment in a really different way," said filmmaker Vincent Morisset.
Virtual reality films are on the sidelines of Sundance and far from becoming theatrical staples of the festival where the main attractions are still the star-studded premieres and emergence of new talent in the competition categories.
Virtual reality films are still a long way from becoming mainstream as the headsets to display them have yet to reach the mass market.
Samsung started offering its Galaxy Gear VR headset last month, which uses its Galaxy Note 4 smartphone to present virtual reality experiences. Google offers the Cardboard VR device to use with smartphones.
The consumer version of pioneering Rift headsets from Facebook-owned Oculus VR, is still in development.
The 11-day Sundance Film Festival runs until February 1 in Park City, Utah