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Venice 2021 - Venice Production Bridge

Industry Report: New Media

The challenges of independent immersive content rounded off this year’s Venice Production Bridge

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VENICE 2021: The discussion focused on the issues posed by the platforms’ moral standards, how these can affect artistic expression and the main technical problems incurred in VR exhibition

The challenges of independent immersive content rounded off this year’s Venice Production Bridge

On 8 September, Hotel Excelsior’s Spazio Incontri hosted a panel titled “Access to digital distribution for independent immersive content.” The event, moderated by expert programming consultant and Biennale College Cinema and College Cinema VR’s Head of Studies Michel Reilhac, took place during this year’s Venice Production Bridge (2-7 September).

The speakers of this session were VRrOOm’s CEO Louis Cacciuttolo, Tung-yen Chou (director of In the Mist, attending remotely from Taiwan), Lucidweb’s Leen Segers (attending remotely from Brussels) and Anna Abraham (director of Angels in Amsterdam).

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The necessity to host this panel, said Reihlac, emerged during this year’s selection process. “We selected works for their very special voices [...] Freedom of expression is the founding value leading everything we do. However, several of these contents included nudity, politically controversial or too provocative content, so we ended up scraping them from our selection or asked makers to re-edit their work to take out the scenes that didn’t comply with the moral standards required by the platforms,” he explained.

Firstly, Abraham talked through her work Angels of Amsterdam. Her project is set in the 17th century and revolves around four young, poor women moving from the countryside to Amsterdam. The work, entirely in black-and-white, focuses on power relationships, men and women, and the differences between urban and rural spheres. “We used history to talk about our days,” she said, “These women find four different ‘solutions’: one decides to become a man, one Black girl elopes from slavery, one becomes a prostitute and one enters a spiral of panic, accidentally murdering somebody and ending up hanged in Dam Square.” 

Two of the four girls take part in nudity scenes, so the team decided not to activate their entire two portraits, but to allow the full version featuring all the characters to be downloaded. Several solutions were explored, but this one seemed to satisfy both creators and selectors.

Speaking about his work, Chou said it also contained sexually explicit content and explained that VR works “when vision activates emotion and senses,” providing a “realistic gaze.” He found out, however, that his work couldn’t be part of the competition owing to technical reasons. He warned that “there will be more works breaking these boundaries and we must find a way to guarantee freedom of our expression in VR work. We cannot allow this kind of situation to kill creativity in our art form,” he added.

“Many don’t know that we have browsers in most of the VR sets present out there, which allow us to show content in high-quality resolution,” said Segers. Lucidweb, in particular, spent the last two years on optimising the players showcasing 360 and VR content on Chrome, Safari, Opera, Edge and on any type of device. Lucidweb primarily targets companies which can rent their technology on a monthly or yearly basis, whilst the publishers keep the power to decide how their monetisation models would work. Commenting on price ranges, she disclosed that the minimum price to rent Lucidweb’s technology is €3,000 per year, which includes some basic storage, streaming and transcoding options.

Later, Cacciuttolo spoke about their app to play VR and AR content: “One of the things we did so as not to get backlash from users was to put a parental advisory disclaimer stating they could have found some mature content. This resulted in being categorised as an adult content app, which wasn’t the case.” 

One of the solutions was to use web VR: “This year, we made the first attempt during SXSW. The 360 content was hosted by Lucidweb, but it was via the SXSW online platform.” Several problems arose, however. One of the biggest was that most of the users weren’t always well equipped to watch this content, but also security breaches constituted a major risk. For example, many users were registered with an individual password and could download the content, so creators had to implement a line of code to implement a limited time viewing window. The experiment, while not totally satisfactory and resulting in significant losses (mostly owing to the costs incurred in renting the servers for the gigantic amount of data needed for multiple, high-quality screenings), will not impede Cacciuttolo to go ahead and continue searching for more feasible solutions. “It’s important to give these creators a platform where they can thrive and not be diluted in other platforms, the majority of which are designed for VR gaming,” he concluded.

The event was brought to a close by a round of questions from the audience.

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