TFF2016: Storyscapes

          Every year I look forward to Storyscapes, the Tribeca Film Festival’s “experiential” filmmaking selection, and with good reason—some of my favorite films in past years have been interactive ones, like Nathan Pellington’s brilliant Choose Your Own Documentary.  This year’s lineup doesn’t disappoint, with ten different projects including multiple virtual reality experiences.

            Among the most appealing to geeks will be Sens, the first VR adaptation of a graphic novel.  Taking cues from French minimalist Marc-Antoine Mathieu’s scenario, Sens invites you to follow a series of arrows through an increasingly surreal black and white dreamscape.  The experience rewards patience, and if you get stuck, ask one of the creators to give you a clue—it’s worth it.  Also notable is the playful The Turning Forest, in which you climb aboard a Neverending Story-esque creature and take a magic journey.  A lilting English voice narrates this experience from her girlhood—after all, it’s a BBC production.  Fans of psychotronic cinema will enjoy Séances, in which participants gather around a glowing table to select clips and generate a one-of-a-kind narrative.  The show I saw recalled an extended faux trailer from Grindhouse, with bizarre characters, eerie production design, and hokey inter-titles that bring to mind old Roger Corman flicks.  Recognizable faces like B-movie stalwart Udo Kier and Mathieu Amalric (The Grand Budapest Hotel) also turn up.

            More serious offerings include The Intersection of I, an interactive installment of filmmaker Whitney Dow’s The Whiteness Project.  Young Caucasians are asked what their race means to them, so be prepared to be infuriated; some interviewees are self-reflective on white privilege, whereas others are either oblivious or downright racist.  Speaking of race, the topic looms large in The Argus Project, in which the creators satirically propose a Borg-like suit to protect the public from body camera wearing police officers.  Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness combines academic John Hull’s recorded words with evocative visualizations to recreate his experience of going blind later in life, while 6x9: An Immersive Experience of Solitary Confinement meets the prison controversy head on.  The effectively overwhelming Network Effect synthesizes thousands of hours of YouTube footage to recreate the experience of surfing the internet.  The patterns the creators find in these disparate clips produce cohesion, even if the project comes off as potentially meaningless as its subject.

            Storyscapes shows daily at Spring Studios, 50 Varick St today through Sunday.  For more information, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.

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on April 14, 2016