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October 08th, 2020 | by Mathieu Gayet

"Our priority remains the access to experiences, virtually and physically." - Ulrich Schrauth (LFF Expanded)

The London Film Festival is getting bigger this year! Ulrich Schrauth is the new XR and immersive programmer of LFF Expanded, at the heart of one of the main cinema events of the fall. It will present a full selection of interactive, 360 and augmented reality content. We spoke with Ulrich about his new position and the festival's renewed ambitions.

Curating the XR world: who is Ulrich Schrauth

Ulrich Schrauth - I have been a VRHAM! programmer for 4 years - the Virtual Reality & Arts Festival in Hamburg (link). Its next edition is scheduled in 2021. Originally I am passionate about the world of the performing arts, having participated in the production of numerous exhibitions on the subject, in particular for several galleries in Europe. But I'm not a tech geek! When I heard about BFI's new ambitions for immersive content, I wasn't sure I would be the right fit, not being from the film industry either. And in fact, they really wanted a more diverse approach to working on the LFF Expanded program. Even if of course the cinema remains at the heart of each selection. The BFI really wanted to connect with new forms of immersive art, of innovative creation. That's why we've teamed up for this first edition with The National Theater (link) and started this kind of discussion. The role of filmmakers - more and more likely to try their hand at immersive formats - help push the limits of creation. I'm thinking of projects that embrace live performances, visual arts, etc.

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London Film Festival: setting up LFF Expanded

U. S. - From the start we built the LFF Expanded (the selection) as a true selection of the festival, in connection with its history linked to cinema. We're very serious about opening a new branch for immersive creators, not just a simple VR corner.

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U. S. - In this very specific context, we have developed a program accessible online - feature films and XR included. The festival will have an independent virtual platform which will offer access to the immersive selection. In fact, we are building it from scratch! It's an LFF design, a very simple XR app that looks like a virtual museum. People will be able to visit it with their own headphones and interact with each other - We will have social spaces, auditoriums with several events and keynotes. And of course you will be able to visit a showroom where we will present the 3DOF and 6DOF experiments. Everything will be accessible via Steam or Quest (for the latter in beta). We're also working on 2D access for computers - a simpler WebXR version for visiting space: the LFF 360 Player. 3DOF projects will also be accessible via Oculus TV.

U. S. - Finally, we will present a physical installation at BFI Southbank, in London, the emblematic location of the festival. We can accommodate 10 people at a time to visit the virtual platform and the associated content. And we will also have an augmented reality piece there: ACQUA ALTA! This system aims above all to prioritize public accessibility as our main objective. Recent immersive events have had different strategies (Venice VR ...), and we are discussing with them to understand how to best offer VR creations to the public. For the LFF in particular we do not have a professional audience (or little), so we must prioritize access to the general public.

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U. S. - We hope to save some of the ideas for subsequent editions. The main objective of this program is to work out the idea of ​​a real physical (and immersive) exhibition inside the National Theater, with different artists. This year, we offer a lot of VR content, but we want to explore other horizons: 3D mapping, AR, performance… I hope we can do it next year.

Expanding LFF: the selection

U. S. - We received around 150 projects, with a fairly wide range of projects. It was great to see so many creators and studios approaching us! We had to choose with an artistic eye of course, but also with the idea of ​​accessibility again. Some installations were too complicated to present in the current context.

U. S. - Basically, it's interesting to see trends or subjects coming together naturally. As curator, I like to see themes emerge in the selection, paving the way for a real exchange with the public. This year, there is inevitably something around the notions of community, of meeting humanely. We have selected 4 episodes of VIRTUAL (BLACK) REALITY - 2 were in Tribeca and 2 are completely unreleased. We have 2 episodes of PEOPLE2PEOPLE which concern Israel and Palestine. These are 2 points of view around the Gaza Strip, stories behind the walls. Social issues and injustices, inequalities are major trends in immersive creation right now. And we have an important role to play in putting the public at the heart of these contexts. To explore the world from a different perspective. Artificial intelligence is another big topic, as is dance and music.

U. S. - One of our main events is MADRID NOIR, which we present as a world premiere. It's always interesting to present new things, even if a "premiere" is not mandatory at the LFF. We obviously take care to accommodate fairly recent projects - which are not more than 18 months old - but exclusivity is not a criteria in itself. I am primarily looking for visually striking projects. Films like those by François Vautier (ODYSSEY 1.4.9 and RECODING ENTROPIA) can help new audiences to VR understand the power of immersion. This type of content has strong storytelling, is well produced, and gives real insight into what is possible in virtual reality.

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Recoding Entropia

U. S. - We also have a beautiful augmented reality installation, ACQUA ALTA, which could not be experienced outside the festival. It is an artbook from which you need a smartphone or a tablet to discover the full potential of its story in augmented reality. If you can live this story without words, the physical side is essential! Performance is also becoming more and more important in XR, this is a fundamental trend. I remain interested in the space we use. I really want to push this, see where the creators can go. This is where they can find new formats, even remotely and live.

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