April 15th, 2020 | by Mathieu Gayet

“There is a special festival atmosphere you can’t produce digitally” – Astrid Kahmke (Virtual Worlds)

As its 2nd edition originally scheduled in June was postponed, we spoke with Astrid Kahmke (director of the festival and Head of the European Creators'​ Lab) and Benedikt Frank (PR manager) about the next steps of the XR industry, going online and scheduling a XR event.

About Virtual Worlds, the festival

Astrid Kahmke - We are partnering with the Filmfest München, second biggest film festival in Germany and one of the biggest in Europe as well. They made the tough decision to cancel the 2020 edition which was supposed to open late June. Now in Bavaria we’re in a total lockdown, until April 20 and maybe later. We have to see what’s going on after the summer. We spoke with our partners, and with the Bavarian Ministry for Digital Affairs here. As VIRTUAL WORLDS is a smaller festival, we are a bit more flexible. So we are trying to postpone it to a later date in fall, - with hopes the situation is in control until then. If not, we’ll cancel.

A. K. - Our first edition was a 3-days VR exhibition (21 international pieces with a Competition) as part of the cinema festival, in a beautiful location, with a B2B market, an international jury (Myriam Achard, Chloé Jarry & Colum Slevin) and a conference. Plus, we organized a Felix & Paul retrospective, which was something unique I guess in the XR industry, to go back to their first 5 years of activity. Feedbacks were great and we were sold out. We hope to welcome creators again, as we planned to go bigger and a lot of new ideas.


Breaking Down these Walls of virtual events

A. K. - The Virtual Worlds festival is an audience festival and therefor a place for personal - physical - encounters. See how wonderful it is to meet in the beautiful garden of Venice VR (link) and meet people from all over the world. We have this unique festival atmosphere also during the Filmfest in Munich in summer. There is a special mix of encounters and social contacts you can’t reproduce digitally, but conferences can happen online, exchange of knowledge, networking and trainings. And I am convinced, that we are in the beginning of a new form of festivals and formats in Virtual Reality. It’s so different to watch experiences in a virtual room, it is inspiring in many ways. This is why we joined the BREAK DOWN THESE WALLS festival (link) which is an initiative of VRrOOm and Stereopsia. They did a huge amount of work on this platform to present artistic works and where a crowd can meet. Now, it is still more a club for VR lovers, as you need the technology to access it, but it’s very well received and welcome by the XR community. I am deeply convinced that these kind of events will not only help us now to overcome confinement but will change the way we think of festivals in the long term. We will go on with the BDTW until the pandemic is under control.


Benedikt Frank - Everything is a work-in-progress, because we don’t know how long this online festival will last. We build the program step-by-step: every week we add new experiences. Our model is a 1-day availability of a project in our platform. This is merely a curation work of discussion with creators and scheduling their projects on the platform.

A. K. - Artists are very positive about the BREAK DOWN initiative. With 1 day per experience It’s a very limited time of exposure, and limited audience for sure. We are happy to present experiences from our last year’s festival line-up, such as EVEREST or TRAVELING WHILE BLACK from Felix & Paul studios for example, both are also available in the Oculus Store. It’s quite easy to add experiences to the festival, and VRrOOm works every day to improve the platform where experiences are streamed. I don’t even know how they manage to do this all, their job is huge. With Stereopsia we work on contacting productions and creators. Week by week.

Virtual Worlds, on location event

A. K. – Actually, we were talking with VRrOOm before the COVID19 crisis, discussing to make a part of VIRTUAL WORLDS online, streaming the Pitch sessions, the Awards ceremony, the professional section of our festival. I’m totally convinced it will be a great benefit for people who can’t travel at all, and also a good method for e-learning and training. What the College Biennale VR did in Venice in February (with VRrOOm) was a good sign, to find solutions in VR for their workshop as no one could join physically. I’m thinking of doing the same thing for the next European Creators'​ Lab as an additional tool for participants online. Even if the physical event is happening. It will be an enrichment, not a replacement!


B. F. - We also take into consideration the fact that we have a general audience coming to the festival, from Munich and Germany. It’s necessary to think about their stay with us and the way they discover virtual productions. This is something we can’t replace with online events. Part of our public has not the tech capability and/or hardware.

A. K. - I think we cannot expect the same amount of international guests this fall. The current crisis will change a lot in our societies, the way we imagine future events, we meet and travel. It is good to re-imagine everything, to question ourselves and to find new ways to interact. As event makers, we need to think about new ways to present artistic works in this new world. For now we closed all calls for projects, and we will re-opened it when the new dates of the festival will be known. Of course all submissions we received stay valid and registered.


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