The Austin Chronicle

The Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival

By Caitlin Moore, October 9, 2015, Screens

"Cinematic virtual reality" isn't something most of us have had the chance to become acquainted with yet, and that's what the Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival hopes to change. Over the last few weeks this immersive event has toured through nine different cities, and the final installment of the series will be held in Austin on Oct. 14. Kaleidoscope is a virtual reality agency co-founded by Austin native René Pinnell, also a University of Texas graduate, and Michael Breymann, the former technical director of visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic. This inaugural festival spotlights work from filmmakers all over the world who have applied their skills to a still-developing art form often just associated with gaming.

The cost and complexity of VR film technology has so far kept it off-limits to all but the most privileged, plugged-in few. "That's why we wanted to take it on the road," says Pinnell, who started his career as a filmmaker. "We're trying to make it less of a hurdle by physically coming to people and setting it all up." Kaleidoscope festival attendees will have the chance to check out more than a dozen audio-visual explorations using Oculus VR and Samsung equipment accompanied by demos and conversations with some of VR's biggest champions. The program lineup is diverse in subject matter: It will include "Butts," a bright and colorful animated piece, "The Nepal Quake Project," which explores the aftermath of a natural disaster, and "Tana Pura," which employs the music of Jonny Greenwood to abstractly explore what happens when life leaves the body. As Pinnell points out, the word "film" doesn't really apply – he prefers the term "experience." "We don't know the conventions and language of this new medium, so we're having to invent them." Pinnell says that diversity and creativity are the key elements of Kaleidoscope's program. Big companies have more resources and more people, he says, but independent artists operating with low budgets are more likely to solve problems by taking risks, and that's the aspect of this movement he wants to help nurture. As for VR's future, Pinnell predicts that the next couple of years will be exciting but still "rough around the edges" when it comes to the overall quality and reach, but in 2018 this new form will hit its stride to become more broadly available and compelling. "VR is not just for games, it's a legitimate art form that has the potential to become the dominant art form moving forward."

The Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival takes place Wed., Oct. 14, at Brazos Hall. For tickets and info, see

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