Over the past couple of years, we've seen virtual reality turn into a very creative medium. Filmmakers of all stripes, from Oscar winners to indie artists, are excited by the potential of VR to create more immersive stories.
For a lot of people, these film festivals are their introduction to the world of virtual reality storytelling. It's easy to think VR is widely accessible, but that's just not the case yet.
Until that day, film festivals are the gateway to mainstream VR. If you're looking to attend one, whether it be to see the best VR content you can or just to get your hands on VR, there are a few different film festivals to choose from. So we've compiled a list of the best of the best.
Sundance Film Festival
Chaired by Robert Redford, the Sundance kid himself, the Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the US. It's long debuted good work from independent artists, and now it's bringing that same spirit to VR filmmaking through its New Frontier program.
Read this: VR filmmaking matures at Sundance
VR made a huge splash this year, as it saw the big debut of Fable Studio, made up of former Oculus Story Studio folks, and its new project Wolves In The Walls.
When and where: January – Park City, Utah | sundance.org
In the heart of Silicon Valley, there is perhaps no other film festival better placed to show the latest and greatest in VR. It's fitting that the festival is known for discovering talent and films long before they become a thing too, as many of the best VR filmmakers are nowhere near household names at the moment.
Read this: Cinequest shows off VR's diversity
Cinequest's VR portion is divided into several programs consisting of about 20 minutes apiece, which means you'll have to fight for some time to digest every single VR film and doc it presents. Pro tip: get there early, as there's always a line of about 20 people ready and waiting to try out some VR.
When and where: March – San Jose, California | cinequest.org
South by Southwest is a weird festival, largely because it encompasses so many different things. It sports a film festival that hosts the best in science fiction, horror, comedy and action. It has a speaker series. It's about apps and technology. And, more recently, it's added VR film.
SXSW not only hosts VR films for you to watch, it also hosts AR and mixed reality projects. Plus, if you're inspired to create your own virtual reality narratives, there are sessions you can attend to learn and submit your own film for next year.
When and where: March – Austin, Texas | sxsw.com
Atlanta Film Festival
Many of your favourite TV shows and blockbuster movies don't actually film in Hollywood, but Atlanta. The city has become the southern home of film, so it feels right that it would host its own film festival and embrace the future.
While the Atlanta Film Festival doesn't show too many VR films, it does offer enough to be worth your while. This year, its headline entry is La Camila, a short about a little girl who must learn to take over her father's important work after he passes away.
When and where: 13–22 April – Atlanta, Georgia | atlantafilmfestival.com
Tribeca Film Festival
Tribeca is one of the newer film festivals, but its also one of the biggest. This is where some of those Best Picture winners come from. The film festival has also been quick to embrace virtual reality, putting together an "immersive" pass for you to get all the VR content you need.
Read this: The best VR of Tribeca 2017
That VR content is split into two types. There's immersive, which also includes AR projects and larger reality-bending art installations. There's also Cinema360, which is devoted to 360 films. This year will see 11 360 films, including a horror short from Alejandra Aja, director of that Hills Have Eyes remake that terrified you.
When and where: 18–29 April – New York City, New York | tribecafilm.com
Overlook Film Festival
The Overlook Film Festival is inspired by the hotel from Stanley Kubrick's classic adaptation of The Shining. So, yeah, it's a film festival that's primarily centred around horror. For a couple of years, it even took place in that famed hotel from the movie.
The Overlook Film Festival is also famous for immersive stories. There are plenty of horror VR shorts for you to watch here. Also, while this isn't strictly virtual reality – or even augmented reality – there are some wacky art installations and alternate reality games for you to take part in. Just remember: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
When and where: 19–22 April – New Orleans, Louisiana | overlookfilmfest.com
Seattle Film Festival
Seattle's new SIFFX segment is perhaps the most comprehensive VR film festival you can attend. First, the festival screens its 360 content in a number of different formats, from actual VR to 80-foot dome screens that can wrap around you.
It's also got featured talks about virtual reality, exhibitions that show off augmented reality, an academy that'll teach you about VR filmmaking and something called Fly Story. This is a program that brings together local artists to learn about VR filmmaking. At the end of the week everyone gets together and talks about what they learned and how they want to use their new tools to make VR films.
When and where: 17 May to 10 June – Seattle, Washington | siff.net
Venice Film Festival
The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world, as well as one of the three most important in the world. So this is one where you'll see actors take the red carpet and world premieres of big new movies.
It's also embraced virtual reality better than its contemporaries, the Cannes and Berlin film festivals. There's an entire cinema dedicated to VR film, and the Venice Film Festival is one of the few that holds a VR competition, which means one of the films you watch could win a top prize. And isn't part of the fun discussing how the judges got everything wrong?
When and where: 29 August to 8 September – Venice, Italy | labiennale.org
The American Film Institute is one of the most respected film bodies in the world, and it often gets the biggest filmmakers, from Christopher Nolan to Steven Spielberg, to sit down and chat with its members about movies from the past, present and future.
Its popular AFI Fest has recently added a VR section that houses nearly two dozen VR films. Even better, it uses its pull with the industry to host panels with VR filmmakers about how they crafted their stories in the new medium.
When and where: 8–15 November – Los Angeles, California | afi.com
Dubai Film Festival
The Dubai Film Festival has quickly become a must-see thanks to its combination of elevating emerging filmmakers from the Arab world with the biggest international releases (Best Picture winner The Shape Of Water played last year, for instance).
Now it's got a VR program that mirrors the same strategy. You'll get your big VR releases, like Knives, but you'll also get emerging VR films from both the Arab world and Africa, giving you a slightly different selection of films from the rest on this list.
When and where: December – Dubai, United Arab Emirates | dubaifilmfest.com
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