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Astrid Kahmke • Creative director, Bavarian Film Centre

“The creative people in VR have made a huge leap forward”


- We talked to Astrid Kahmke, creative director of the Bavarian Film Centre, about her experience of curating Virtual Worlds at Filmfest München earlier this month

Astrid Kahmke • Creative director, Bavarian Film Centre
(© Bayerisches Filmzentrum/Volker Rebhahn)

For the very first year, Filmfest München hosted a virtual reality-focused section called Virtual Worlds (which unspooled from 2-4 July). The programme was curated by Astrid Kahmke, creative director of the Bavarian Film Centre, and we had a chance to discuss the event further with her.

Cineuropa: Could you give us an overview of the first edition of Virtual Worlds?
Astrid Kahmke:
Virtual Worlds was an international competition for narrative VR as well as an art exhibition, and it had a professional day with keynotes, panels and a B2B market for projects in development. For the competition, we had a top-notch international jury, including Myriam Achard (Phi Centre Montréal), Chloé Jarry (Lucid Realities Studios Paris) and Colum Slevin (head of media for AR/VR experiences at Facebook). Of the 21 competing experiences, three were awarded for Best Interactive Content, Best Linear Content and Best Immersive Work Overall. In addition, we had the first-ever retrospective in VR, encompassing a large proportion of the works by Felix & Paul Studios, which are already cinematic VR classics and have won numerous prizes.

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Furthermore, France was the guest of honour, and we had a special focus on the works of French artists who began dealing with the medium and the new art form very early on. France is one of the leading nations when it comes to narrative VR, and with the contribution of our French partners, we were able to shed some light on the success of their artists and production companies. We presented all of these works – 35 experiences – to a broad and interested audience.

We also organised a professional day with outstanding keynotes by Colum Slevin, Chloé Jarry, Balthazar Auxietre and Julie Walsh, and a unique panel with Félix Lajeunesse, Myriam Achard and Martin Enault on the work of “Felix & Paul”. For the B2B market as networking platform, we had 13 projects in development, which were presented and pitched in front of a professional audience.

What were the highlights of this edition for you, and what possible changes might have to be made for next year?
It's hard to name highlights, as I very much liked every single experience. The wide range of different works presented to our audience – which made it difficult for the jury, however – could be one of the highlights. Maybe for me, personally, it was the “Felix & Paul” retrospective, along with the success of the B2B market. It was important to welcome my international “VR family" to Munich, and with the help of our partners and sponsors, we hosted more than 70 guests.

Regarding the competition winners, Accused #2: Walter Sisulu and A Fisherman’s Tale (Chapter 1), could you comment further on them?
Accused#2: Walter Sisulu (from France) is based on 256 hours of audio material, which serves as the only remaining witness to the cross-examination of Walter Sisulu, the mentor of Nelson Mandela, and which, with his animations, Oerd van Cujlenbourg has made into something intensely experienceable. The two directors, Nicholas Champeaux and Gilles Porte, have thus created an experience of profound historical relevance, and at the same time they have made perfect use of the medium, with its unique ability to transport us to another time and place.

As for selecting the projects, there were some necessary criteria, but what seemed most important was to pick works whose stories could only be told in virtual reality and which use the medium efficiently and focus on the user experience. One outstanding feature of VR, for example, is its use of scale.

A Fisherman’s Tale (Chapter 1) (France) has achieved this to an incredible degree: it’s a puzzle game that is told with a sense of fun and childlike joy, which gives the user a chance to interact. It has a sophisticated environmental design and constantly surprises with its outstanding use of scale. The jury also saw it that way!

More than 3,000 experience slots were booked during your event; how important was this feedback, and what will your next steps be?
We are very happy that Virtual Worlds was so well received. And we’re even happier about the fact that we were able to reach such a mixed audience – from the VR connoisseurs, professionals, art lovers and Munich Film Festival’s regulars to curious folks from various areas, like students and families. That was the goal: to create a festival that offers an ambitious programme for international VR artists as well as appealing to all audiences and also offering networking opportunities. I think we will try to keep going in that direction next year.

At the Bavarian Film Centre, what will your next steps be in order to support creative and narrative VR, and what do you think we should expect from this field in the near future?
Our team at the Bavarian Film Centre has always tried to offer further education for creative and media professionals who are so urgently needed in times of digital transformation. This not only involves innovative topics, but also tools and methodologies for creativity. Storytelling and how to handle new technologies are always the focus of our labs and master classes. This also applies to the European Creators' Lab, which we have now been able to run successfully for three years with the support of Creative Europe MEDIA.

I think that the creative people in VR have made a huge leap forward, and I believe we should continue to work on knowledge transfer in a broad sense, but at the same time also work very intensively on the promotion of individual talents. Artists’ residencies, formats that deal with virtual identities and artificial intelligence, project-related development and, of course, international networking are just some of the topics that we are currently considering.

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