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Seeking Pluto's Frigid Heart
“Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart.” (SIFFX via The New York Times)

The Seattle International Film Festival will embrace enhanced modes of storytelling such as virtual reality, 360-degree video and augmented reality for what it’s calling SIFFX, a festival-within-a-festival.

The program, from June 2-5, will feature artwork, panel discussions and presentations from what the festival calls the “VR vanguard.” Venues across Seattle Center will be used, including the SIFF Film Center and the Pacific Science Center Laser Dome.

LA-based content studio RYOT will present a program of short documentary films at the SIFFX opening night on June 2. Among the videos premiering for the first time in 360-degree projection — on the 80-foot-tall Laser Dome — is “The Crossing,” Susan Sarandon’s immersive video diary about the Syrian refugee rescue effort in Lesbos.

The Crossing
“The Crossing.” (SIFFX via RYOT)

A second evening of immersive screenings at the Laser Dome on June 3 will feature the work of The New York Times and Vrse.

“Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart” actually made its debut today on the NYT VR app. The experience allows users to witness the historic flyby of the distant dwarf planet by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. “Watch New Horizons glide through space at a million miles a day,” the The NYT writes. “Fly over Pluto’s rugged surface and smooth heart-shaped plains. Stand on icy mountains as the moon Charon looms on the horizon. Touch down in a frost-rimmed crater, billions of years old.”

The Times was sending out another large batch of Google Cardboard headsets to loyal digital customers in anticipation of the project’s release. A YouTube version of the experience doesn’t really do the trick:

“Seattle is a technology-driven city and the convergence of cinema with new storytelling realities at the nation’s largest film festival provides a great opportunity to discuss, explore, and discover the future today,” SIFF festival director and chief curator Carl Spence said in a news release. “While the medium becomes more accessible, and even pocket-sized, we also celebrate its great cinematic possibilities as a communal event, something that is perfectly complemented by the burgeoning and progressive movements happening in our Emerald City.”

SIFFX will offer festivalgoers access to a full range of technology, from high-end headsets to cardboard viewers. Instructional workshops for the maker community and panels and presentations about the technology and business of immersive storytelling are all planned as part of the four-day itinerary, according to the festival.

“Seattle already plays a crucial role in the VR conversation,” SIFFX director Sandy Cioffi said. “This city’s many creative technologists, artists and venture capitalists have the potential to define entirely new aspects of VR. Presenting this new medium through a Seattle lens, we hope to incubate risk-taking projects that are socially meaningful, artistically ground-breaking, and financially successful. SIFF is the perfect setting for this showcase: the longstanding cinematic festival of record, where cutting edge filmmaking has always been a top priority.”

The full Seattle International Film Festival runs from May 19-June 12.

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