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Holy Night created by: Casey Stein and Bernard Zeiger
Holy Night created by: Casey Stein and Bernard Zeiger

This year’s Convergence section of the 57th New York Film Festival features three VR programs as well as special events to showcase today’s wide-ranging landscape of immersive storytelling, featuring virtual reality and 360-degree filmmaking from around the globe.

On this year’s Convergence lineup, programmer Matt Bolish explains, “The work in this year’s edition of Convergence really confronts some of the most pressing issues of the day: humanity’s impact on the environment, how we care for the most vulnerable among us, the terrors of homelessness and the opioid epidemic, with equal measures of pathos and humor.”

The lineup includes the World Premiere of The Raven, a wholly original approach to storytelling combining state-of-the art augmented audio, interactive theater, and elements of game play. In honor of the 170th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe, the innovative experience guides attendees through a completely transformed historical 5th Avenue mansion where they will uncover details about Poe’s life, legacy, and the mysterious circumstances of his death. The lineup also features the World Premiere of Holy Night, a Rashomon-esque interactive iPad examination of the United States opioid crisis through the lens of three characters affected by addiction in small town America.

Program One is the World Premiere of the Anthropocene Project, an ambitious three-film Virtual Reality documentary exploring the ways in which humans have permanently altered our environment, from the Apuan Alps to the Nairobi National Park. Programs Two and Three feature a mix of narrative and documentary VR films, many of which use the medium to present human rights issues facing our world today, including Ghost Fleet, a cinema vérité documentary that exposes human trafficking on a fishing vessel off the coast of Vietnam; Send Me Home, a powerful documentary centered on a man wrongfully imprisoned for murder for four decades; and the World Premiere of Homeless: A Los Angeles Story, a multifaceted exploration of the homeless epidemic in L.A. Other highlights from Programs Two and Three include the World Premiere of inventive experimental film Eyelydian; Your Spiritual Temple Sucks, a playfully bizarre portrait of a man in crisis; as well as SXSW Virtual Cinema competition selections: the moving Metro Viente, which follows the sexual awakening of a disabled woman in Argentina; and Last Whispers, a beautiful meditation on what we lose when native languages disappear.


All Convergence experiences will take place at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (144 W. 65th St.) unless otherwise noted.

Virtual Cinema: Program One

The Anthropocene Project
Nicholas de Pencier, Jennifer Baichwal, and Edward Burtynsky, Canada, 2019
TRT: 21m

For millennia, people have been enamored of the beautiful marble that comes from the mountains in Carrara, Italy. That pursuit has forever changed the geological region, creating vast manmade canyons and permanently changing the face of the Apuan Alps. This compelling piece follows a block of the precious stone from quarry to craftsman’s workshop, allowing viewers to grasp the qualities that make this marble so valued before it graces showrooms, galleries, and ornamental architecture.

Ivory Burn
In April 2016, over 100 million dollars worth of confiscated elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns were burned by authorities in Nairobi National Park to send an important message to the local and global community: the illegal ivory trade must come to an end. The fire served as a call to arms for local communities and officials to defend the hunted animals. Ivory Burn allows viewers to witness this historic moment first-hand.

The vast scale of manmade waste is made comprehensible in this experience that immerses viewers in Kenya’s largest landfill. Dandora exposes the amount of waste produced by the medical, commercial, and agricultural industries, and explores how this affects the surrounding population: both for its hazardous environmental effects and, more positively, the opportunities it provides the local population to sell what they salvage from the trash.

Virtual Cinema: Program Two 
TRT: 43m

Metro Viente
Dir. Maria Belen Poncio, Argentina, 2018, 19m
Juana uses a social app to arrange a date with Felipe, without mentioning the fact that she uses a wheelchair. Together they will navigate a typically awkward first date and along the way help each other discover something about themselves in Poncio’s elegant 360-degree experience.

World Premiere
Dir. Ryan Schmal Murray, USA, 2019, 3m
This evocative, wholly original 360-degree experience begins by presenting the audience with abstract images, colors, and sounds meant to replicate sunlight against closed eyelids before evolving into a meditative, dreamlike state.

Ghost Fleet
Dir. Lucas Gath and Shannon Service, USA, 2019, 8m
Modern-day slavery is explored through the eyes of Tun Lin, who at the age of 14 was kidnapped and forced into labor aboard a fishing vessel before escaping. In this VR experience, his gripping story opens a window onto a dark world where countless men and women still suffer at sea.

Send Me Home
Dir. Lonelyleap, USA, 2018, 13m
Rickey Jackson spent 40 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and was only released after a key witness recanted testimony. Now, Jackson has thrown himself into making the most of his life, asking the rest of us to reflect on our own lives as well, in this deeply personal, 360-degree film about time lost and time regained.

Virtual Cinema: Program Three
TRT: 39m

Your Spiritual Temple Sucks
Dir. John Hsu, Taiwan, 2017, 10m
Plagued by problems at home with his wife, his finances, and his . . . everything, a desperate Mr. Chang wills himself into his “Spiritual Temple,” where he seeks the help of his personal guardian to put his life back on track in this surreal and hilarious VR experience.

Last Whispers
Dir. Lena Herzog, USA, 2018, 8m
Language shapes us, defining individuals and cultures. Yet the world’s linguistic diversity is in danger of collapsing; an entire language is lost every two weeks. Herzog’s strikingly immersive VR piece is equal parts lament for disappearing languages and celebration of those on the brink of extinction.

World Premiere
Homeless: A Los Angeles Story
Dir. Jonathan Glancy, USA, 2019, 17m
This heartbreaking and revelatory immersive documentary shines a light on the Los Angeles homeless crisis and those individuals trying to make a change. The film explores multiple aspects of this crisis: how people find themselves without homes, how their belongings are treated as trash by government officials, and how the larger city community often values personal income and business interests above their dignity.

Note: Virtual Cinema: Program Three also includes EYELYDIAN; see Program Two.

Special Events

World Premiere
Holy Night
Created by: Casey Stein & Bernard Zeiger, USA, 2019, 11m
A small-town pastor, a grandmother, and a teenage girl are caught between the conflicting forces of home, family, and community as they deal with their complex relationships to prescription drugs. Both an intimate character study and a broad exploration of America’s opioid epidemic, this interactive experience allows the audience to pivot between the three unique perspectives of its key characters. Each of these storylines evolves independently and in real time, allowing the viewer to capture fleeting moments and subtle parallels between narratives that make every play-through as much a journey for the viewer as the protagonist.

World Premiere
The Raven
Created by: Lance Weiler, Ava Lee Scott, Nick Fortugno, Nick Childs, USA, 2019, 60m
“Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many but few will be grieved by it.” So begins the infamous Rufus Griswold obituary of Poe, who died penniless and unhappy days after being discovered delirious in the gutter on a cold fall morning. The author’s legacy, his ghosts, and even the mysterious circumstances of his death are examined in this immersive theater experience that blends elements of game play, cutting-edge audio technology, and first-rate storytelling.
*This event will take place at The American Irish Historical Society (991 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028) 

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