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The Future Is Here: We Went To A Virtual Reality Film Festival

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People using the Samsung Gear VR headset, watching short films (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
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When I think of virtual reality, movies like Lawnmower Man or Minority Report will pop in my head. We may not be quite on that level yet, but that reality doesn't seem to far away. Los Angeles just had a virtual reality film festival, and it was pretty mind-blowing.

The inaugural Kaleidoscope 2015 VR Film Festival rolled through our city at L.A. River Studios on Wednesday night as part of a 10-city tour that launched last month in Portland and will end in Austin on October 14. The festival is highlighting VR technology, showing short films made by filmmakers and hobbyists while using the Oculus VR and Samsung Gear VR headsets. And there's going to be a winning filmmaker announced at the closing of the festival.

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She is inside of a virtual social media chat room using Samsung's Gear VR headset (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
LAist was invited to attend the film festival, and got to see the breadth of where VR is going. When I entered the room, there were all these different stations set up with guests wearing individual headsets and headphones, each watching different videos while they circled around in swivel chairs, which is the best way to sit when you're trying to get a 360-degree experience. It really felt like I was in some futuristic world.

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The Google Cardboard VR headset (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
While some of the Oculus VR headsets were attached to laptops, the Samsung Gear VR headsets were operated with a mere Samsung phone latched on to the front of it. Same goes for the affordable Google Cardboard headsets, which start at around $20 and are really just cardboard viewfinders that you can attached your smart phones to. I watched an animated video made by PETA on the cardboard headset where I experienced going to a slaughterhouse from a chicken's point of view. It was surprisingly less graphic than I thought it would be, but it was still intense, and I got a 360-degree view.

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You actually feel wind when you're watching this VR video because there's a fan behind you (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
Some of the more advanced shorts I saw included a yoga lesson out in nature, with beautiful backdrops of mountains and skies. It was a completely immersive experience, where if I looked down or turned around, I was seeing something else, like a peaceful ocean. Another video simulated watching a movie inside a movie theater. While I can't imagine myself wanting to watch a movie where I'm virtually sitting in a theater with chairs, maybe it would be kind of nice for someone who couldn't leave home for whatever reason, including agoraphobia or being bed-ridden.

There was also a video that made me feel like I was standing on a wooden platform up in the clouds with the wind literally blowing at me. (There was an actual fan situated behind my seat, blasting air.) Another made me feel like I was Sandra Bullock in Gravity, and I instantly felt dizzy, which normally I wouldn't like, but in this case enjoyed because I was impressed it made me feel something instantaneously.

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A 360-degree GoPro rig for filming VR projects (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
I spoke to a rep from Vrideo, a company that owns an open platform that is host to over 1,000 short immersive videos made by themselves, and mostly by contributors. He said he can imagine the future of VR where people will go from one video to the next, without wanting to leave the VR world. It's kind of a scary and cool thought at the same time. I even hung out in a virtual social media room where a bunch of other people like me were wandering around in a room waving at each other. Maybe this is where we're heading—a lonely, yet not lonely experience.

If you've never used an VR headset before, I highly recommend it. You can look like these guys moving their heads around:

Untitled from LAist on Vimeo.