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Venice returns to Portland, virtually

The virtual reality competition of the Venice International Film Festival will be on view in Portland in September.


“Venice VR Expanded,” the virtual reality arm of the Venice International Film Festival, returns to the Northwest Film Center (NWFC) and the Portland Art Museum September 1-19. This is the second year that the NWFC has had the honor of hosting this event; Portland is its only U.S. venue. 

“Venice VR Expanded” at the Portland Art Museum in 2020. Image courtesy of the Portland Art Museum.

The Venice International Film Festival was one of the first international competitions to embrace virtual reality, in 2016. “Venice VR Expanded” debuted in 2020, bringing VR projects that are either in the Venice juried competition or “Best of VR Expanded – Out of Competition” to selected international venues. Portland is in illustrious company, with international venues also in Paris, Beijing, and Moscow (among others). 

This year’s event features increased access both in terms of the length of the event and the number of viewers that can be accommodated. Last year, the satellite venues were permitted to offer screenings only of the projects (“experiences”) during the run of the Venice Film Festival, so for ten days. This year, venues can screen the projects for an extra week. NWFC will have more headsets available this year as well: thirty in total that can be reserved for one hour each. Tickets for the one-hour slots must be reserved in advance and  are $35 (tickets for all headsets are the same price). 

There is a list of projects available on the Venice Film Festival website. Amy Dotson, director of the NWFC and PAM’s curator of Film and New Media, says she’s particularly excited by a project shot in the International Space Station; the nature-centric experience featuring David Attenborough about bugs; and an immersive collage of every media reference to an Italian waterfall. 

Visitors need not be experts in VR to participate. The event attracted a wide range of viewers last year. “The youngest viewer was seven and the oldest was well into their 80s,” Dotson recalls. “(W)hat really charmed me was that people came in complete newbies and felt great about it.”

I was definitely one of the newbies last year and, even though a year has passed, I’ll be a newbie this year as well. Though Dotson hails the technology as getting “better and better,” I can’t say the same for my own VR skills. Marc Mohan and I will be reprising our roles as reviewers of the experiences for ArtsWatch, so please stay tuned for an update on my trip to the International Space Station. 

Laurel Reed Pavic is an art historian. Her academic research dealt with painting in 15th and 16th century Dalmatia. After finishing her PhD, she quickly realized that this niche, while fascinating, was rather small and expanded her interests so that she could engage with a wider audience. In addition to topics traditionally associated with art history, she enjoys considering the manipulation and presentation of cultural patrimony and how art and art history entangle with identity. She teaches a variety of courses at Pacific Northwest College of Art including courses on the multiple, the history of printed matter, modernism, and protest art.