BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2021 ANNOUNCES COMPLETE LFF EXPANDED IMMERSIVE ART & XR STRAND LINEUP

18 Projects from 13 Countries, Presented Both Virtually and Across Multiple Venues around London’s South Bank 

The BFI London Film Festival, in partnership with American Express, today announced the complete lineup for LFF Expanded, the Festival’s immersive art and XR strand, which will run from 6-17 October 2021. Presented in partnership with the National Theatre, this year’s hybrid programme features works from creators bringing stories and experiences to life through bleeding-edge, immersive technologies, including interactive VR, 360 films, augmented reality, mixed reality and live immersive performance. The programme will be presented across multiple venues in-person at LFF Expanded @ 26 Leake Street, the award-winning venue in the historic Leake Street graffiti tunnels, which will serve as LFF Expanded’s primary exhibition space and feature 15 projects from the programme, BFI SouthbankBallet Rambert, and LFF Expanded at the National Theatre. A selection of works will be available online to audiences in the UK and internationally via the virtual exhibition space, The Expanse.  

The Expanse will feature seven 360-videos and immersive works, plus a virtual theatre, and will be accessible worldwide and free of charge both via VR headsets and as a standalone desktop app. LFF Expanded is programmed by Ulrich Schrauth, the LFF Immersive Art and XR Curator, who also worked closely with INVR.Space on the design of the virtual gallery.

Ulrich Schrauth, BFI London Film Festival XR Programmer, said, “We are excited to present to our audiences this wide range of creators, artists and filmmakers from all over the world and share their incredible projects in specialized exhibitions and settings. With our LFF Expanded artists coming from very different backgrounds and artistic genres, the programme is an exciting array of various art forms and showcases at the forefront of how artists experiment with emerging technologies. This new strand is not about technology, it’s about the stories these creators want to share with us. Stories of cultural, social and political urgency, giving visitors the possibility to get completely immersed in a work of art and challenge their own perspectives on these important matters of our current times.”

The LFF Expanded programme, as announced in 2020, is presented in partnership with the National Theatre and its Immersive Storytelling Studio, which works with artists and emerging technologies to develop new forms of storytelling and audience experience. This year the theatre presents Museum of Austerity, a co-production between English Touring Theatre, the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio and Trial & Error. Combining verbal testimony, original music and ground-breaking volumetric capture, this exhibition invites audiences to contemplate close-up and for free the human impact of austerity. This powerful installation combines the skills of theatre/XR director Sacha Wares with the in-depth knowledge of John Pring, editor of Disability News Service.

Toby Coffey, Head of Digital Development at the National Theatre, said, “It’s fantastic to be launching this incredible programme of immersive work for audiences to enjoy both across the South Bank and around the world. We’re honoured to be partnering with the BFI again this year on LFF Expanded and to showcase the great array of international talent in the XR field. This year, we’re proud to have been part of a powerful and moving installation that I see is a true development of the form. Museum of Austerity marks many years of work from John Pring and Sacha Wares to present the true stories of those who were critically in need of support in our society over the last decade in a truly moving and immersive experience.” 

LFF Expanded will feature 18 projects (eight of which have lead artists that identify as women and six as ethnically diverse) working in immersive media and representing 13 countries (UK, USA, France, South Africa, Taiwan, Finland, Latvia, Sweden, Israel, Nigeria, Canada, Denmark, and Luxembourg). The programme features nine works from the UK and a total of six world premieres, including Asif Kapadia’s striking VR animation Laika, which Kapadia will be in attendance to present. Eulogy, a captivating and challenging performance that unfolds in complete darkness by cutting-edge production company Darkfield, and Future Rites, a work-in-progress version of an interactive VR dance performance from the Alexander Whitley Dance Company. 

The BFI London Film Festival co-commissioned three of the presented projects in line with the wider ambitions of the British Film Institute to engage with new forms of immersive storytelling. These three projects vary greatly in form and use of technology: while Laika by acclaimed filmmaker Asif Kapadia is an animated VR project produced by esteemed studio Passion Pictures, Museum of Austerity by Sacha Wares and John Ping uses cutting-edge augmented reality technology to showcase an immersive, free-roaming installation whereas Future Rites by choreographer Alexander Whitley presents an in-person interactive VR dance performance.
LFF EXPANDED 2021 IMMERSIVE ART AND XR PROGRAMME:
A Life in Pieces: The Diary and Letters of Stanley Hayami 
United States
Lead Artists: Nonny de la Peña, Sharon Yamato 

This cutting-edge media project brings to life the wartime diary of Stanley Hayami, a Japanese-American teenager who, during the Second World War, was forced into captivity with his family and many other American citizens of Japanese descent at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. Viewers enter the rugged living conditions where the Hayami family lived as Stanley describes with poignant optimism the difficult reality he faces being imprisoned behind barbed wire. Through virtual reality technology, the teenager’s writings and drawings come to life through live-action characters, 3D animation and photogrammetry of actual surroundings. 
Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, The ExpanseDuration: 18 minutes Notes: Interactive VR, International Premiere  

Adult Children 
United Kingdom 
Lead Artists: Ella Hickson, Sacha Wares, Key Collaborator: ScanLAB Projects 

Set during lockdown and staged in a scanned replica of the Donmar Warehouse auditorium, this poignant short 360 film invites us to explore the ways in which our actions are connected even when we are apart. Adult Children is a unique collaboration between leading theatre artists and groundbreaking XR creatives—Playwright Ella Hickson, XR/theatre director Sacha Wares and digital innovators ScanLAB Projects—based on their jointly-created new form of 360 theatre that explores the psychogeography of solitude, probes the nuances of social responsibility and evokes the feelings of loss that characterise the Covid era for us all.  

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, The Expanse

Duration: 16 minutes 

Notes: World Premiere  

Atomic / Ghost in the Atom 

Finland, Latvia  

Lead Artists: Felicia Honkasalo, Akuliina Niemi, Masi Tiitta 

This astonishing immersive installation by Finnish Artists’ collective Honkasalo/Niemi/Tiitta comprises three different artworks, each contemplating the history and legacy of nuclear waste. It’s an allegory of the absurdity of humanity’s engagement with nuclear power, comprising of a 360-degree film, 2D video installation and a physical sculpture. In this piece, we are presented with footage of radioactive waste being deposited in labyrinthine tunnels deep underground. The film shows how the post-WWII US government employed effective propaganda to downplay the devastating power of the toxic material while also demonstrating how the thermal warmth of nuclear power plants is utilised in the production of grapes for winemaking. Original film footage of the nuclear waste repository in Onkalo, Finland is used by the artists to celebrate what they describe as ‘the worlds’ longest funeral’. This triptych has been newly edited for an exclusive world premiere at LFF Expanded.  

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, The Expanse

Duration: 12 minutes 

Notes: World Premiere  

Captured 

Finland 

Lead Artist: Hanna Haaslahti  

In this participatory experience, your virtual likeness is digitally recreated by means of a volumetric photo of your face and unclasped into an unsettling march by a virtual crowd. Your avatar will take on different roles in an AI-generated virtual simulation where individual freedom is taken over by collective instincts, leaving you with zero agency to control your own actions. Which role will you take on? The bully, the target or the bystander? And what does it say about your primal instincts in watching aggressive social behaviour? 

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street

Duration: ongoing

Notes: International Premiere  

Container

South Africa 

Lead Artists: Meghna Singh, Simon Wood 

 

Container, a 180-degree film from South Africa, makes us aware of the lives of the invisible millions that continue to be enslaved through modern-day feudalism. How would you define slavery? A lack of freedom, unbearable working conditions, social inequality and moral injustice? This film takes us on a journey through the myriad forms of economic slavery, via the spread of capitalism around the world, which has increased the hunger for cheap goods and led to mega cities filled with ‘invisible’ workers forced into economic and domestic servitude. 

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, The Expanse

Duration: 16 minutes 

Notes: UK Premiere 

Eternal Return 

United Kingdom, Sweden 

Key Collaborators: The Memor, ScanLAB Projects, and Lundahl & Seitl

Eternal Return is a choreographed mixed reality exhibition exploring the future of memory. The immersive performance unfolds within a visually striking exhibition space conceived by ScanLAB Projects and artists Christer Lundahl and Martina Seitl. Designed to appeal to visitors with or without headsets, the staging gives a fragmented impression of the hidden virtual space. On entering the experience, you will be guided by a performer to explore a memory archive containing moments from Earth’s deep past and its post-Anthropocene future. This visual and audio experience is complemented by the performer’s physical and digital interaction within the work. In its entirety, this work explores the collective memory and experiences we pass on through generations: what to fear, what to value, how to live, how to care for the world of tomorrow.

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, live performance 

Duration: 20 minutes 

Notes: UK Premiere 

Eulogy 

United Kingdom 

Lead Artists: Darkfield  

What if you could only listen, feel and touch? Your sensual perception would rapidly become more intense, your inner vision would take control of your imagination, and a new reality would form, defined by the images you conjure up. Acclaimed UK-based company Darkfield has mastered this sensual experience like no other, most recently with Eulogy, which unfolds in and around a labyrinthine, dreamlike hotel imagined by its audience as they’re enveloped in complete darkness. Be sure not to miss this outstanding piece of visionary storytelling during its exclusive run in London.  

Presentation Location: Theatre Square / Southbank

Duration; 35 minutes 

Notes: World Premiere, separately ticketed

Fauna 

France 

Lead Artists: Adrien M, Claire B x Brest Brest Brest

Fauna is a series of ten large-format posters with a custom-built augmented reality application that can be discovered via your smartphone. Go on a treasure hunt around town and explore the imaginative worlds that hide behind the graphic prints. Fantastic animals roaming in beautiful landscapes come to life using the latest Augmented Reality technology, while subtle soundscapes reveal imaginary wildlife hiding behind city walls. The public art installation offers an opportunity to interact with urban surroundings in a unique and exciting way. 

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street

Duration: 15-30 minutes 

Notes: UK Premiere, free entrance

Future Rites 

United Kingdom   

Lead Artists: Alexander Whitley Dance Company 

Ever dreamed of actively participating alongside professional dancers in a choreographed performance? Now is your chance. Acclaimed choreographer Alexander Whitley, director Sandra Rodriguez and Canada’s Normal Studio have collaborated on this VR dance performance, which is based on Igor Stravinsky’s ground-breaking ballet The Rite of Spring. It employs live motion-capture and real-time animation to create a collective experience in which dancers and members of the audience interact with each other. As part of our free LFF Expanded programme, we are showcasing a work-in-progress version of this exciting performance during the last weekend of the Festival. Be sure to sign up early to secure a space for this outstanding new take on one of the most controversial works of the 20th century.  

Presentation Location: Rambert Studio, 13-14 October

Duration: 11 minutes

Notes: Co-Commissioned by BFI London Film Festival – LFF Expanded, World Premiere of work in progress, Free entrance/LFF Free, Registration required

Inhibition 

United Kingdom  

Lead Artists: Zoe Diakaki, Marina Eleni Mersiadou  

Inspired by A. B. Casares’ novel The Invention of Morel, Inhibition is an immersive multi-user experience at the intersections of performance, architecture and 3D design. Find yourself challenged to rethink your subjective reality as you and two other audience members embark on a quest around an imaginary island. This performative experience unfolds in three scenes, following the journey of the novel’s main protagonist, exploring how scenic installation and spatial performance can challenge the perception of audiences and performers by the user. LFF Expanded showcases this participatory live experience as an exclusive world premiere.  

Presentation location: 26 Leake Street

Duration: 10 minutes

Notes: interactive VR, World Premiere  

Laika 

UK

Lead Artists: Asif Kapadia, Nick Abadzis 

Overnight, an unwanted and unloved stray from the streets of Moscow, Laika, became the first living creature sent by humans into space and the most famous dog in the world. Adapted from Nick Abadzis’ eponymous 2007 graphic novel, Laika is a tragic tale of love, deep humanity and a mission that heralded a new age of information, technology and the race for military supremacy. This animated VR film by Academy Award, BAFTA and Grammy-winning director Asif Kapadia (AmySennaThe Warrior) takes you on Laika’s heart-breaking journey while exposing the dog’s pivotal role in late 20 th-century world history.  

Presentation location: BFI Southbank, 26 Leake Street, The Expanse 

Duration: 15 mins.

Notes: World Premiere, Presented by BFI London Film Festival and StoryFutures Academy 

Liminal Lands 

France, U.S. 

Lead Artist: Jakob Kudsk Steensen

The extraordinary landscape of the Camargue, in the South of France, provides the backdrop to the imaginative journey taken in Liminal Lands commissioned by Luma Foundation, a new museum in Arles, and conceived by Steensen during an extensive residency. Steensen re-envisions complex shapes and forms as a transitional zone where fundamental energies of sun, wind, water, and bacteria determine the delicate balance of life in one of the most archaic landscapes in Western Europe. Every sound, form and texture in these virtual environments has been digitized with 3D scanners and audio recordings, then crafted into the artist’s distinctive visual style. As both sound and vision respond to audience members’ motion, technology becomes a sensory tool for a ritualistic environmental experience.  

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street

Duration: 18 minutes

Notes: Interactive VR, UK Premiere  

Missing Pictures Episode 2: Tsai Ming-liang 

France  

Lead Artists: Clement Deneux, Kuan-Yuan LAI

Missing Pictures is a VR documentary series that gives some of the greatest directors in the world a chance to tell the story they were never able to bring to the screen. Following on from Abel Ferrara’s entry at last year’s LFF Expanded – the unforgettable Missing Pictures: Birds of Prey – this year we welcome Taiwanese visionary Tsai Ming-Liang, whose wide-ranging body of work includes The RiverThe Wayward CloudJourney to the West and Days (LFF 2020). His untold story draws upon memories of his childhood. Hand-drawn 3D visuals become the backdrop for the filmmakers’ very personal narrative, a story about love, loss and the power of imagination. 

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, The Expanse

Duration: 10 minutes

Notes: Interactive VR, UK Premiere  

Museum Of Austerity

United Kingdom 

Lead Artists: Sacha Wares, John Pring 

Museum of Austerity is a mixed reality exhibition that preserves memories of public and private events from the austerity era. Room 1 of the exhibition, previewing at LFF, records personal stories of disabled benefit claimants who died between 2010 – 2020. Combining verbal testimony, original music, and groundbreaking volumetric capture, this exhibition implores audiences to contemplate the human impact of austerity. Co-produced by English Touring Theatre, the National Theatre Immersive Storytelling Studio and Trial & Error, this powerful installation combines the skills of theatre/XR director Sacha Wares with the in-depth knowledge of John Pring, editor of Disability News Service. 

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street

Duration: 30 minutes

Notes: Co-Commissioned by BFI London Film Festival, Premier Preview of Work-in-Progress, Free, Registration required 

Noah’s Raft 

Nigeria 

Lead Artists: Joel Kachi Benson, Tal Michael Haring

‘No person shall be denied the right to education.’ This privilege has been declared a human right by the United Nations, but has still not become a reality for many children around the world. For the children of Makoko, a floating slum on the outskirts of Lagos, education is barely a presence in their lives. They are simply raised to help their parents and schooling is often perceived as a threat to the community’s traditions. But Noah Shemede, a committed education worker, follows his dream and sets up a floating primary school with the mission to change his community through education.

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, The Expanse

Duration: 12 minutes  

Notes: UK Premiere  

Only Expansion

United Kingdom  

Lead Artist: Duncan Speakman 

As sea levels rise and wildfires burn, Only Expansion remixes the sound of the city around you to conjure up a sonic portrait of how your life might change in the future. A beautifully produced guidebook prompts you to explore London’s Southbank; you can choose your own route as customized headphones capture and manipulate the sounds that surround you. Field recordings of climate collapse bleed into this environment – you might hear your city as it sinks beneath waves or is battered by desert winds. A powerful and impressionistic reflection on what it means to live on a planet in crisis, Only Expansion Connects the here to the elsewhere, letting you experience our troubled environment through sound. 

Presentation Location: BFI Southbank 

Duration: 40 minutes

Samsara 

Taiwan 

Lead Artist: Hsin-Chien Huang

Taiwanese artist and filmmaker Hsin-Chien Huang’s latest immersive project explores the outer limits of time, space and the myriad forms of life. In a not-too-distant future, the Earth’s environment has been destroyed by humans, its final extinction the result of nuclear conflict. A few surviving species find a new home in space and re-engineer their bodies to evolve into a new spiritual form. The artist touches upon existential themes such as the fluidity of time, reincarnation and the energising power of people’s creative will. 

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, The Expanse 

Duration: 21 minutes

Notes: Interactive VR, UK Premiere  

Virtually There

United Kingdom 

Lead Artist: Leon Oldstrong  

Leon Oldstrong’s first VR film shines a light on a violent knife crime from multiple perspectives in an attempt to empathise with all parties involved. Knife crimes have increased in the UK by 80% since 2014 and are at the highest number since comparable data began to be collected. One in four victims are men aged 18-24 and 25% of victims are black. Oldstrong takes the humans behind these statistics as a starting point for his first endeavour into VR filmmaking, building a foundation for a great emotional understanding of the devastating impact of knife crime amongst young people.  

Presentation Location: 26 Leake Street, The Expanse

Duration: 23 minutes 

Notes: UK Premiere  

For more information about the 65th BFI London Film Festival taking place Wednesday 6th-Sunday 17th October 2021, please visit www.bfi.org.uk/lff.

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