While Sundance has always been known for edgy films, that adjective becomes an understatement with the film festival’s 12th annual New Frontier program, a mindblowing crossroads between art and technology that continues to redefine the parameters of storytelling.

Space Explorers: A New Dawn

Last year’s projects, such as Melting Ice with former Vice President Al Gore took an environmental angle, but this year’s New Frontier largely blasts off into the the final frontier –space– with such projects as Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences, a live sci-fi master class with animation, music and artwork about the colonization of planets. If black holes are more your thing, there’s SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime co-created by Darren Aronofsky and Elastic Time, a mixed reality doc about space and time in which a real-time hologram of your body is an essential part of the cosmos. It’s narrated by Harvard-Smithsonian Center astronomer Tony Stark. In addition, there’s the Morgan Spurlock-co-collaborated project Space Explorers: A New Dawn, an immersive mobile VR that follows NASA astronauts on their missions.

The Black Eyed Peas’ The Masters of the Sun
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More down-to-earth, is The Black Eyed Peas animated production Masters of  the Sun, which is set in a zombie-laden dystopian Los Angeles circa 1983, a place where only hip hop can save the day. Lead artists are the group’s will.i.am, apl de ap, and Taboo with Rakim, Queen Latifah, Jason Issacs, Stan Lee, KRS-One and Slick Rick providing voiceovers. Nothing says dystopian future better than interacting and unleashing  a naive, intelligent monster in Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made By Many. The retro inner city is also romanticized in BattleScar starring Rosario Dawson, an animated VR/mixed reality project set in 1978 NYC’s Bowery punk scene and the Lower East Side. Yung Jake, the CalArts grad who has taken the art world by storm with his hip hop visual hybrids, offers viewers a passenger seat in his Tesla as he raps about money, cars and drugs in On My Way. 

For the full list of 27 titles in Sundance’s 2018 New Frontier section which spans VR, AR, mixed reality and AI, scroll down.

Deadline co-Editor-in-Chief, Film Mike Fleming Jr., myself and Senior Editor Dominic Patten will lead our Sundance coverage with breaking news on the deals, the films, the panels, and the word on the streets of Park City and beyond. We will also have our Deadline Studio up and running again as we talk to filmmakers about their projects and the festival. The Sundance Film Festival will run from Jan. 18-28.

FILMS AND PERFORMANCE

*Austria (Lead Artist: Johann Lurf) — This film, compiling shots of clear night-time skies from throughout film history in chronological order, reveals that what humans may regard as an absolute image is actually quite unstable. This instability occurs not only of evolving technological parameters, but also as a result of period-specific trends in culture.

A Thousand Thoughts / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Sam Green, Joe Bini, Producers: Janet Cowperthwaite, Sam Green, Josh Penn) — A live cinema portrait of the legendary classical music group the Kronos Quartet. Green narrates the film and Kronos performs the soundtrack live. A meditation on music itself  –the act of listening closely to music, the experience of feeling music deeply, and the power of music to change the world. Cast: David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt, Sunny Yang.

Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Cory McAbee, Producers: Cory McAbee, Daryle Conners, Steve Holmgren, Richard Cole) — A live sci-fi event, presented in the form of two master‘s classes, featuring music, animation and artwork. Topics include the colonization of other planets, sentimentality reform, transdimensional drifting, the proper way to view the universe and the reason that humans
exist. Cast: Cory McAbee.

Organ Player / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Narcissister) — This hybrid performance/documentary film explores how ancestral data is stored in our bodies, impacting the lives we lead. On the personal level, the film investigates how the artist’s complex family history compelled them to create the masked, erotic performance character Narcissister. Cast: Narcissi, Sarah Lumpkin, Oscar Lumpkin, Bernard Lumpkin, Carmine Boccuzzi.

NEW TECHNOLOGIES 

Experience Realistic Touch in Virtual Reality / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Andrew Mitrak, Greg Bilsland, Joe Michaels, Jake Rubin, Key Collaborator: Dr. Bob Crockett) — HaptX brings realistic touch to virtual reality for the first time. The innovative technology lets VR users feel the shape, movement, texture and temperature of digital objects. By providing advanced haptic feedback and natural interaction, HaptX enables unprecedented levels of realism in virtual experiences.

Awavena / U.S.A, Australia, Brazil (Lead Artist: Lynette Wallworth, Key Collaborators: Nicole Newnham, Tashka Yawanawa, Laura Soriano de Yawanawa) The Yawanawa, an indigenous Amazonian people, see immersive technologies as tools they can co-opt to share their connected worldview. Inviting artist Lynette Wallworth to their community, the Yawanawa share the visions of Hushahu, their first woman Shaman, and our technology renders visible the luminous world they have always known. Cast: Hushahu Yawanawa, Tata Yawanawa, Mutum Community.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

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Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made by Many / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Lance Weiler, Nick Fortugno, Rachel Ginsberg, Key Collaborators: Nick Childs, Hunter Owens, Brandon Powers) — By challenging dystopian perspectives around Artificial Intelligence, this immersive experience reimagines Shelley’s seminal work to
examine the cultural ramifications of pervasive, ubiquitous technology. Participants interact with an artificial intelligence, co-creating a shared narrative around the implications of unleashing this naive, intelligent “monster,” both mythical and imminent, into the world.

TendAR / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Samantha Gorman, Danny Cannizzaro) — A humorous and provocative installation that combines interactive storytelling, AR and emotion/face recognition technology to promote discussion about current topics in biometric data and artificial intelligence. Your guide: a fish-like creature who
amusingly analyzes the partners collaborating in the experience, their emotions and the world around them.

VIRTUAL/MIXED REALITY INSTALLATIONS

Zikr: A Sufi Revival / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Gabo Arora, John Fitzgerald, Matthew Niederhauser, Key Collaborators: Selim Bensedrine, Igal Nassima, Jennifer Tiexiera, Wilson Brown) — This interactive social VR experience uses song and dance to transport four participants into ecstatic Sufi rituals, while also exploring the motivations behind followers of this mystical Islamic tradition, still observed by millions around the world.

Elastic Time / Switzerland (Lead Artist: Mark Boulos, Key Collaborators: Robin Mange, Javier Bello Ruiz) — A mixed reality interactive documentary about space-time, narrated by astronomer Tony Stark (Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). A real-time hologram of your body is integrated into the observatory room; using the controllers, you bend space and time to your will, creating black holes, wormholes and time portals. Cast: Tony Stark.

Hero / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Navid Khonsari, Vassiliki Khonsari, Key Collaborators: Brooks Brown, Mark Harwood, Sinclair Fleming) — An immersive, large-scale installation that explores humanity in our modern era of civilian warfare. In this verite VR experience with multi-sensory engagement, participants embark upon their own primal journey. When everyday life is disrupted by profound crisis only human connection can inspire hope. Cast: Masoume Khonsari, Perla Daoud, Samer Sakka, Sam Sako, Said Faraj, Sue Shaheen.

VR_I / Switzerland (Lead Artists: Gilles Jobin, Caecilia Charbonnier, Sylvain Chagué, Key Collaborators: JeanPaul Lespagnard, Carla Scaletti, Camilo De Martino) — Blending art with technology, VR_I resulted from the encounter between Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin and the founders of Artanim, Caecilia Charbonnier and Sylvain Chagué. In this contemplative virtual dance piece, five spectators, immersed together and in real time, use avatars to investigate a performance among surprising effects of scale. Cast: Susana Panadés Diaz, Victoria Chiu, Diya Naidu, Gilles Jobin, Tidiani N’Diaye.

BattleScar
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BattleScar / U.S.A., France (Lead Artists: Martin Allais, Nico Casavecchia, Key Collaborators: Arnaud Colinart, Raphael Penasa, Andrew Geller, René Pinell) — New York City, 1978: When Lupe, a Puerto Rican-American teen, meets fellow runaway Debbie, the Bowery’s punk scene and the Lower East Side are their playground. This coming-of-age narrative explores identity through animation and immersive environments as Lupe’s handwritten journals guide users through her year. Cast: Rosario Dawson.

DICKGIRL 3D(X) / United Kingdom (Lead Artist: Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Key Collaborator: James B Stringer) — DICKGIRL 3D(X) is the non-binary version of EVA v3.0, an avatar purchased online and appropriated by the artist. Through DICKGIRL 3D(X), the viewer becomes a post-human pleasure-seeker in an encounter with a submissive clay-like sculpture.

SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime/ U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Eliza McNitt, Key Collaborators: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Jess Engel, Arnaud Colinart) — Dive into the heart of a black hole and uncover the hidden songs of the cosmos. In this interactive VR experience, the breakthrough discovery of gravitational waves transforms how we see the Universe. Fall into the darkness, and you will find the light.

Wolves in the Walls (Chapter 1) / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Pete Billington, Jessica Shamash, Key Collaborators:Edward Saatchi, Saschka Unseld, Jennine Willett, Zach Morris) — All is not as it seems when 8-year-old Lucy’s imagination proves to be reality. Help her discover what’s hiding inside the walls of her house in this immersive fable, based on the work by Neil Gaiman, and choreographed by New York‘s critically acclaimed immersive
theater company, Third Rail. Cast: Elisa Davis, Elizabeth Carena, Cadence Goblirsch

Chorus / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Tyler Hurd, Key Collaborators: Chris Milk, Megan Ellison, Justice) — Crystals, lasers, monsters, heroines. Transform into fantastical female warriors in this social virtual reality experience. Six people can band together to battle evil in this epic journey of empowerment, all orchestrated to the song “Chorus” by Justice.

MOBILE VR LINEUP

Dinner Party / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Charlotte Stoudt, Laura Wexler, Angel Manuel Soto, Key Collaborators: Rachel Skidmore, Bryn Mooser, Erik Donley) — A short virtual reality thriller that dramatizes the incredible story of Betty and Barney Hill, who in the 1960’s reported the first nationally known UFO abduction case in America. Cast: Malcolm Barrett, Sarah Sokolovic.

Dispatch / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Edward Robles) — A small-town police dispatcher faces the greatest challenge of his career during an all-night crime spree. Cast: Martin Starr, Julianna Guill, Graham Shiels, Beth Grant, Samuel Stricklen, Kelly Jenrette.

Eyes in the Red Wind / South Korea (Lead Artists: Sngmoo Lee, Jongmin kim, Youngsam Jung, Key Collaborators: Jaehyun Park, Myuonggoo Ji, Youngsik Yu) — Friends and family members gather to throw a ‗soul scooping‘ ritual, to pacify the soul of a drowned man. When a possessed shaman reveals the murderous truth behind the death on the table, lust and secrets come to the fore. Cast: Sungmi Kim, Jaehyun Kim, Jeongmi Lee, Nara Kim.

Masters of the Sun / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: will.i.am, apl de ap, Taboo, Key Collaborators: Pasha Shapiro, Ernst Weber, Sara Ramaker, Eddie Axley) — In 1983, Los Angeles was spared from utter destruction driven by an ancient evil. The ghetto became ground zero for drug epidemic that transformed citizens into soul-sucking zombies through Z-Drops, until a ragtag crew used one weapon to take their city back: hip-hop. Cast: Rakim, Queen Latifah, Jason Isaacs, Stan Lee, KRS-One, Slick Rick.

Micro Giants / China (Lead Artist: Yifu Zhou, Key Collaborators: Teng Wang, Shuyi Qiao, Jia Zhang) — A computer-generated VR experience that gives an unprecedented and highly engaging perspective of insect life. When participantsenter into the micro world, tiny flowers and insects in normal life now become mighty trees and beasts. Cast: Pantawit Kiangsiri.

Sundance

On My Way / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Yung Jake, Key Collaborators: Mike Rosenstien, Ari Kuschnir, Andrew Schwartz) — In a Tesla, multiple Yung Jakes rap about money, cars, drugs and things of that nature, among interactive elements. Cast: Yung Jake.

Space Explorers: A New Dawn / Canada, U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Paul Raphaël, Felix Lajeunesse, Key Collaborators: Morgan Spurlock, Ryan Horrigan, Stéphane Rituit) Experience the journey of NASA astronauts as they navigate the trials and sacrifices of their training and missions. An immersive VR experience that shines a light on mankind’s most ambitious endeavor to understand our planet, our universe and our origins. Cast:Jeanette Epps, Jessica Meir, Victor Glover, Michael Gernhardt.

The Sun Ladies VR: A Maria Bello Experience
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The Sun Ladies VR / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Maria Bello, Celine Tricart, Christian Stephen, Key Collaborators: Wesley Allsbrook, Tim Gedemer, Mark Simpson) An in-depth look at the personal journey of Xate Singali: from her roots as a famous singer in Kurdistan, through ISIS sex slavery, and to her new life as a soldier on the front lines as she starts a female-only Iraqi fighting unit called the Sun Ladies. Cast: Maria Bello.

The Summation of Force / Australia (Lead Artists: Narelle Autio, Trent Parke, Matthew Bate, Key Collaborator: Anton Andreacchio) — In a moonlit suburban yard, two brothers battle one another in a mythic game of cricket. A study of the motion, physics and psychology of elite sport; a cosmic, dreamlike and darkly beautiful metaphor for life. Cast: Jem Autio Parke, Dash Autio Parke.

Your Spiritual Temple Sucks / Taiwan (Lead Artist: John Hsu) — Mr. Chang arrives to his ―Spiritual Temple, a place that represents one‘s destiny. To solve his marital crisis and financial problems, he summons his guardian – The Thunder God. They attempt to tidy his life, which turns out to be a big mistake…with hilarious consequences. Cast: Ctwo, Sun Ke-Fang, Han Chang, Andy Tsai, Wei Hao Tseng, Liu Kuan-Ting.

Editorial note: Sundance’s press release originally listed Jessica Chastain as part of the Space Explorers: A New Dawn cast