Shari Frilot started the New Frontier program at Sundance in 2007, and produced the festival’s first VR experience in 2012 with Nonny de la Peña’s Hunger in LA using an early Rift prototype made by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. Frilot has since programmed around 75 VR experiences since 2014 that explore storytelling, empathy, and emotional presence, but she sees that it’s going beyond empathy. She says that being in VR gives us “the ability to see ourselves in a way that we could never do alone,” and that VR embodiment may allow us to overcome our unconscious biases. In speaking about embodying a number of different creatures in The Life of Us she says, “you can watch yourself tap these primitive instinctual responses and you watch yourself go into another place of being able to socially engage with somebody” beyond the normal labels of white dude or a black lesbian.
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I had a chance to catch up with Frilot at Sundance this year where we talked about the power of story to change someone’s reality, the role of Sundance in the modern history of consumer VR, interdisciplinary insights into storytelling from over 10 years of New Frontier, how VR could change how we see and understand our underlying value systems, and how VR could help us reconnect the body to the brain in a new way.
Here’s the short documentary video that Frilot references in the podcast about “Scientists Have Found a Way to Make Paraplegics Move Again”:
Here’s the keynote that Nonny de la Peña’s gave at SVVR where she talks about Hunger in LA and some of her early pieces that premiered at Sundance: