Taiwan’s leading position in the still-emerging field of virtual reality storytelling has rarely been more evident than in the Venice 2092 competition section. Seven of the 37 real vr projects selected to exhibit in Venice this year are from Taiwan , a record number for a single territory. Taiwanese mixed media artist Hsin-Chien Huang, who won first prize for best VR experience in Venice in 2017, returns with two works in competition: Samsara, which won the award for best vr story in July at the VR showcase at the Cannes Film Market, and The starry sandy beach, co-produced with French artist Nina Barbier.
Exactly how Taiwan has emerged, where only 23 million people live and whose much larger high-tech neighbors, China (1.4 billion) and Japan (120 million), have emerged as a global power of virtual reality?
Ting Hsiao-Ching, president of the Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), a well-funded industry support organization created in June 2019 by the Taiwan Ministry of Culture, cites several overlapping factors that drive the territory’s success in creating immersive content. “Taiwan is the world’s largest semiconductor producer and leader in hardware manufacturing, so our creators really accept the technology, they’re not afraid to experiment,” Ting says. He also points to Taiwan’s artistic freedoms as a great advantage over the much larger mainland Chinese creative industry. “Since our democratization began in the late 1980s, we’ve seen changes across society and this has given a lot of freedom to creativity, so we can tell a lot of different stories, whatever an artist wants.”
Some of Taiwan’s vr projects in Venice this year include: Chou Tung-Yen’s In the fog, a vr experience related to the gay experience in Taiwan by exploring a male sauna; German-Taiwanese co-production Talk to Awaken Ep.2 KUSUNDA, a voice-driven project on the latent indigenous Kusunda language of Nepal; The last worker, a narrative adventure centered on human struggles in an increasingly automated and dehumanizing world; i The low rose, a journey through a world of furious pandemics, full of frustration but also of hope and wonder.
Through a series of grants, TAICCA and other Taiwanese funding agencies have provided much of the monetary support that artists need to produce these bold, time-consuming VR projects, as the immersive storytelling industry still holds at an early stage of business development. Five of the projects presented in Venice this year were supported by TAICCA, with two additional candidates supported by the Kaohsiung Film Archive, organizer of the Taiwan Kaohsiung Film Festival, which also has a large vr competition section that has fueled local industry.
“No other country manifests this commitment to VR like Taiwan,” says Michel Reilhac, Venice VR’s extended programmer. “We also want to congratulate the fact that there is an incredible diversity in styles and genres that have occurred during this year,” he adds.
This story first appeared in the daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter on September 3 at the Venice International Film Festival.