Tuesday, July 17, 2018
  • Thursday, Apr. 6, 2017
David Gelb Returns To Tribeca With His 1st Foray Into VR
Director David Gelb
Lauded "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" director to premiere his “Hoverboard” episode of documentary series "The Possible"
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Continuing his Tribeca tradition yet at the same time embarking on a new chapter in his filmmaking career, director David Gelb--perhaps best known for his lauded feature documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)--will be at this month’s festival with his first trek into VR, The Possible documentary series. Gelb helped to develop the format and structure of the overall show, directing three of its episodes, including “Hoverboard” which is making its world premiere as part of the Virtual Arcade portion of the Tribeca Immersive program.

"Hoverboard," the season finale of The Possible series, introduces us to Alexandru Duru, the founder of Omni Hoverboards, which has transformed hoverboard technology from dream to reality. We follow his team as they build and test a prototype--after which viewers experience the freedom of flight.

“We have a guy who built a flying platform and drives it almost like a snowboard or something,” related Gelb. “We share the story of how he created it, how it works, and then you get to fly alongside him. Flight translates well in VR. When you have the headset on, you can look around you--and below you, which can be quite harrowing.”

Gelb got the opportunity to diversify in VR from pioneering filmmaker Chris Milk of virtual reality creative agency and production studio Here Be Dragons. “Chris asked me if I would collaborate with him on a VR documentary series called The Possible,” recalled Gelb. “We would tell stories about adventurers creating things that people didn’t think were possible. But they had a vision, persevered and realized it, setting the stage for us to enable viewers to experience that vision. To have someone as innovative as Chris approach you with that kind of an idea was amazing. I feel very fortunate that Chris allowed me to be his apprentice. Chris is democratizing VR, dedicating his career to discovering ways VR fits into our storytelling language.”

Episodes of The Possible delve into cutting-edge science and engineering, including robotics (featuring robots built by Boston Dynamics), and a modified sports car that can go 400 miles per hour. Initial episodes of the GE-sponsored series have already debuted on Within, an app that houses breakthrough VR content. Within was launched by Milk and chief technology officer Aaron Koblin. Gelb described Within as Milk’s version of “Netflix for VR,” home to varied forms of worthwhile virtual reality fare.

Gelb said he’s learned many lessons from his VR experience, including that it’s imperative that “you not make the audience nauseous. You have to be careful with issues of movement. If you make a new viewer nauseous, he or she may never put that headset on again.”

Along those lines, Gelb added, “I had to strip away my kind of normal shooting techniques--closeups, dolly moves, dynamic editing. You have to strip everything away and treat it more like a performance piece, like live theater. You can’t move the camera too much. You have to hold shots for a longer time.”

Tribeca tradition
As alluded to earlier, Gelb has a history at Tribeca, dating back some 11 years when a short he co-directed (with Max Winkler), The King of Central Park starring Jeffrey Tambor and Henry Winkler, premiered. Then Gelb’s heralded Jiro Dreams of Sushi made its North American debut at the 2011 Tribeca Fest.

The King of Central Park was nominated for Best Narrative Short at Tribeca. Jiro Dreams of Sushi earned a nomination for Tribeca’s Best Documentary Feature Jury Award. Jiro then went on to win assorted other honors, including the AFI World Cinema Audience Award.

Next in 2015, another Gelb documentary, A Faster Horse, made its world premiere at Tribeca.

And for two years in a row, Tribeca Talks presented an episode of Chef’s Table, a Netflix series that showcases the techniques and talents of some of the most well-known international chefs. Following each Tribeca screening was a conversation with show creator Gelb and the chef featured in the episode. 

Chef’s Table garnered a pair of primetime Emmy nominations last year--one for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series, the other for Best Directing for Nonfiction Programming.

Returning to Tribeca--this time in the Immersive program--never gets old for Gelb who’s originally from New York, meaning friends and family can come to the fest and enjoy his work. Gelb has artistic roots in New York, including his father being general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. “Tribeca is home to me,” affirmed the director.

Nonfiction Unlimited
Gelb is also active in spots and branded content via Nonfiction Unlimited, a commercial production company that represents accomplished documentary directors. 

Via Nonfiction, Gelb directed a series of shorts for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card featuring late-night star James Corden. Created by Droga5, New York, the Reserve What’s Next online video series finds Corden exploring the world with the help of the Sapphire card.

Among Gelb’s earlier endeavors in the ad arena via Nonfiction is his directing a series of films that were part of a new phase of Memorial Sloan Kettering Center’s “More Science. Less Fear” campaign out of agency Pereira & O’Dell, New York. The three shorts each tell the compelling story of a different cancer patient--and how treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering can save lives, and much more.

The four-minute film titled Suzanne--which earned SHOOT Top Spot of the Week distinction--introduces us to a woman diagnosed with an aggressive cervical cancer and how Memorial Sloan Kettering devised a strategy and treatment that saved her life. Thus Suzanne could realize her personal dreams, including the birth of her daughter. All three of the shorts end with the same tagline: “Science saves more than lives.”