Tuesday, July 17, 2018
  • Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017
An Oscar For Iñárritu's "CARNE y ARENA" Reflects VR's Coming Of Age
In this Feb. 28, 2016 file photo, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu arrives at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP, File)
Special recognition comes after groundbreaking Academy Award nomination--and an Emmy win--earlier this year for an animated VR short
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Underscoring that VR has indeed arrived is the most recent high-profile recognition of its value and artistry, coming from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors which voted to present a Special Award--an Oscar statuette--to director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s virtual reality installation, “CARNE y ARENA (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible).”

Academy president John Bailey said that the work from Iñárritu and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has “opened for us new doors of cinematic perception.” Bailey described the multimedia art and cinema experience as “a deeply emotional and physically immersive venture into the world of migrants crossing the desert of the American southwest in early dawn light. More than even a creative breakthrough in the still emerging form of virtual reality, it viscerally connects us to the hot-button political and social realities of the U.S.-Mexico border.”

Not only does “CARNE y ARENA” put us in the shoes of these people--literally at one point taking off their shoes when placed in a holding cell after being captured by border agents--but it also presents interviews with those immigrants who share their personal stories. The immersive, empathy-generating “CARNE y ARENA” debuted earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival and will receive the coveted Oscar recognition on Nov. 11 at the Governors Awards held in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, Calif.

Iñárritu and Lubezki are no strangers to Oscar. Iñárritu won Best Director Academy Awards in 2015 for Birdman and then the following year for The Revenant. Lubezki scored Best Cinematography Oscars for the same two films, making him the only DP to win the honor three straight years--the first coming for Gravity in 2014.

A special Oscar along the lines of what will be bestowed upon “CARNE y ARENA” is a rarity, the last one coming 21 years ago when Pixar’s Toy Story earned the special achievement honor.

“CARNE y ARENA” is currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Fondazione Prada in Milan, and Tlatelolco Cultural Center in Mexico City

Eventful year
“CARNE y ARENA” continues what’s been an eventful year for VR on the mainstream awards show circuit. Earlier this year a Best Animated Short Oscar nomination went to Pearl, a VR piece which places us in a father-daughter relationship over the years, centered on their time together on the road in a car.

Directed by Patrick Osborne--who won the Best Animated Short Oscar in 2015 for Disney’s Feast--Pearl introduces us to Sarah, a girl who grows before our eyes largely within the confines of the car which is eventually handed down to her. Also passed on to Sarah is her dad’s love for the arts as she becomes a musician/performer like--and in some respects exceeding--her dad. Osborne observed that as a VR piece Pearl required him to adjust his filmmaking lens. He noted that relinquishing control of the camera to the audience is contrary to what an animator is accustomed to, which is to be in control of everything. To gain back a measure of that control in the VR space, Osborne chose the setting of a car since it’s a finite environment with which people are familiar. 

Just a couple of months ago, Pearl--produced by Google Spotlight Stories and Evil Eye Pictures--scored another major coup, winning a special juried Emmy Award in the Interactive Programming category. The honor was presented at the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards.

Juried Emmy categories require all entrants to be screened by a panel of professionals in the appropriate Television Academy peer group with the possibility of one, more than one, or no entry being awarded an Emmy. As a consequence, there are no nominees but instead a one-step evaluation and voting procedure. Deliberations include open discussions of each entrant’s work with a thorough review of the merits of awarding the Emmy. After each deliberation, the jury considers the question, “Is this entry worthy of an Emmy award – yea or nay?” Only those with unanimous approval win.

From the light-hearted, tug-at-the-hearstrings nature of Pearl to the deeply moving poignancy of “CARNE y ARENA,” VR has showcased a vast storytelling range this awards season while also making an impact on the industry event calendar. At the Visual Effects Society (VES) Summit held last Saturday (10/28) in Los Angeles, for instance, featured speaker Nonny de la Pena, delved into the journalistic prowess of virtual, augmented and mixed realities. 

An award-winning filmmaker, journalist and former correspondent for Newsweek, de la Pena is widely credited for inventing the genre of immersive journalism and has more than 20 years of directing and producing multimedia content in collaboration with the likes of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Google, BBC, CBS, Sony, Universal, The World Economic Forum, and PBS Frontline. She is credited with the first-ever VR documentary Hunger in Los Angeles which debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Fast forward to this year’s fest run and we find After Solitary--a colaboration between Emblemtic Group and PBS’ investigative series Frontline--honored as a Jury Award winner at SXSW. After Solitary uses photogrammetry and volumetric video capture to take us into the Maine State Prison where we experience the harrowing story of Kenny Moore, a recently released inmate who spent years in solitary confinement.