Tech And Popular Culture Converge At Sundance 2018

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Written by Lauren DeLisa Coleman

Films that leverage emerging technology are high on everyone’s must-see list at the Sundance Film Festival 2018.

Underway through Jan. 28, Sundance is jam-packed with much of what will impact trends at the intersection of popular culture and technology.

Here’s some of what’s happening right now at Sundance.

The Sundance Institute curated a collection of cutting-edge independent experimental media works by creators who have leveraged VR, AR, mixed reality (MR) and/or AI.

Filmgoers and techies are able to view not only innovative VR and MR works but also immersive dance at the New Frontier Exhibition, held at the Kimball Art Center or at The Ray. A 40-seat mobile VR cinema showcases break-through film projects in an area called The Box.

Among them is “Masters of the Sun.” In an unprecedented move, the hip-hop-turned-dance-pop group Black Eyed Peas has created this ground-breaking VR project and is making the rounds via panel appearances, celebratory events and more during the Sundance Film Festival.

Photo: Shadae Smith

One of the most ambitious projects in VR to date, “Masters of the Sun” is a full-on, 90-minute VR comic-book experience that comes from the creative minds of Black Eyed Peas members will.i.am, Taboo and apl.de.ap.

The group held a hugely attended panel discussion regarding the project and surprised attendees with appearances by rappers Rakim and KRS-One, who provide the voices for some of the characters in “Masters of the Sun”.

In another Festival location,YouTube held a sneak preview for the public release of “Bodied”, a film produced by rapper Eminem, legendary music video director Joseph Kahn and Def Jam Records CEO Paul Rosenberg. (The film first premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It got a 95 percent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes).

“Bodied” is a satirical story of Adam Merkin, a progressive grad student who becomes an accidental battle rapper. His success breeds outrage. It stars Calum Worthy (“Austin & Ally”, “The Thinning”, and “American Vandal”), Jackie Long (“Idlewild”, “ATL”), Shoniqua Shandai (“Sing It!”, “The Fosters”), Walter Perez (“The Avengers”, “Fame”), and Rory Uphold (“HelLA”).  It also features well-known battle rappers Dizaster, Dumbfoundead, Hollow Da Don and media personality Charlamagne Tha God. The film is written by Alex Larsen (aka Kid Twist), a former rap battler-turned-screenwriter.

Actor A$AP Rocky attends the “Monster” cast party at Chase Sapphire on Main on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Park City, Utah. Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision for Chase Sapphire/AP Images

Films focusing on race and diversity — primarily from a male point of view — are getting big buzz. These include “Blindspotting”, “Monster”, and “Monsters and Men” and “Tyrel”.

There are many panel discussions around the convergence of film and tech. Key companies such as Intel, Dell and others are hosting provocative discussions around the future of storytelling.

But once the sun starts to set, it’s all about the parties.

Executive producer John Legend performs at the “Monster” cast party at Chase Sapphire on Main on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Park City, Utah. Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision for Chase Sapphire/AP Images

John Legend and wife Chrissy Teigen surprised the cast and guests of “Monster,” including hip-hop artist A$AP Rocky, at Chase Sapphire on Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival. Legend gave an exclusive performance of a medley of his hits including “All of Me,” “Love Me Now” and “Green Light.”

Park City-based Skullcandy, which markets headphones and other products, celebrated all weekend long in partnership with “Skate Kitchen”, Crystal Moselle’s film that premiered at Sundance. The film highlights a group of female skateboarders in NYC. Jaden Smith, Usher, and Diplo all made appearances to show their support of Skullcandy and the brand’s partnership with the film.

Jaden Smith. Photo: Dave Brewer/Photo Collective Studios

Cable TV and video-on-demand channels Showtime and Amazon celebrated new series. Issa Rae, Gabourey Sidibe, and more joined executive producer Lena Waithe in celebrating “The Chi”, a new original drama about life on the South Side of Chicago. Lena and Gabourey led the crowd in a major dance battle. Guests danced all night to music by DJ R-Tistic and sipped on Chicago-inspired cocktails.

This is the epicenter of the universe, for the moment.

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