The virtual reality film "Samsara Ep. 1" by Taiwanese artist Huang Hsin-chien (黃心健) has been named as winner of the virtual cinema competition in the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.
Huang's 20-minute film was selected in a virtual ceremony on Friday (March 19, early Saturday Taipei time) out of a total of nine entries from countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia.
In a Facebook post responding to the award, Huang thanked the Ministry of Culture's Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), the Kaohsiung Film Archive and the "Samsara" production team for making the film a reality.
"Samsara," he explained, tells the story of people who, having destroyed the natural environment on Earth, must take a centuries-long space voyage in search of a home on a new planet. In order to adapt to a new environment, the voyagers rewrite their DNA and evolve into new beings.
Eventually, however, they realize that they will never find another planet to settle, and can only return to the earth they damaged in a different era, as a different life form, in an endless circle of "reincarnation" (輪迴, the film's Chinese title), Huang said.
To tell the story, the film places viewers into an "embodied cognition" experience, transforming them into various beings and environments, Huang said. He added that it also features appearances by animals endemic to Taiwan, such as the Formosan black bear and the Taiwan blue magpie.
In terms of production technology, the film was created using the "4D Views" studio operated by TAICCA and the Industrial Technology Research Institute, Huang said.
A complete version of "Samsara" will likely be shown at a number of global film festivals in the second half of this year and arrangements are also underway for its premiere in Taiwan, he said.
In its award notice, the Texas-based SXSW festival praised "Samsara" as a film that "provokes existential questions about the future of humanity and consciousness" and in which "every detail is weighted in metaphor."
"The result is a work that compresses a universe into a few minutes; audiences are left to reflect on humanity as a collective macro-organism — as experienced through the machine," it said.