Carne y Arena (Virtually present, Physically invisible)

VR installation by Alejandro G. Iñárritu | Article by Stephen Garrett on |

From the Observer:
“[…] In Iñárritu’s harrowing film, you are among illegal immigrants trying to cross the Mexican border as the murky dawn gets shattered by helicopter spotlights and the high beams of border security cars. Armed men point their guns in your face as the surrounding immigrants fall to the ground and cry for mercy. “Carne y Arena” is an astonishing experience that’s hard to shake—and will literally leave you shaken.

The immersive project (more an art installation than a traditional movie) was erected in a warehouse 15 minutes’ drive from the center of Cannes, and pre-approved journalists were required to sign up for personal visits allowing two people at a time every 30 minutes.  They are also politely prompted to sign a waiver in case of injury or death. (No worries!)

As you enter the enormous hanger, you walk past a 40-foot piece of corrugated metal that was once used as a U.S.-Mexico border wall. You then enter a holding room where you are required to take off your shoes and socks. A flashing red light signals you to open another door into a vast, darkly-lit chamber covered in sand. Two attendants put a backpack on your shoulders and tell you they will gently yank on the backpack if you walk too close to the walls.

The headset comes on, and then suddenly, alarmingly, you are in the middle of a crepuscular Mexican desert. Your toes squeeze into the sand and you can feel a soft breeze on your body. Figures start to emerge (digitally rendered, but photo-realistic), quietly staggering past the cacti: mothers, fathers, children, desperate people from as far away as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

Then the noise from distant chopper blades gets louder and nearer, and your body vibrates at the throbbing intensity of the sound. Sirens blare, cars pull up, officers swarm on the immigrants. One of them strains to hold the leash of a lunging German Shepherd. And you, the spectator, can move freely around all the action: circling around officer and immigrant alike. […]

More at: :
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “CARNE y ARENA (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible),” is a virtual reality installation produced and financed by Legendary Entertainment and Fondazione Prada.Included in the Official Selection of the 70th Festival de Cannes, the project will be presented in its extensive full version in the Deposito at Fondazione Prada in Milan.

Based on true accounts, the superficial lines between subject and bystander are blurred and bound together, allowing individuals to walk in a vast space and thoroughly live a fragment of the refugees’ personal journeys. “CARNE y ARENA” employs the highest, never-before-used virtual technology to create a large, multi-narrative light space with human characters.
The experimental visual installation “CARNE y ARENA” is a six and half minute solo experience that reunites frequent collaborators Alejandro G. Iñárritu and three-time Academy Award®-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki alongside producer Mary Parent and ILMxLAB.

“During the past four years in which this project has been growing in my mind, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing many Mexican and Central American refugees. Their life stories haunted me, so I invited some of them to collaborate with me in the project,” said four-time Academy Award-winner Iñárritu. “My intention was to experiment with VR technology to explore the human condition in an attempt to break the dictatorship of the frame, within which things are just observed, and claim the space to allow the visitor to go through a direct experience walking in the immigrants’ feet, under their skin, and into their hearts.”