Movie Reviews

Sundance 2022: Calendar Girls, We Met in Virtual Reality, The Territory | Festivals & Awards

“We Met in Virtual Reality” represents Hunting’s third entry in a series of films that have richly explored the uniquely human connective capabilities present in this kind of technology. For this entry, he filmed through an entire year (2020-21) and parsed through the myriad of unlikely relationships that are made possible in a landscape that allows users to express their inner selves. A pink-haired Jenny teaches ASL through the ‘Helping Hand’ community; two fitness dancers, DustBunny and Toaster, who met each other in VR, are involved in a long-distance relationship as are DragonHeart and IsYourBoi, who found each other in the exotic dance community.

Apart from the different worlds, composed by a colorful array of avatars— hot dogs, space dogs, and so forth—Hunting explicates the ways VR allows a kind of freedom where non-binary, transgender folks and others can be who they are without judgment. Great covers of popular songs like Vance Joy’s “Riptide” provide poignancy. Hunting often uses sound, bleeding early from one scene to the next, to prepare the viewer for the next turn down the VR road. 

One of Hunting’s major triumphs is in giving space, relying on a minimal amount of cuts, to allow for his subjects’ experiences to breathe. For instance: A memorial service is held by Yang, an ASL instructor, to commemorate their brother’s death by suicide. It’s so effective, so heart wrenching; every shattered piece lands in the most vulnerable of places. Hunting’s “We Met in Virtual Reality,” is a pure empathy machine, and as real as the people who found each other, amidst a time of great pain, in a little patch of kindness. 

Every once in a while, a film comes along that simultaneously elevates your anger and evaporates your hope, while pulling you to believe, against all logic, that maybe, if the right people win, the inevitability of our species’ bleak end can still be blotted out. Alex Pritz’s urgent, visually spellbinding plea, “The Territory,” surveying the fight being waged by invading land grabbers and the tiny Indigenous Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribe in Brazil, rises to those heights. 

The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribe once lived a simple, isolated existence. In the 1980s, the Brazilian government made contact with them. Since then, the population has decreased from thousands to fewer to 200 people, and their homeland, the Amazon rainforest, is quickly being deforested by farmers and land grabbers looking to illegally seize the land for “improvement.”  

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