Taiwan’s SXSW Titles Feature Cutting-Edge Tech and Break ‘Boundary of Classic Storytelling’

The showcase of four immersive titles from Taiwan at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival symbolizes a strong boost to the island’s confidence in developing XR (extended reality) content among a new generation of curators, according to the industry insiders behind some of the featured works.

“[The selection] shows that the new generation of Taiwan’s creatives and storytellers are willing to try and use new ways to create their art,” says Estela Valdivieso Chen, CEO of Serendipity Films, one of the producers of the 17-minute featured short “Madame Pirate: Becoming a Legend,” which will be making its international premiere at SXSW EX Experience Spotlight.

“They are both utilizing the local resources the island has, like its tech, and working with international partners all over the globe to break the boundary of classic storytelling and bring to life, their creative visions,” Chen says.

Based on the story of pirate queen Zheng Yi Sao, who was active in the South China Sea in the early 19th century, the 17-minute “Madame Pirate: Becoming a Legend,” written and directed by Morgan Ommer and Dan-Chi Huang, will be joining “LIPs,” stop-motion VR animation “The Sick Rose” and concert film “Beatday — the Beginning — Mini VR Concert” in Taiwan’s line-up at SXSW’s XR Experience Spotlight on March 13-15. In addition, “Tank Fairy,” a U.S.-Taiwan short directed by Erich Rettstadt, has been shortlisted for the Midnight Shorts Competition.

Two are produced by HTC Vive Originals: “The Sick Rose” is already a hit in the festival circuit since its Venice Film Festival premiere last year. The VR short, co-directed by Tang Zhi-Zhong and Huang Yun-Hsien, combines traditional Taiwanese dough figurine handicraft and VR technology, and follows the fantastic journey of a little girl set against the backdrop of the pandemic. “Beatday,” on the other hand, is pitched as “a metaverse with music as its main focus.”

“Madame Pirate” and “LIPS” are supported by Kaohsiung Film Archive’s VR Film Lab. “LIPs” is an interactive, immersive work directed by Lin Pei-Ying, winner of the Grand Prize at Kaohsiung VR Film Lab Talent Workshop in 2020. The two works had their world premieres at Kaohsiung Film Festival in October, and their presentation at SXSW will be their first physical appearance at an in-person festival.

The selection of Taiwan titles at SXSW, which are in the festival’s 6DoF (Six degrees of freedom) or interactive format and cross-field experiments, reflects the diverse use of technologies among the island’s creatives, notes Kaohsiung VR Film Lab.

The Lab sees that the number of 6DoF/interactive works has increased in the past two years, while more creators are into using different technology such as 3D scanning and AI, and even combining live-action shooting and animation for unique expression.

Compared to other traditional film festivals, SXSW is an event that promotes art and content in various media, and exhibitors are placing their bets on the diverse nature of the festival, hoping that their titles will attract a wider audience and reach different buyers.

“XR is a field that needs to find new opportunities to be seen by more people and because of this aspect of SXSW, it gives us the opportunity to show and sell content to buyers outside of film or the tech industry … to reach more people worldwide,” Chen says.

Serendipity has previously co-produced “Great Hoax: The Moon Landing” (premiered at Venice Film Festival 2020) and “Mechanical Souls” (premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2019) with Kaohsiung VR Film Lab. Chen hoped that the showcase of “Madame Pirate: Becoming a Legend” at SXSW could help prepare for the production of the follow-up sequel of the “Madame Pirate” story.

“‘Madame Pirate: Becoming a Legend’ is actually the first episode we are making in a series. We are hoping to collect audience feedback and response at the festival,” Chen says, to identify the elements that could be continued to grow in “the next episode, ‘Madame Pirate: The Secret Diary.’”

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