The world-famous Sundance Film Festival takes over Park City, Utah, Jan. 17 through 27. Drive fast, and you can still catch the tail end. Most years, though, the average person has no chance of seeing any of the films being screened in this rarified setting. Movie houses are jam-packed with celebrity guests and studio executives looking for the next indie hit. That leaves little room for average Joes. But this year, you’ve got a chance to see a Sundance premiere. And you don’t even have to go to Utah to catch it.
“Coral: Rekindling Venus” is a unique film in many ways. It is a contemplative, visually immersive documentary along the lines of Koyaanisqatsi. Filled with stunning images and mesmerizing music, the film takes viewers into the little-seen, underwater world of our planet’s oceans. The film was designed and shot as a full-dome film. It is intended to be projected, using specialized projectors and lenses, onto a planetarium’s domed ceiling, sending viewers on an eye-filling plunge into South Pacific seas. “Coral: Rekindling Venus” has the honor of being the first full-dome movie to ever play at Sundance. Since Park City has no planetarium, however, organizers have erected an inflatable dome just for the film’s premiere.
Albuquerque, on the other hand, possesses a state-of-the-art, full-dome, digital theater. It’s located inside the planetarium at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. That theater, in fact, has been on the cutting edge of this specialized art form. Since 2004, NMMNHS has teamed up with UNM’s ARTS Lab to host the annual DomeFest film festival, which has become a destination for high-tech, experimental filmmakers from around the globe. Lynette Wallworth, the Australian writer-director-creator of “Coral: Rekindling Venus,” spent time in Albuquerque early in her career working as an intern at the planetarium. It’s there she began to appreciate the art of full-dome moviemaking.
So when it came time for Sundance to choose 14 “outreach sites” at which to premiere Wallworth’s new film, Albuquerque quickly rose to the top of the list—alongside such well-known institutions as the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. On Friday, Jan. 25—just seven days after its premiere in Sundance’s “New Frontier” program— “Coral: Rekindling Venus” will be seen at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. This local premiere will include an introduction and a post-film Q&A with the film’s creator via Skype. The museum is also hosting a gala reception after the film and will present an accompanying exhibit titled “Coral: In Plain Sight.” This special exhibit features real coral specimens from the museum collections and a series of 3D, augmented reality (AR) posters. Guests with smart phones can turn their devices on these interactive posters to dive deeper into the underwater realms captured in Wallworth’s film.
Of course, the centerpiece of this event is “Coral: Rekindling Venus” itself, which will screen between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Wallworth’s 45-minute film was painstakingly shot amid the Day-Glo coral reefs of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. The wordless tone poem features beautifully edited glimpses of spawning coral, swirling fish and phosphorescent thingamabobs darting in and out of the camera lens. The effect is like some giant, biological kaleidoscope and is intended to “nurture an emotional connection between a global audience and the planet’s endangered coral reefs.” The film isn’t overtly educational (there’s no narration or plot to speak of), but there is something profoundly powerful about seeing microscopic organisms blown up to Titanic proportions and hovering over your head.
Not content to rest on this Sundance selection alone, the folks at NMMNHS are offering an all-day full-dome experience on Saturday, Jan. 26. UNM’s ARTS Lab is curating a mini film festival of award-winning full-dome films beginning at 10 a.m. There will be selections from DomeFest 2012 as well as films made by notable New Mexico artists and composers. Presentations by New Mexico research scientists on coral, global warming and the planet Venus will fill out the day, which ends around 4 p.m. with the final Albuquerque screening of “Coral: Rekindling Venus.”
Tickets can be purchased online at NMnaturalhistory.org or at the door the day of the event. Seating is limited, though. So if you want to get in this sea-worthy, Sundance-approved screening, hook yourself a ticket as soon as possible.