The Houston Cinema Arts Festival has ambitiously highlighted Houston as a prominent showcasing spot for digital, media and film artists. The eight-day annual festival takes place at multiple venues throughout Houston and features film premieres, an immersive cinema gallery, documentary and narrative films, live multimedia performances, panel discussions and an awards presentation, which was judged this year by prominent director and film artist Richard Linklater.

I attended the virtual reality cinema gallery on Saturday, featuring artists Maarten Isaäk de Heer and Rachel Rossin. I watched two films, 6×9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement and Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness on a virtual reality headset with headphones.

The first film was a 9-minute experience of what solitary confinement feels like. The film highlighted the psychological damage that arises from isolation, employing audio from actual prisons and narrations from prisoners previously isolated for years in solitary confinement.

The second immersive film was a 40-minute interactive, sensory experience of blindness with a narrative by John Hull. The moments in the film were based on Hull’s own memories and stories from his audio diary, featuring stunning visuals that attempt to mimic the interaction of auditory cues and blindness.

These two experiences were deeply individual. It wasn’t a screen and an audience; it was my personal immersive cinema experience. I chose how to experience the film, what I wanted to look at in the 360-degree exploration space.

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