Sunday, March 3, 2024

Virtual reality among this year’s Cucalorus offerings

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Cucalorus founder Dan Brawley demonstrates the Oculus virtual reality gear that will be used during the annual film festival next week. Photos by Hilary Snow.

The future of filmmaking is coming to this year’s Cucalorus Festival.

Using cutting edge technology, Cucalorus will give cinephiles the opportunity to entirely immerse themselves in the big screen, virtually speaking, to experience movies beyond the normal parameters of a camera lens.

In the Virtual Reality Lounge at Iron Clad Brewery, viewers will be able to get a 360-degree viewpoint of the action in two documentaries using state-of-the-art Oculus equipment eye-ware that allows you to plug in–like something straight out of science fiction–to what you see in front of you.

It’s a symbiosis of cinema and science that symbolizes what this year’s event is all about: the merging of business and art. For the first time in its 21-year history, Cucalorus will host its Connect conference alongside film screenings and avant garde performances. The weeklong festival runs Nov. 11-15 in venues around downtown Wilmington.

A bit like the longstanding South by Southwest in Austin, Texas–and a lot like CIE’s inaugural Coastal Connect Entrepreneur and Capital Conference, which was held in September–Cucalorus Connect is aimed at bringing together entrepreneurs and leaders in a variety of fields to network and share ideas among themselves and with the public.

Cucalorus has teamed up with local game-changers–CloudWyze, tekMountain and UNC-Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), among them–and city officials, for the weeklong event.

Organizers recently announced a slate of more than 50 speakers, including big names like Galen Buckwalter, the founding chief science officer at eHarmony and creator of the technology behind the relationship software company.

Chris Heivly, a founder of MapQuest and now a managing director of The Startup Factory in Durham, will be on hand, as well as the co-founders of Untappd, the hip social media platform for craft beer junkies.

Brews, as well as “cuctails,” are a feature of Connect, and there is a block of discussions focused on female tech giants.

And, of course, there are films–nearly 300 of them in a variety of formats and genres.

An organizational board at Jengos Playhouse--Cucalorus headquarters--shows the hundreds of speakers, films, performances and parties slated for this years event.
An organizational board at Jengo’s Playhouse–Cucalorus headquarters–shows the hundreds of speakers, films, performances and parties slated for this year’s event.

“If you really love film–or you’ve never been before–throw in a documentary or two, throw a block of shorts in,” Cucalorus Connect coordinator Margee Herring said. “It’s about accepting the quirkiness, about seeing up and coming voices, and some well-known ones, too.”

Where the two components of the festival intersect, Herring added, are during networking events like the legendary Jengo’s Playhouse parties and at the Virtual Reality Lounge.

There, audience members will get to try out some Oculus VR gear while watching two short documentaries: “Waves of Grace,” about the Ebola virus, and “Clouds Over Sidra,” which tells the stories of Syrian refugees. It’s the future of film, Herring said, and one that could affect social change, given that virtual reality gives viewers a more direct, firsthand experience.

Cucalorus founder Dan Brawley would agree. Watching “Waves of Grace,” he said was moved to tears, often reaching his hand out to touch a child’s face that seemed to be right near his own, looking up at him. And when he watched CNN’s 360-degree viewing of the recent Democratic debate, he felt like he was part of the crowd.

“For like two days after, without even thinking about it, I was telling people I was there because it really felt like I was,” he said.

As the at-home virtual reality realm continues to grow–Brawley said it’s on the verge of exploding–film fans and tech geeks alike can get a sneak peek at Cucalorus. The first 150 into the Virtual Reality Lounge will receive a DIY cardboard version onto which they can snap their cell phones and watch 360-degree videos on YouTube and other channels.

Click here to see the lounge schedule and find out more information about Cucalorus events and festival passes.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at

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