A typical visit to a planetarium could mean watching educational shows about astronomy, catching a laser light show or becoming completely immersed in space as projectors create a simulation of the night sky on a dome ceiling. But what if that same 360-degree virtual reality technology was used to project movies and other entertainment content instead?

Orange Coast College’s 129-seat Planetarium will be home to the first-ever regional 2021 Dome Fest West Film Festival and Imersa Days Conference from Oct. 8-10. Dome Fest West will be using 360-degree technology (much like virtual reality presentation) to introduce audiences and filmmakers alike to the next big development in film presentation — dome theaters. 

2021 Dome Fest West Film Festival and Imersa Days Conference

When: Oct. 8, 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m.; Oct. 9, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Oct. 10, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. 

Where: Orange Coast College Planetarium, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa

Tickets: $20 to $325; must be purchased online on Eventbrite

COVID-19: Proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours required to attend the in-person event. 

Info: domefestwest.com

The Planetarium at Orange Coast College has a 50-foot dome theater that recently opened in March 2019. It cost $25 million and took two and a half years to construct.    

Planetariums are good spaces to watch movies created for dome theaters because the projection surface allows for films to unfold around the audience, unlike a typical silver screen which is simply in front of the viewer.

In October 2019, Ryan Moore, executive director and co-founder of Dome Fest West, worked with the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival where he worked on its Dome Film Series. After a successful event and a great turnout, Moore was inspired to branch out and create a festival dedicated entirely to dome films.

While the pandemic delayed plans for Dome Fest West for a year, Moore along with co-founders Ed Lantz and Kate McCallum were able to bounce back this year producing the first Dome Fest West in Costa Mesa. 

“We want to really focus that this is entertainment. People are really wanting to see something new,” Moore said. “VR headsets brought that for a little while, now we want to go back into the theaters. Well, let’s keep the immersive factor, but have the ability to eat some popcorn next to our friends.” 

Ryan Moore, co-founder of Dome Fest West. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dome Fest West

The festival will be screening 32 films chosen as the best productions for the 2020-2021 year. Along with screening films, the festival will also feature industry panels, technology presentations and interactive workshops presented by Imersa, an organization committed to fostering “the growing interest in digital fulldome cinema, immersive entertainment, performance art and virtual experiences through its summits and activities” according to its website. The full 2021 festival schedule can be found on the Dome Fest West website

Los Angeles-based creatives Audri Phillips and Keram Malicki-Sanchez will be screening their five-minute film “Rukh” on the second day of the festival as part of the “Feel Beyond The Music” 4 p.m. block. 

“We’re all in a bubble in this pandemic and I thought I’m gonna have this bird carrying around these bubbles with people in various states of existence within these bubbles,” Phillips said. “We’re going to go through some kind of a journey into some kind of magical, mystical land.”

The piece is a metaphor for the pandemic, as the bubbles in the film represent the bubbles every individual has been living in during the pandemic. The piece marks a celebration to the hopeful coming end of the pandemic.

Phillips worked on the visuals while Malicki-Sanchez focused on the soundtrack. While the audio was already finished, Phillips had four to six weeks to come up with visuals to accompany the track. Completing the visuals and putting it all together in the allotted time frame was one of the more challenging aspects of the project, Phillips said. 

But it was the pressure of the deadline for the upcoming Dome Fest West submissions that really pushed Phillips to focus and produce something that both of them would be proud of, Phillips and Malicki-Sanchez said. 

“I asked myself, ‘If Audrey had had three years to make this project, would it actually be better or worse?’” Malicki-Sanchez said. “I think that the way we communicate has an efficiency, and it gets to the heart of the matter when there is less time. You can feel that urgency in a way in this piece.”

While the festival is being used as a way to expose 360-degree dome technology and introduce it as an alternative way to experience films, Aaron Orullian, director of the film and television conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts, said he wonders if the 360 experience is something audiences actually want to see, or if it will be more of a novelty experience, like the Circle-Vision experience in Tomorrowland at Disneyland which has been retired as a stand alone attraction since 1997. 

“It’s definitely one approach in this very kind of emerging landscape of how do we get people to feel like they are part of the experience, something different, because a lot of people now can go home, and they can watch movies on an amazing screen on their home theater,” Orullian said. 

Of the 32 films, 19 of them are nominees for the “#BestOfEarth” award, which is an international competition for fulldome filmmakers recognizing their creativity and mastery in fulldome media. These films were handpicked from a collection of entries submitted to Dome Fest West and three other international dome festivals. 

Dome Fest West is one of four independent dome festivals that have joined in a simultaneous film festival collaboration to participate in the #BestOfEarth Awards. All four festivals will take place during the Oct. 8-10 weekend. The other three dome festivals will be in Jena, Germany, Plymouth, United Kingdom and Melbourne, Australia. All four festivals will present the same 19 “#BestOfEarth” feature films. 

“These technologies have really kind of lent themselves to artists to be able to create really awesome, story-forward experiences that don’t require a headset if you watch them in a dome,” Moore said. 

The #BestOfEarth award winners will be determined by a team of jurors in five categories: best feature film, best science and education film, best art and experimental, best short and juror’s choice award. They will be announced Oct. 9, streaming live at the festival hall at 2 p.m. from the Zeiss-Grossplanetarium in Berlin, Germany.

“It’s a partnership, in us as festivals, coming to recognize not only the best content in the world, but also that we need to kind of make up for lost time to the poor artists that have poured their hearts out over the pandemic,” Moore said. “And there are no festivals that they could submit to.” 

A virtual version of the festival will also be available online. However, tickets are still required in order to access it and viewers will only be allowed to view the 19 #BestOfEarth film nominees. Viewers have the option of either streaming the films through a computer or on their phone, or  while using a virtual reality headset to get the full, immersive experience. 

Kristina Garcia is a writing fellow for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at kristinamgarcia6@gmail.com.

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