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Inarritu debuts groundbreaking VR exhibit at Cannes

CANNES, France (AP) — You walk along a high metal fence that once divided Arizona and Mexico and into a small holding cell where you are asked to take off your shoes and socks. All around you are the abandoned shoes of migrants who have been arrested by the border patrol. When a red light flashes, you enter a large chamber with a sand floor. A ragged band of migrants crossing an expansive desert swarms around you.

For a moment, in the dusty twilight, you join their flight.

This is part of Alejandro Inarritu’s “Carne y Arena” (Virtually present, Physically invisible),” a visual art installation debuting this week at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s the festival’s first virtual reality film to be an official entry.

The artwork seeks to capture migrants’ experiences crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s centered around a seven-minute virtual reality experience via a headset — taking “Carne y Arena” outside of traditional cinema into an emotional journey.

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Inarritu, the Oscar-winning filmmaker of “Birdman” and “The Revenant,” has been working on the exhibit for four years.

With his regular cinematographer, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, he has regularly tested the boundaries of cinematic powers of immersion with lengthy, fluid takes.

“The highest technology with the most beautiful human beings is a very powerful combination,” Inarritu said in an interview. “The experience of working with the immigrants was the most inspiring and rewarding (part) of all these years that I have devoted myself to this project.”

In many ways, the film stands apart. It’s being housed in an airplane hangar about a 15-minute car ride away from the festival’s center. Reporters have been individually shuttled to see it — making it one of Cannes’ hardest tickets to get.

The exhibit officially premieres next month in Milan at Fondazione Prada before…

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