Parisian Adventures: mk2 Bibliothèque immerses itself in virtual reality

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Cinemas Features

When mk2 Bibliothèque opened back in February 2003 in Paris, France, launching a 20-screen cinema with 3,000 seats—actually “Love Seats” designed by Martin Szekely—in a developing district created and anchored by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France was not an easy proposition. Today, mk2 Bibliothèque accounts for some two million admissions yearly and has remained on the cutting edge of cinema culture.

Last December, mk2 added a decidedly coolly designed 300-square-meter (3,000-sq.-ft.) rooftop space dedicated to the latest and greatest experiences available as part of the Virtual Reality (VR) of simulation, gaming and immersion. Elisha Karmitz, mk2 VR founder/creator and general director at corporate parent mk2, called it “the first facility in France dedicated to the best VR experiences in films, documentaries, videogames and even flying motion simulators.”

While many in theatrical exhibition may question the wisdom of developing an offering that is essentially geared to be consumed on an individual basis, with friends and family standing by and watching, Karmitz has a different take. By “bringing VR to a multiplex-like environment with the opening of the first-ever entertainment venue fully dedicated to upscale VR experience,” the mk2 VR concept offers to consumers a “lively, culture-filled facility focused on VR and good times.”

Karmitz believes mk2 VR is as much about the future of cinema as it is about the future of the family business. It is even in the genes. “From mk2’s birth to nowadays, innovation and creation has always been part of the company DNA. mk2 VR is a logical move.” Moving forward, mk2 will gain additional knowledge from operations at mk2 Bibliothèque, as the company plans to enter the real-life VR world even more fully “by opening additional venues, investing in content production and distribution, and establishing a communication agency dedicated to VR,” it was noted.

The venture has already drawn two million moviegoers, and it may help that mk2 VR is located near Halle Freyssinet, destined to become Europe’s, if not the world’s, biggest start-up campus in the heart of Paris’ so-called “3.0 district.” Following an investment of 1.5 million euros (US$1.595 mil.) in partnership with BNP Paribas, the VR venue is expected to attract 100,000 visitors during 2017. The high-ceilinged and open-windowed space arranges 12 VR pods around a circular station with gear and headsets suspended by cables and wires. “That makes them easy to don and safely limit your motion,” one visitor observed. Guests either stand as they enter their individual experiences or enjoy other games that allow sitting down. The offerings include a flying-motion simulator and a pair of rowing trainers for racing.

“Accessible to everyone,” the key message goes and without having to plunk down $500 for a VR headset of your own, we might add. Whether that means “on your own,” as couples, with “friends, family, co-workers,” mk2vr.com goes on to list just about everybody who would enjoy the proceedings: enthusiasts, people with a passion, skeptics, the confused, “geeks and budding geeks, purists and newbies, dreamers, travelers and adventurers, kids and parents…anyone who’s open to a different way of seeing the world.” For all of them, mk2 VR assembled Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, HTC VIVE, MSI “and more” across the space. And for newcomers, “Introduction to VR” offers just that in a 360-degree 3D video for Oculus Rift produced by Montreal-based Félix & Paul Studios.

“It is really important that we bring the VR experience to people who don’t know VR." Karmitz assures there will be plenty of staff on hand. “Approximately one employee for every three consumers…will help them put on the headset and launch the experience." Additional tech staff handle the headsets and MSI computers, equipped with NVIDIA GeForce 1080 cards and Intel Core i7-6700K CPUs. Whatever that means (according to the media release), it sounds impressive and is probably very fast.

But, mk2 VR goes beyond the reality of its location and goes above the virtual powerhouse of cutting-edge technology. The venue is about creating an “Experience,” after all. mk2 VR takes pride in providing “exclusive content from some of the leading VR developers from around the world,” the company stated. For some samples, check our sidebar. During the last 42 years, mk2 produced over 100 films and distributed many more. On the exhibition front, Film Journal International commemorated the achievements of company founder Marin Karmitz with an in-depth profile in our September 2014 issue (“Cinema on the Seine”). Not too surprisingly, mk2 VR will build on that expertise as it becomes the first cinema operator to develop an entire business around VR.

“Faithful to its 40 years of history in selecting and programming the best international films,” the exhibitor-distributor added, “the finest content in VR is selected by a dedicated programmer to merge mk2’s famous knowhow in the cinema industry into VR. As a thriving hub of culture and entertainment, mk2 VR will live to the rhythm of its exclusive content and sneak previews.” Just as new films open on Wednesdays across France, these sneaks and previews will be revealed on that very day too.

Elisha Karmitz also talked the advantages of having a very much real and shared experience as part of the one that comes through gear and headsets. “And that is why mk2 VR features ‘Le Perchoir mk2,’ a terrace bar developed in association with one of the trendiest rooftop and open-air bar chains now in Paris,” he said. “For anyone looking for a new experience, wanting to enjoy VR technologies or just having a drink in a cheerful environment, mk2 VR is poised to be the ‘go to’ place on the forefront of this latest revolution in entertainment.”

On the web front, practical information prevails, such as admission pricing (12 euros for 20 minutes, 20 euros for 40; private bookings are available), and access to free wireless and secure storage lockers. This being a French project, based in a country where cinema is hailed as the Seventh Art, one should not be surprised to find more philosophical implications addressed as well.

“Like the cinema 100 years ago, VR is changing the world,” the headline as to “Why?” surmises. “Remember, the first screenings organized by the Lumière brothers over a hundred years ago made people run out of the cinema when they saw the train on the screen hurtling towards them. Virtual Reality is a new form of creation that’s changing our way of seeing the world. A new world: Make it yours.” The venerable theatrical exhibition and distribution company has certainly done that.

VR Content Available (as of December 2016)

Birdly® by SOMNIACS: “The best VR flight simulator”

Assassin’s Creed Experience VR by Twentieth Century Fox

Star Wars™ Battlefront™ Rogue One™ X-Wing VR Mission by Electronic Arts

The Clim by Crytek

Homebound Joyride by Quixel

Introduction to VR by Felix & Paul Studios

The Walk by smartVR Studio

Eagle Flight by Ubisoft

Ocean Descent by Sony London Studio

Space Pirate by I-illusion

Holofit by Holodia