Within the old buildings of the Lazzaretto Vecchio, audience members of the Venice Film Festival patiently queued to watch a screening.
The Lazzaretto -- an abandoned 15th-century leper colony open for the first time to the festival -- looked more like an art gallery than a cinema facility.
Yet, it was here where a competitive section devoted to virtual reality (VR) works of the 74th edition of the festival was set up.
With 22 titles in the competition, the VR program offered visitors three different areas to experience the new technology: first, a 50-seat theater where they could enjoy screenings on rotating white chairs allowing for a 360-degree view. Secondly, oculus stand ups to watch interactive works; and finally, installations.
Some 3,000 visitors were registered up to Sept. 4, according to festival organizers.
Venice has thus become the first major film festival in the world to include such a large and competitive program of VR works.
Besides the experience itself, it opened a space to discuss what VR means for the cinema industry, whether it would represent its whole future, a part of it, or a new kind of medium overall.
"For me, virtual reality is clearly a new way of expression," French author Mathieu Pradat told Xinhua after the screening of his short film "Proxima."
"When watching VR, you are not totally an actor inside the movie, but neither a passive spectator (as in a traditional movie)," he said. "It is a kind of in-between media form; but it is clearly not cinema, it is not the pure art of the frame."
Proxima, a 9-minute VR experience featuring French actor Fabrice Adde, has the texture of a dream.
There is a naked man emerging from water, and a vibrant light follows, which he would never come to reach.
"The concept of the work comes from an old daydream about the feeling I sometimes have of being able to understand the universe," Pradat explained.
"Yet, it is just an instant; whenever I try to put my mind on this, it immediately vanishes."
Filmgoers at the Lazzaretto can go through the most diverse VR experiences. They can watch the short movie "Gomorra" -- from the Italian drama series about Naples' Camorra mafia -- and wander in the city's suburbs, among young mafia gangsters and drug dealers.
They can immerse themselves in the short feature "Melita", and follow a valiant Inuit female scientist and an advanced Artificial Intelligence ally to find a suitable new planet for humans, after the world has collapsed due to climate change.
The audience can also empathize with animals, and the eco-system overall, with the animation film "Free Whale" by Chinese director Zhang Peibin, and "Chuang" (In the pictures) by Qing Shao.
In "La camera insabbiata" installation by American Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang, one could lose oneself in a fully interactive, immersive, and sometimes disquieting, animation journey.
A themed event within the second "Focus on China" Forum -- co-organized by Xinhuanet, Venice Production Bridge, and the Italian National Association of Film, Audiovisual and Multimedia Industries (ANICA) -- was also devoted to VR to assess the new technology, and how the most advanced VR applications were developing.
Experts in the sector seemed to appreciate the efforts Venice had put into the new medium.
"I have been working with virtual reality for about two years now, and I can say this is probably the best VR festival in the world," Tupac Martir, a visual designer, told Xinhua.
"The fact that it has been given its own venue here, the way installations, stand ups, and the theater are set up, the common area for people to come and have a chat...the quality of the products...it is an amazing festival."
The VR competition's winners will be announced by a jury of five creative professionals, conferring three awards: best VR film, grand VR jury prize, and best VR creativity prize.