Sydney Film Festival is hosting a number of virtual reality (VR) pieces for the first time. These nine immersive works of art transcend our usual relationship with cinema.

Stuck in the Middle with You allows audiences to step onstage with the flawless performers of Sydney Dance Company, while A History of Cuban Dance provides exactly what its title suggests. Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness is an incredible VR experience that attempts to articulate the sensation of blindness, as documented by the brilliant John Hull.

Piers Mussared, head of production at Jumpgate – a South Australian company that created an interactive concert series with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and a virtual experience with the Port Adelaide Football Club – will speak at Diving Down the VR Rabbit Hole, a free panel discussion about this blossoming industry.

“Events like [this] give people their first VR experience,” he says, “because they’re actually able to access the hardware.” For Mussared, the technology is something that users need to actually test-drive before they can register its true potential.

“It’s a very private experience, a new way of telling stories in the arts space. [VR] is a more immersive way of relating a narrative to the viewer, where the viewer has more control than ever before.”

Mussared is confident that 2016 will be the year VR goes mainstream. With rapid developments in screen resolution and playback power, totally immersive VR experiences are becoming readily available. Mussared attributes the medium’s success to accessible products such as Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear, which allow any smart-phone user to experience VR.

“Suddenly it’s accepted that VR is inevitable,” says Mussared. “It’s being respected as a storytelling medium and as a way of producing content. Some people think VR is going to take over the screen – it’s not. It’s not a replacement [to cinema], they will coexist.”

Madeleine, an interactive horror short directed by Mussared, is also part of this year’s VR program. It was the first VR film to receive funding from Screen Australia, bringing together screenwriters and animators to create a truly terrifying experience.

SFF is determined to expand its audiences’ horizons. All 244 films have now been announced, and, alongside the exciting VR program, there’s a clear focus on the most daring of international and home-grown cinema.

Sydney Film Festival runs June 8–19. View the full program at sff.org.au.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Virtual Reality at the Hub runs June 9–19, with all VR sessions free of charge.