Getting Right Into the Film at TIFF’s Virtual Reality Experience

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Last month, our friend Meghan invited us to a Virtual Reality Experience, and although we didn’t really understand what we were going to see, we agreed to meet her at the TIFF Lightbox Theatre at an appointed time — 2pm on a Friday.

The event was called POP 02 — the POP part because it is a pop-up installation and the 02 part because it was the second one (of three). Meghan had been to POP 01, so she was an experienced POPper.

First we lined up to sign a waiver confirming that we were entering at our own risk. We laughed nervously and put our names on the line.

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Once inside, we found a large space divided into different areas with a place to line up at each. We got some brief instructions and then chose what to do first, from the 10 different experiences available.

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Here is Meghan trying out something by an artist named Float. Hmmm, how to explain this? Well, you put the headset on, and were suddenly surrounded by moving colourful spheres, some of which you could walk up to and go through into another dimension. You couldn’t see where you were going in real life, so the facilitator made sure you didn’t actually bump into any walls.

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Here I am getting ready to try Pearl, created by artist Patrick Osborne. I put on a headset that covered my eyes and some earphones for sound.

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Once seated with my headset, the facilitator began the 6 minute “film”. I found myself in the front passenger seat of a car being driven by an animated man seated beside me. I turned to look in the back seat to see a little girl — that was Pearl. There were knapsacks and a guitar back there with her. The car was moving along a roadway and stopped. Pearl and her dad got out of the car, and played a tune for an audience who dropped change in their bucket. I was still seated in the car but could see their backs and the faces of the audience, and hear their song and chatter. They got back in the car and off we went on another adventure.

Pearl grew up during the film, and met some friends who joined us in the car. She learned to drive and replaced her dad in the drivers’ seat beside me . At one point the car broke down and needed to be towed away, so while I was still in it, I saw myself and the car being towed away from the group. And so on for six minutes.

Without doubt, it really felt like I was inside that car with those animated characters. I could look in all directions and see what was beyond the car windows all around me. It was very neat.

This was my favourite part of POP but really, all five things that I got to see were excellent and somewhat mind-blowing.

Nick’s favourite part were the 3D documentary films, which gave the impression you were right in the middle of the action. The film-makers use a special camera that is a sphere with lenses all around it. I watched one about a family living in the Gaza Strip and was a bit shocked when a little boy ran right up to me and looked directly into my eyes … in real life, he’d approached the camera when the scene was being filmed.

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Note: the headsets are carefully cleaned with disinfectant wipes between each user.

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With a limited time of 2 hours, and with some experiences taking up to 10 minutes, only 12 people can see the longer ones, so it’s impossible to see everything — the website advises attendees to plan what they want to see most and get in line for those things right away. I estimate that about 50 people entered for the 2-hour slot that we were in, so they don’t over-crowd it, and as mentioned I got to see 5 different things, including 4 of the short documentary films, so I was happy. Of course, I could have gone again to see the parts I missed, but instead I plan to go to the next one, which will have a whole new set of experiences.

I do wish I’d gotten to see the one that simulated being in solitary confinement, as someone told me it was excellent, however there was a line-up that would have taken an hour to get through, and would have eaten into my chances to see other things, so I passed on it.

POP 03, the third and final one, runs for three days from Friday, August 19th to Sunday, August 21st. If you want to plan ahead, click that link to read about the different virtual reality experiences that will be available then.

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