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TIFF’s latest virtual-reality pop-up built with public in mind

The Turning Forest, by Oscar Raby, is a sound-based, real-time CGI VR experience set in a place where things are not quite what they seem.

Viewers can get up close and personal with – cue the jokes – both a monster and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this weekend, as the Toronto International Film Festival stages the third instalment of its summer-long series of pop-up exhibitions of virtual reality programming.

POP 03 (VR + Experimental Film) features a broad range of VR content, from interactive animated experiences to documentaries. In theatre artist Dustin Freeman's Inverse Dollhouse, one person feels as if they have dropped into a dollhouse while someone else uses an iPad to move furniture around the virtual space. Lost is an enthralling five-minute animated film made for the Oculus Rift that puts the viewer into a jungle at night, where they are soon disturbed by what looks like a robotic monster searching for something.

Cut-off, from Vice Media, is a 10-minute trip to the two remote First Nations communities of Cross Lake and Shoal Lake, Man., created from footage shot by Vice last April during a visit to the latter community by Trudeau. Viewers watch as he chats briefly with the locals, and gives an underwhelming answer to a Vice reporter who asks about his commitment to fix the toxic water supplies of First Nations communities across the country.

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Other projects at POP 03, which runs Friday through Sunday, include recent experiments by the National Film Board. POP 01, in June, focused on VR with music and art; POP 02 in July emphasized the power of VR to instill empathy in viewers.

"We saw a lot of things across the landscape that were really built and created with the industry in mind. We wanted to build something that had the public in mind," says Jody Sugrue, the director of TIFF Digital Studio.

Noting that much of the VR gear is currently beyond the reach of most people – high-end rigs, with a headset and a computer capable of running the programming can fetch $2,500 – Sugrue pointed to a previous technology that began as a public experience before migrating to home users.

"Remember the old-school video arcades, where you'd have to come out to play? There's a beautiful sense of nostalgia around that. We wanted to open this up to the public in the same way, really allow people to try out this amazing content on this amazing tech that you probably can't get in your house right now."

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