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Cameron Bailey on Why the Toronto Film Festival Is Taking the ‘Plunge’ Into Virtual Reality

TIFF's artistic director said anyone running a film festival who wants to stay current has to participate in the virtual reality conversation.

Cameron Bailey

“Independent film has always emerged from the productive flux of big cities and college towns. It’ll thrive in the next 20 years to the degree that it looks, sounds and feels like what those places are: Hispanic, Asian, black, queer, migrant, hybrid and at least half female. “


Virtual reality has been a hot topic at festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival for years, but this year marks the first time that VR will officially come to TIFF.

READ MORE: Sundance’s New Frontier Program is Bringing Their Virtual Reality ‘Slithering Screens’ to MoMA

Though TIFF hasn’t yet selected the VR works that will be presented at the festival, it is saving the last three days of the fest, September 16-18, for its VR showcase. The festival will be removing all the seats in its Bell Lightbox’s Cinema 5 theater, where it will set up VR stations that festivalgoers can visit. In terms of VR equipment, the works shown will not be confined to any particular VR company.

“We wanted to plunge a little deeper into that world this year by actually presenting some of it,” TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey told IndieWire in an interview Monday. “It’s all part of a connected landscape of moving images and audiences seeking both the art of moving images and also just entertainment in different forms, and this seems like the next logical step.”

Many high-profile actors and directors are working in VR today, but Bailey insisted that name recognition will not play a role in the festival’s VR selection process. “We’re really looking for work that we think is the most interesting and that advances the medium,” he said. “We’re in a very exploratory stage when it comes to immersive media, and we want to make sure that we’re pushing that conversation forward as opposed to just repeating what’s been done in the past or elsewhere.”

The festival isn’t favoring any specific developer. “It makes sense for anybody presenting this work to be [platform] agnostic,” Bailey added. “Whether it’s Oculus, Samsung Gear or HTC Vive, we will set up the room based on what the piece and the technology requires,” Bailey said.

READ MORE: Oculus Rift Reviews: Is This the Dawn of a New Era in Virtual Reality?

Though VR’s ultimate role in movies, television and gaming remains to be seen, Bailey said that anyone running a film festival who wants to stay current has to at least be part of the conversation exploring the new medium. “I don’t know where it’s going to end up,” he said. “We’re just looking for innovation that’s artistically interesting.”

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