Arts and Culture Exhibit

Step back in time: Immersive VR experience recreates rave culture at Centre PHI

Experience the thrill, music, and underground atmosphere of 1980s illegal raves within the confines of virtual reality.

How did it feel to attend a rave with thousands of other people in the United Kingdom during the 1980s? Such a unique experience is unparalleled, but artist Darren Emerson has recreated its essence in his interactive VR experience In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats, which is currently open to the public at Centre PHI. 

In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats is both a documentary and an immersive experience. The player embarks on an adventure that brings them back to 1989, when illegal raves were regularly organized throughout the country in uncanny locations, such as abandoned warehouses.  About 40 minutes long, the VR experience is both informative and entertaining. The player is provided a headset, headphones, and a sort of backpack that vibrates to the rhythm of the soundtrack.

The playroom is located on the second floor of the museum. Adorned with blacklights, the room is divided into six sections where players can move around during their experience. Once the headset and headphones are on, though, it is impossible to tell that there are other people in the room. It is an individual adventure and the VR setup makes the player feel cut off from reality completely. 

The graphics are breathtaking. At the beginning, the player sits in the car with ravers, watching the road roll by in the darkness of the night. Then, the player hangs out with these same ravers in a bedroom with walls covered in posters of 80s bands before getting sucked into the radio and surrounded by colors, vibrations and music. After visiting the police precinct and learning about the investigations that illegal raves led to at the time, the player enters a warehouse and experiences a rave in the fashion of 1989. Throughout these different scenes are scattered testimonials from important actors of the rave scene in the 80s. 
Interested? This VR experience is featured at Centre PHI from Feb. 7 to April 28. Centre PHI is known for the diversity and uniqueness of its exhibitions and displays. It showcases art pieces from underground artists and allows the public to experiment with all types of mediums and technology. Colored: The Unknown Life of Claudette Colvin is another VR experience currently featured that will be open to the public until April 28.


Three unique VR activities to try out over the weekend in Montreal

Bring a few friends and venture into a realistic sci-fi adventure or get a “bird’s eye view” of a new and innovative flight simulator experience.

When you think of Montreal and its surrounding regions, a booming virtual reality (VR) scene is likely not what comes to mind. Despite this, it may be surprising to discover that Montreal has some of the most established VR experiences in all of Canada, and a slew of unique activities for those who seek them out. 

Join The Concordian in trying out three VR activities spread out around the downtown area.

  1. Réalité Virtuelle Zero Latency Montréal

Zero Latency Montreal is definitely a top contender for being one of the most innovative, advanced and unique VR experiences in Montreal. 

With experienced game masters guiding you through every portion of the game and a multitude of different free-roam experiences to choose from (a facet of VR in which you are given an entire room, with friends, to fully immerse yourself in the VR world with the aid of a VR headset and, at times, VR weaponry), it is no surprise that Forbes’ review of the place included the following quote: “This surreal multiplayer experience is the world’s most advanced free-roam virtual reality game.”

The Concordian was able to try their Singularity free-roam game and the complete immersiveness of the experience was mind-blowing; it’s definitely one of the most advanced VR experiences out there.

To try it yourself, head to their website and book a slot for one of the free-roam games ($44.99/ player for a half an hour session).

  1. MontVR 

MontVR offers a lot of versatility with their VR experiences. While each location includes a different array of experiences, combined there are over six unique activities to choose from. 

With everything from free-roam, to VR escape rooms, VR gaming stations, minigolf, axe throwing and even a mock flight simulator at their DIX30 location.

The VR gaming stations and the flight simulator (Birdly) in particular are both high-quality experiences. 

The staff are also extremely kind and accommodating, and with so much to choose from, there was not a single boring moment. 

Book your own experience here

  1. PHI Centre 

With a variety of ever-rotating interdisciplinary experiences to choose from year-round, PHI Centre acts almost as a futuristic version of what we would currently call an art museum. 

With both free and paid installations to choose from, ranging from tableaus to live music performances and conferences, the PHI Centre seems to have it all. One of their most captivating installations is Horizons

A VR experience that transcends the genre, Horizons is a collection of four award-winning works put together to form an intense and immersive journey. 
If you’d like to experience Horizons firsthand before it closes on Oct. 24, book here.


MOMENTA Biennale de l’image explores our relationship to nature

This exhibition features 51 artists, each presenting work that examines the human connection to the natural world

MOMENTA Biennale de l’image is back for its 17th edition, taking over Montreal gallery spaces and outdoor sites to reflect on the relationship between nature and the senses. Going on until Oct. 24, the visual arts biennale features 15 exhibitions, including an outdoor garden, a virtual reality city tour and four performances.

Curator Stefanie Hessler proposed the main theme of the event: sensing nature. Along with curators Maude Johnson, Camille Georgeson-Usher and Himali Singh Soin, Hessler organized projects and exhibits related to their thoughts on this theme. One of MOMENTA’s projects this year is an urban outdoor garden created by artist T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss, and is situated on the corner of Berri and Ontario St.. Titled TEIONHENKWEN Supporters of Life, the work brings together a large variety of ancestral plants such as raspberry, corn, tobacco, and basil. They stand as a little herbal island in the middle of downtown Montreal’s cacophony, filling the air with smells of flowers and herbs.

Wyss has a practice of creating such gardens in places where urban life has taken over and plants do not grow easily anymore. The multidisciplinary artist and ethnobotanist chooses plants that would originally grow at the place where the garden will be situated. TEIONHENKWEN was created with a desire to showcase ancestral plants, and allow communities and animals to be in contact with them.

Another MOMENTA presentation is exhibited at the Fonderie Darling. Curated around the work of six artists, the art event is titled Worldmaking Tentacles. The curators imagined a post-apocalyptic world taking place in 2071. For Jessica Sofia Lopez, the cultural mediation and audience development coordinator at MOMENTA, this exhibition is particularly rich as it is “very political — it’s very charged and really it invites us to take agency of our own ignorance.”

When entering the space, Julien Creuzet’s three art pieces are the first to be seen. The French artist presents a hanging sculpture made of diverse materials collected over time, a printed collage, and a short film. The psychedelic video touches on the problem of Kepone pesticide found in banana plantations in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Jamilah Sabur’s Mnemonic Alphabet follows, and includes three brightly-coloured canvases. The artist creates a new language, putting forward the idea that languages might fail to represent the world accurately.

Tejal Shah’s Between the Waves speaks to the exhibition’s theme in video form. The artist created a world in which creatures wearing white plastic outfits with insects on them and ballet shoes live in two settings. On one screen, the audience can observe them exploring a dumping ground set amidst a town. On the other screen, the creatures move in a deserted landscape.

In Sandra Mujinga’s work, clothes are the central subject as the artist presents three laminated leather outfits, which are meant to invoke thoughts on the invisibility of marginalized communities. Mujinga also presents video experimentations with images coming together to create abstract creatures.

Tabita Rezaire’s INNER FIRE series is displayed at different places in the room. The five hanging works of art explore ideas of the “multiple identities related to archetypes of the Black woman,” as explained in the exhibition’s program. Rezaire layers images and references to the body, nature, and spirituality in appealing creations.

Charlotte Brathwaite’s video project completes the show with a reflection on past and future realities shown through video clips and excerpts from texts. Bringing together the thoughts, hopes and beliefs of 51 artists, this year’s MOMENTA exhibit presents a rich tapestry of programming that promises to remind each visitor of the strength of nature.


Photograph courtesy of Jamilah Sabur


PHI Centre Hosts Venice VR Expanded for the Second Year

This exhibition features nearly 40 top-of-the-line VR works

For the second year in a row, the PHI Centre is hosting Venice VR Expanded, an exhibition that features nearly 40 top-of-the-line VR works. Montrealers have the exclusive chance to visit this unique exhibition as the PHI Centre is currently the only cultural venue in Canada to ever showcase Venice VR Expanded.

The exhibition is open to the public from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19. Each ticket affords visitors the chance to spend two hours in the exhibition. UK-based curators Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac have worked hard this year to deliver innovative works that challenge previous conceptions of virtual reality environments. 

When I arrived at the PHI Centre early on a Tuesday morning, I made my way up to the fourth floor. Lingering behind a group of nine masked visitors, I waited to be seated, where I would be handed a VR headset and two remotes. Despite my weak stomach and history of unpleasant experiences with VR headsets, I was determined to enjoy this outing. Before I knew it, I was transported into several peculiar and beautiful worlds.

The first work that I decided to explore was a short film titled Caves by Director Carlos Isabel García. This 19-minute film invites viewers to follow three explorers deep into a network of tunnels that are, to say the least, anxiety-inducing. This work was absolutely thrilling and granted me a newfound respect for those who are brave enough to risk their lives in the name of exploration.

The next work I settled on was a short animated film titled Bing mei guei (The Sick Rose) by Tang Zhi-zhong and Huang Yun-hsien. The emotional 17-minute film follows a young girl who is hell-bent on bringing a magical rose to her mother, a woman who is a courageous front-line hospital worker amidst a raging pandemic. Though the film’s theme is gloomy at its core, and at times uncomfortably familiar, the secondary characters, namely a tribe of rats and a handful of demonic beings, make for a lively addition.

Finally, I decided to watch Micro Monsters by Elliot Graves. With many scenes involving larger-than-life bugs, I found myself overtaken with fascination rather than repulsion (as I was originally prepared for). Viewers are given a chance to take in every minute detail of these creatures, ones that they may normally pay no mind to. This documentary did not disappoint, and I ended up learning quite a few interesting facts. I now know that scorpions glow in the dark. 

Venice VR truly offers something for everyone, and I applaud the wide-ranging subjects that it covers. There are very few exhibitions that have managed to leave such a mark on me. 

Walking out onto Saint-Paul Street after the exhibition, I felt different. Not in a life-altering way, but I felt as though I had been presented with a special gift: the rare opportunity to briefly escape the boundaries of everyday life, where I was free to delve into the unknown, absorbing and appreciating it in 360-degree view.

One thing is certain: I will be returning next year to experience even more cutting-edge projects.

The PHI Centre is located at 315 Saint-Paul St. W.


Photo by Myriam Achard


Virtual reality meets fine art at Centre Phi

Cadavre exquis gives viewers the chance to explore the messages of modern artists

The entrance of Centre Phi is open and minimalist as you make your way to the ticket booth. Simplicity, high ceilings and white walls don’t surprise an avid art gallery visitor however, one must not let the simplistic interior fool you. This creative space is known for its eclectic programming and original content; it’s not your traditional art space. The mission statement declares Centre Phi as a creative hub for a range of artistic practices, not limited to art, cinema, music, design and technology.

What lies at the top of the stairs is an adventure that one would not have imagined to experience while gallery hopping on a typical Sunday afternoon. Marina Abramović, Olafur Eliasson, Laurie Anderson, Antony Gormley and Paul McCarthy, among others, have used virtual reality as a medium for expression in Cadavre exquis. Being completely immersed in the vision of six artists’ virtual reality creations has one’s mind spinning with curiosity from the moment the VR headset is put on you.

Marina Abramović’s creation was the first world that I stepped into. The visuals had me awestruck, and I found myself entirely immersed in the storyline of Rising.  Abramović standing before me, in all of her three-dimensional glory, begging for my help to change this planet’s climactic demise. Although a premise-based in a frightening reality, the graphics and sound effects were stunning.

The sound and movement involving waterfalls reflecting Eliasson’s Rainbow seemed out of a glorious dreamworld. Participants stayed moving amongst the dripping reflections longer than expected. The experience was meditative.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, McCarthy’s C.S.S.C. Coach Internship Stage Coach VR experiment Mary and Eve is a recipe for nightmares, although fascinating, bewildering ones. The shocking, confusing and profound message of this virtual reality experience is not for the faint of heart (or anyone under 16, for that matter). The piece is made up of 12 chapters, and you have the option to try all 12 – each nine-minute chapter becoming more confusing and difficult to withstand. I did not complete chapter 12.

Many of the other pieces were exciting and visually intriguing. Still, I struggled with the reality of the movements. Flying through space or making my (virtual) way through a dark chalk ridden abyss seemed to make my sensitive stomach turn. The reality of the experiences had me take the headset off early to avoid full-on motion sickness.

For anyone aching to try something new and extraordinary, experienced art-goers and less-inclined alike, this is an experience not to be missed. The aesthetics, concepts, technology and interactive nature of this show boast attractive draws for many.


Tickets can be purchased through the Centre Phi website until Jan. 19.

Student Life

Cinema and the digital world

Once a Concordia film production student, Félix Lajeunesse is now the co-founder of one of the largest virtual reality companies in the world, Felix & Paul Studios. At a panel discussion on Feb. 12, he shared insight on how he and his team built a virtual reality studio from scratch with nothing but a dream in mind.

When I studied film production in 2003, the dream was to be a film director,” Lajeunesse said. “At that time, I would have not guessed that I would end up doing work in a different medium than cinema.”

Lajeunesse’s talk, led by professor Daniel Cross of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, was part of Concordia’s president speakers series on digital futures. The conversation discussed virtual reality (VR) technology and its application for users around the world.

VR technology and projects immerse viewers in different worlds. In the early years of Felix & Paul Studios, Lajeunesse and his partner, Paul Raphaël, focused on building a camera to create an immersive, 360-degree experience. Their goal was to experiment with 3D technology that would give viewers an immersive cinematic experience rather than just an interactive one. “You feel like you’re there. You feel present inside the story, completely immersed, emotionally and psychologically, but you can’t say hi to the people in [that] world,” Lajeunesse said.

Creating Felix & Paul Studios has given Lajeunesse and Raphaël the opportunity to collaborate with notable figures, such as Barack Obama, Reese Witherspoon and LeBron James. Their team is composed of filmmakers, as well as engineers, programmers, sound technicians and others who diverge from the traditional filmmaking crew.

Lajeunesse said he chose the medium of VR because it shares stories from the perspective of the viewer, not the director. For example, a simulation of reality created by Felix & Paul Studios gives viewers the opportunity to feel like they are sitting face-to-face with former U.S. President Barack Obama.

According to Lajeunesse, their business model was risky because it involved investing in a medium that wasn’t considered an industry yet. It payed off, however, as Lajeunesse and Raphaël got their first investment from Phoebe Greenberg, the founder of the Phi Centre, a multidisciplinary art centre in Montreal. Lajeunesse said Greenberg believed in their project and gave them the financial backing to get the company started.

Lajeunesse said believing in their vision for Felix & Paul Studios is what kept him and Raphaël going as creatives. We had to find a way to sell our dreams,” he said. “We had to find a way to package our desires and our vision of whatever we were building and sell it, to convince people that there was a business case inside of it.”

For more information about Felix & Paul Studios’ upcoming projects, check out their website at

Feature image taken by Kirubel Mehari

Student Life

Facing your enemy and their humanity

Journalist Karim Ben Khelifa’s virtual reality experience challenges perceptions of war

War correspondent and photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa spent two decades travelling through conflict zones to “understand why we fight, why we kill and the circumstances that make us able to do so.” Five years ago, Khelifa had an idea. He wanted to share the stories of the fighters he met in conflict zones through a new form of storytelling: virtual reality. “As a journalist, my goal is to put you in my shoes,” Khelifa said.

He pitched this idea to Camera Lucida Productions, an augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) company in France. “[Khelifa] wanted to find a new medium instead of photography,” said Chloé Jarry, an executive producer at Camera Lucida Productions. “The medium of photography was limited in its impact—he felt that it didn’t correspond to his expectations.”

A portrait of Karim Ben Khelifa, war correspondent and photojournalist who turned his idea into a VR installation, The Enemy. Photo Courtesy of Karim Ben Khelifa.

Khelifa’s idea developed into a VR installation that took five years to finalize with the help of Camera Lucida Productions, France TV and the National Film Board of Canada, as well as Dpt., a Montreal digital studio, and the VR company Emissive. “We all got together for a big co-production for the project to be as it is today,” Jarry said.

Until March 10, Montrealers will be able to experience this VR installation, called The Enemy, at the Phi Centre. The Enemy explores the stories of six combatants in three different conflict zones around the world: the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the gang wars in El Salvador and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Before beginning the experience, participants are required to fill out a questionnaire about their views on war and their perceptions of those three conflicts. Then, you enter a secluded room, strap on a backpack, adjust your VR goggles and immerse yourself in the experiences of these six men. There are three separate rooms, each dedicated to one of the three conflict zones. In each room, you meet a combatant from opposite sides of the conflict. You hear two different perspectives of the same war.

“In listening to these men, you become a link in the long human chain seeking new perspectives. By engaging in the experience, you become both a participant and a witness,” Khelifa said.

You listen as Khelifa asks these men: What is violence? What is peace? What is your dream? Although both men in each room are enemies, their answers are similar. They value peace and family. “My dream, and what I long for, is to spend more time with my family, to see my daughter and grandkids together as a family,” said Jorge Alberto, one of the six men in The Enemy and a gang leader in El Salvador.

According to Khelifa, it was difficult for these fighters to answer many of his questions. “My goal was to touch the guy in a way for him to reveal part of his humanity,” he said.

Khelifa explained that his intent was to show each man the humanity of their enemy, since conflict tends to erase that understanding. “It becomes very interesting to see the reaction,” he said.

Hélène Adamo, a project manager for Camera Lucida Productions, experienced The Enemy during several test runs. “I could do it with my eyes closed,” she said with a laugh. However, it wasn’t until she actually answered the questionnaire about war and experienced the VR as a participant, rather than a tester, that she truly felt the emotions embedded in the installation. “I lost notion of time, space,” Adamo said. “During this experience, I met these people and, that, you cannot forget.”

The Enemy also exposes the stereotypes and biases held by the VR participants themselves. For example, as they stand between the men on either side of the conflict, participants must make the choice of whose story to listen to first. “This [choice] is based on you—your fears, your curiosity and your appetite for learning,” Khelifa said.

He added that the purpose of The Enemy is for participants to focus on the stories of the combatants. “I didn’t want to bring you to Gaza or to Israel,” Khelifa said. “I really wanted you to focus on the person, on the human beings, and discover for yourself.”

Through this project, Khelifa said he hopes people will be more considerate of one another. “If you are at war, and if you are part of these conflicts, the goal is to reconsider your enemy and think that he is more similar [to you] than you think,” he said.

Photos courtesy of Phi Centre

Student Life

How immersive technology and culture can help create a better future

 Creative director and co-founder of ALLFUTUREEVERYTHING (AFE), Monika Bielskyte (left), during a panel discussion at C2 Montreal alongside interviewer and executive producer of the National Film Board of Canada, Hugues Sweeney (right). Photo by Kirubel Mehari.


C2 Montreal invited creative director, Monika Bielskyte, to discuss the future of virtual reality

C2 Montreal is an international conference that gathers visionaries and innovative thinkers from around the world for a three-day event filled with panel discussions based on creativity and commerce. This year’s edition of the event, which ran from May 23 to 25, featured a talk given by Monika Bielskyte on virtual reality (VR) technology and how it might help create a better future.

Bielskyte is the founder of ALLFUTUREEVERYTHING (AFE), a company that designs and builds futuristic virtual worlds using computer-generated simulations of three-dimensional images that people can physically interact with. For example, the company creates simulations of how cities will look 50 years from now.

Bielskyte is a creative director at AFE, specializing in immersive technology such as augmented reality, a technology that uses goggles to superimpose computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world. She also works with mixed reality, which merges the real and virtual world to produce new environments, and she creates VR prototypes.

For Bielskyte, creating these futuristic virtual worlds offers a way to possibly change our future.“Why I am interested in speaking about the future is because it gives us this necessary distance to look at the present with fresh eyes,” she said during her C2 Montreal talk. “But ultimately, it’s always about the choices that we are making today because there are no answers, only choices.”

According to Bielskyte, the prototypes designed and created using immersive technology and media can have a direct impact on our culture—which influences our reality and eventually our future. And although artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a more common component of immersive technology, she said, it doesn’t really help improve our world or our future. “We’ve been designing into AI the failures of humanity,” she said. “So our AI will fail as we fail.”

For this reason, Bielskyte designs virtual futures that depict how culture and humanity can be utilized to improve the world. “I am interested in showing how cultures of the world can cohabit and enrich each other rather than fighting each other,” she said. This idea of cohabitation and collaboration has been a focus of Bielskyte for a long time.  “From a very young age, I realized that everything is truly connected,”she said. “What interests me is to find how cultures affect each other, because no culture is self-contained.”

The idea that technological innovation without humanitarian revolution leads to a dystopian future is part of what drives Bielskyte’s focus on culture in her virtual prototypes of the future.“Technological change is much easier than cultural change, but if culture doesn’t change, nothing does,” she said. “We’ve been a little too focused on technology. Technology is important, but it’s truly just an extension of ourselves—it’s a tool. Technology is not good or bad, humanity is.”

During the talk, Bielskyte also tackled some misconceptions she said people often have concerning VR. “Technology/content companies haven’t done a great job in marketing this new technology and these new ideas,” she said. “[Virtual reality] is mostly perceived as an entertainment gimmick.” The ideas Bielskyte discussed about VR, in comparison, were not about entertainment, but rather about building a glimpse into the future and broadening our horizons with tangible experiences. VR is a world where people no longer sit in front of a computer to get a glimpse into another world, she said. Instead, they become immersed in other realities. “It’s about leaving the rectangular screens behind and stepping into a space where the world is our desktop,” Bielskyte said, describing a world where VR simulations would allow users to feel like they’re truly experiencing another reality.

According to Bielskyte, when immersive technology becomes the new common form of communication, it will cause major changes to our view of reality. “When most of the content we consume is no longer something that we watch, but truly something that we are in—is it just virtual? If it can cause real physical damage, is it only a simulation?” Bielskyte asked the audience. “[Mixed, augmented and virtual realities] are in some way as real and as impactful as real experiences might be.”

Bielskyte also spent part of her talk delving into the storytelling aspect of immersive technology. “People are only at the beginning of learning how to tell stories through interaction [with the audience], and VR does not exist without interaction,” she said.

At the moment, VR simulations are set up in closed environments, such as small rooms or booths, which Bielskyte said is an example of how old media habits are still being applied to this new medium. Instead, she encourages more creative thinking in the development of immersive technology—particularly VRs that interact more thoroughly with the real world. “The digital world will soon enough be meshed with the physical in such a way that our reality will be the transparency that we choose,” she said.

This distinction between reality and virtual reality, however, is more significant in the Western world, Bielskyte said. During her extensive travels, she has learned that places like Central and South America have different perceptions of what is real. “With my Colombian friends, we can shift the conversation about physical experience to dreams, to art, to shamanistic and psychedelic experiences in a blink of an eye—all of these things in their culture are real,” she said.

These varying perspectives of virtual reality are why Bielskyte said she enjoys teaching workshops on immersive creativity around the world. “I can definitely say that the students I had in places like Rio de Janeiro and in Bogotá come up with ideas for virtual reality that are not only equally good as the projects that are being pitched to me in Los Angeles or Silicon Valley—they are way more inspiring and way more interesting,” she said.

For Bielskyte, creativity is the key to developing immersive technology that will truly help humanity. “Humans are creative animals, and it’s only through creativity that we might find ourselves in a habitable future,” she said.  

Recently, some of Bielskyte’s work has extended to creating participatory story worlds for Hollywood, including the design and prototyping of the world in Ghost in the Shell. She is also working on a project called Future Nation, which aims to bring fictional worlds from Hollywood into the real world. “It’s about imagining these fictional futures for actual places, for real countries, cities and geographic regions—to help the policy-makers imagine how they could build a better future,” she said.


Virtual reality @ SXSW

Displaying the best and brightest upcoming VR artists, companies and installations

The Positron Voyager chair rotates and tilts, allowing for the sensation of movement.

The buzz around virtual reality and immersive technologies has been building in recent years as more companies and individuals embrace this new frontier. There is a scramble to see who can make it to the forefront of the medium, by creating ever-more poignant VR stories, more immersive technology and more impressive experiences.

The Virtual Cinema at the SXSW festival displayed some of the most innovative game-changers in this budding industry. Included in the exhibition was NASA’s Mars 2030, in which the participant becomes an astronaut exploring the red planet’s rocky terrain.

Montreal-based company and industry leader Felix & Paul Studios was also in attendance, displaying several new works. These included Miyubi, their first immersive narrative experience, and Dream of “O,” a fantastical visual journey featuring Cirque du Soleil’s famous Vegas show, O.

Though the Virtual Cinema exhibition had many works from well-known creators, there were also many newcomers: artists who knew the stories they wanted to tell could only be told through the VR medium.

Fistful of Stars is one such work. You are a space voyager floating in the infinite sea of stars in the Orion Nebula, and get to witness both the birth and death of a star.

“When I first started thinking about this piece, I wanted to make people feel as if they were going on a journey through the cosmos, and I wanted to make them feel as if they were floating in space,” said Eliza McNitt, the director. “Virtual reality was the only way for me to be able to tell that story.”

The work, which had its world premiere at SXSW, incorporates movement that shatters conventional immersive boundaries. It does this by coupling a VR headset with a Positron Voyager Chair, which rotates, spins and tilts to give you a sense of complete weightlessness.

It makes you feel as if you are actually floating in space rather than simply witnessing space.

Whereas Fistful of Stars eloquently and masterfully used the technological aspect of the medium to tell its story, Notes to my Father grips the audience and emotionally invests them in the piece.

This heart-wrenching story tells the tale of a woman whose marriage to a stranger was arranged by her father. Except, when the marriage fell apart, she was sold to an Indian brothel, unbeknownst to her father. Notes to my Father is a story of grief, love and reconciliation between a father and daughter. It is an emotional journey through pain, heartbreak and, ultimately, forgiveness. Despite having a close relationship, neither father or daughter has ever spoken about what happened to her. Yet deep down, both know. Their silence speaks volumes to the pain they both feel.

Notes to My Father is a heart-wrenching story that perfectly uses the VR medium’s empathy-enabling capabilities.

Director Jayisha Patel said empathy is crucial in having an authentic, captivating experience. VR puts the viewer right into the setting, and so this complete immersiveness into the story creates an emotional bond between the viewer and the characters.

“I’d love for different survivor-led organizations to be able to see this and connect, so we’re planning on doing that,” said Patel, who specializes in narratives about women, women of colour and gender violence. “I’d like to reach out to survivor-led organizations in the U.K., U.S. and Canada and get them to create a dialogue.”

VR is a strong medium for its empathy-inducing abilities because, as a viewer, you are part of the story instead of just a passive onlooker. When watching a film, if a character looks at the camera, it makes it seem as if they are looking in your general direction. But with VR, when a character looks at the camera, they are looking right into your eyes, because the camera is in fact a character in the story.

Both Fistful of Stars and Notes to my Father use the VR medium to its utmost potential. Though both pieces couldn’t be more different, they both fully and masterfully conduct their storytelling in an immersive and interesting manner that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer in different, but no less meaningful ways.


A whole new virtual reality world

Five new VR works at the Phi Centre offer viewers a window into another world

Virtual reality takes on a whole new dimension at the Phi Centre’s Virtual Reality Garden. From now until March 2017, five works bring a whole new perspective to virtual reality by exploring a new way of storytelling: animation.

The Phi Centre, which has presented several award-winning immersive works in its Virtual Reality (VR) Garden, presents another round of short films and immersive works to captivate audiences and pull them into the story.

While past virtual reality works at the Phi Centre mainly featured actual filmed footage taken with 360-degree cameras, the works currently on display were built from the ground up, featuring animated works and fully composed soundtracks and scores.

One of the most captivating of these works is Eagle Flight, a video game demo created by the Montreal-based video game company Ubisoft. In the game, you are an eagle soaring high above Paris, completing basic quests, such as catching fish and fending off vultures from your nest. While wearing the headset, you can use your body’s movements as well as commands on an Xbox controller to navigate and control your flight path. The eagle will bank either left or right depending on how you tilt your body.

As if the wonder of flight weren’t enough, the graphics and layout of the game are also well thought out, making it interesting to navigate around the city. The version of Paris in the game is not the one we are familiar with. This Paris is one reclaimed by nature, with trees, moss and animals having retaken the city.

The game is fun, and you really do feel as if you are soaring through clear skies. However, for those who easily succumb to motion sickness, be warned. Playing the game can make you feel ill, with the motion and movement. Still, it is worth trying the demo, which can be stopped at any time.

While Eagle Flight is the most interactive of the works presented in the VR Garden, the other four are much more story-oriented.

Henry, an animated short created by Oculus Story Studio, tells the tale of Henry the Hedgehog. Henry likes to give hugs, but because of his spikes, everyone he tries to become friends with runs away. On his birthday, he makes a wish to have at least one friend. The aftermath of his wish will make you feel everything from sadness to joy.

In The Rose and I by Penrose Studios, the viewer is transported to another solar system, where are suspended around you and zoom by. On one particular planet, the sole inhabitant discovers a lonely, sick rose. The short film tells the story of what happens after this rose is discovered and is inspired by The Little Prince.

Inspired by The Iron Giant (1999) and produced by Oculus Story Studio, Lost uses the VR medium exceptionally well by situating the viewer in the middle of a forest at night, surrounded by towering trees. This short uses sound in an interesting way to guide the viewer into looking in a specific direction. Somewhere in the dense undergrowth, a large creature roams in the bushes. The film allows the viewer’s attention to wander and observe their surroundings for a short amount of time before using sound to direct the viewer’s attention to the creature—a giant mechanic hand scuttling around.

Minotaur can best be described as an experimental work. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Minotaur is a visual and auditory journey through seven stages, including birth, childhood and death/rebirth. Don’t expect anything ordinary. This is the kind of work where each viewer takes away their own meaning from the film. The beautiful score will guide you through the story, easing you from one stage to the next.

Admission to the Phi Centre’s VR Garden is free, and the exhibits are open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.  For those who wear glasses, perhaps opt for contact lenses for the day. If contact lenses aren’t your thing, make sure to adjust the headset so you can wear it comfortably, as being able to see the image properly does make a difference as to the experience of the piece.


Björk Digital debuts in Montreal

Take a virtual reality tour through Iceland with Björk’s newest album, Vulicura

From a dark cave to the vast, rock-covered beaches of Iceland—and all through the realm of music and digital space—that’s exactly what Björk Digital is all about. It is an exhibition that takes the term “audiovisual” to a whole other level.

Björk Digital allows the audience to experience Björk’s music in a unique, singular way. The highlight of the show resides in the virtual reality (VR) installations that make up the biggest part of the exhibition. The Montreal exhibition is the North American premiere of the project, which previously toured Sydney, Tokyo and London.

Each of the five VR installations feature a song taken from the Icelandic singer’s latest album, Vulnicura. They are more than simple music videos: each work offers a new perspective on the artist’s music that is simply impossible to experience anywhere else. For the most part, the installations are each about nine minutes long and can welcome 25 visitors at once.

“Black Lake” opens the exhibition. Using the Oculus Rift, a head-mounted VR display apparatus, and headphones, this installation takes the audience through the depths of a dark cave, where two screens are mounted against opposite walls of the cave. Each screen displays a different angle from which we can see Björk singing and dancing with disheartening emotion—at first sharing the same cave space, then moving to the outside world. “Black Lake” is a good piece to start with: it familiarizes the audience with Björk’s music, without it being overwhelming or too unsettling. The piece is almost peaceful, setting the mood for what is yet to come.

The following installation, “Stonemilker,” consists of a total 360-degree VR experience. In other words, we are immersed in the video. We can see the beach in which the video is set in no matter direction we turn. That aspect is explored heavily in the music video—as the song progresses, Björk keeps moving around the viewers, sometimes even duplicating herself and appearing at two, three or four places at once. Each of these representations of the singer are singular and do not imitate each other in movement—it becomes almost confusing at times, as you don’t know where to look and are afraid to miss something.

The last piece, “Family,” directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, is premiering in Montreal and distinguishes itself from the rest of the VR pieces in the project. The experience is different from the previous four, as “Family” is experienced in pairs rather than groups, and requires the viewer to be standing rather than sitting. “Family” is an interactive VR experience. Viewers are invited to walk around the space and grab things as they come to them, all while the landscape changes and the music progresses. This final piece is, without a doubt, the best of the five.

Björk Digital doesn’t limit itself to VR installations, though. The exhibition also presents Biophilia, a project which involves an app on which Björk’s album of the same name is featured along with educational activities relating each of the 10 songs to a scientific concept. Finally, the exhibition closes on Björk Cinema, a room where visitors are invited to sit on the floor and watch a continuous series of Björk’s previous music videos.

The exhibition, Björk Digital, is one of the various events being held in the city by the Red Bull Music Academy from Sept. 24 until Oct. 24. The exhibition is will be held at the DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art until Nov. 12.


What’s coming to the Festival du nouveau cinéma

A host of new and exciting films and the addition of virtual reality awaits

For a festival that is about to have its 45th edition, the Festival du nouveau cinéma (FNC) is stunningly youthful. It all makes sense when you realize its founder, Claude Chamberland, seems to care not for prestige, but for rejuvenation. If the once-glamorous Montreal World Film Festival has crumbled under the weight of ambition, the FNC has only prospered.

“As extensive as [the Toronto International Film Festival], but completely different,” is how Chamberland described the festival during the press conference that unveiled this newest edition. Filmmaking is constantly changing and adapting to the market, technological progress and cultural trends, among other factors. If it wants to remain worthy of its name, the FNC must adapt along with it—if not run ahead.

In this spirit, several new sections have been added to this year’s program—the most noteworthy of which is FNC eXPlore. Its mission is to promote new mediums, including virtual reality, which is becoming a mandatory component at film festivals—not to mention art galleries—around the world.

Installations will be free, with 45,000 visitors expected daily. Another new section, Les nouveaux alchimistes, is a space of expression for the most experimental filmmakers who bring cinema down to its essence as the marriage of sight and sound.

That is not to say that the FNC is oblivious to the past. This edition is dedicated to recently deceased filmmakers André Melançon, Jacques Rivette, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrzej Zulawski, Ronit Elkabetz and Donald Ranvaud. Retrospectives are planned in several sections, most notably decicated to the late Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski. Several screenings will also mark the 100th anniversary of the Dada movement, an avant garde art movement that took place in Europe in the early 20th century.

As always, the programming is remarkable for the range it offers. It is no exaggeration to say any viewer will find something that will suit their taste—from the short Carte blanche films that precede most screenings, to the long Lav Diaz’ award-winning 4-hour and 8-hour films, and from the most innocent of the P’tits loups section aimed at younger viewers, to the most adult, Temps Ø section, which this year offers several films that explore pornography.

Even if you couldn’t make it to the Cannes festival this year, you’ll soon have an opportunity to see arthouse films such as American Honey, Sieranevada, Aquarius, Toni Erdmann, The Handmaiden (with French subtitles), After the Storm and Gimme Danger. Other festival successes to be featured at the FNC are Kirill Serebrennikov’s The Student and Ivan I. Tverdovsky’s Zoology from Russia and Studio Ghibli’s co-production The Red Turtle from Belgium—a sure-fire future Oscar nominee. In other news, notorious Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl will make a rare overseas appearance to present his new film, Safari, and deliver a masterclass about the film.

The festival runs from Oct. 5 to 16, with screenings in many venues across the city. Stay tuned for The Concordian’s coverage. For information on prices and programming, visit

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