360 Film Experience Comes to Toronto

Audiences are expected to be active participants when immersive cinema is introduced to Toronto by 360 Screenings on May 25, 2012. Created by Ned Loach and Robert Gontier, this film screening merges the worlds of cinema and immersive theatre to produce a truly unique experience.

Immersive theatre, which involves audience interaction with the actors and setting, is not new. But what Loach and Gontier are introducing to Toronto from Europe is immersive cinema, which brings together two different forms of art: film and theatre.

Loach and Gontier first experienced immersive cinema in England three years ago. Gontier was studying at the University of London and earned a master’s degree in voice studies.  The first immersive cinema screening they experienced was a production of the 1987 Wim Wenders film, Wings of Desire.

“I like to be inspired from the work that I’m seeing even if it’s on the stage or from an atmosphere perspective,” said Gontier, who has an extensive theatrical background. He has undergraduate degree from Ryerson University’s BFA acting program and is currently a professor at Sheridan College’s music theatre program. “From what I saw from the screenings in Europe was a whole interactive experience that I haven’t seen before in Canada.”

“You’re transported to a different world essentially because you’re going from your everyday life into this whole different world that’s been entirely staged to reflect the film,” said Loach, who studied arts administration at Humber College and theatre producing at the Commercial Theatre Institute in New York.

The first portion of the event will involve the audience interacting with actors, who are playing the roles of the film’s characters. The audience is encouraged to participate as if they were extras in a film scene. “If they’re comfortable with creating conversation with the actors, then all the power to them,” said Loach. “If they feel more comfortable just standing off to the side and just observing, then that’s totally okay as well.”

To make things even more intriguing, the audience will not be told the title of the film they will be watching in the second portion of the night. It will be their challenge to figure out what film they are in. Gontier hints that it is “a beloved film from the last 30 years.”

“What I really liked about the experience is not knowing what movie you’re going to watch,” said Loach. “The second half, when you do realize what kind of film you’re watching, there’s a real sense of making the connections of what you just experienced in the first half with the film you’re recognizing.”

This event, which will be the first of three different film screenings planned for this year, took years of development before it finally launched in January. Loach and Gontier were involved in all aspects of production such as casting the actors, obtaining licensing for film rights, and getting support from local sponsors.

There is no specific age group, but the promotion for this event has been to appeal to the theatre and film community of Toronto. For those interested, you can still sign up at 360 Screening’s website. (http://www.360screenings.com/register) The venue will have a capacity of 175 people.

Loach and Gontier have hopes that immersive cinema will become a mainstream trend. “Once we do the first one, it will start to create a community of film-theatre going experience,” said Gontier. “I hope it grows to something that more people can come and enjoy.”

They will consider their debut a success if the audience responses positively and will want to return for the next screening. “Number one primarily, we want to make sure that the audience in this first event experiences something new in a creative way and that they take away that experience with them,” said Gontier. “We hope that it will become a regular thing and that this sort of event will catch on and a positive word will spread.”

Loach hopes it will also encourage non-film or theatre lovers to try a new experience. “Getting people who don’t usually get a chance to go out to theatre and to films,” said Loach. “Having them to come out and say it was a really fun day would be one thing we’re hoping to achieve.”

The unpredictable interaction between the actors and the audience is what most excites Gontier. “When things are interactive you never really know how they’re going to go until the event of,” he said. “That’s what makes it so alive and so invigorating.”

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Ryerson University Journalism student, Muggle, Gleek, Career Tribute and film enthusiast.