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Art meets technology in a transformative installation at Luminato 2016. Circa 1948, co-created by the NFB and Stan Douglas and presented in association with TIFF® and Luminato, makes its Toronto Premiere.



June 3, 2016 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

From June 10 to 26, audiences in Toronto can step into the shadows of the postwar era through Circa 1948, a groundbreaking and immersive interactive storyworld co-created by the National Film Board of Canada’s award-winning Digital Studio and internationally acclaimed artist Stan Douglas. The installation, which was likened to a “time machine” by Lily Rothman in Time Magazine, is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Audience members interact with ravishing visuals by award-winning photo and film artist Stan Douglas while they try to unravel the secrets hidden in an ancient hotel and a notorious Vancouver back alley. Presented in association with TIFF, Circa 1948 is a rare example of art meeting technology to create an expansive artistic universe.

If the purpose of art is to reflect the unique social concerns and structures of its era, then the experimental nature of Circa 1948 can be seen as a daring attempt to evolve a new visual and narrative language. The project makes use of today’s technologies to offer multiple entry points into an imagined world of the past: Vancouver as it might have been in 1948. Through a mix of stunning visuals and provocative snippets of dialogue, history is brought back to life in a suggestive manner that implicates the past in our present day-to-day reality.

Also available as an iOS app, Circa 1948 is a multi-platform project that recognizes interactive, web-based or cross-platform approaches to story creation. The public is invited to live the Circa 1948 installation experience from June 10 to 26 at the Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue—the hub of this year’s exciting Luminato Festival.

The Circa 1948 Storyworld Components

An interactive projection-mapped installation and live event at the Luminato Festival

While the app offers a viewport to the past, the interactive projection-mapped installation celebrating Circa 1948’s Toronto premiere allows audiences to literally step into the past and experience this immersive virtual reality on a larger scale. The users’ bodies become the interface that interacts with the storyworld, which then responds to them in real time. The installation highlights key historical locations and stories, breaking down the barriers between art, technology and experience.

An iOS app

Through photorealistic 3D illustrations based on Stan Douglas’s extensive historical research, the Circa 1948 app takes audiences on a narrative journey of discovery through two vibrant communities struggling in a time of unforgiving change. Users will encounter conversations between the ghosts of postwar Vancouver, BC, a rain-soaked city divided along lines of race and income, and a place where “urban renewal” is claiming its first victims. This expansive artistic universe asks its audience members to put aside their traditional notions of linear narrative in favour of a deliberate, self-guided technique that yields a more nuanced picture of the world. Here, users can choose to enter one of two carefully recreated locations: an old hotel in Vancouver’s affluent West Side, then squatted by homeless war veterans, or the muddy streets of ethnically diverse Hogan’s Alley in the working-class East Side, populated by racial minorities, gamblers, prostitutes and corrupt police officers.

By pushing the limits of 3D rendering on the tablet, using binaural sound with touch and gyroscope-driven  navigation modes, and running it all on an independent, Canadian-made, open-source rendering engine to control what is essentially an art experience, it’s safe to say that Circa 1948 distinguishes itself as a truly groundbreaking work.

Circa 1948 takes Stan Douglas’s historically based recombinant storytelling into the interactive world. By combining digital 3D models, a real-time 3D engine and gyroscope-driven navigation, Douglas and co-creator Loc Dao (Executive Producer/Creative Technologist for the NFB) have managed to simplify the interface to such an extent that the experience comes close to being transparent and immersive. Other key NFB team members include producers Selwyn Jacob and Dana Dansereau and project director Kelly Richard Fennig.

Circa 1948 for iPad and iPhone is available free of charge from the App Store.


Circa 1948 is an incredible virtual reality experience, one that utilizes cutting-edge technology to bring Canada’s history and stories to life. Projects like this are allowing us at the NFB to help push the envelope in new forms of storytelling and position Canada on the leading edge of interactive media creation. I’m excited that we can now bring the Circa 1948 experience to Toronto. Thanks to our partners TIFF and Luminato for helping to make possible the Toronto premiere of this great collaboration between acclaimed Vancouver digital artist Stan Douglas and the NFB’s Digital Studio.”

–      Claude Joli-Coeur, Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson

“Creating Circa 1948 with Stan was a transformative experience. It challenges the status quo in storytelling; what an app should do, what VR could be. The decision to use gaming technology  results in an incredible mixture of artistry and technical innovation.”

–      Loc Dao, Circa 1948 co-creator and Chief Digital Officer & Executive Director, Programming and Production, NFB Interactive Studios

“Art is good for two things. One is to let you see things that you thought you understood in a different way. The other is to give you an experience you can’t have any other way.”

– Stan Douglas, Circa 1948 co-creator

“I’ve been fascinated by Stan Douglas’s work ever since I first saw it in Berlin, almost 20 years ago. It is not only time-based but also deals with time, the idea of history and storytelling. His films are sculptures of history and stories that unfold in them. To be able to work with the National Film Board of Canada and TIFF for this year’s Luminato Festival and to present a new work of Douglas’s for the first time in Toronto, is such an unexpected gift for the festival and the citizens of Toronto. It is wonderful that a space like the Hearn Generating Station inspired this kind of a collaboration between such different cultural organizations in Canada,” says Jorn Weisbrodt, Artistic Director, Luminato Festival

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the NFB to present Stan Douglas’ Circa 1948 at Luminato this year,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival. “As a renowned Canadian artist, Douglas has once-again masterfully merged the worlds of art and digital technology to create a transformative, interactive experience visitors will be fully immersed in and inspired by. As TIFF continues to reach new heights within the digital landscape, Circa 1948 is the perfect way to launch TIFF’s summer VR installations.”


Associated Links

Luminato Festival
NFB App Store

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Media Relations

  • About the NFB

    The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is one of the world’s leading digital content hubs, creating groundbreaking interactive documentaries and animation, mobile content, installations and participatory experiences. NFB interactive productions and digital platforms have won over 100 awards, including 21 Webbys. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.

  • About Luminato Festival

    Luminato Festival is Toronto’s global multi-arts festival dedicated to performance, visual art, music, theatre, dance, magic and more. In 2016, the Festival marks its 10th anniversary from June 10 to 26 with a free and ticketed program of Canadian and international artists delivering adventurous art in adventurous places. In its first decade, Luminato has become one of the preeminent arts festivals in North America, having commissioned close to 100 new works of art, with more than 3,000 performances featuring 11,000 artists from over 40 countries. This June, as part of its first-ever residency, Luminato will temporarily transform the Hearn Generating Station, an epic decommissioned power plant and one of Toronto’s unique industrial landmarks, into the world’s largest multi-arts centre under one roof with a theatre, music stage, site-specific performance space, restaurants, bars and more.  Curated by Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt and led by CEO Anthony Sargent, Luminato Festival is a charitable, not-for-profit, cultural organization. #TurnOnTheHearn


  • About TIFF

    TIFF is a charitable cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world, through film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film Festival in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and entertainment facilities; and innovative national distribution program Film Circuit. The organization generates an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors including Founding Sponsor Bell, the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, the City of Toronto, the Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels), The Daniels Corporation and RBC. For more information, visit tiff.net.