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Experience a transformed Toronto as Indigenous futurism comes to life, September 18–24. NFB’s Biidaaban: First Light offers a stunning virtual reality vision of the city’s future from Nathan Phillips Square.


(Image provided by the NFB)

August 23, 2018 – Toronto – National Film Board of Canada

Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square is flooded. Its infrastructure has merged with the local fauna; mature trees grow through cracks in the sidewalks and vines cover south-facing walls. People commute via canoe and grow vegetables on skyscraper roofs. Urban life is thriving—and so are the languages of the Wendat, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) and Anishinaabe (Ojibway), this land’s first peoples.

From September 18 to 24, Torontonians and visitors alike can explore this extraordinary vision of Indigenous futurism as the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) virtual reality work Biidaaban: First Light has its Canadian premiere in Nathan Phillips Square, in a custom-built installation featuring five individual stations with VR headsets.

This event is free for the public. For hours of operation and info on reserving a free spot, visit nfb.ca/BiidaabanTO. Tickets are available starting September 11.

Produced by the NFB and presented in collaboration with the City of Toronto and the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, Biidaaban: First Light is an interactive VR experience by award-winning Anishinaabe artist Lisa Jackson, 3D artist Mathew Borrett, digital design and production agency Jam3 and the NFB’s Digital Studio. The project brings the two Toronto-based artists together with one of Toronto’s leading digital agencies and the NFB.

Toronto’s landmark square is the setting for this awe-inspiring work that’s already wowed users at New York’s Tribeca film festival, earlier this year.

“Biidaaban” is an Anishinaabemowin word that means “the first light before dawn.” It also refers to the idea of the past and future collapsing in on the present. Biidaaban: First Light asks users to think about their place in history and their role in a possible future, as they move through a highly realistic Toronto reclaimed by nature. Gaze-based interactions allow users to engage with the languages of the place originally known as Tkaronto—providing a framework for understanding our place in a reconciled version of Canada’s largest urban environment.

Biidaaban: First Light is the first interactive, room-scale VR work by Jackson, whose award-winning fiction and documentary films have screened at such festivals as Berlin, Hot Docs, SXSW and London BFI. To create Biidaaban: First Light, Borrett used architectural drawings of Toronto to bring to life a future version of the city at scale, in a remarkably realistic user experience.

Biidaaban: First Light will be presented again in Toronto, later this fall, at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, October 17 to 21.

Biidaaban: First Light is produced by Dana Dansereau and Rob McLaughlin from the NFB. The executive producer is Rob McLaughlin, who is also the head of the Digital Studio in Vancouver.


Biidaaban: First Light is a profound accomplishment by a talented team,” said creator Lisa Jackson. “This future Toronto is concrete and it is magic and it opens a window onto the depth and complexity of the first languages of this place. It is a poem to my birth city, a place of contradictions and possibilities, and a place that is still Indigenous.”

“The NFB has a long history of exploring new technologies and their creative potential to engage Canadians with story and art that challenges our perceptions. Lisa, Mathew and the team behind Biidaaban have created an exceptional opportunity for the people of Toronto to consider our past and experience a radically different city of tomorrow. This is our first VR installation in Toronto open to the public in the open air, and we are excited to have the square become the stage for this remarkable project,” said Rob McLaughlin, executive producer, NFB Digital Studio.

“The City of Toronto is proud to partner with the NFB and imagineNATIVE on a project that highlights both Indigenous culture and the strength of Toronto’s augmented and virtual reality production sectors,” said Mayor John Tory. “We are very pleased to be able to host this important work on Nathan Phillips Square, enriching the experience for audiences.”

“Lisa Jackson has a long history with imagineNATIVE and we are incredibly pleased to partner with the NFB and the City to present this stunning work,” said Jason Ryle, imagineNATIVE’s Artistic & Managing Director. “She is a visionary artist and this work is another significant achievement in her career.”

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. Since 1968, the NFB has produced more than 280 works by First Nations, Métis and Inuit creators—an unparalleled collection that pushes past dominant narratives and provides Indigenous perspectives to Canadian and global audiences. Guided by the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the NFB has announced a three-year plan that will redefine its relationship with Indigenous peoples, with actions that include devoting a minimum of 15 percent of overall production spending to Indigenous-led productions and making its Indigenous collection more accessible via a new destination on NFB.ca and its apps for mobile devices.


There will be a media preview in Nathan Phillips Square on September 18, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Media previews at the NFB’s Toronto studio prior to September 18 are available by request.

Related Products

Electronic Press Kit | Images, trailers, synopsis: Biidaaban: First Light

Associated Links

Nathan Phillips Square
City of Toronto
imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Media Relations

For the City of Toronto
Shane Gerard
City of Toronto Strategic Communications

For imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival
Soufian Jalili
Communications Manager

For the NFB
Jennifer Mair
NFB Publicist
C.: 416-436-0105
j.mair@nfb.ca | @NFB_Jennifer

Lily Robert
Director, Communications and Public Affairs, NFB
Cell: 514-296-8261 | E-mail: l.robert@nfb.ca