ImagineNATIVE VR imagines Indigenous lives in 150 years

Annual Indigenous film festival, ImagineNATIVE has introduced a virtual reality media series looking into the future. 2167 features four VR experiences all created by different teams, all with their own interpretation of how life might look for Indigenous people 150 years into the future.

Rather than looking into the past 150 years, virtual reality series set out to look 150 years into the future

2167: Indigenous Storytelling in VR panel lead by Jason Ryle, Artistic Director of imagineNATIVE's Festival, featuring Scott Benesiinaabandan, Raven Chacon and Denis Goulet. (Rhiannon Johnson)

Instead of looking at the past 150 years, annual Indigenous film festival ImagineNATIVE has introduced a virtual reality media series looking into the future.

2167 features four VR experiences all created by different teams, each with its own interpretation of how life might look for Indigenous people 150 years into the future.  

Each of the experiences runs between five and six minutes, and can be enjoyed using a VR headset and headphones.

York University student Katelyn Bartlett experiences virtual reality for the first time. (Rhiannon Johnson)

"So much of Canada 150 was celebrated on the past 150 years. We though right, no, that's just not what we're going to do. Let's look forward, let's look ahead 150 years," said Jason Ryle, artistic director of imagineNATIVE's festival.

He introduced the 2167 project in a panel discussion in Toronto Wednesday, the festival's third day.

Three of the Indigenous filmmakers and artists who were commissioned to create virtual reality projects for the festival participated, reflecting on the cultural and artistic challenges of their experiences in producing these projects.

"The artist story creation in virtual reality, offers a point of view and a presence of space and environment that may be the closest yet to Indigenous oral story telling practice," said Ryle.

"As a sci-fi and comic book nerd I was always fascinated by our culture's ideas and stories of the future. Very often growing up you heard stories which were prophesies or omens, if you would want to call them that, that were really didactic teachings of how to live today for a better future," said Ryle.

'Freedom to imagine anything'

The four experiences come together to cast a glance 150 years into the future, drawing from different cultural backgrounds and creative processes.

"For us as artists we have the freedom to imagine anything and that's a beautiful thing," said Danis Goulet.

Goulet's film The Hunt is a dystopian look into the future that was filmed on Six Nations featuring a full Mohawk cast and also spoken in the language.

"When I set out to do the project I thought, it would be so cool if we did a utopian view of the future. And then Trump got elected," said Goulet.  

"So I had to go dystopian, which is fun anyway. It is honestly just a slight exaggeration of the dystopia that we're seeing right now in this era. There are really scary things happening," she added.

Goulet's project looks at a family who is out hunting on the land when an orb, which is seen as the policing body, intervenes.

"What imagineNATIVE so beautifully fosters is a whole fleet of us that are going to bring the power of our imagination and really take back what's ours," said Goulet.

The three other films all present their own unique idea of the future.

Other experiences include Kent Monkman's Honour Dance, Scott Benesiinaabandan's Blueberry Pie Under the Martian Sky, and Each Branch Determined, by the interdisciplinary arts collective Postcommodity, which is based in the Southwestern United States.

VR as a teaching tool

The 2167 exhibition looks beyond the use of VR as a source of entertainment, and towards using the technology as a teaching tool.

"It was an intense visual experience. I felt like you could never get enough of the same scene and you're constantly trying to get a 360 to get your bearings. But it was definitely really cool to see," said Katelyn Bartlett.

Bartlett, who is majoring in Indigenous studies and visual arts at York University, had never experienced VR before. She chose to watch Goulet's experience, The Hunt.

"I never thought to connect VR with learning with Indigenous histories and stories together. But after seeing this it's pretty awesome. I'd love to see it for the students in the classroom and for them to be able to experience it, that would be really awesome," she added.

2167 is running in Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox atrium until Dec. 31. There is also a 12-stop tour across Canada from Oct. 25 to Dec. 21. 

About the Author

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.