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Cleveland International Film Festival Becomes Immersive

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The 40th Cleveland International Film Festival opens Wednesday at Tower City, and for the first time it will include virtual reality.

The Film Fest began in 1977 with eight movies. This year, it will host about 200 feature films over 12 days. And in a separate part of Tower City, an empty storefront will become an immersive experience.

Associate Director Patrick Shepherd says most of the content at the Film Fest is now digital, and the new interactive exhibit, called “Perspectives,” is the first step toward new ways filmmakers can create content on multiple platforms.

“It’s almost like we’re talking [the] Atari Pong video game a la early 1970s. The technology is just going to get better every year. And of course, the smartphones are going have greater capacity as it goes along as well. ... The virtual technology headsets that we have [are] basically unlocked Samsung 6 phones.

“So this is not just a pretty kaleidoscope of colors that you’re watching; you are put in the place of a Syrian refugee and what that’s like as an experience.”

Shepherd says the Film Fest will also feature web content for the first time: audiences will be able to watch a webisode on the big screen at Tower City Cinema, then go online to see future episodes.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.