digiPLAYSPACE at tiff.kids

Possibly the Best $2.50 You’ll Ever Spend. Or so the greeter told us.

Read on to find out if it’s true…

This past weekend we unexpectedly took the kids to the TIFF Bell Lightbox for the tiff.kids International Film Festival, thanks to Hazel winning a contest in The Little Paper. In addition to seeing a movie, we also visited the companion exhibition digiPLAYSPACE – an interactive environment ‘where kids can immerse themselves in digital adventures’, as the programme ambitiously proclaims.

There are a lot of ‘for kids’ special exhibits these days; it has become mainstream to offer targeted programming for younger age groups. In many cases they fall short of the mark, often by a lot. It is quite a challenge to provide a quick experience that is engaging and challenging for a cross section of kids of varying ages, and ‘interactive’ all too often means simply ‘computer based’, offering mediocre fare that is similar, or even identical, to that which is available on a personal computer via the world wide web.

It’s true that providing an interactive component alongside tiff.kids is a great idea. Having a hands-on activity to complement the in-theatre experience is a good foil; active and passive experiences mix well. Here are a few things that set digiPLAYSPACE apart from the usual me-too experiences for kids:

  • Each station is attended by knowledgeable technician-artists who in many cases are the creators or operators of the experience. This is not a turn-key event. This unusual level of interpretation and mediation of the activities is likely due to the arts-oriented nature of the festival; everybody involved is very passionate and there is also volunteer participation.
  • The technologies employed are in the sweet spot somewhere between ‘cutting edge’ and ‘early adopter’. Exotic enough to be fascinating, but far enough along the development trajectory that they may be making an appearance in your home in the not-too-distant future.
  • At each station, kids get the chance to get directly involved, hands-on, and really see what these systems can do. It’s very accessible, and with a few exceptions most of the experiences are suitable for young kids (my son is four and got right into them) right up through to adults like yours truly.

Funky Forest
A ‘virtual ecosystem’ where users interactively control a life-giving flow of water and spawn new trees by casting tree shaped shadows into the forest. It really works, and effectively illustrates the idea of a complex time-based system with multiple variables, as in nature.

Room Racers
This is kind of like TRON right in your living room. Drive virtual race cars through a maze of real objects. Watch your car (made of projected light) bounce off real objects that you have arranged on the floor.

Micro-Makers Faire (ages 9 and up)
Tiny robots, electronic crafts and more. Be sure to check out the Thing-O-Matic from MakerBot Industries – an affordable 3D printer for home experimenters. This is a machine that can make pretty much any object out of plastic, working from 3D computer models you can create yourself or download from libraries on the internet. I will not be at all surprised to see 3D printers everywhere in a few years, the way that 2D home printing exploded with the advent of the inkjet printer, and the way you can now buy those little radio controlled helicopters at mall kiosks everywhere. The Thing-O-Matic is still a specialty hobby product, but it sells for an astonishing price of about $1,200.00 or so, around the same amount that good laser printer cost not that long ago.

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Other exhibits include Sandde 3D Drawing, Adventures in Sound, a Stop-Motion Animation Studio and a Green Screen experience. There is also the TIFF Kids Appcade (iPads) & Vinci (tablets for the 5-and-under crowd), but try these last two only once you’ve had your fill of the rest. The kids might gravitate to them, but this is the kind of stuff you can do at home.

As the title of the post states, the admission fee for digiPLAYSPACE may indeed be the best $2.50 you’ll ever spend on this kind of experience. To get that preferred rate, you must also see a film, otherwise the price skyrockets $5.00. The package we were lucky enough to win included both digiPLAYSPACE and a movie, so we chose The Great Bear (Dan Kaempestore Bjorn), directed by Esben Toft Jacobsen, Denmark, 2011, 75 minutes, Danish w/English subtitles, Rated G. My son watched with rapt attention through the entire movie with only two verbal cues from me: “the boy is going to visit his grandfather” at the start of the film, and “grandpa says the Great Forest is full of dangerous creatures” during the initial story exposition – and even that was probably unnecessary, as the story unfolded so beautifully onscreen that dialogue was largely redundant.

Take your kids (or borrow some) and go check out digiPLAYSPACE before it is over. And don’t forget to see a film while you’re at it.

digiPLAYSPACE at tiff.kids International Film Festival
April 10-22 Only
$2.50 with movie admission, or $5.00 without

Plan ahead. Advance reservations are required for digiPLAYSPACE (and for the films). Admission to the interactive area is timed, and capacity is limited within the space. The quality of the activities will be better during less busy periods. Allow about one-and-a-half hours for the full experience.

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