My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Immersive and interactive Love

There are two differing opinions on the wisdom of attending a movie on a date. Some feel it is unwise because there is little personal interaction while one's eyes are glued to the big screen. Others feel safer having a distraction, just in case things aren't going so well or conversation is awkward - apres-film there will at least be something to discuss. 

But what if the film was preceded by an environmental experience that the audience becomes a part of? Where if there is action, interacting performers and an extravagantly designed space to explore? And copious amounts of beer and wine to loosen the inhibitions? Suddenly the date/film becomes an adventure and 360 ScreeningsLove promises to up the romantic factor.

The film is, as always, kept a secret until the audience/participants arrive at the venue. The venue itself is a closely guarded secret until 24 hours before the doors open, but is, by tradition, a heritage building decorated to riff on the film. Love is actually not aimed just at couples explains Ned Loach who is half of the duo who created and oversees the 360 Screenings. "I'm a huge Halloween fan," he explains, "But it's one thing to create an environment to scare an audience. Artistically it means more to me to create an environment to encourage new ways to love the one they came with or are searching for. It's great for a first date or to meet people. This structure is for groups of friends or loving couples or even those who come alone."

Loach and his partner, in life and 360, Robert Gontier have themselves been happily married for three years, so the Valentine's Day-themed screenings have extra meaning. "I myself lean more towards films that are romance and drama," says Loach. Perhaps that is because the pair met in a manner right out of a rom-com. "I was interning with Smile Theatre, a company that tours to seniors' homes. Robbie, who is a playwright, was commissioned to write a show for them. I was there only two days a week and Robbie happened to come in for a meeting on one of them. He turned around. We made eye contact. He searched me out on Facebook, there aren't that many Neds, and we started chatting and . . ." Loach laughs, "I owe it all to Facebook."

Working so hard on the 360 Screenings has only enhanced their relationship. "We both have a passion for the arts and these events. Robbie's background is in theatre, mine is in film and events management. Two different skill sets. But we do have a strict rule: any time after 5pm, we don't talk about 360 Screenings." I check my watch and feel instantly guilty. It's 7pm and I feel like a homewrecker.

It's not the only time they've broken that rule. "I'm happy any time I can spend more time with Robbie," says Loach. "Our quiet times are even better. But at the end of the night after a screening its great to sit in an empty environment that's still decorated and . . ." 

The last Valentine's 360 Screenings was the classic and quirky love story, Amelie. Loach cannot be persuaded or tricked into revealing this year's film but he does reveal one clue. "We're only having three screenings this time because the venue is larger. And it's going to end in one big, crazy party." And with Love in the air, no-one will be leaving alone.

360 Screenings' Love is on Fri, Feb 7 and Sat, Feb 8.