Is virtual reality the new frontier for human rights filmmakers?
Human rights and activist filmmakers talk about how VR can be a powerful tool to force underreported conflicts or forgotten issues into the public consciousness.
You hear the roar of planes flying overhead, then an explosion that shakes the ground you’re standing on. You can’t see above the edge of the cramped foxhole you’re hiding in, but you can feel that was too close for comfort. You look around and in every direction you see the terrified faces of children crouching next to you. There’s nothing you can do, you can’t move, you’re trapped and vulnerable – just like everyone else.
This is a scene from We Who Remain, a groundbreaking piece of virtual reality journalism that puts you in the centre of a little-known active conflict zone in Sudan’s Nuba mountains, where rebel fighters and civilians face a deadly stream of attacks by government forces. Directed by Trevor Snapp and Sam Wolson, We Who Remain is one of the powerful activist and human rights films in the virtual reality strand at the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Northern Greece.
Socially-engaged filmmakers are increasingly turning to VR to help them force issues into the public consciousness which have gone ignored or under-reported in the mainstream media; from highlighting conflicts in forgotten parts of the world to refocusing attention on humanitarian challenges, like the refugee crisis. In the era of passive news feed grazing and fake news, the 360-degree, sensory and immersive experience of VR is hailed as an ‘empathy builder’ that can break through our chronically short attention spans. But as the novelty of the technology wears off, can VR remain a powerful tool to connect audiences to crucial issues?
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