Immersive storytelling placing viewers beside refugees in boats, camps & detention centres

We WaitBBC Taster VR We Wait 2x3 is a BBC virtual reality collaboration with Aardman Animations places the viewer amongst a family on the beach and then on board a boat making the treacherous crossing from Turkey to Greece.

This example of immersive storytelling is being showcased at Sheffield Doc/Fest this week and is available to download on the BBC Taster website for anyone with a suitably equipped computer and an Oculus Rift headset.

BBC Taster VR We WaitThe BBC are experimenting with VR to understand how the medium may serve future audiences. BBC R&D development producer Becky Gregory-Clarke spoke to Broadcast Magazine this week about the commission. She was asked why the medium of animation was a good way to depict the refugee crisis?

“It’s a very weighty story, and it’s actually very hard to tell logistically. To get a reporter on the boat, to make the viewer feel like they’re there, that would be difficult. We were very keen to get it right so we hired BBC Radio 4 chief correspondent Matthew Price to supervise the story, which while fictional, is all based on real events and interviews.”

The refugee family acknowledge the viewer’s presence in the boat with delicate gestures.

“At different parts of the crossing, different family members tell you their experiences. It’s all based on eye contact. When you look at different characters they will respond to you individually. The interaction is very subtle but it gives you a real sense of being there.”

Another two interactive refugee-focussed works are showing at Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Home: Aamir is produced by the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio, and uses 360 footage to place the viewer into the middle of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp. Along with testimony from a real inhabitant of the camp, the immersive film takes the viewer on a journey through Sudan, Libya, across the Mediterranean, Italy and eventually France.

Invisible (Site Gallery/Arts Council England) depicts the end point of the journey as migrants are placed in the UK’s immigration detention system showing how people can end up stuck in a de-facto prison for years with an indefinite detention period.

Exodus Breaking into EuropeLater today there will be a screening of an episode from another BBC production at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Keo Films gave cameraphones to 75 migrants so they could capture some of the most perilous parts of their journeys that couldn’t otherwise be filmed. Exodus: Breaking Into Europe is a series of three sixty minute programmes that offers an extremely personal insight into journeys in dinghies from Turkey to Greece, in lorries entering Eurostar, and trucks crossing the Sahara. The producers describe it as “a terrifyingly intimate yet uniquely epic portrait of what has become the biggest story of the decade”. The series will be screened by the BBC later this year.

These productions follow on from early immersive journalism productions like Project Syria which explored the experience of children, both in Syria and in camps.