Back in April, VICE travelled to Shoal Lake 40 and Cross Lake, two isolated Indigenous communities in Canada's north. The people of Cross Lake were dealing with a wave of suicides, while many First Nations across the country were suffering from a lack of clean drinking water—some living under boil water advisories for decades. The resulting documentary,Cut-Off, highlighted both the struggle and hope in these communities. As part of the doc, we brought Canada's newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau face-to-face with these realities during an historic visit to Shoal Lake 40.
The Cut-Off interactive 360 VR documentary brings viewers further into the lives and landscapes of Shoal Lake 40 and Cross Lake, giving users 100 different ways to experience the people we met and the communities in which they live. As Cut-Off host Sarain Carson-Fox explains, "The audience is given the opportunity to see exactly how Prime minister Justin Trudeau reacts to being fully immersed in Shoal Lake 40, bearing witness to the effects of a broken relationship between First Nations peoples and the government, and what that means for the daily lives of Indigenous people across Canada."
"The first time I have ever experienced VR was when I screened Cut-Off," says Carson-Fox. "I put the headset on with no idea what to expect, and then I was there, in Shoal Lake 40. I found myself looking for all the details, because I could in fact see everything in VR that I saw that day. It's a total trip to be fully immersed in that way."Occupied VR director J. Lee Williams, who developed the Cut-Off experience, says that they developed a "Gaze Triggering System that allows users to customize their experience and create a viewing path that is based on their interests. The story expands and contracts and can run anywhere from 11-20 mins."
"I have a very strong reaction when I watch this film," adds Carson-Fox. "It's so hard to look into the eyes of the young people. You can see the effects of this abuse, the inter-generational trauma. But you can also see the light, the determination and the resilience. It is because of this, beauty, this courage and this strength that I was able to tell my story as well. Together, we are honouring our past to bring change for a brighter future, not only for the first peoples of this land, but for all Canadians."