Image courtesy of Vrse.works
Virtual reality is a great medium for evoking empathy and relating personal stories, and as such, it's a medium that's been embraced by no less than the United Nations. The organization, along with virtual reality production company, Vrse.works, has released a series of powerful documentaries using VR filmmaking and storytelling. The films are able to immerse the viewer into worlds they only read about or see on the news.
The films have charted the plight of men, women, and children inside a Syrian refufee camp in Jordan, related the story of an ebola survivor in the slums of Liberia's captial, and in the latest, explore the hardships of life in Gaza.
My Mother’s Wing was created by UN advisor Gabo Arora, who worked on the other two films, along with Vrse.works' Ari Palitz and Chris Milk, and produced by Samantha Storr and Patrick Milling Smith. The idea is to show the "challenges and heartbreak of living on the Gaza strip."
That heartbreak comes from following a mother, Om Osama, who suffered the horrific loss of two young sons when a school was shelled during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, resulting in 21 people being killed. We follow Osama around as she narrates what life is like living behind the walls of the West Bank. She talks about how she used to work at a kindergarten and live a simple life, as we see her hang up washing or drive to market in her husband's car. It's shows their endurance amidst a fractured place that could at any moment erupt into a war zone. Homes are destroyed, rebuilt, and then destroyed again. In June 2014, they were advised to take shelter in a school, and that's when she lost her two boys.
"At the UN, we consistently strive to bring citizens’ perspectives into the decision making process anyway possible,” says Gabo Arora. “By leveraging breakthrough technologies, such as virtual reality, we can create solidarity with those who are normally excluded and overlooked, amplifying their voices and explaining their situations."
Image courtesy of Vrse.works
In the film, Osama explains how the loss has affected them; her middle son has been particularly scarred by it, his schoolwork suffers and he wakes with nightmares. But along with their grief the film also shows how Osama is coming to terms with the tragedy and looking to the future, even when it looks bleak. "This circle of violence may know no end," she says. "We are patient and life will go on."
"On the surface, My Mother’s Wing is about a woman coping with the loss of her two children after an Israeli air strike bombed a UN school," Vrse.works co-founder, Patrick Milling Smith, says in the press release. "She attends support groups, spends more time with her remaining children, and frets over their psychological fragility. Beneath the surface, however, it is about identifying the factors that contribute to cycles of violence, and how to disrupt them. The mission of our VR series with the UN is to create awareness and empathy for these situations and events. Shooting this film in Gaza feels like a watershed moment in VR. Giving people access to one of the most cut off, polarizing and politized places in the world is important. Our hope is that this film can also be about healing and hope. A mother’s story is universal.”
The film can be viewed in 360 video, Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard and is free to view on the Vrse app.