What if, instead of watching a news broadcast about the latest protest, you could walk into it?
Digital artist and video director Chris Milk, filmmaker and VICE creative director Spike Jonze, and VICE News have partnered to do just that, producing the first-ever virtual reality news broadcast, and bringing a new dimension — literally — to coverage of the recent protests against police killings.
The film — "VICE News VR: Millions March" — takes viewers into the December 13 rally that saw 60,000 protesters descend on the streets of New York to demand greater police accountability. The experiment will premiere on the new VRSE app developed by Milk to distribute virtual reality experiences, and will be unveiled Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.
In the video, VICE News correspondent Alice Speri follows marchers as they fill Washington Square Park with signs and banners, block traffic on Broadway, and lie down in the middle of the street in a "die-in" demonstration.
Captured by a 360-degree camera system that was kept in constant motion, the film allows the audience to see, hear, and feel the news.
"Chris and I have been talking a lot about the possibilities and future of VR filmmaking over the last year," Jonze said. "One of the areas we are excited about is documentary and news, to create the experience of being there in the middle of events that are happening."
Protests against police racism and impunity flared up following the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. The demonstrations quickly spread across the country, including to New York, where thousands took to the streets to protest the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man killed by a police officer's chokehold, and other officer-involved fatalities. The Millions March followed the announcements that the officers responsible for the deaths of Brown and Garner would not be indicted.
"Living in New York this fall and feeling these spontaneous protests against police brutality that have been forming and growing, it seemed like this was the most timely and important subject to go shoot," Jonze said. "When we got the footage back and watched it on the goggles, I was so moved by what we had. I had this feeling of being very fortunate to be at the beginning of an entirely new storytelling medium."
Milk's VRSE app is the first of its kind, and will allow audiences to download a growing selection of curated VR content designed to be viewed in a full 360-degree 3D virtual space. It will eventually be available on all VR headsets, and will be available in the iTunes and the Google Play stores.
"My hope is that VR is the tool we need to stir more compassion for one another," said Milk. "I think VR holds the potential to fundamentally change journalism."
VICE recently invested in VRSE, Milk's VR company, and the "Millions March" film is the first in a planned series of new VR journalism projects the two will pursue together. For the last several months, VICE News has covered the growing protests against police brutality, bringing viewers live streams and dispatches from New York City and Ferguson, Missouri.