A new virtual reality film from the United Nations bridges the gap between reading about an earthquake and experiencing the effects of its devastation firsthand. Directed by UN creative director Gabo Arora and produced by Ari Palitz and Here Be Dragons, Ground Beneath Her follows 14-year-old blacksmith's daughter and aspiring doctor Sabita's life in a rural Nepal village still reeling from the 2015 earthquake that left nearly 9,000 people dead, 22,000 injured, and 3,000,000 displaced.
Through Sabita's struggle to piece her life back together and persue an education, viewers see how the 7.8 Mw quake still hangs over Nepal's 7,000,000+ citizens living in the impovershed countryside. "We chose this story to highlight the continued struggles of people after natural disasters and crisis, especially as it moves out of the news cycle and public attention shifts elsewhere," Arora tells The Creators Project. "There is so much evidence of these crisis having a long term effect on people, as recovery is never immediate and often slow and arduous."
The VR documentaries you may have heard of, such as Clouds Over Sidra or The New York Times' The Displaced, focus on an issue that makes headlines weekly: the refugee crisis. With Ground Beneath Her, Arora asserts the importance of a story's life after it's replaced by the next breaking headline. "I also went to Nepal three days after to film First Responder: Nepal and immediately felt that releasing this film without a follow up was exploitative," he says. "I decided then that we needed to go back and follow up a year later and really show people that their caring and assistance is needed throughout the lifecycle of a recovery effort. Some of which takes years. It may not be in the news, but it still matters."
Ground Beneath Her arrives in the context of Arora's push to use VR as a way for the UN to communicate better. Delegates have approached him about developing films about the issues in their home countries. He worked directly with the United Nations Development Programme to make the latest effort. "They wanted to showcase Nepal as it’s still a big priority for them and hard to motivate people after these disaster cycles," he says. Potential donors and volunteers simply pay less attention after the aftershocks have died down, even as the need for them persists.
The film will be used in conferences and meetings with political leaders—a domain where VR is proven to increase action. Arora's hope is that an immersive look will reainmate the story will after the news organizations have packed up their cameras and gone home. "Ground Beneath Her aims to go deeper in this regard. It shows the fragility of dreams and the incredible resiliency of people—even children."
Watch Ground Beneath Her by downloading the UNVR app here.