Virtual reality films show the plight of refugees

Four new 360-degree virtual reality documentaries have been made for Medicins Sans Frontieres, the international medical humanitarian organisation, to tell the story of people who have been forcibly displaced.

The four films from London-based VR production studio Visualise are part of an interactive exhibition called Forced From Home which launched earlier this month at Photoville, an annual photographic event in New York City.

Visitors to the exhibit will see what life is like in refugee camps, crossing treacherous seas, and on the lengthy and dangerous migratory routes used by people uprooted by war or persecution. Guided by MSF aid workers, visitors will also have the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from the field and view materials gathered from refugee camps, rescue missions and emergency medical projects.

The start of the exhibit features a 30-foot-diameter Igloo dome where visitors view a projected, immersive film which transports them to Greece, Tanzania, Mexico, South Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon, all countries dealing with migration, displacement or refugee crisis.

Visitors are then led through six scenarios focusing on the cause of displacement, the journey to safety, the legal status of displaced persons, basic needs and unique medical requirements among people on the move, and issues surrounding shelter and housing.

As part of a more in-depth tour, visitors are given the opportunity to watch up to three 10-minute documentaries which show the personal journeys of three separate migrants from Tanzania, Iraq and Mexico. These stories are viewed on virtual reality headsets.

Commenting on the project, Will McMaster, head of VR at Visualise, said: “Our objective was to use VR to create an empathetic connection between the viewer and a refugee. We wanted visitors to the exhibit to leave fully understanding the trials and challenges of life as a migrant, displaced from their homes and the unique requirements of the lives of people on the move.”

Michael Goldfarb, MSF-USA’s director of communications, added: “People fleeing for their lives are often reduced to numbers and statistics. But through Visualise’s work and their immersive 360 video content, we will put a human face on those staggering numbers, giving the public a real sense of what it looks like, feels like, and what it means, to be forced from home.”

The exhibition will travel from New York to Washington D.C., Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia this autumn, with further dates to be announced for 2017.

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