The SBS Virtual Reality App launched this October, offering a range of content including an immersive documentary on indefinite immigration detention from the United Kingdom.
Former detainees who have experienced the documentary, Invisible, have said it brings back memories which are all too familiar. Others have taken off their headsets with a renewed sense of urgency to speak out about the system, the filmmakers say.
Virtual reality has been hailed as a game-changer for documentaries, with the ability to transport audience members to new, immersive experiences.
“So much of journalism is conveying a place and time that existed to someone at a later date – giving a person the context and trying to make them feel as informed as if they were actually there,” documentary producer Chris Milk told The Guardian.
“Fundamentally, this is taking out the middle man in that process, and making you feel as if you were actually there,” Milk said.
Darren Emerson, the director of Invisible, said that it was a uniquely challenging production.
“It’s a difficult story to tell in that it features lots of contributors, it features a system that is fairly hard to explain – especially in virtual reality,” Emerson said.
Emerson chose to have the film narrated those who have endured indefinite detention themselves.
“The main creative challenges to the film were how do we tell the story within a documentary when we have no access to the main location and very limited access to our contributors,” co-producer Jem Talbot said.
Reconstructions, metaphorical spaces and immersive special effects were used to tell the story Talbot said. Production took place in an abandoned prison in Gloucester.
Producers say the experience offers a place for the audience to explore, and form their own subjective opinion.
Although at times quite bleak, Darren Emerson said he wanted to end on a more optimistic note.
“I feel that the film ends with a real hopeful conclusion in that people are protesting, people are speaking out against the system, and they’re going to make their voices heard,” he said.