Short documentary uses VR to tell humanitarian tale of Syrian boy

Source: Variety.

Virtual reality isn’t the first concept that comes to mind when discussing documentaries made for humanitarian causes, but the experience of one group of filmmakers proves the format can be a valuable tool.

“When I first came across VR, I found it striking in its ability to generate empathy-based stories,” says David Gough, director of “Life in the Time of Refuge,” a short VR documentary about 9-year-old Omar, a Syrian refugee who suffers from a hormone deficiency that stunts his growth. Now living in Finland and being treated for the condition, he gets a visit from Warda Aljawahiry, who wrote and co-produced the film, to find out how his new life is going.

While many documentaries have the freedom to shoot run-and-gun style, that’s just not possible when shooting in 360 degrees — at least not yet. VR requires carefully planned scenes, and its technical challenges can inhibit the fast-flowing process that Gough is used to from other projects. Shots must be set up carefully, with clean lines between them. Lighting is different. And with 360-degree points of view, it’s critical to make sure the crew isn’t in the way. Particularly challenging were scenes at a train station and aboard a canoe on a river.

The entire process also takes longer, explains cinematographer Thomas Maddens. “When David and I shoot in our usual style, we shoot sequences as they’re happening,” he says. “We don’t need to plan ahead. With VR, we shoot only two or three scenes a day, whereas in normal filmmaking we would double, triple or quadruple that. VR definitely adds cost and work, and it’s a more strenuous process.”

None of this deterred the filmmakers, who are confident that this way of telling stories will help audiences care more about the subject matter. For technical help, they partnered with such companies as Mettle and Nokia. Mettle supplied Adobe plug-in software that enabled the team to seamlessly integrate VR into the post-production workflow, allowing them to focus on storytelling instead of spending time trying to figure out how to make a shot work. Nokia provided the project with an OZO camera and 24-hour tech support.

The Humanitarian Cooperative — the group that produced “Life in the Time of Refuge” — says it will continue to create VR films but acknowledges that the technology is still morphing. The goal, says Maddens, “is to bring people into an experience and take them on a journey.”

Adds Gough, “VR has the potential to be a game changer for humanitarian storytelling.”

Spike sets July 22 premiere date for docuseries on missing Ohio women 

Source: Deadline.

Spike TV has partnered with Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning documentarian Joe Berlinger (“Paradise Lost” trilogy) on “Gone: The Forgotten Women of Ohio,” an eight-hour event series about the deaths and disappearances of six young women in southern Ohio. It’s set for premiere Saturday, July 22 on Spike.

Directed and executive produced by Berlinger, “Gone: The Forgotten Women of Ohio” tells a tragic story that has plagued the small town of Chillicothe, OH, over the past few years. Six women mysteriously disappeared. Four of the victims’ bodies have been discovered, while two women remain missing. The investigation, which is still active and happening in real time, has extended to additional cities in the region as the body count has expanded beyond the original six.

The victims’ family members believe local law enforcement have dragged their heels on solving the crimes because the victims were involved with either drugs or prostitution or both. Chillicothe, about an hour’s drive from Columbus, is part of a struggling Midwest region plagued by drug and sex trafficking. Law enforcement maintains they have been doing everything possible to solve the murders, while Berlinger and his crew have mounted an investigation of their own to help solve the crimes and look into the accusations of police mishandling.

“As a father of daughters of my own, I could not help but be drawn to wanting to help solve this mystery and to find out why these families felt that they were not getting the justice they deserved,” said Berlinger. “Allocating eight hours of air time to mount a real time investigation as it unfolds was a bold decision by Spike, creating a wonderful collaboration between my team and the network.”

“Although the missing women in Ohio initially garnered national media attention, they seem to have been forgotten about without any real justice being served. After discussing with Joe we were compelled to try and give these women a voice,” explained Chachi Senior, Senior Vice President, Alternative Programming and Development, Spike.

Investigation Discovery aired “The Vanishing Women”, a docuseries about the Chillicothe case last summer.

Watch the trailer for “Gone: The Forgotten Women of Ohio” below.

Kickstarter’s Liz Cook charts a sustainable path for documentary crowdfunding

Read the story at the International Documentary Association.

‪A late legend of documentary film spends his swan song with Americans “In Transit”‬



Source: A.V. Club.

For those who believe that death represents a journey from one plane of existence to another, it will seem apropos that the final feature directed by the late and legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, made when he was nearly 90 years old, takes place entirely on a cross-country train.

“In Transit,” on which Maysles collaborated with four other directors, can’t compare to the pioneering Direct Cinema docs he made with his brother, David (who died in 1987)—such classics as “Salesman” (1969), “Gimme Shelter” (1970), and “Grey Gardens” (1975). But it’s very much of a piece with Maysles’ lifelong commitment to capturing reality on the fly, offering a vivid cross-section of regular folks who all happen to be aboard the Empire Builder, an Amtrak train that makes a three-day journey between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.

The film’s ideal audience is people who, riding public transportation, would rather eavesdrop on other passengers’ idle conversations than don noise-canceling headphones and get lost in a book.

“If you’re at a crossroads, why are you snowboarding?” one man reasonably asks of someone else’s ostensible quest for self-knowledge. “When I was at a crossroads, I was robbing people for lunch. Like, that’s a crossroad. What you’re doing is going on vacation.” We never actually see the person he’s complaining about, but the passengers we do see—some talk directly to the camera, others ignore it—have a multitude of reasons for being on the Empire Builder.

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