Al Jazeera Debuts First VR Documentary ‘I Am Rohingya’

Contrast VR, Al Jazeera Media Network’s immersive studio, has completed its first VR documentary, I Am Rohingya.

Thousands of refugees call the crowded slums of the Kutupalong refugee camp—located in Cox Bazaaar, Bangladesh—home. Unable to return to their native countries, the refugees face unimaginable circumstances while living in a state of limbo in a foreign land. Many of the refugees are Rohingya Muslims, a minority group that some consider to be “the most unwanted group in the world.” Jamalida Begum is a Rohingya Muslim woman living at the camp after fleeing violence in her native Myanmar.

“I want to talk to you,” she says, “I hope you can tell others my story.”

Al Jazeera’s Contrast VR is doing just that with the release of I Am Rohingya. Jamalida’s love for dancing, passion for life, and inspiring resilience in the face of unthinkable adversity is the focus of the studio’s first virtual reality documentary. Directed and produced by Contrast VR’s Zahra Rasool and co-produced by renowned filmmaker and journalist Aela Callan, the documentary uses a mix of captivating immersive content with journalistic style storytelling to bring Jamalida’s story to life. 

The documentary takes viewers on a journey through the refugee camp and into Jamalida’s small living space. Along with live footage from the Kutupalong camp, the film features animated flashbacks artfully woven into the narrative as Jamalida recounts her harrowing escape out of Myanmar. Though Jamalida—a mother to two young boys—finds small moments of joy while dancing at weddings and local celebrations, she does not sugar coat the reality of life at Kutupalong.

“Every day,” she says, “I wonder how I’m going to survive in this refugee camp.”

I Am Rohingya Producer and Director Rasool recognizes the power of using VR to bring awareness to and tell the untold stories of people like Jamalida. 

“One of the most attractive aspects of virtual reality is the ability to immerse viewers in an issue, in this case the plight of persecuted minorities in a refugee camp,” said Rasool. “We’re able to connect with the issue on a deeper level and capture in detail the environment and circumstances of the Rohingya people.” 

Contrast VR was launched by Al Jazeera to help the media juggernaut fulfill its mission of providing a “voice for the voiceless” in regions where media coverage is far and few between. The latest addition to Al Jazeera’s growing network specializes in 360-degree video, augmented reality, and virtual reality production. The release of I Am Rohingya marks the beginning of the studio’s Contrast VR Originals series that makes use of immersive technology “to transport to the people and cultures hit hardest by inequality and conflict.” 

I Am Rohingya will be shown at film festivals and released on Facebook 360, YouTube 360, Samsung VR, Viveport, and the Oculus store later this year.

Listen to our latest interview with Zahra Rasool, Innovation R&D at Al Jazeera International and Editorial Lead for Contrast VR. She shares insight into how she’s thinking about immersive journalism plus a window into Al Jazeera’s two-pronged approach: producing a series of cinematic-quality 360 documentaries while building out the 360 production capabilities of their local brands around the world.

About the Scout

Presley West

Emory University student, VRScout Writer, Storyteller, and Amateur Dog Walker.

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