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The Empowering VR Story of an All Female Brigade Fighting ISIS

Sun Ladies VR makes its debut at Sundance.

Making its debut at Sundance this week, the roughly seven-minute immersive live-action documentary brings you face-to-face with a troop of Yazidi women fighters. After ISIS soldiers invaded the Yazidi community of Sinjar, killing all of the men and taking the women and girls as sex slaves, these brave women escaped and started a female-only fighting unit called the Sun Ladies. Together, their goal is to bring back their sisters and protect the honor and dignity of their people.

The all-star team behind this powerful immersive documentary includes actor and activist Maria Bello, award winning VR director/cinematographer Celine Tricart, acclaimed director behind “Welcome in Aleppo”Christian Stephen, and Wesley Allsbrook—the artist behind the Emmy-nominated, Dear Angelica VR experience.

There have been many stories that portray women as victims of war, but that’s not the main focus in Sun Ladies VR. Instead, this immersive experience focuses on the personal stories of empowered women who are taking back their pride, honor, and dignity.

Coming from a traditional filmmaking background, Celine Tricart approached this story in a very personal manner. “Meeting the Sun Ladies was a life-changing experience. We didn’t speak the same language, but we bonded,” says Tricart. “When I left the base where they were stationed, driving through ISIS territory back to Erbil, I wasn’t scared anymore. I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to help amplify and tell their story to the world.”

The piece explores a very personal side to the story of the Sun Ladies, where you as the viewer get an in depth look into their lives, discovering what fuels their fierce bravery and purpose. What makes this experience even more special is the beautiful animation that has been juxtaposed together with the intense live-action footage.

Since the filmmakers didn’t have enough footage of the actual Sun Ladies in action, Tricart was looked for an alternative way to portray their courage and fearlessness. That’s when Wesley Allsbrook stepped in, helping recreate the fight scenes with VR painting tool Quill. The resulting piece is a stunning animated look into an intense battle.

 

ISIS believes that if they are killed by a woman, they will go to hell. Which is why according to the Sun Ladies, they sing in the front-lines of the battle, letting ISIS know who they are facing. It was an exceptional feeling to experience this moment in VR, giving me a true sense of empathy. The entire Sun Ladies VR story is about being there, stand alongside these women. It’s very clear that the immersive documentary wouldn’t have had the same storytelling emotion if it was displayed on a flat screen.

The Sun Ladies VR experience at Sundance was more than just a VR film, but also a call to action for festival goers. After watching the VR film, audiences were invited to enter a booth and write a letter of support for the Sun Ladies. The letters are tacked on a board outside of the installation, eventually being sent to the Sun Ladies once the festival concludes.

The piece also encourages you to join others from around the world in sharing empowering stories about how you are fighting back against injustice and oppression as part of a global #HowIFightBack conversation. The Sun Ladies VR experience is not just a film or a performance piece, but part of a larger movement. It expands the worldwide conversation on how we each fight back against sexual violence and oppression.

About the Scout

Zeynep Abes

Zeynep is a new media artist who got her start at LACMA’s Art+Tech lab creating AR installations. She then worked at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier Exhibitions and is currently studying computer animation and game development for VR and AR.

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