A Polish-Canadian filmmaker is using VR to challenge assumptions about women’s right to choose.
VR is often touted for its “magic” ability to immerse you in entirely new worlds. Whether dancing in outer space, getting up close and personal with blue whales, or entering a fictional world from a favorite movie, VR is known for fun mind-boggling experiences that simply aren’t possible in the reality.
However, with VR Documentary The Choice, Polish-Canadian filmmaker Joanne-Aska Popinska is proving that virtual reality as a medium is just as suited for providing uncomfortable, thought provoking personal experiences as it is thrills and laughs.
In The Choice, you wake up in a body that isn’t your own. Your new body is female–and pregnant. As panicked thoughts begin racing in your head and floating in the air around you– ”How could this happen? What should I do?”–you begin to realize that this pregnancy is unplanned.
As your mind races, real woman appear in the simulation and recall their own personal experiences with unplanned pregnancies and their decision to have an abortion. Your virtual subconscious asks the women questions: did they feel shame? Were they afraid? Did they feel relief? Each woman has a unique story to share, and while their circumstances and feelings all differ, they all share a willingness to tell their stories with unwavering honesty.
The VR experience may sound intense, and it is. On purpose. “We want to make you feel that this is your life, your problem, your dilemma,” said Aska-Popinska.
Growing up in Poland, the filmmaker witnessed the effect of restrictive abortion laws on her female friends and family first hand. While many countries have grown increasingly pro-choice over time, Poland continues to implement more restrictions on abortion, and lawmakers introduced an all-out ban just this week.
Even in countries with less restrictive laws such as the US and Canada, abortion remains hotly contested, and for many women–specifically those in poor or rural communities–not at all easily accessible. Stigma surrounding the choice to terminate a pregnancy remains strong across all corners of the globe.
Aska-Popinska believes that empathy and compassion are the key to changing laws and attitudes regarding abortion, which is exactly why she turned to VR for this documentary. By literally placing viewers into the shoes of a woman deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, VR gives them a greater understanding, and thus, greater empathy and compassion towards women facing such decisions.
She knew that The Choice needed to be shot and produced in VR for the greatest impact, but producing content in VR doesn’t come cheap. After months of planning and writing during spare moments and weekends, she and her team launched a Kickstarter campaign to create a VR demo that would be used to raise additional grants to finish the completed documentary.
The Choice is built inside a 3D game engine, combining video recordings with live 3D rendered graphics. Creative & Technical Producer Tom C. Hall and team didn’t want interview subjects to come across as flat video images or as uncanny CGI recreations so they developed a technique of combining stereoscopic 3D cameras with a “depth” camera. The volumetric capture system is small enough to allow them to travel light, and even record interviews inside of subject’s homes, where they can feel comfortable and safe.
The underlying message of The Choice resonated with people across the globe, and the Kickstarter campaign raised over 15,000 CAD to go towards production of the project. The full length documentary is currently in the works, it’s being developed for Oculus Rift, Vive, and Samsung Gear VR so viewers can watch from their own devices. However, the goal is ultimately to showcase the experience at abortion rallies, conferences, and assemblies across the world to spread awareness and challenge perspectives.
Learn more about the documentary from the creators themselves here.