The project's most urgent need is for a non-profit partner for the Creative Work Fund grant. CWF offers up to $45,000 for an active collaboration between a non-profit organization and an artist. Possible partners could include an Arabic music ensemble to create a score for the documentary, a film or new media festival willing to display the final project, a refugee aid organization that would publicize the work by hosting it at a conference... Up to one third of the award is available to support the organization’s participation. The Letter of Inquiry for this grant is due March 1, 2019.

Further down the line, I will need 3d modelers to create or adapt models to suit, production assistants to search for models that can be customized, a web developer, a publicist, a Unity developer, and general assistance in managing the visuals, audio, interaction. I have some skills in each of these areas. I will also interview Samah and work with her to shape her memories into a cohesive narrative.

A Documentary in Virtual Reality

Samah Damanhoori came to the US for graduate study. One month into her masters program, her father offered her a choice between arranged marriage and honor killing. Samah successfully applied for asylum and is making a new life in the Bay Area, but she can never return to her home again.

Using 3d models based on photographs, Souvenir will reconstruct Samah’s home in Mecca as an interactive digital experience. More like an exploration video game than a traditional film, the viewer will be able to navigate the virtual space at will. Clicking on objects will trigger voiceover about what those things mean to Samah. Souvenir will be both a keepsake of the home she can’t go back to and an intimate glimpse into what she left behind.

About Virtual Reality

A VR image surrounds the viewer in 3d space, creating a uniquely immersive sense of place. The view is constrained by the size of the screen, but the hardware tracks the user’s head movement. When the viewer turns to the left/right/ceiling/floor, the image compensates to show what’s left/right/above, etc. This kinesthetic connection helps create the illusion that the viewer is actually in the location viewed whether depicted as video or computer generated graphics.

Virtual reality has been in development for over twenty-five years but is only getting widespread attention with the release of much more compact and affordable headsets. The simplest versions of VR can be deployed on recent smartphones. Premium headsets like the Oculus Rift offer higher screen resolutions and full-body tracking that allows the viewer to actually walk around the virtual environment.

Why It Matters

The issues of refugees and asylees are not new topics for VR. The United Nations, International Rescue Committee, and the New York Times have all used 360 video to document the hardships of displaced people. Souvenir will be the first VR piece to use immersive cgi to document an individual’s life before displacement.

I believe that people are more than their traumatic experiences. We can’t truly see any displaced person as an individual without some understanding of the life they had before. If instead we can say, “Your home was beautiful,” we can begin a conversation as equals.


Stay In Touch

If you can offer any help or just want to know about our progress, please join the mailing list [here.] Or email directly [here.] Your address will not be used or sold for any purpose unrelated to this project.