Notes to My Father: The world’s first VR sex-trafficking experience
by Vassilis Economou
- Through exploring the relationship between a human-trafficking survivor and her father, Jayisha Patel creates an immersive experience that raises awareness in rural Indian society
Every three minutes, an Indian girl is sold into sex slavery. The average age of these girls is 12, and only 1% of them are ever rescued. Notes to My Father, the world’s first live-capture virtual reality (VR) experience about sex trafficking, written, directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Jayisha Patel, explores the relationship between Ramadevi, a survivor of child trafficking, and her father. Ramadevi spent her adolescence living in a brothel; now, after escaping and returning to her family, she pens a letter to her father, who was unintentionally responsible for her trauma and was still unaware of her past.
Notes to My Father arose from Oculus’ Facebook initiative VR for Good, as part of which Patel was paired with the My Choices Foundation, an NGO working to prevent trafficking in India. Shot in rural locations in South India, the film is a 360° VR experience that uses a mix of verbatim theatre and documentary storytelling techniques, and was created so that the NGO could use it for its work. Juxtaposing the lush visuals with the dark reality of her heroine’s past, Patel challenges the viewer, who also experiences the whole effect in an immersive, almost personal and visceral way. The experience is already travelling far and wide within India, and its ultimate goal is to both inform and, more importantly, protect any future victims.
Regarding her intentions in creating the film, Patel stated to Cineuropa: “Having made films on gender violence in the past, I have learnt that at times it is easy to mistake female empowerment for a women's rights issue, rather than a human rights one. Men's voices are sorely missing in this discussion, and I wanted to re-address that in the making of this film. It was therefore important for me to highlight both Ramadevi’s and her father’s perspectives in the movie, so as to invite both men and women to connect with the film. I hope by doing so, it will inspire both genders to act together for the equality of women.”
Patel, who is currently an artist in residence at Somerset House in London, will continue to explore immersive experiences as a medium for social awareness: “I am creating After the Fire, a VR experience from the perspective of women of colour who survived the Grenfell Tower fire. The experience is also supported by the Danish Anidox residency.”
The director is further focusing on gender violence in rural India, dealing with a teenager who was gang-raped and whose grandmother orchestrated the rape itself, in her latest short documentary Circle, which will premiere in competition at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival.
Notes to My Father is an Indian-British-American co-production and has already been screened at over 30 film festivals, winning seven awards to boot. French company Wide Management is handling the world sales.
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