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Why Viceland And Samsung Partnered For A VR Documentary About Syria’s “White Helmets”

The unarmed Syrian civil defense organization’s story is even more immersive in 360.

Why Viceland And Samsung Partnered For A VR Documentary About Syria’s “White Helmets”

The Syrian Civil War is a complex situation that’s been ongoing for half a decade now. It’s also a situation that many Americans are woefully under-informed about. To help mitigate that, Viceland’s documentary White Helmets–created in partnership with Samsung, which premiered last Friday on the Samsung VR premium service–offers an immersive look into the non-governmental civil defense organization. The film, shot using Samsung Gear 360 cameras, is part of the Beyond the Frame series that explores not just the situation on the ground, but also how virtual reality can change the way journalism works.

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That’s something that Viceland’s creative director Trent Rohner is interested in looking at. “As virtual reality becomes more prevalent in journalism, we looked into how the technology is changing the way we experience the news,” he said in a statement. “What is the new role of the reporter when the viewer can experience the event for themselves? Can journalism be more objective when there is no frame, and they can see everything?”

It’s an interesting question to explore at a time when trust in the media is at a record low, and “post-truth” is the order of the day. What a reporter chooses to point the camera at–and what they choose to leave out–is as important a journalistic decision as there is, which makes the series more than just an experiment with fancy new cameras or the fetishization of emerging technology.

The technology already has a role in the sort of work being done in reporting on the situation in Syria, though, which makes this project uniquely situated as a place to explore the issue. “The concept for the series stemmed from the fact that Syrian journalists were already using the Samsung Gear 360 cameras on the ground,” a Samsung Electronics America spokesperson told Co.Create, touting the camera’s portability and ease of use. “Samsung sees VR as a powerful storytelling tool for documentary filmmakers. It allows them to engage viewers in a unique way while building empathy and deepening the emotional connection.”

Viceland isn’t the only news organization Samsung works with there, either–they’ve got a partnership with the New York Times, as well, which is actually the subject of another Viceland doc, Inside the Story. It also premiered last week, and tells the story of how 360 video is changing the way reporters are doing what they do. It makes sense for Samsung to partner with organizations to both tell the story of what this technology can do, and actually create the sort of work that shows it off.

“Samsung’s role in this new landscape is to facilitate the acceleration of VR content creation and adoption of the technology,” a brand spokesperson told Co.Create. “We work with a community of filmmakers and influencers to help equip them and accelerate the future of storytelling. Through our new partnership with Viceland, we’re transforming this new medium to connect with audiences in completely new, emotional, and impactful ways, and our partnership with The Times is the perfect example of the potential of this new medium to change the way stories are told.”

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.

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