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Radical Storytelling Through Virtual Reality At The Define American Film Festival

“Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.

This is a liberalizing influence on me. It gives me a broader mind. It helps me to join my family of men and women on this planet. It helps me to identify with them, so I’m not just stuck being myself, day after day.

The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.” ― Roger Ebert

At Define American, we believe that sharing our stories is the first step toward empathy, and that empathy is the first step toward positive cultural change. Right now, we need to share our stories more than ever. It will be radical cultural resistance through art and expression that will help heal the fissures that are expanding with the change in our country’s demographic makeup.

Our second annual Define American Film Festival (#DAFF), taking place at the Harvey B. Gantt for African American Arts + Culture, this Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Charlotte North Carolina, is based on that philosophy. We’ll be sharing stories like “Dolores,” “White People” and “Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America” that illuminate the intersectionality of issues ranging from immigration to race to LGBTQ and women’s rights. None of these issues exist in a vacuum. They overlap, intersect and clash in ways that, without the unifying salve of a shared story, will continue to separate us from one another.

We have seen, firsthand, the power that a well-told story can have to change someone’s perspective and open minds. After all, what could be more powerful than seeing the the world through the eyes of another?

Luckily, as technology advances, it brings us more opportunities to connect through story. That’s why at this year’s DAFF, we have partnered with RYOT (owned by AOL/HuffPost) to embrace a new, powerful storytelling medium: virtual reality.

VR is an invaluable tool for those of us in the social impact entertainment space because it quite literally places you inside someone else’s world, often in an environment that you may never otherwise have a chance to experience.

At DAFF, we’ll be sharing three extraordinary VR experiences:

Welcome to Aleppo: One does not flee from their home, unless their home looks like this. For three minutes, stand on the streets of Aleppo, Syria, a city that has been at the center of a civil war for four years. Collected by RYOT’s World Editor, Christian Stephen, this is the first 360 virtual reality footage gathered from inside a war zone. Hear the shots of snipers echo through the streets and see what life remains in this shell of a city.

For My Son: In immersive VR, RYOT and the award-winning filmmakers behind Salam Neighbor have joined forces with UN OCHA to tell the story of a young Syrian restarting his life in Amman, Jordan. Through a heartfelt letter from father to son, challenge the misconception that refugees are a burden and experience the refugee journey from the bombed out buildings of Aleppo to the historical sites of Jordan.

The Crossing: RYOT and HuffPost present “The Crossing,” a virtual reality film and immersive reporting series hosted by Susan Sarandon chronicling the refugee crisis as it unfolds in Greece. The shores of the Mediterranean see thousands of refugees every day who arrive on small boats, evidence for which is seen everywhere in massive piles of discarded life vests. Most of the arrivals are fleeing from Syria and Afghanistan in search of safety, economic stability, and a better life.

Festival attendees will be able to step into other worlds, and we are pleased to be inviting local Charlotte public school students to attend and experience it for themselves.

DAFF is our own act of cultural intervention and resistance. We’re excited to be able to continue our media and culture work with VR: an incredibly powerful tool that can be used by the film world, social justice worlds and educators to expose new realities and open hearts and minds.

DAFF Virtual Reality Schedule:

Thursday, May 11: 6:00 PM – 6:45 PM

Friday, May 12 1:45 PM – 2:15 PM

7:00 PM – 7:45 PM

Saturday, May 13 12:30 PM – 12:45 PM

6:00 PM – 7:45 PM

For more information on DAFF, including the full festival schedule, visit: https://defineamerican.com/filmfest/.

Define American

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