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Yezidi genocide told through virtual reality

By Rudaw yesterday at 04:51 ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Four years ago the world was just beginning to respond to the ordeal of the Yezidis who had been separated, killed, kidnapped, or chased onto Mount Shingal.

‘The Sun Ladies VR’ aims to tell the Yezidis’ story through virtual reality, allowing audiences around the world to experience their plight in a different way.One of its directors will return to Iraq this fall.

“Telling a story that matters and is more relevant now than ever – this was the driving force for everyone involved in the project,” co-director Celine Tricart told Rudaw English.

Tricart and Christian Stephan co-directed the short documentary after they were asked by American actress and writer Maria Bello and told of the Yezidis’ plight.

It has been shown at more than 20 film festivals, including Cannes, SXSW, HotDocs, and World VR Forum.

A two-dimensional trailer of ‘The Sun Ladies’ that highlights the atrocities faced by the Yezidi people and the revenge some took in the name of their homeland of Shingal. Video: Vimeo/Lucid Productions 

An estimated 2,500-5,000 Yezidis were killed by ISIS when the group took control of Shingal in 2014 in a campaign of genocide. A documented 6,417 Yezidis were captured.

The short documentary allows Yezidis to tell their stories of survival, but also revenge.

“They treated us like monsters. They aren’t human. They are beating people, forcibly taking girls and women, starving people, destroying us. This is not human,” one survivor says in the film.

It incorporates leaked ISIS film of men bragging about purchasing sex slaves for the price of a handgun, with the lighter-eyed Yezidi women and girls fetching higher prices.

Fragmented, the Yezidis joined various groups, including a women’s regiment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Peshmerga.

The film captures the story of women who banded together to fight back against the group responsible for massacring and subjugating the Yezidi people.

“Until I die, I will not take off this uniform,” says one Peshmerga. “I promise on Sinjar soil, I promise to liberate the prisoners from the hands of our enemies.”

“I promise all martyrs, mothers, and sisters. I kiss the martyrs’ mothers’ hands. Until I die this uniform will be on me. Until Kurdistan tells me to take off this uniform, I will wear it and protect their honor and dignity.”

To date the film has only been shown at festivals, but with the spread of VR platforms, Lucid hopes their production will be more widely available in early 2019. It is distributed by mk2 Films.

Tricart says people are “incredibly moved” when watching The Sun Ladies.

“We are planning on returning to Iraq this fall,” said the co-director.

Four years after the ISIS genocide in Shingal, 1,102 Yezidis — mostly women and young girls — are still missing, according to KRG statistics.

Stories of the Yezidis have been told and retold. What separates Tricart and Stephan’s work is the medium — virtual reality.

“Taking the audience with us in Iraq and placing them face to face with the Yezidi women was our goal,” explained Tricart, who has written a book on VR filmmaking.

Bringing strange devices into war zones had its own challenges.

“Shooting 360 degree isn’t easy, even more true in Iraq. Our camera (generously supplied by Google) was the best VR camera in the world, but it also looked like an improvised explosive device, making every checkpoint crossing stressful,” Tricart wrote in an article for Shoot Online.

The audience having more control during viewing is what fascinates and excites Tricart about VR storytelling.

“VR is a completely different type of filmmaking. When done well, it can be transcendent. Moving the camera and quick cuts is a language we must learn to let go of if we want to maximize VR’s potential. We must abandon the total control we love as filmmakers and let each viewer see slightly different scenes,” she added.


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