DATE CONTENT WAS ORIGINALLY MADE AVAILABLE
New Approaches: Documentary
Defying the Nazis VR
VR Playhouse in association with PBS, WETA, and Farm Pond Pictures
In the winter of 1940, a social worker and Unitarian minister’s wife named Martha Sharp led twenty-seven boys and girls on a transatlantic voyage from Europe to America, rescuing these children—many of them Jewish—from their Nazi-occupied homes and saving their lives in the process. In the PBS documentary by Artemis Joukowsky and Ken Burns, DEFYING THE NAZIS: The Sharps’ War, memories of that voyage provide an emotional climax to the story of Martha and her husband Waitstill, an American couple who repeatedly undertook similarly courageous missions to help refugees escape danger during World War II.
Premiering in September 2016 alongside the documentary and as part of the launch of Time Life's LIFE VR app, the virtual reality companion piece, Defying The Nazis VR, recreates that 1940 voyage. The timelapse experience puts users on the deck of the SS Excambion and takes them from a port in Lisbon to the Statue of Liberty in a matter of minutes. As they go, the viewer hears excerpts from the film’s interviews with the now-grown children describing their arduous journey. Paired with archival photographs of those survivors, the experience captures in intimate detail both the fear and the joy of these children and the magnitude of the journey they undertook.
VR Playhouse used the actual SS Excambion as design inspiration for their CG ship, and they referenced historical images of 1940s New York City to craft their Statue of Liberty and city skyline. To create realistic depth and texture, they shot live-action actors on a green screen and composited them into the lower deck of the ship. A stereo soundscape completed the creation of this virtual environment.
Users are free to look in any direction, able to investigate the details of the boat and their fellow passengers while reveling in the beauty of a voyage across open water and on towards freedom. The goal was not just historical accuracy and a realistic depiction but, in addition, to capture the subjective experience of re-living these memories as the survivors have done, creating a uniquely resonant depiction of their stories, and a new, deeply personal context in which to explore the film’s themes.
While the film focuses on refugees in crisis, the VR project hoped to also touch on the experience of immigrants outside of that context. Transatlantic boat crossings are a mainstay of immigrant passages to the United States during the last two centuries, and the iconic visual of the Statue of Liberty—indicating both the end of the voyage as well as the beginning of the nerve-wracking immigration inspection station visit to Ellis Island—endures as the symbolic representation of the American spirit. Some statistics measure that as many as 40% of Americans today can trace their ancestry through an immigrant’s arrival at Ellis Island. With Defying The Nazis VR the user is the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free.
The film, which hopes to serve as a catalyst for conversation, inspiration, and ultimately action for modern-day rescuers, begs the viewer to recognize the impact a single individual can have. This companion VR experience gives voice to that notion, and as such speaks to the desperate need for regular people to exhibit their own moral courage, and for the rest of the world to extol it when recognized. The forced displacement of people during WWII, as depicted in Defying The Nazis VR, has been surpassed in number only by the modern global refugee crisis. Debuting amidst that unprecedented experience, the project proves to be a unique historical lens through which to consider present-day framing of asylum seekers, refugees, and displaced peoples, as well as the political rhetoric, social discourse, violent unrest, and tragedy that has plagued the refugee camps and many of the journeys of individuals fleeing their homes.
From a GearVR
Download the mp4 to your computer.
Connect a Samsung Galaxy phone to the computer.
Transfer the mp4 to your phone:
If you're using a Mac, you will need to use the programs Android File Transfer or Smart Switch
Add the video to the phone's folder titled "Movies"
Disconnect the phone and attach to a GearVR
While wearing the GearVR, select the Oculus Videos app
The video can be found under the "My Videos" category
From the Life VR app
Download the Life VR app from the iPhone app store or Android's Google Play store.
Scroll down to see all the experiences Life VR currently offers.
Once you have found "Defying The Nazis," tap the screen to select. Tap the "Begin" icon to download the film to your phone.
Once the download is complete to your phone, plug your headphones into the phone and select either headset or device mode.
For headset mode: place your phone into the Cardboard viewer, aligning the center of the phone with the center of the viewer.
For device mode: simply hold the phone out in front of you, moving it around to see all 360 degrees.
Use the unlisted link - youtube.com/watch?v=h4OIgMGe3b0
To watch through a Google Cardboard or similar viewer, select the goggles icon at the bottom right & insert your phone into the viewer.
To watch from your browser, simply click and drag to see all 360 degrees.