Hey Everyone!


I would like to wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday time. Let's hope that 2021 will be better than 2020. It’s been a very strange year. We all need a break!


I would love to share a brief summary of what's been happening with The Choice, as we have made some truly great progress, despite some occasional challenges.


The crucial moment for us was filming The Choice interviews in Austin, Texas back in March. We captured two compelling interviews. The first interview was with Kristen, who shared her heart-wrenching story about having to choose an abortion at five months due to her doctors hiding critical information regarding her pregnancy. We then interviewed Makayla, who through a series of circumstances has had two abortions; the second one being done at home on her own due to lack of accessibility of reproductive care.



Interviewing Makayla

Two very different and truly powerful stories. Thank you so much, ladies, for sharing your story with us. We couldn’t do this without your courage to tell your stories.


Currently, we are closing up work on our first chapter. With very limited funds, we decided to focus on having one interview released, to show the power behind our creative approach and technology. We hope that by premiering this first chapter, it will be much easier to organize funds to finish the full experience.



For this first chapter, we decided to share our interview with Kristen. We believe that her story will be deeply moving for many people, no matter what their take on reproductive rights is.


We have finished the story’s narrative path as well as created an interactive experience where the audience will be able to ask questions during the viewing. Yes, you will be able to talk to Kristen, and the feeling is deeply immersive. Every time I am experiencing it in VR, I am truly shocked by how realistic it feels. Can't wait for all of you to experience it for yourselves!



Interviewing Kristen

But the narrative is just the first part. We have a whole team of people working on beautiful artistic elements that will not only enhance the immersion but add completely new layers to this experience.


Zoe Roellin is making wonderful illustrations that will help you to dive into the thoughts that Kristen is sharing with you.


Janal Bechthold is creating music to guide you through her emotions, and we have a whole spectrum from pure joy and hope to deep sadness, as you might expect from the story Kristen is sharing.


Andy Martin and Kevin Bolen are creating a sound environment to immerse you in the world of Kristen's thoughts.


Our developers' team -- Becca Little and Hannah Estes, together with Tom C. Hall are combining all these elements together to create a cohesive experience. A real conversation, a real dialogue that you will be a part of. Yes, huge wow!


Kristen and her husband

Seeing it all coming together -- I am truly speechless and thankful for all the hard work!


It looks like that despite some huge challenges, we are getting very close to making it happen, and I am excited, speechless, and truly thankful.


Have a great time this holiday season, I wish you all some relaxing time with families and friends -- and I know it will not be possible to have it in person for many of us. But this all will pass, sooner or later, we just need to hang on a little!


I wish you all that 2021 will be a bit easier, and thank you all for being with us and supporting us, it's truly heartwarming!


Warmly,

Joanne


On Thursday the Polish Constitutional court banned abortion in Poland. Some people say that it didn’t really happen, as the current tribunal is not truly legal - so its ruling does not count (more on that - below). I don’t think that matters though: the current government, president, and parliament treat this tribunal as legal. They have, after all, selected the judges - that’s a whole nother story I will explain later.


What I want you to see now is how scary this situation is. And that it does affect you.


The new reality in Poland means that we are now a country where abortion is pretty much impossible to get for any reason.


Poland bans abortion, women protest on the streets.

The most horrifying part of this ruling is the reason why it was made. Or rather: the word they are all using to describe it. They say that they have prevented “eugenics”. Wait, what? Yes, eugenics.


What is eugenics? It’s a highly controversial, if not very unethical belief system and practice that aims to improve the genetic quality of the human population. Selective breeding. It’s based on the belief that some groups of people are superior, and that those carrying the “worse genes” should be removed from the population.


Until this week, abortion in Poland was already highly restricted. Poland had one of the most restrictive laws for terminating pregnancies. We called it “a compromise”. A compromise between a state and church - yes, literally. This “compromise” was agreed on in 1993, and it allowed for abortion in 3 situations:

  1. in cases of serious threat to the life or health of the pregnant woman, as attested by two physicians,

  2. cases of rape or incest confirmed by a prosecutor,

  3. and cases in which prenatal tests, confirmed by two physicians, demonstrated that the fetus was seriously and irreversibly damaged.


Condition #3 was just removed. And they called it “eugenics”. I have no words for how disgusting it is.


In 2016 I started working on The Choice. Why 2016? This is when the current government started its crusade. Crusade they have finally won. In 2016 they proposed legislation to outlaw abortion, and 30,000 women protested. They marched in cities dressed in black - we called it Black Protest. It worked -- the lawmakers voted against the proposed law.


Now, what changed in 2020?


In 2016 it was the government and parliament who tried to ban abortion. Today - they used the Constitutional Court. A court that not everybody agrees has a right to be ruling at all. There is quite a big controversy around that, you can read more here.


And now - this illegitimate court ruled on an extremely controversial decision. So controversial that even people who are usually opponents of reproductive rights -- fully agree that this ruling is horrific. The wording around it is only one horrible aspect. But then -- how about the timing?


We are in the middle of the pandemic. Worldwide, the situation is highly alarming. Poland is one of the countries with the highest number of infected people. We are reaching 16,000 cases per day. The government is preparing for another lockdown, and people are not allowed to gather. This is of course understandable and very much needed to flatten the curve again. But looking from a perspective of the recent years: with taking over the Constitutional Court -- people went on the streets to protest. With the 2016 tries for banning abortion -- people went on the streets to protest. On various other occasions -- for the last 4 years, Polish people went on the streets to protest. And now -- how are they supposed to protest?


This is what the government is counting on, I have no doubts: they hope that some people will stay at home, afraid of the virus. And rightfully so. They also now can use the tools that they would not be allowed to use freely -- if not the pandemic. They can order quarantine. They can order fines. They can say people are dangerous -- even if they simply march peacefully.


But people will protest again. They have already started. I am very proud of those who have the courage to go there and shout. I’ve heard that some of them have already been arrested. The police are treating these protestors as the enemy and using tear gas on them.



Poland banned abortion, women protest, police is using tear gas.

I am deeply upset. While working on The Choice, I have learned a lot about abortions obtained for medical reasons, often later in pregnancy. The very first story we are working on releasing now as our first chapter - is such a story. You know her already, it’s Kristen. Her interview was the most heartbreaking and emotional that I ever had. I’ve spent the recent months, going through every detail Kristen shared with me -- and it was impossible for me to even talk to my spouse when I was working on it, her story was hitting me that hard. And who am I? I just recorded it, I have never lived through it…


I cannot imagine the pain inflicted now on Polish women.


The scariest thing is how hard it will be to go back even to this “compromise” we had until now. It is not a bill that another government or parliament can simply change. To revoke this one -- we will need a completely new Constitutional Court.


This is where I would love to end - but I can’t. Poland is a small country. We do not have much influence on what’s happening globally. Yes, the situation there is upsetting, but truly, does it matter, and hey - what can we do other than nod our heads with sadness?


Well, you can do something. You can move your butt and vote. Yes, vote in the US elections. Vote in whichever country you live in.


The threat of revoking Roe v. Wade in the US is becoming alarmingly real. I don’t have to explain it here, everyone here probably knows that very well.


Yet many of us think that our votes do not really matter. What can this one vote change? Does it really affect your life? I hope that now you can see - that it truly does.



Vote. You can do this one, extremely important thing.





*Pictures taken from various Polish news websites.


Last week we were presenting updates on The Choice at the Vancouver International Film Festival - VIFF Immersed Volumetric Market. This event was organized together with the Kaleidoscope Fund.


This year's event brought back some of the projects that were pitching at VIFF 2019 so they could share how much progress they did since 2019. We shared our progress too, and it was truly enlightening to realize how much work we have done! Those recent months were truly busy for us, we've been doing amazing progress.


Below you can read a little bit deeper about what has changed and how we've progressed.


In early 2020 Jay W. Moore has joined as, just in time to help us through this very crazy and stressful trip to Austin, Texas. Do you remember? We were supposed to be there for almost 2 weeks and film a whole set of interviews. And then the COVID-19 pandemic started unfolding, and we found ourselves far from home, with the flights being canceled asap, and we had literally 2 days to leave the country. And we still needed to film some interviews... And we did! It was truly awesome, and the two interviews we have captured are extremely powerful, each for very different reasons.


Moving forward - in spring 2020 our team got even bigger, this is when Becca Little and Hannah Estes have joined us to work on the VR app development. I will not dive into the technical details here, let me just tell you: it's a true blessing to have them on board!


In May we received 2 grants from the Kaleidoscope community, winning in the Creative Challenge and the Femme Futures categories. This was amazing! And with that, we received a lot, a lot of wonderful messages from people stating how important The Choice is, and how powerful is what we aim to achieve using the VR technology to enhancing empathy. Thank you!


With these grants, we also got some truly great consultants: Asad J. Malik, Darragh Dandurand, and Paul Mezier. So now with every new edit or some milestone we achieve - we call them and hear their feedback and advice on our next steps. It's truly great to have their expertise.


The next step was... Well, there were a couple of next steps. Tom, Becca, and Hannah have been working on what I call with some umbrella-term: "app dev". Later on, we will have some blog posts explaining what their process has been. It's more technical, so we will probably put it on our company's blog here: Tribe Of Pan.


For me, I could finally start editing the interviews. I started with a story about medical abortion, an abortion performed for health-related reasons. Not many of us expect to hear stories like that when thinking about abortion. The pregnancy was planned, and the couple was waiting to have a baby -- picking names, toys, making the baby-room ready. They were even preparing for the baby shower. And then they were literally hit with some information about fetal abnormalities. Not one, multiple.


Very emotional, very powerful story. And a wonderful interviewee. But I will not reveal too much yet, I want you all to hear this story when it will be ready for you to watch.


With working on this interview, we also dived into creating a branching narrative. The Choice will invite the audience to have a conversation with women who had an abortion. To create this feeling of talking to someone, we are creating some dialogue elements: you will see some questions, select one of them, and the storyteller will then answer.


We have also started working on illustrations. The Choice takes place in a dark void -- so the distractions are blocked, you are not thinking about the outside world. We want the audience to focus their attention on the storyteller.


So why the illustrations? Let me quote Zoe Roellin, our VR artist:


"I have been brought on board to create illustrations that appear in the black space around the interviewees, both visualizing specific scenes from their stories and conveying the complex emotions they faced on their journey. In creating those illustrations, I am seeking a delicate balance between illustrating the stories told without overshadowing the words of the interviewees by using a flowing, sometimes abstract style. My intention is to build a strong sense of atmosphere and create scenes evocative enough to invite the viewer to take in those images but also think past them, and use their own imagination to connect with the stories told."


Zoe has already started working on the concept, and it is truly beautiful. I will introduce Zoe in a separate post soon so you can learn more about who she is and how she approaches VR storytelling with her illustrations.


That's all with the catching up. Since those 2 weeks when I gave the presentation -- we have done even bigger progress! Wow! Truly a great time for us! So many things happening! I am truly excited!


But I will tell you more - next time ;)


- Joanne

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