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Testimony - using VR to share an important message



Testimony is a VR documentary experience by Zohar Kfir, which “shares the stories of survivors of sexual assault and their journey to healing” - as you can read on project’s website: https://testimony.site/intro *





The idea behind it is similar to what The Choice is aiming to achieve: by sharing the stories and experiences of various people, with showing their faces - it hopes to remove the stigma, and to inspire very much needed change. Our goal is to share stories about abortion, and Testimony shares the stories of sexual assault.

With sexual assault, its victims not only are often afraid to come out and share their stories, they also not rarely blame themselves for what happened. By sharing stories of female and male survivors, Testimony “aims to tackle the obstacles women and men still need to overcome in order to report assault and confront the legal system. The goal is to inspire those who have been silenced to speak out, while building courage amongst survivors.


Testimony is designed to watch in Virtual Reality, to create certain level of privacy, and also to give the viewer the feeling of being in a conversation with a person who shares the story. It premiered in 2017 atTribeca Film Festival.

Why VR, and not traditional documentary?


“A traditional linear documentary felt wrong, as I did not want to lock people’s experience into one fixed conclusion but wanted viewers to become active participants in the story making.” - writes Zohar Kfir in article where she describes the evolution of the project (https://immerse.news/interactive-listening-the-evolution-of-a-social-impact-project-592986a932e6). She wanted to use VR’s ability of creating “a deep listening space”, and on top of it: specific form of commitment. When ones puts the headset on - we rarely take it off before the experience finishes, and also we are not being distracted by surrounding environment, people, sounds. We can immerse ourselves into the story, and by that - create this space of listening that Kfir mentions.

Kfir decided to give the viewers freedom of which testimony they want to watch and for how long: “The navigation within the VR environment uses a very simple form of interaction using the VR gaze control. This allows the viewer to “‘lean in” in order to listen, but, also, the ability to disengage very quickly if they feel uncomfortable watching, by just looking away.” (immerse.news article).


I am not sure if this approach works as the director planned. For me this was actually the part which broke the immersion. I felt that I can do too much, and that my attention kept shifting from one story to another, instead of making me feel deeper connection. This also made me feel disrespectful for the individual testimonies I was supposed to witness, as I kept “jumping” to another ones, not being able to truly, deeply listen.


This one detail actually made me re-design The Choice. I initially planned similar solution, but after watching Testimony - I decided to not give the viewers similar freedom, and instead: to present the stories from the beginning to the end, so the viewers have a chance to listen to them in whole length, without wondering what the next story is about.


I am very interested to compare what the audience will think about our approach and how it will affect their attention and immersion. Of course, we have to wait at least few months for it to happen, as we are still working on The Choice.


Testimony initially launched on GearVR, and now you can watch it on Oculus Rift and Oculus Go. The project evolved into a WebVR version as well, where more stories can be found. And if you would like to share your own - project creators are inviting you to share it in either video, audio or text form.


The project is a proof how strong can be a message shared through Virtual Reality. Still many people treat it as a gimmick, or are not sure what possibilities it carries. I am very glad to observe projects like Testimony to show what can be done, and that this is just the beginning of an important and powerful journey for all of us.


- JP



Further reading:


Testimony Project website https://testimony.site/intro Zohar Kfir “The Evolution of Testimony” https://immerse.news/interactive-listening-the-evolution-of-a-social-impact-project-592986a932e6



Social media links:


FACEBOOK >> @testimonyproject

TWITTER >> @testimonyVR

INSTAGRAM >> @testimonyproject

* All quotes - from Testimony website, if not specified otherwise: https://testimony.site/intro