PhotoEx Symposium Case Study - Taking Risks: “Recipe for Famine,” the Challenges & Opportunities of Virtual Reality

Journalists Marcelle Hopkins and Benedict Moran offered a unique window into the challenges of adopting new technologies in non-fiction storytelling with their work-in-progress Recipe for Famine. With support from FRONTLINE, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation and a fellowship from Made in NY Media Center by IFP, Marcelle and Benedict have been developing an immersive documentary, as well as a VR101 Toolkit to share the challenges of filming in 360 degree video.

Recipe for Famine is a documentary on the unfolding humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. Journalist Marcelle Hopkins opened the presentation with the statement, “We’re making this documentary in order to ask; What are the causes and conditions that go into making a famine? Why, in 2015, are there millions of people going hungry? Why are parts of South Sudan are on the brink of famine?” She continued, “We’ve found that in South Sudan, famine is not a natural disaster. There’s plenty of rain and arable land for residents to grow food. We’ve discovered that this crisis is entirely man made by people that have made the decisions that have created the conditions we’re seeing today: civil war, mass displacement, structural poverty and a collapsing economy.

Marcelle Hopkins joined up with technical director Evan Wexler and Producer Benedict Moran to address these questions through the emerging experience of virtual reality documentary. In August, they spent a month in South Sudan filming with 360 degree cameras for the first time. As they navigated the challenges of shooting in the field, new questions and issues arose. Hopkins and Moran transparently addressed their struggles, as well as their successes. Additionally, they worked to document their process to share with other journalists seeking to adopt 360 technology. 

Watch the video below to hear more about their process and to learn more about their forthcoming documentary.

Please stay tuned as we share more videos and highlights from the 2015 Photography, Expanded Symposium. You can view the presentation of After the Storm here, or the presentation of The Ark here.

Simone Salvo