CRITIQUE- "Clouds Over Sidra"

CRITIQUE- “Clouds Over Sidra”

Clouds Over Sidra”  is a Virtual Reality film created by Chris Milk and Gabo Arora in partnership with the UN Millennium Campaign, UNICEF Jordan, and VRSE Hollywood production studios. This 8 minute video depicts the daily life of a twelve year old girl named Sidra living in the Za’atari Refugee Camp for over a year.  The Za’atari Refugee Camp houses about 80,000 Syrians fleeing from violence of the war. Through the film, Sidra takes us on a journey through the camp, her school, playing fields, and makeshift tent.

In the words of the UN Millennium Campaign, the project serves to raise funds and  “ to bring the experience of vulnerable communities straight to decision makers, thereby creating deeper empathy and understanding.  This is in line with the UNMC’s efforts to elevate the voices of those who often do not have a say, bringing people’s voices directly into the decision making process.”

The audience of the film is for the general public, but mainly for  state/business leaders  and humanitarian donors who have the power to make financial donations and incite change— it was first premiered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as well as at high level donor meetings in order to raise awareness and funds towards aid for the Syrian Crisis.

In the words of Gabo Arora, one of the creators, regarding his goals of this project: “I want to influence decision makers, first and foremost…We live in a world of decision makers, unfortunately, who control the lives and destinies of other people. I don’t think all of them truly know what [Sidra’s life] is like and, in giving them this experience, I’m hopeful they will be moved to weigh greater the consequences of      their decisions.”

Responses to this video were very, very positive. These viewings raised $3.8 billion, which was over 70% more than expected  from the project.  It was also found that one in six people were donating towards the refugee cause after watching the video, which is twice the normal rate.

Overall, with 3.4 million views on Youtube alone, as well as the increased rates of donation pledges post-release, “Clouds Over Sidra” definitely fulfilled the impact it was created to do and also illustrated the power of immersive journalism. Through virtual reality technology, we are able to virtual engage with the environment and conditions that Sidra lives through on a daily basis, and foster empathy for this child who tries to highlight the positives of her life despite and stark, cloudy appearance of the camp. Sidra describes how she likes cloudy weather, and how her teacher told her that the clouds over Za’atari have followed them from Syria—perhaps this is her way of finding home within Za’atari; as viewers, we are taken aback by this cloudiness, as it has more ominous tones reflecting the barrenness and vulnerabilities faced as a displaced person. 

Watching this virtual reality film was personally a very powerful experience for me—it was not just a simple story about a girl, but also a story about humanity that I was living vicariously. This immersive technology allowed me to explore Za’atari and create my own experience and perceptions about the environment, while listening to Sidra walk me through aspects of her daily life. I walked around in Sidra’s makeshift tent, looked down and watched her baby brother run towards the tent opening and cry for his siblings to come back; I was sitting in Sidra’s cramped up classroom and saw student chatter and raise their hands to answer the teacher’s questions; I was stood, confused, in a desolate field and watched a swarm of young girls gather to play soccer, looked over the shoulders of  boys playing COD in a small room with eight computer monitors. I watched Sidra and her family eat dinner on a plastic sheet on the ground and she told us how she still loves her mother food even though she doesn’t have enough spices to cook properly. I looked up at the bleak sky, as Sidra talked about how she liked the cloudy days, perhaps, like her, searching for hope in this environment that I would find very difficult to call “home.”

Overall, “Clouds Over Sidra”  really stretches the borders of empathy and gives viewers a stark wake-up call about the realities of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. If you have not seen it before, I highly recommend going to Cox Computer and using the VR headsets/Google cardboard and experience this incredibly well-made film.