To some, history is boring. Or, at the very least, it’s hardly personal. As a teen, history is often relegated to highly-edited and biased textbooks. As we grew older and enter higher education, sometimes we can become enlightened with learning about other, less-idealized viewings of historical figures. But like the dozens of heroism-leaning biopics depicting history, there are also a plethora of more honest documentaries. Documentaries with first-hand accounts of historical events, or even footage itself. Now, the BBC is ushering the art of documentaries into a new grounded direction, with Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel. Which is, you guessed it, a VR documentary.
In Easter Rising, the life of Willie McNeive is explored through his experience within the violent 1916 Easter Rebellion, an insurrection in Ireland to free themselves from British rule. It didn’t work. But the rebellion inspired leagues more rebel-alliances afterwards, since the death toll at the hands of the British took more civilian lives than anyone else. Consequently, it spurred the Irish War of Independence in 1919, before Ireland was declared a Free State in 1922 (sans Northern Island, which remained part of the United Kingdom). In BBC’s documentary, the focus zeroes in on one man’s point of view in the historical event that changed Ireland forever.
“We were most interested in taking our audience closer to a real story than perhaps they had ever been before,” said senior producer Dan Tucker of Easter Rising in an interview with BBC about their latest ventures into virtual reality. “To live through the experience of one man by stepping into his memories.” VR physically immerses the viewer into history, in a way that isn’t possible by skimming the surface in traditional documentaries of the past. Easter Rising is similar, in a broader sense, to the journalist endeavors of Nonny De La Peña’s “Immersive Journalism,” where she’s often touted as the “godmother of VR.”
The viewer empathizes with McNeive’s journey
Easter Rising adopts an artistic aesthetic rather than resorting to atypical stock footage. By dropping the typical by-the-books style, the documentary can explore McNeive’s memories in how he literally recalls them. A personal journey in lieu of merely monologuing his experiences over random footage or lame live-action recreations.
Easter Rising’s lens is to witness the Irish rebellion through the eyes of a 19-year-old rebel fighting against the British. In doing this, the VR documentary personalizes history, and paves the way for other future VR documentaries to do the same. It may tread the line of sensationalizing history, but it also holds the key to applying VR in ways that don’t merely involve plopping the viewer into a virtual world. The viewer empathizes with McNeive’s journey and the Irish rebellion in a way like nothing else before it.
You can watch the Oculus Rift experience for Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel here on BBC’s site.