On 14 April 2014, the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a sleepy, northeastern Nigerian town called Chibok. While it made news around the world, some of the incumbant Nigerian politicians declared it fake news by the opposition party designed for embarrassment. The region wasn’t a safe place for local Nigerians to independently verify, and so it was a story that make Nigerian documentary filmmaker Joel Kachi Benson curious about what the truth actually was.
After being encouraged to learn how to produce cinamatic VR experiences by a client, Benson traveled to Chicago, Illinois in the United States to learn how to produce 360 video. Benson found himself near Chibok, and dropped in to start investigating and building trust with the community.
Benson ended up creating the cinematic VR piece Daughters of Chibok, which followed the story of a mother who lost her daughter to the Boko Haram kidnapping in 2014. His incredibly moving piece ended up winning the Best VR Immersive Story for Linear Content at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.
I had a chance to catch up with Benson in Venice to unpack his journey into VR, the larger geopolitical context of Boko Haram, the fake news dynamics, and his journey of building trust with the Chibok community, and the process of capturing the grief and loss of the parents of Chibok.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So continuing on in my series of looking at the VR for Good movement, Today's episode features the winner of the 360 video at Venice Film Festival. It's called Daughters of Chibok. So Daughters of Chibok is about this town in Chibok in Nigeria. Boko Haram came in and they kidnapped 276 girls back on April 14, 2014. And what's interesting about this story is that within Nigeria, there's a lot of people that didn't actually believe that it happened, that a lot of people within the country thought it was just fake news. So I had a chance to talk to the director, Joel Kachi Benson, who's from Nigeria. He's a documentary filmmaker. He does different projects for different organizations. And he had somebody who requested for him to create a 360 video. And so he went to the United States and learned how to create VR. And he tells a story about going to Chibok and trying to capture the story of a village where 276 of the daughters were kidnapped by this terrorist organization of Boko Haram. So we talk about this whole process of him creating this piece, but this piece also afterwards, I had a chance to just run into Joel at the Impact Reality Summit in Seattle. He came in and was there showing his piece and networking and connecting to the larger community. And I asked him for a brief update, and he said he actually had a chance to take this piece to the United Nations. And he shared with me what he was able to do in terms of bringing further action to this specific community and this topic. So we'll be unpacking that a little bit more at the end as well. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Oasis of VR podcast. So this interview with Joelle happened on Monday morning on September 2nd, 2019 at the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:01:58.270] Joel Kachi Benson: My name is Joel Kachi Benson. I'm a documentary filmmaker based in Lagos, Nigeria. I've been making documentaries for about eight, nine years now, but I just got into VR about, say, a year and a half ago. And yeah, I mean, discovering VR for me was like, oh, wow, what a powerful tool to push the envelope of storytelling. That, for me, was the main attraction, that I could take people to these places that I go alone or with my crew. I can literally transport them to those places without them having to leave wherever they are and see the things that I've seen, experience, quote-unquote, the things that I've experienced. Yeah, that's been my journey.
[00:02:42.936] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could give me a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.
[00:02:48.673] Joel Kachi Benson: Okay, I mean, well, so background, like I said, filmmaker, making documentaries. So in the past four years, I've been documenting the impacts of terrorism on women and children. And that has taken me to the northeast of Nigeria where I'm based, right? And a lot of people have heard about Boko Haram, which has at certain times been classified as the world's deadliest terrorist group. They take no hostages to kill. Women, children, men, they don't care. And from my experience, I've always seen that the biggest victims of any conflict are actually women and children. They are the most vulnerable. I've seen kids who can't talk anymore just because of what they've seen, you know. I've seen women who are scarred for life because they stood and watched their husbands being killed, decapitated right in front of them, you know. So, and you know, sometimes you hear these things and you see these things and you wonder, How do I share this with the larger world and make it as authentic and as real as it possibly can be? So I remember one day we were in an IDP camp making a film and a friend of mine walked up to me and he said, Hey, look, have you heard about VR? I was like, no. And he said, well, is this thing where you can bring people to this place? Like they can actually be here without actually being here. You know, that was just, that was, that was strange news to me. And I was like, well, I mean, I've never heard about it. You know, I'm, I'm not sure that's something I want to start exploring right now. And you know, the discussion kind of just, you know, petted off after that. Fast forward about a year later, I was making a commercial video for a client and she said to me, Oh, we would like to make a 360 degree video of our projects because we want to share with our clients in Europe. And I was like, well, I don't do, I don't, I can't do that. I don't do that. And she said, but I would like you to do it. I guess it was, you know, I had worked with them over time. So they had this faith and confidence, you know, in my work. And she said, look, just, just figure out how to do it and just get it done. You know, so obviously out of respect, I decided to make some inquiries and find out. And unfortunately there were not that many people. In fact, there was, I couldn't find anyone who was doing VR in Nigeria. Then I went online and found a few places in the States and in the UK where they do trainings in VR. And so it was a question of, OK, so do I want to do this or not? But at the point of research, it was interesting because I started to see things. I was like, hmm, this actually looks quite interesting. Maybe I should invest some money in getting some training. Obviously that's a big challenge back home in Nigeria where access to technology is not as easily accessible as it would be in the West. You know, sometimes you really have to travel far to get the knowledge. But it was something I was willing to do. So I remember saying, OK, you know what? She wants this. I'm interested in this. Let me go try it out. And I remember flying out to Chicago to get the training done. And it was in the States that I wore a VR headset for the first time. And the moment I wore it, I remember what my friend told me in the IDP camp. And I said, oh, wow. This was what he was talking about. And honestly, I mean, I forgot about this woman's project. All I could think about was going back to the IDP camp to tell that story. And I remember after the training, I flew back to Lagos. And the first thing I did was to fly straight to Maiduguri and went to the IDP camp and made my first VR movie in Bakasi, which was sort of like profiling kids who were living with PTSD. It was shot in an IDP camp where you have about 36,000 people. which is the largest IDP camp in Nigeria. And so that's really how the journey started. And obviously the feedback that I got, you know, after making it was, oh, wow, it's like I was there. And the empathy level, right, if in my regular films it was, say, 50%, the empathy level went to like 80 or 90 or 100%. It was just like double. And that for me was a great encouragement. Like, okay, you know what? People actually connect to this technology. They actually connect to this format. And maybe I should explore it more. Maybe I should use it more to tell stories. I'm not going to walk away from traditional filmmaking. But this is a format that I'm going to be. I'm in this for the long haul. So that's been my journey. I don't know if that answers your question.
[00:07:32.627] Kent Bye: Yeah, for sure. That's incredibly helpful. Thank you. One thing, what is the IDP camp again? What's the context around that?
[00:07:39.370] Joel Kachi Benson: Oh, so the IDP camp is an internally displaced persons camp. And basically what happens is so when Boko Haram come, they wipe out an entire village and take over. And so everybody in that village runs away. That means they are displaced. They don't have anywhere to go to. They don't have a community anymore. And so when they run into the main cities where there is a semblance of structure, there's a semblance of security, then they are placed in these temporary places like maybe schools or stadiums or just open spaces. And there, they make homes. So these places are called IDP camps. And they have quite a few of those in northeast Nigeria, where the Boko Haram terrorists, that's where they're based, that's where they commit the vast majority of havoc.
[00:08:29.646] Kent Bye: And what's the background of the Boko Haram? Like, what's their story in terms of why they're so just viciously violent in this way? Like, I don't have any context as to who they are and why they're doing it.
[00:08:41.617] Joel Kachi Benson: Well, I mean, the story of Boko Haram, because I've done a few documentaries on Boko Haram itself as, you know, as a sect. So it's just extreme Islamic ideologies that preach violence against infidels or those they classify as infidels. And in Nigeria, I mean, we had this, there was this guy who started off saying that Western education was evil, was bad. And gradually, over time, he started to attract a lot of followers. Unfortunately, clashes between his sect and the government forces, the police at the time, resulted in death and a heavy clampdown on them. and so they went into hiding and then they resurfaced again and then this time it was the army that came and shot them down and in the process they killed the leader and that just escalated into violence now at the time they were not taken seriously so they were handled with kid gloves and then they took laws into their hands and just shut down a city. No one saw it coming. Before anyone could wake up to the fact that, look, this is not business as usual, they had already carved out a swath of northeast Nigeria and, you know, they had access to guns, they shut down the city of Maiduguri, shut down the airport. You know, it was something that we hadn't, as a country, experienced before. The only time we had experienced that level of stuff was the Civil War, and that was in 1967. No one had seen this kind of thing before. And their violence was on a level that was just unprecedented. They would go into a place and kill 2,000 people, kill 300 people, kill 500 people. It was just, it was something that no one saw coming. And in no time, the death toll had gone up to 20,000. and displaced wasn't the millions, people who were displaced from their communities. And that's sort of like the backstory in brief, really, of Boko Haram. I mean, it's more in-depth than that, but in brief, that's the backstory. And then it just became one minute, it was just a bunch of ragtag guys saying that they wanted to have their own territory. And the next thing, it became a global story. I mean, one of the things that they did that took them to international notoriety. Two things actually was when they bombed the UN headquarters building in Abuja and killed quite a few people. And then when they went to a previously unknown town in northeast Nigeria and kidnapped 276 girls from a hostel in the middle of the night. And then, I mean, the whole world went crazy like, who are these guys? Where did they come from?
[00:11:40.548] Kent Bye: So that's Boko Haram in brief. And so this documentary, this 360 video that you created is based in Chibok where you're talking to a mother who lost her daughter in this kidnapping and so maybe you could talk about the process of you going there and trying to figure out how to tell the story through the lens of a mother.
[00:12:02.688] Joel Kachi Benson: Well, yeah. So, when on April 14th, 2014, the world woke up to the news of 276 girls kidnapped, it was just... it was impossible to believe. Like, how do you kidnap 276 girls? I mean, did you come with a truck? Did you come with an airplane? Like, how? At the time, the government denied it. They didn't even pay any attention to it. So the government was saying one thing. International press, because I think it was CNN that broke the news, was saying another thing. Local press was saying another thing. So it was hard to separate fact from fiction. There were so many versions of the story that as Nigerians, I mean, those of us that cared, it was like, okay, could this be like politics? Could this be like a political ploy? I mean, even the government was saying something like, oh, it was the opposition party that was trying to use this as a political ploy to make them look bad. Do you understand what I mean? And so from that time on, I was curious. I wanted to find out the truth for myself. I mean, as a documentary filmmaker, from a story perspective, it aroused my curiosity. But Chibok is in Northeast Nigeria. It's in a remote part of Northeast Nigeria that is very high risk. So the opportunity did not present itself for me to go there until January 2019. I was making another documentary that took me through Chibok. and obviously by this time I was already in VR and so you know anytime I go along with making my regular films I just take along a VR camera just in case and we got to Chibok and after making our documentary I decided to just explore the town and speak to the people and find out the truth quote-unquote for myself and by the time I started speaking to these people it was the mothers that I was introduced to and I mean, it didn't take me long to realize that, wow, wow. This is for real. This actually really happened. It's interesting because when you go to Nigeria, I mean, I've had interviews on radio and I have people phone in and say Chibok is not real, it's not a true story. And this happened this year. So it tells you the level of detachments and disconnects that even Nigerians have from the story. And it tells you the level of how much that propaganda of it's fake news, how much it has gone in. Because so many people don't think it's true. So many people think it's just, oh no, that never happened. And I've had people who have watched the documentary say to me, wow, first of all, I want to apologize to the people of Chibok. I was one of those that said it wasn't real. But just going there now, all I can say is I'm sorry. Shot a few scenes and then we came back to Lagos I went over them and I felt that you know what we have the making of a good story here and then we decided to go back for real and Spend some extra time, you know making the story
[00:15:10.596] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I think one of the things that I noticed in the piece, it was just really powerful just to have her walking around with the camera and it was really intimate. And so how did you choose your main protagonist in this piece? And like, how do you go through the process of trying to build trust with her to be able to tell her story?
[00:15:31.193] Joel Kachi Benson: So that's a very good question because interestingly the story did not start with her. The story actually started with her daughter who is a stepsister of the one that was kidnapped. So initially I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of a girl who is missing her sister. So I remember the first day we had filmed her, went to school with her, went everywhere with her. And then we came back and then I decided to have a chat with her mom. You need to also remember that I didn't have the luxury of time to explore so many characters. Because, like I said, it's a high-risk environment. We had a limited time to stay and get out. And we were told by the military, we cannot guarantee your safety after a certain period, so you have to leave. But I was also very intent on ensuring that I'll do my best to get the right character for the story. Otherwise, you know, it doesn't make any sense. So we spoke to the mom and the moment she started talking to us I could see this multiple levels of contradictions of pain, you know, I mean, this is someone who is she's a woman leader and Her daughter is missing. Whenever there is a negotiation with the terrorists and any of the girls are released, she's the one they call to come to the nation's capital to identify the girls. She brings them back. She hugs the mothers. She hugs the girls. And then she goes back to her room and asks, where is my own daughter? So it was just so layered and I was like, no way. This is, I mean, her why is so strong. Her desire is so strong and this would make a perfect character for me. In terms of trust, the people of Chibok over time have been exploited by the press. They've been exploited by NGOs. They've been exploited by all kinds of people who have come with all kinds of reasons to want to tell their story. So there's a wall. Those walls don't come down easily. And I was told that in clear terms, that, look, we're not interested in talking to anybody. Because they feel like there are pawns in this game that they don't understand. I mean, if you remember a line from the story, she said, why us? What did we do? We were minding our own business. What did we do? Who did we offend? So they don't understand what's going on. Till now, they still don't understand. They don't understand why this happened to them. So there's a lot of distrust of, you know, the intentions of people who come to find out what their story is. So it took us a few days to get those walls down and try to explain to them that, hey, look, our intentions are genuine. We're doing this because we want to amplify your voices. We feel that your story is slowly being forgotten, and we need to reactivate that story. We need to remind people that 112 girls are still missing. We need to remind people that the Chibok story does not have an ending yet. For a lot of people, they think that, okay, yeah, Chibok is in the past, it's gone, but that's a story that's still fresh in their hearts. And so it took us a bit of time, but by the time they realized that our intentions were genuine, the walls came down and they allowed us into their space. Our protagonist was a very friendly woman. You know, she just gave us full access. The community gave us full access. They trusted us that we would do right by them. And, you know, I believe that to the best of our ability, we've done our best.
[00:19:06.317] Kent Bye: Well, that was one of the things that I was kind of left questioning because there were some of the young girls that were released and so then they're there, but there wasn't any sort of in-depth of like, okay, what will happen? What was their experience? And so did you get to talk to them about what they saw or experienced or did they have additional context as to what happened to them after they got kidnapped?
[00:19:29.096] Joel Kachi Benson: Well, so the thing about the girls is that, so first of all, the ones that have been released, there's a lot of therapy that they're undergoing and so the authorities are very protective of them, if I could use that word, and who they speak to and what they talk about. and I chose to respect that because I don't know what they've been through. They've said some things but obviously you don't want to ask questions that could trigger something that would cause a retrogression of whatever progress that they've made since they returned. And we were told in clear terms, be very careful the kind of subjects that you discuss with them. They are not at that point yet when they should be talking about this generally. So we decided to respect that. And for me, because they were not my main focus. And it's interesting because it's very easy to want to tell a story about Chibok and tell the story from the perspective of any of these girls who has returned. I mean, it's the natural thing to want to do. Alright, but I saw in these women, the mothers, a story that hasn't been told yet. Everybody says bring back our girls and that slogan is not dead yet. We should always remember it. However, one of the parents asked me a question that I had no answer for and he said to me, When our daughters return, they give them therapy. They take care of them and all of that, which is good. But who is asking about us, the parents? He said to me, 33 parents have died. as a result of trauma directly linked to the loss of their children? Who's asking about us? Who's talking about us? And that was a question I could not answer. And I felt that, you know what, that should be the focus of my story. There are other people who are suffering as a result of this tragedy. And we also need to shine the spotlight on them. There are women who are sick right now, they cannot move, you know, because they have had high blood pressure and then from then they had stroke and all of that stuff. Who's talking about them? you know, who's asking about them. And so it was important for me to be focused with my story. So there's a scene where obviously you see the girls, but they don't say anything. You know, you just see them. They don't say anything. And it was just to buttress the point that, yes, some of them have returned, you know, but there are still many more out there who are still missing. They're not back yet. And we don't know if they will return. We don't know if they will return.
[00:22:06.967] Kent Bye: Yeah, there was a probably the most powerful point for me in watching your piece was the moment when the mother brings back kind of like this little purse with a lot of these different artifacts and she pulls out a photo and just kind of holds it up and she just you know breaks down and crying and so maybe talk about how do you like capture a scene like that or how do you instruct it or how like what what led up to that for you to be able to capture that?
[00:22:34.647] Joel Kachi Benson: That was the toughest scene to film because at that point I think there wasn't a dry eye left in the room. So prior to that time we would ask her the question and she would answer. would ask her and she would answer. But at that point, you know, I just, I really stopped talking. I just allowed her to just talk because it was even too painful for me to go on, you know. Part of the point that they cannot move on is the fact that she has a bag full of her daughter's clothes. and those clothes they wash those clothes every other month and dry them and fold them and put them back in the bag and she said she does this because she believes that her daughter is going to come back man when she said that i just broke down in tears i just said to myself what in the world like I have a daughter, man. I would go bonkers. I would go mad. And when I saw her doing that, bringing out those clothes and, and showing them to us and saying even the pencils that she went to school with, even the exercise book, I said to myself, like, man, you know, um that was the first time i experienced you know you're making a film and the film changes you do you get what i mean like it changes you it changes you um it changes you i don't know what else to say it changes you and uh yana She's a strong woman. She's a strong woman. I don't know how, I don't know how she does it. I don't know how she does it, but those are the things that she holds on to. That's what she holds on to. Those are the mementos of hope that look. I hold on to these clothes, I hold on to this picture, I hold on to this pencil, I keep this bag because I know that someday my daughter is going to come back. And I remember saying to her, if you had anything to say to your daughter, what would you say? And I mean, you heard it. She's telling her daughter that, look, we're waiting for you. We'll never stop waiting for you. And don't be ashamed to come back. Because it's interesting when she says, don't be ashamed to come back. You ask yourself, why would the daughter be ashamed to come back? Well, these girls have been raped. These girls have kids now. You understand what I mean? Impregnated by a bunch of gun-wielding terrorists, madmen. You know? So that could make a child feel suicidal. That could make a child feel, I don't want to go back. I'm changed. I'm not the person that left. But she's saying to her daughter, just come the way you are. I will accept you. You will always be my girl. So... Making that film was hard. I won't lie, man. It was hard, it was tough. It was tough, but we pushed on because we knew we had to do it. We had to make that film. We had to make that film. I'm happy we did it. I'm happy we went through with it. And, yeah. Yeah.
[00:26:12.524] Kent Bye: Wow, that's... Well, no, I'm just thankful for you that you went into this situation and captured this story. I mean, it was really moving when I saw it. I just broke out in tears when I was watching that scene and it was just really heartbreaking to see that. Have you been able to go back to Chibok and show them the piece?
[00:26:36.608] Joel Kachi Benson: So like I said, the film started as a project of curiosity and then it slowly morphed into this vehicle for support. I remember going to the farm with Yana and I said to her, I said, I want to go with you to the farm. And she takes us to this place, this dry earth. And she's hacking into the dry earth. And I said to her, Mama, take us to your farm. This is not for show. And she says, this is my farm. And she hacks and she brings out granite and shows to me. I've never seen a farm like this before. It's like hacking into... And I said to her, I said, OK, so I cannot bring back your daughter, but if I had to do something for you, what would that be? And she said, look, we are all farmers. Every woman in Chibok has a farm. And the only support that you can do for us is if you can help us get fertilizer and pesticides so that we can increase our yield. And so I said, fine, I will take this film back with me. And everywhere I show it, I will tell people that this is what we should do for you. and so that's what we're doing right now and so what happened was we did a few screenings we did one in Lagos and I had to fly her in from Chibok so she came to Lagos I remember that evening we put her in a room no one knew she was there and after everybody saw the film by the last minute we brought her out and it was everybody was in tears you know she said a few words and thanked everyone And she saw the film afterwards, you know. And I remember walking up to her and I said to her, I said, what do you think, mama? And she hugged me and she said, thank you, my son. The first day I went to Chibok, I was just Mr. Joel, Mr. Benson. But now she calls me my son. And I guess it's proof of how you can build trust. And like I said, how a project that you make can change you. She's seen the film, she loves it. She doesn't quite understand the technology, but she loves it. But more importantly, we're using it to raise support for them, for the 112 mothers who are still waiting for their daughters, to see what we can do for them.
[00:28:54.981] Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess I had a technical question in terms of the language because it's translated and she's speaking another language And so what what was the language that her is there native language? And is there a version of this film that's in you know, non-english because there was a choice to Have like a translator say what she says rather than to hear what she was saying and with translation so I'm just curious to hear about that process and that decision and
[00:29:16.839] Joel Kachi Benson: Yeah, so we had two options. So we did the interview, and then we transcribed the entire interview. And after transcribing it, we now took it word for word. I mean, in some places, maybe it was sort of contextualized or abridged, but it's still the same thing. And then I had two options. Do I subtitle? Or do I get a narrator? I chose a narrator because from my experience, when I watch movies that have subtitles, I focus on the subtitles. I want to read them. And sometimes I miss certain things and then I have to rewind. But we don't have that luxury with this film. I want people to be carried along as quickly as possible to my goal. And so I felt that, you know, having a translator or a narrator would be better. So someone would narrate exactly what she was saying as she was saying it. But what was interesting was that she was speaking in Hausa, by the way, which is the native language of the vast majority of people from the northern part of the country. So, I now said I wanted a narrator, but I was looking for someone from the north who would have the accent. So, speak in English but still have the accent. I remember I had done like three or four different people and I kept complaining to my team that I've not heard the voice yet. I've not heard the voice yet. And they kept saying, but it sounds good. I said, no, this is not what I want to hear. And so one day I made a random call to an elder colleague of mine and he said, oh, I know someone who might just be able to do this. And then he introduced us to this lady. And I remember we went to the studio that day and the lady, being a professional, just glanced through the scripts and then started reading. And then she got to a point and she stopped and broke down in tears. She couldn't continue. We had to sort of like put the session and I said to her why She's from Chibok Her sister Was eight months pregnant and had to walk about 40 or 50 kilometers on barefoot to the border of Cameroon Her legs were bleeding by the time she got there as a function of so it was personal to her And then I knew that, yeah, I had found the right person. And I said to her, I said, you know what, just take your time. And then she started again and then she broke down again. You know, so the tears you hear is not fakery. It's coming from a place of a deep connection to the story. Even the soundtrack that we did, I remember flying back to Maiduguri. So there was a day we were filming, the women were having a meeting in Chibok. And before the meeting started, they had this recital they were saying in Hausa. So I had the headphones in my ear and I called my translator and I said, what are they saying? And she said, oh, they are saying the Lord's Prayer. They say that every time. I'm like, oh, wow, it sounds so good. So when I got back to Lagos, I flew back to Maiduguri and I got a local choir. to sing the Lord's Prayer in Hausa. And then I sent the raw fire to a friend of mine called Koba Mzasukwo, who now made the music around the voice. And so we kept everything to the best of our ability, as true to the region, as true to that town as we possibly could. So the music, the voiceover, everything, we kept it as original as possible. Just try to, as much as possible, maintain the integrity of the story. All the components that we could, yeah.
[00:32:52.489] Kent Bye: Yeah, as I was watching it, that was one of the things that I was, I guess, wanting as a viewer is even to hear a little bit of the natural language in her native tongue speaking, just even if I don't understand it, just to hear her voice and the quality of her voice, because I think, I don't know if there was an opportunity for her to speak, but, and again, it's not like I wanted to know everything that was said, I just wanted to sort of connect to the voice and the language, and there was what was clearly a narrator and a voice, but I figured that it wasn't, but it's one of those things where I don't know, I guess to hear some of the indigenous language and culture and just have that connection to it, even if I can't understand it.
[00:33:28.851] Joel Kachi Benson: Yeah, I mean, you totally have a point there. I'm not afraid to say, or I'm not shy to say that these are still formative years for us in this technology and applying it. I mean, there are one or two very brief scenes where she says something in the language. So there's a scene where she's talking to her little boy. And she says something to him in the language. We left that. And then at the very end, at the very end of the film, before she breaks down in tears and we go to black, we left that part for her to say it in her own language. After the English voice ended, she just said, so what she was saying there was, my baby is just a little girl. You know, she said it in her language. And then she breaks down in tears, you know. Why did they take my little girl? And so those are the parts. But I guess those are decisions that you think about in terms of the larger piece. What would you rather go for? Conversations that you have with your team, with yourself. What do I want to let go of? What do I want to keep? What's important to this piece? What's not? Like I said, I'm in this for the long haul. There will be other stories to tell. There will be other formats to sort of like experiment with and explore and all of that. You know, I'm like a child with this. I'm always willing to learn, always willing to explore new things, learn, explore, learn, explore, try it.
[00:34:52.145] Kent Bye: So yeah. For you, what do you think is next for you in virtual reality?
[00:34:58.790] Joel Kachi Benson: Man, I mean you're interviewing me in Venice, right? I'm out here with the heavyweights In the VR world and I've seen stuff. I'm like wow Wow, the thought process that goes into what people make. What's next for me is my next project, really. I'm very big on drawing attention to the things that we shy away from. And I think that in my country, it's a big problem. We're very heavy on jokes and comedy and all kinds of stuff, which is good. But there are a lot of things that are happening that we turn away from. It's almost like burying your head in the sand. It really doesn't solve the problem just because you look away. It's still going to be there. And so I want to use virtual reality to take people to places and show them things that they would rather not notice. We have subjects on climate change and its impact on security. In Nigeria, it's crazy. We have communities that are being wiped out right now because of clashes between herdsmen and farmers. We have human trafficking. It's become a scourge. It's like a national embarrassment. So those are topics that I want to explore. But I'm also very interested in exploring interactive content. I've tried out a few and I really loved it. There's this really moving piece that I saw, The Key, and I found it. I mean, I still have my memento here. I appreciated the story a lot more, just being able to interact. So those are things that I want to explore a bit more, a lot more actually. Obviously, the biggest challenge for someone like me who operates in Nigeria is that ability to find collaboration easily so a lot of times you have to work almost alone you know because i mean you're far from the west so it's not like maybe i have like Experts on a higher level than I am in my country or in my region that I can hear say, you know What can you guys fly in this, you know, so that then makes those kind of process is very expensive So if I need an expert to work with me, maybe he has to come from Joburg, you know or from the UK From the US, you know, so I mean so that that you know, but yeah, I mean I want to explore interactive content In VR, I saw something in AR, augmented reality, which is, you know, it's a bit of an interesting, I mean, it's a whole new world out there. It's so exciting. I mean, I have so many ideas brewing in my head. I'm going to just wait until I get back to Nigeria and cool off and decide what I want to do next. But definitely it's going to be something, whatever it is, whatever, if I decide to do linear or interactive or whatever, it will still be something that draws people's attention to issues. I love entertainment, I love the games, but I think that what I'm passionate about are these kind of stories that we would rather turn a blind eye to. I want to amplify people's voices. That's what I want to do.
[00:38:18.403] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of immersive entertainment and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?
[00:38:31.248] Joel Kachi Benson: That question is probably for some experts. the potential. You know, so I say to people that VR, immersive experiences and immersive content is like a whole new world, like literally, you know, you can do anything, think about it, whatever it is, you know, and the possibilities are just, it's endless. And I guess for me, coming from where I come from, the potential that it has is huge. I mean, even for things like education. like as a teaching tool you know it's something that we are already talking about we're already exploring back home like you know how can we use this to get knowledge to places where you don't have maybe enough teachers could this be an alternative to that you know i mean what are the pros and cons of doing that you know for training you know to you know like for what we've done with daughters of chibok for immersive experiences of places that people cannot. So, I mean, the potential is huge. It's still very young and for us, we'll keep saying the same thing, it's still very expensive, especially for us back home, all right? That is the major challenge that we have, but I don't think it's an insurmountable challenge. I think we can definitely overcome it and I really can't wait to see what this would look like five years from now. Like, it's gonna be incredible. Maybe when they make the headsets smaller, right? And then get more people to have access to it. That could be... Because something has to happen to make it really, really mainstream. At this point, you know, viewings are limited. You know, you just targeted audience. So for instance, you have a place like, a lot of people have been asking me also, how do I watch your film? How do I watch your film? You know, because, you know, access to headsets, maybe it's more popular in the West, but back home in Nigeria, not that many people have headsets. You know, I think that the tipping point would be when this becomes like really accessible to everyone, like everyone, like you can walk into someone's house and there are like two or three headsets lying around. you know just the way you have like playstations and xbox and all that that would really get a lot more players into the field and when you have more people in it I think that that would change things faster. Because then you have more minds thinking about it. So if you have a small industry of say, what, 10,000 people right now globally, just a number I'm throwing out there, it cannot be the same as if you have 100,000 people in that same field. Then you have more people thinking about it, thinking about solutions, thinking about ideas, thinking about concepts. So yeah, if that does happen, then it would really change things. But it's a whole new world out there waiting to be explored, man. It's a whole new world out there.
[00:41:35.035] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:41:40.380] Joel Kachi Benson: I don't know, man. I'm happy to have discovered this. I'm happy that I'm a part of this community. I'm happy that I came in at this point where it's still in its quote-unquote infancy. We are all growing together. I mean, there are a lot of brilliant, brilliant minds out there. I mean, just coming to Venice has opened my eyes to a lot of, like, I mean, there are some amazing minds out there. And, you know, I mean, what can I say? the human mind or humans naturally were never satisfied with status quo. We'll keep pushing the envelope. And so that's what we'll keep doing. And like I said, five years from now, it's, I'm curious to see what, what this industry would look like. I think it would be, I think it would be amazing. I think, I don't think we would recognize Venice of 2025. It would be way different from Venice of 2019. That's for sure. With the kind of content that people would see. Totally.
[00:42:39.970] Kent Bye: Well, I just wanted to thank you for sitting down for me at the early morning of the party here at Venice and to thank you for the pioneering work that you're doing in VR in Nigeria to be able to bring this technology and to tell some of the stories that are happening in your native country. So thank you.
[00:42:55.537] Joel Kachi Benson: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm honored. I'm honored. Thanks, Voices of VR.
[00:43:04.480] Kent Bye: So that was Joel Kachi Benson. He's the documentary filmmaker who created the documentary called Daughters of Chibok, which happened to win the best immersive 360 video experience at the Venice International Film Festival. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, well, this piece is an amazingly powerful piece. For anybody that questions the power of the medium of 360 video, I highly recommend checking this piece out. Hopefully it'll be released at some point. I'm not sure if it's generally available right now, but There's only so much that you can do when you're telling certain stories and you try to do CGI. I cannot imagine this story being told in CGI. just because, you know, you're being taken to this place and just to see the emotions and the pain of these parents. And so a lot of this process for Joel was to actually go in and build trust. And, you know, starting with originally trying to tell the story through the perspective of the sister, but then seeing that actually the parents were left without a lot of support. And so he focused it on this woman named Yana, who is kind of like the leader of this community and interfaces with the terrorist organizations. So a lot of these survivors who actually are returned, it sounds like they've gone through all sorts of intense trauma, rape, you know, who knows what else? I think there was a request from the authorities to not have any specific interviews with any of these women just because they wanted to kind of protect their privacy. And it sounded like there was a lot of people that were floating in and floating out, maybe grabbing the stories and, you know, not much coming of it. And so, you know, stories like this, they want to really ensure that you're dedicated to telling the story, but also that you're not just going to come in and go out. So, He was really connecting to the community in that way. So I had a chance to run into Joel at the Impact Reality Summit and asked him if he had any updates and actually was following on his Instagram and he actually took the main protagonist of the film, Yana, to the United Nations in New York City and they were able to show it to a number of different representatives at the United Nations and to actually get support for a lot of the parents. He said that there was around 33 of the parents who had lost their children that had died with different trauma related to the kidnapping and so Trying to get actual support for those parents. And so this is a piece that you know Who knows how far it's gonna get out for the wide world? But he's trying to capture this moment in time and to actually within the context of Nigeria This specific topic was seen as something that wasn't actually real. It was like seen as fake news and so we live in this media ecosystem where things are dismissed in this way and I think there's limits in terms of like a I do believe that this actually happened and then he's documenting it. But then if there are things that actually did not happen, could you start to then manufacture a whole virtual reality experience to show it to people to believe that it happened? So, you know, obviously there's a lot of ethical issues in the future of how virtual reality is going to be. used. Right now it's used for good, but if people wanted to really create these propaganda pieces, then they could start to potentially solidify all sorts of different aspects of these fake news. And so we're in a media ecosystem right now where everybody's like really questioning and challenging, like, what are the authentic stories? I think for anybody that watches The Daughters of Chibok story, they can really just see like, okay, this feels like this is an authentic story. I mean, it doesn't seem plausible that be able to kind of orchestrate all these different community dynamics in the story, you just really see the pain and the loss of all these daughters that have been kidnapped. And just the larger context of what's happening in the terrorism and the Boko Haram and you know, how there's been over 20,000 people killed and millions of people displaced. And so it's a whole dynamic within Nigeria and that I think what Joel found was that he wants to really help to transport people into these different remote areas that aren't actually safe to go to. So you can't go there yourself to be able to get the story. And so there's all sorts of other stories within the IDPs, the internally displaced persons camp, where a lot of people who have been displaced from a lot of these terrorist acts. so it's a really moving experience and I was so happy to see that it ended up winning an award at the Venice Film Festival and I hope to see that it gets out there and for more people to see it and for more of these different stories to be told because like I said I think there's a big role for the documentary aspect of how you can start to capture stories and to be able to take you to places that you weren't able to go before and this is I think a prime example of one of the really moving experiences that, and uses of virtual reality as this form of oral history to be able to capture these different stories and to be able to share around the world these different experiences, but also to share them even within these local communities. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of Era podcast and If you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from listeners like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. Just $5 a month is a great amount to give, and just allows me to continue to bring you stories like this from Joel. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.