Al Jazeera Contrast is an immersive storytelling and media innovation studio that is interested in telling the stories of the Global South and communities of color. They premiered a multi-media experience at Sundance New Frontier called Still Here that explores the complex dynamics of mass incarceration, erasure, and gentrification in Harlem.

Still Here featured a three-part, room-scale, AR tablet experience that showed the evolution of gentrification in Harlem, a photo gallery installation featuring members of the Women’s Prison Association advocacy group, and a virtual reality experience focusing on the plight of formerly-incarcerated women of color. The VR experience juxtaposed a dramatized virtual reality, 360-degree video showing the archetypal experiences of women returning to life after experiencing mass incarceration, and then was intercut with a room-scale, volumetric photogrammetry scan of 3 different sections of an apartment that each had a couple of objects that provided statistics and infographics providing more context to the collective experience of prison.

I had a chance to unpack this experience with one of the lead artists, producer, VR experience team, collaborators from the Women’s Prison Association, and the lead actress from the 360-video narrative.

  • Zahra Rasool: Head of Al Jazeera Contrast, one of the lead artists on Still Here.
  • Viktorija Mickute: Senior producer at Al Jazeera Contrast, creative director and producer of Still Here.
  • Maria Fernanda Lauret: Post production of VR narrative portion.
  • Mo Caicedo: Hey Mister, created the VR experience with photogrammetry interactivity.
  • Tamanika: Women’s Prison Association & collaborator on in Still Here.
  • Sister Eli: Women’s Prison Association & collaborator on Still Here.
  • Le’Asha Julius: Actress in Still Here.

This experience did a great job of being able to connect the dots between the collective and universal experience of mass incarceration, but grounded within the personalized dramatization and narrative. While it’s impossible for virtual reality to communicate the full trauma of mass incarceration, alienation, and gentrification, it’s able to start to capture the real-life pains and struggles that these women face after being incarcerated. Being able to experience Still Here provided me with enough context to be able to dive deeper into the experiences of Tamanika and Sister Eli, and for the medium of virtual reality to be able to share the essence of each other their own stories. They were at the photo gallery speaking to attendees during the Sundance screenings of Still Here at the New Frontier at the Ray, and they shared their experiences of VR and the audience reactions. I also had a chance to explore the experiential design process, and continued exploration into immersive storytelling that is happening at Al Jazeera Contrast.


Here’s a video with more context about the 25-minute VR portion of Still Here

Here’s a video with more context about the 18-minute AR portion of Still Here

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Music: Fatality

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