“Frontline” VR Ebola doc to debut this weekend

Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey, a collaborative project between the PBS strand, Columbia University's Tow Center and producer Secret Location, will premiere at the ONA15 journalism conference in Los Angeles on September 26.
September 25, 2015

PBS’s investigative journalism strand ‘Frontline’ will premiere its first virtual reality documentary this weekend at digital journalism conference ONA15.

Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey is a collaborative project between Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and producer Secret Location. It will launch on Google Cardboard at Google’s Midway Booth at the Los Angeles conference on Saturday (September 26) between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Frontline producer Raney Aronson-Rath and Secret Location founder James Milward will be on hand for live demos. Tow Center’s director Emily Bell and research director Claire Wardle will also attend the launch.

By using VR technology, producers hope to give viewers a sense of the West African Ebola outbreak, which has claimed upwards of 11,000 lives since it began last year.

Shot by filmmaker Dan Edge in West Africa using 360-degree cameras, the doc unfolds in three parts. Viewers visit a village in Guinea, home to the hollow tree where the recent outbreak is believed to have begun, then travel to Sierra Leone as the outbreak spreads and finally head to an emergency Ebola field hospital.

“For some time now, we’ve been interested in virtual reality’s promise and potential for journalism — but we haven’t seen this approach applied often in the current affairs space,” Aronson-Roth said in a statement. “By experimenting with this technology to put viewers at the epicenter of the worst Ebola outbreak on record, we’re exploring whether the VR journalism experience immerses our audience in this story in a way we couldn’t before.”

‘Frontline’ is also working on a second virtual reality documentary about the famine in South Sudan with the Brown Institute of Media Innovation at Columbia and Stanford Universities.

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Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.