Being There

I had almost forgotten what a badass Bill Clinton is. Today, I was reminded in the most visceral way, thanks to virtual reality.

I just experienced Inside Impact: East Africa, an immersive short film for Gear VR documenting the work of the Clinton Global Initiative to improve conditions in the region. The best US president in my lifetime isn’t just resting on his laurels or polishing up his legacy. He is making a difference. I already knew this intellectually, but Inside Impact: East Africa made me feel it.

The piece, created by Felix & Paul Studios and Matter Unlimited,  opens with you seated face to face with the President at his desk at CGI New York City headquarters, where he tells you– you personally— about the work his organization is doing around the world in general and East Africa in particular. From there, you are taken to scenes in Tanzania and Kenya, each more heart-warming (or heart-rending) than the last, including a sit-down between Clinton and solar entrepreneurs, a classroom for young girls, and the abject squalor of slums. It ends back in 42’s office, wherein he concludes his tale, and where you’re still not believing that you are hanging out with the prez.

I see a lot of VR every day and as you can imagine, I am totally jaded. It takes a lot to impress me. Inside Impact: East Africa did more than impress; it melted my grinchy little heart. I can’t count the number of VR videos I have seen, and most of them have left me cold, little more than tech demos with the camera not in the right place and action that just wasn’t interesting. This experience couldn’t have been farther than that. I believe this is because Felix & Paul really understand how to direct for VR, they really care about the subject matter, and they know how to tell a story. I can honestly say– and I rarely say this– I felt like I was truly there. Inside Impact: East Africa took me there and delivered on one of VR’s core promises of being an empathy machine.

All this, even though I was looking through a glass darkly… the lenses were literally fogging up because I was in tears.

I’m a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. But go get Inside Impact: East Africa from the Oculus Home store first.

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