Among the estimated 20 million sex workers in India, there are over 16 million women who are victims of sex trafficking. The alarming statistic has been brought to the forefront by several documentaries in the past, but India's entry to the South by South West (SXSW) film festival in Austin, Texas, aims to offer a more immersive experience that will get you up, close and personal, with the crisis.
Hyderabad-based organization My Choices Foundation have partnered with Oculus VR For Good to present the world’s first VR documentary on sex trafficking 'Notes to My Father'. The 11-minute long film sheds light on the ongoing crisis of sex trafficking that has deep roots in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with the true story of survivor Ramadevi and her relationship with her father. "By telling the story of a survivor through the connection with her father, we aim to highlight the very real hope that trafficking can be prevented if only families in at-risk areas are aware," says Hannah Norling, one of the producers and the Head of Marketing and Communications, My Choices Foundation.
Hyderabad has been the transit hub of the crisis, with women being brought there from around the country with promises of lucrative jobs in Gulf countries and subsequently abused and forced to work in the sex trade. They are sometimes shipped off to Singapore, Malaysia, or Dubai.
The film has been directed by acclaimed London-based documentary film maker Jayisha Patel, who has previously directed films on under-reported subjects like the vigilante group of Indian rape victims who train in Karate and other forms of self-defence and fight against sexual harassment and violence against women in the slums that they live in.
The decision to present the movie in this format is the brain child of executive producer and Creative Director of the United Nations Gabo Arora. "We have to somehow make our issues, some of the most pressing of our time, resonate more. The easy way to think is — that's not going to happen, these issues are boring. We're trying to change that, to get the early adopters and imprint young people with something before the guns and games are all they have," he had said, on championing the introduction of VR in documentary film making. With the help of VR films, Arora has helped the UN raise $3.8 billion for programs helping Syrian refugees. "In Notes To My Father, viewers become a part of the story of a trafficking survivor. Of course, it is easy to trigger too much emotion in VR, so we were careful to convey the story delicately so that the focus stays on the main message Ramadevi gives to her father — we can prevent this!" says a spokesperson of the foundation.
'Notes to My Father' will screen at the SXSW festival between 14-16 March and will come to India in May.