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Sundance: Vice News to Premiere Virtual-Reality Feature from Spike Jonze, Chris Milk

Vice News will premiere what it’s touting as the first-ever virtual-reality news feature — from filmmakers Chris Milk and Spike Jonze — Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.

Vice News VR: Millions March,” directed by Milk and Jonze and hosted by Vice News’s Alice Speri, takes viewers inside the December 2014 protest in New York City against police brutality. The film will premiere on a new app from virtual-reality developer VRSE, founded by Milk. Vice Media recently invested in VRSE.

The feature follows Speri as she covers the Dec. 13 demonstration in which more than 25,000 New Yorkers blocked streets in calling for nationwide reform after a police officer killed a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., and cops choked an African-American man to death Staten Island. Footage was captured by a 360-degree VRSE-built VR camera system designed to make it seem as if the viewer is actually present in the scene.

The VRSE app will be available via Apple’s iTunes and Google Play stores for a VR experience using Google Cardboard, or as a non-VR experience on most late-model smartphones. The app is designed to display content shot a full 360-degree 3D virtual space. VRSE expects the app to eventually be available on all VR headsets including Oculus Rift.

Vice said it plans to develop additional VR journalism projects in collaboration with Milk and VRSE.

“My hope is that VR is the tool we need to stir more compassion for one another,” Milk said in a statement. “I think VR holds the potential to fundamentally change journalism.”

Jonze, who holds the title of Vice creative director, called “Vice News VR: Millions March” an experiment in a new form of storytelling. “Living in New York this fall and feeling these spontaneous protests against police brutality that have been forming and growing, it seemed like this was the most timely and important subject to go shoot,” he said. “When we got the footage back and watched it on the goggles, I was so moved by what we had.”

Vice has worked with Milk previously on projects including the feature “Summer Into Dust,” about Arcade Fire at Coachella, and “Treachery of Sanctuary” for The Creators Project. The youth-skewing media company also worked with Spike Jonze on the first-ever YouTube Music Awards in 2013, where he directed a live music video with Arcade Fire.

Other content in the VRSE app, in addition to the “Millions March” docu, includes “Evolution of Verse,” a photo-realistic CGI experience. VRSE also collaborated with the United Nations and filmmaker Gabo Arora to create “Clouds Over Sidra,” an exploration into the life of a 12-year-old Syrian refugee as she adjusts to the conditions of the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan.

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