“The Hidden,” a new VR thriller that takes a critical look at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) pursuit of undocumented immigrants, will be coming to all major VR platforms in July. Los Angeles-based VR production company Vanishing Point Media partnered with the ACLU for “The Hidden” and vows to donate all the proceeds of the film to the non-profit.
“The Hidden” is being billed as a fictional story based on real events. In the film, we get to see how ICE agents trick members of an immigrant family into letting them into their house, where the undocumented dad is trying to stay unnoticed in a makeshift hiding place.
Check out a 360-degree trailer for “The Hidden” below:
The film’s production company Vanishing Point Media accelerated the release schedule for the film in light of the current attention on immigration and family separations, said the company’s co-founder and co-director BJ Schwartz in an exclusive interview with Variety. “We bumped up our timetable,” he said. “We want to make sure that this issue stays on people’s minds,” agreed co-director and co-founder Annie Lukowski.
Lukowski and Schwartz typically produce VR films for brands like Toyota and Banana Republic. “We keep the lights on by making commercials,” said Lukowski. They began working on “The Hidden” in the spring of 2017 because they were passionate about the issue, and personally knew people impacted by the threat of deportation — something that took on an increased urgency with the election of Donald Trump. “We knew that things were going to get worse,” Schwartz said.
The duo began talking to the ACLU earlier this year, and quickly decided to partner up. The civil liberties organization now plans to use “The Hidden” for some of its Know Your Rights workshops to inform impacted communities about the way ICE agents use deception to trick them into consenting searches of their properties, as well as a fundraising tool.
“We feel that this is an important piece that will help them raise awareness, educate those who are most vulnerable, and shed light on the precarious reality that many families face in this country,” said ACLU Southern California director of communications and media advocacy Marcus Benigno.
“We especially love that the piece makes the viewer intricately and intimately involved,” added the organization’s director of strategic partnerships and marketing Vicki Fox. “The impact here is visceral and unexpected because it’s a real story and an experience, not a didactic lecture.”
“The Hidden” reaches some of its immersive effects by switching perspectives, at times literally taking the viewer into hiding by putting them in the shoes of the undocumented dad, while an ICE agent interrogates family members mere feet away.
Cutting back and forth between multiple perspectives is not something that’s usually done in VR, where viewers are often reduced to being the invisible observer — but it’s surprisingly effective as a way to create both immersion and empathy. Said Schwartz: “We want to make the medium better, but we also want to make the world better.”