The Sun Ladies VR is an amazing story about a group of Yazidi women from the Northern Iraq community of Sinjar, who escaped as sex slaves and started an all-female unit to fight the terrorist organization ISIS. ISIS raided the Sinjar District in August 2014 and massacred over 2,000 Yazidis, selling many women into slavery. There is a group of women who escaped and decided to fight back in part because ISIS believes that they’ll go to hell if they’re killed by a woman. These women call themselves “The Sun Ladies,” and their story inspired activist and actor Maria Bello to form a team of war journalists and VR creators to travel to Iraq to capture their story of women’s empowerment.
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The Sun Ladies premiered at Sundance, and I caught up with co-directors & producers Céline Tricart and Christian Stephen. Tricart is a VR cinematographer & director who recently published Virtual Reality Filmmaking: Techniques & Best Practices for VR Filmmakers, and Stephen is a British war journalist who directed the first VR piece from a war zone in 2015 with Welcome to Aleppo. I talked with Tricart & Stephen about the process of traveling to northern Iraq, building trust with the Sun Ladies in order to share their stories of empowerment, their creative use of illustrations, and what they see are the strengths and limitations of using VR to tell stories within these areas of conflict.
Their production process was a fusion of lessons from their backgrounds in war journalism and VR cinematography, and they used VR’s ability to transport you to another place. VR cameras are easily mistaken as a bombs, and so it was difficult to capture footage from the frontlines. This limitation inspired Tricart to reach out to lead VR artist on Dear Angelica, Wesley Allbrook, in order to create illustrated representations of the Sun Ladies fighting using Quill. In order to make that transition more seamless, they added a unique blend of illustrations on top of the cinematic 360-degree footage in order to emphasize the characters within the sparse landscape of Northern Iraq.
Both Tricart & Stephen wanted to avoid the trope of focusing on the tragedy and trauma of the previous experiences of these women, but rather tell the story of how they’re empowering themselves to fight back and protect their community. Stephen has a lot of deep insights about the dynamics of the region, and he points out that it was vital to have Tricart there to be able to listen and capture the stories of these women.
The project was the brainchild of Bello, and she put together an amazing team that’s pushing the boundaries of immersive storytelling by going into the trenches to capture these types of stories. They blended in 2D footage gathered from Stephen’s awareness from reporting in the region to the backstory, and then leveraged VR’s ability to transport you into other worlds to open a window into their journey into recovery and empowerment.
The Sun Ladies is a really inspiring story that captures a lot of intimate moments, and it fuses in an artistic style with Allbrook’s Quill illustrations that really captures their fierce warrior spirits.