Brought about by a mutual interest in social impact, a group of final semester SGPIA Media and Culture students have created a collective, viewpoints360.org, to make a Virtual Reality/360 film about migration. Their film will focus on DIY aid and self-initiated aid groups assisting in relief and resettlement efforts for the refugee crisis in Europe. The group brings with them an eclectic range of expertise; Laura Nitz is the Special Projects Director in the School of Visual Art’s (SVA) Computer art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects department; Nathan Yardy’s professional experience is in documentary film, broadcast, video, multimedia production, and photography; Chelsea Camp studied international relations at Boston University; and Bianca Rogers has focused her work on Islamophobia in the media.
Below is an interview about their background, their studies and their project.
Can you talk a bit about who you are?
Laura Nitz: My journey to TNS was a bit of a whirlwind. My background is in photography and art history and I have always created work that was politically or socially focused. I taught English in Shanghai after undergrad and then started working at MoMA PS1 before landing at SVA. After looking at grad programs from fashion history to documentary film to international education, I found SGPIA and the interdisciplinary nature of the program was the perfect combo for my interests.
Nathan Yardy: My undergrad was in Media Communication and History and as my career headed in a more technical Audio-Visual direction a few years ago, I decided to return to social impact media and intercultural communication by pursuing graduate school. This was also an effort to bring together my diverse interests intellectually and artistically. I was particularly drawn to the SGPIA program, which allowed for interdisciplinary studies and international practice. One of the highlights of my time at TNS was completing the IFP 2016 program, with a documentary film project in Buenos Aires.
Chelsea Camp: I studied International Relations at Boston University during undergrad and had plans for a career in diplomacy, but life had other ideas! I ended up working for Bard College planning events and organizing a graduate conducting program, but was always drawn to New York City. I made the big move a few years ago and managed a design/architecture studio. I had always wanted a career that combined both the analytical and creative strengths of my personality, but had never had the opportunity post-undergrad to pursue the creative side. I specifically interested in the SGPIA program for the media and culture concentration which would allow me to continue building on my past studies in international affairs, while giving me the opportunity to take classes specifically focused on international media.
Bianca Rogers: My studies have focused primarily on forced migration and islamophobia in media. Last year, I co-founded the web series, Our Turn, which is dedicated towards promoting youth activism. Understanding the intersection of human rights and media was the principal reason why I chose to study in the Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs. I am passionate about using media as a platform for social justice and SGPIA has provided a multitude of opportunities, including our practicum film, to explore this intersection.
Viewpoints360.org is about migration and technology. How did you come up with that idea?
We knew we wanted to create a film going into our PIA and were all interested in new media, specifically VR/360 media. We started exploring how VR/360 media could be used as a journalistic tool and what humanitarian organizations were using the medium. We had all taken courses and/or have completed projects focused on the refugee crisis prior to PIA, and were interested in continuing to explore ethics in media and how VR could, or has, affected the refugee crisis. We didn’t want to simply research the topic; we wanted to test the medium of VR/360 film on the ground, in areas affected by the refugee crisis. However, instead of filming refugees, we wanted to focus on the volunteers and DIY aid in Lesvos, Athens, and Berlin.
How does a project like this come together?
…let me get back to you on that, ha. We are constantly reorganizing our process and workflow. After researching VR and its humanitarian uses, we had to build connections abroad. Getting access to certain individuals and organizations was the first step. This helped us figure out our travel locations and story-line. There is only so much planning that can happen with a documentary style film prior to being in the field. While traveling we ran into some bumps in the road, like when our rental car didn’t have brakes and we nearly flew into the Aegean sea (don’t worry we caught it all on film!) Despite some unexpected turns, we were able to leave Europe with plenty of context and B-roll, which has since been transcribed and edited for our final project. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to wonderful interviewees who opened their homes and businesses to us, a great advisor, Amir Husak, and a team that keeps each other moving forward, we are confident we will finish strong.
Are there any particular courses/professors who helped shape this project for you?
As part of the project, did you do any field work?
We felt that traveling abroad and hearing perspectives from volunteers and organizations on the ground was very important. Part of our team traveled to Lesvos to speak with volunteers that work in the Skala Sikamineas arrival port in the north of the island, however, due to the largest snowstorm in over two decades, our little European car did not make it. The snow storm lead us to Lefteris Margaritis, an employee at Billy’s auto rental. He is a Lesvos local and has volunteered with the crisis in a variety of ways and our first interview of DIY aid on Lesvos. In addition, we interviewed a volunteer with Israaid as well as a group of four who volunteered with Lighthouse Relief.
The snow storm meant we couldn’t make it to our intended destination and had to figure out a new solution for getting interviews. Luckily Mytilini was filled with amazing volunteers willing to share their stories with us. All our interviews in Lesvos were impromptu, aided by pure luck, kindness and our persistence.
Leaving Lesvos, we then traveled to Athens where we met up with Options Food Lab (OFL), an organization that connects newcomers and locals through cooking together. We joined OFL for “Pakistani night”. Each guest brought an ingredient and we cooked a Pakistani meal together. In Athens, we also met with Isabel Leguina, a Lighthouse Relief volunteer who has since started Books for Them, where she is has been fundraising and building libraries in refugee camps across Greece. We continued on to Berlin where we had the opportunity to interview the co-founders of both Refugees Welcome, a flat sharing service for refugees, and Singa Deutschland, an organization that connects refugees and locals through collaborative projects.
Every volunteer or organization we met with gave us a list of names of others we needed to speak with. Our field work introduced us to an amazing network of volunteers assisting in the refugee crisis. This led us to create a map tracking where volunteers come from and where they volunteered. If you are reading this and you have volunteered with the refugee crisis in some way, please add your name.
So where are you in the project now?
We are finalizing our VR/360 and traditional films. We are also currently conducting a number of focus groups to have viewers compare our films in traditional media versus VR/360 media. Community engagement is crucial for feedback about our project. In addition, we are working on an exhibition that will be open to the public. This is a way for not only our project, but other student projects that focus on displacement, migration and mobility to be showcased to the wider community.
Can you talk more about the Exhibition?
First and foremost, if you are a student working on a project with the general theme of Displacement, Migration and Mobility please submit your work by March 30th – Apply here. It can be any form of visual work, GIS mapping, photography, film, graphs, etc.
The idea for an exhibition first began with our team trying to figure out how we could showcase our final films. The idea quickly grew as we realized that many SGPIA students and students from other departments were creating work on the same topic. We wanted a way for students to engage with each other and the community by discussing their work and letting their work speak for itself. Our PIA team, along with fellow SGPIA student Alex Wynn, have been reaching out to students across TNS.
What are you hoping will be the impact from your Exhibition and Project?
Quite simply, we hope the exhibition will allow for more people to engage with student work. As for our project, we have a lot of hopes, but at the moment, as the last day of school approaches, we simply hope to finish the project on time. In all seriousness, we hope that this film encourages discussion and reflection, both at the personal and global level, on responses to this crisis. Relief and resettlement efforts are indeed complex, but no deed is too small.
To learn more about the project, or connect with the team, visit them across their media sites:
For more information about this, and other projects by SGPIA students and alum, follow @Newschool_IA on Twitter