Al Jazeera Contrast’s Groundbreaking 360º Film “Yemen’s Skies of Terror” Nominated for a News and Documentary Emmy Award
On the third anniversary of the war in Yemen, the 6 minute 30 second documentary was published online across AJ Contrast, AJ+, Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic and has garnered over 1.4 million views. The documentary won the Online News Association’s Excellence in Immersive Storytelling Award in 2018 and has been screened at the Sheffield Doc Fest, Melbourne International Film Festival and several other festivals worldwide.
The immersive documentary ‘Yemen’s Skies of Terror’, tells the story of war from the perspectives of three children; 15 year-old Akram, 7-year-old Wedad, and 17-year-old Abu Bakr, as they attempt to rebuild their lives amidst great personal loss and the rubble of what were once their neighbours’ and their homes.
“People think I am lucky because I’m alive,” says Abu Bakr, who lost his parents and three sisters in an air raid. “But I feel very lonely without my family.”
‘Yemen’s Skies of Terror’ is the first documentary of a two part series of unreported stories produced in collaboration with local talent from war-torn Yemen. The production of Part 1 started in December 2017, as the war was at its third year and some 16,000 Saudi coalition-led air raids had already fallen onto the country. Filming for Part 2 – ‘Determined for Hope’ – began in December 2018, a year later, with the aim to document malnutrition and dive deeper into what it means to be a mother in Yemen.
“The Emmy nomination bears testament to the fact that a transmedia storytelling approach that incorporates immersive tech and creative production can produce impactful journalism. And more importantly, that investigative journalism can be collaborative and community centered so that we are reporting ‘for’ and ‘with’ the people being affected the most rather than simply ‘about them’,” said Zahra Rasool, the Head of AJ Contrast. Viktorija Mickute was the producer and Maria Fernanda Lauret was the post-production lead on the project.
AJ Contrast produced and directed the documentary remotely, working closely with two local journalists on the ground in Yemen, Ahmad Algohbary and Manal Qaed Alwesabi. The training involved hundreds of WhatsApp messages, footage transfers and conversations over scratchy phone lines over a 4 months period. AJ Contrast is committed to empowering, equipping and training journalists in the use of 360º – virtual reality – cameras. There was the space and time to build real trust with local community partners in Yemen, to support local talent with technical training and to enable participatory story collection from a location that was difficult to access.
“In the end, it’s the story that matters most. As a media organization, covering the tragedy in Yemen is one of Al Jazeera’s most important missions. We hope that having these young characters tell their personal stories in a new and creative way helps us continue to shine a light on one of the world’s greatest humanitarian disasters,” said Carlos Van Meek, Director of Digital Innovation and Programming at Al Jazeera Digital.
In order to include as many Yemeni voices in the production as possible, the studio hired Sanaa based musician and composer Mohsen Al-thaheri to score the documentary. They also worked with a young Yemeni artist, Eclectic Yemeni, to create the illustrations for the animated characters found in the opening shot of the documentary.
“There are thousands of tragic stories in Yemen that are not seen by the world. It’s very difficult for us – Yemeni journalists – to get our stories published. I am glad that with the help of AJ Contrast so many people have had the chance to see what Yemen looks like and what Yemen is going through,” says journalist Ahmad Algobary.
The documentary can be viewed on Oculus Go and Samsung Gear headsets on the AJ Contrast app at https://ocul.us/2OSeHrO, as well as on the AJ Contrast website at https://contrastvr.com/yemen.
Formed two years ago, in May 2017, AJ Contrast is vying for the award amongst fellow nominees The New York Times, Time Magazine and the Center for Investigative Reporting.
About Al Jazeera Contrast:
Al Jazeera Contrast is an immersive and innovation studio that uses cutting edge technologies to tell stories of and with communities of color and people from the Global South. Grounded in the principles of co-creation and collaboration, AJ Contrast produces stories and journalism that push the boundaries of traditional narratives while transporting viewers to the people and places hit hardest by inequality and conflict. Al Jazeera Contrast is part of the larger Digital division for Al Jazeera Media Network. Learn more about the studio at www.contrastvr.com.
Name: Zahra Rasool, Head of AJ Contrast
- Executive Producer: Zahra Rasool
- Producer: Viktorija Mickute
- Co-Producer: Joi Lee
- Post Production: Maria Fernanda Lauret
- Directors of Photography: Ahmad Algohbary
Manal Qaed Alwesabi
- Production Assistance: Mohammed Almoayed
- Illustrations: Eclectic Yemeni
- Animations: Hugo Rodriguez
- Music: Mohsen Al-Thaheri
- Narrations: Soumar Aridi
- Data Source: Yemen Data Project