News

May 20, 2024

On The Brink: Chiemela Mgbeahuru’s VR film shines light on hunger crisis in Africa

On The Brink: Chiemela Mgbeahuru’s VR film shines light on hunger crisis in Africa

In 2022, more than 20 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya needed food assistance. To put this figure in perspective, this represented an increase in needs of more than 70% compared to levels recorded during regional food security crises in 2016 and 2017.

Despite hopes that the rainfall would bring relief to Somalia, about two in five children there are likely to suffer from acute malnutrition by July 2024. Floods following heavy rainfall have destroyed crops and assets, threatening to push more people into hunger. According to reliefweb.org, high rates of malnutrition threaten the lives of millions of children and women, and can lead to death and other long-term consequences.

Yet, the challenge remains: how do we effectively convey this critical awareness to the public and policymakers? Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists are pioneering revolutionary methods to disseminate knowledge about these pressing issues, and among these methods, virtual reality (VR) stands out. The immersive VR film “On the Brink” has surfaced as an influential instrument for activism and enlightenment, showcasing the severe impacts of climate change through its interactive narrative.

‘On the Brink,’ filmed in the drought-ridden communities of Somaliland in 2023, is a VR film directed by former BBC Video Journalist and Nigerian Emerging Media Producer, Chiemela Mgbeahuru. Known for his powerful visual storytelling and use of emerging media technologies, Chiemela offers viewers a raw look into the harsh realities of hunger through the eyes of Ayan and Faisa, both of whom suffered the loss of young family members to malnutrition. This immersive experience aims to elevate social justice awareness for developing countries affected by poverty. The piece was Commissioned and Launched on 25th of January 2024, by Hungry for Action, a coalition of charities including Save the Children, One Campaign and Global Citizen.

“One of the challenges I had was how to tell the story differently, and that’s where virtual reality comes in, because with that, we can put the viewers in the story, so they can experience what these families go through…” – Chiemela Mgbeahuru

Using 360 VR and Photogrammetry technologies, the film transports viewers to the heart of the struggle, showing how prolonged drought and extreme weather rob communities of their livelihoods, leading to hunger and hardship. The piece also featured a realistic 3D photogrammetry scan of interior spaces of an IDP tent, which also gives the viewers a more intimate understanding of the kind of living conditions and to truly comprehend what life is like in makeshift tents which serve as shelters for thousands of displaced families. These living conditions become particularly challenging during the rainy season.

The film’s success has revolved around its capacity to translate statistics into stories and data into experiences. Viewers come away with a renewed understanding and commitment to contribute to a world where the devastating effects of climate change can be mitigated, and potentially reversed. The production of “On The Brink” has set a precedent for future storytelling endeavours, demonstrating that VR technology can be a conduit for consciousness and change. The linear version is currently available on youtube and the interactive version is being used for exhibitions in International conferences, from the recent 2023 UN Climate Change Conference to SXSW Conference, and many others.

Demonstrating a steadfast dedication to storytelling with impact, in 2017, Chiemela Mgbeahuru was honoured with the Best Documentary Film award at the 2017 Abuja International Film Festival. His acclaimed documentary film, “The Pride and Glory of Nigeria,” exposes various flaws in the Nigerian system while also exploring ways to promote national unity and peace. Chiemela sees his venture into VR as a fresh and exciting path for producing impactful films that bring audiences closer to stories that matter.

“I’m hoping that decision-makers, journalists, and the general public will put on their headsets, see this experience, and learn more about these problems,” – Chiemela Mgbeahuru.