After Solitary, an immersive walk-around VR experience from FRONTLINE and Emblematic Group, provides a visceral window into the practice of solitary confinement. Co-directed by Lauren Mucciolo and Cassandra Herrman, the film features ex-offender Kenny Moore, who was held in long-term solitary confinement at Maine State Prison.
This groundbreaking journalistic experience stems from three years of rigorous reporting, married with cutting-edge virtual reality technology. After Solitary places viewers inside environments created by taking thousands of photos of the actual cell and prison and stitching them together into fully dimensional scenes. The subject of the film, Kenny, was then filmed at 8i studios using their videogrammetry technology and dropped into scenes as holograms.
FRONTLINE began covering solitary confinement inside the Maine State Prison three years ago for a broadcast film titled Last Days of Solitary, about the history of the practice in the U.S. and the reform movement currently gaining traction in several states.
After spending two five month-long stints embedded in the solitary unit of Maine State Prison and then following some inmates after their release, the filmmakers were struck by the deep and enduring level of psychological and emotional impact extended isolation caused its subjects. When inmates were released from solitary and returned to the prison’s general population or home to their families, they were anxious, paranoid and prone to locking themselves off in small spaces similar in size to the prison cells they left behind.
FRONTLINE and Emblematic Group felt that room-scale virtual reality could convey something deeper and more immersive about leaving solitary confinement than could traditional 2D storytelling. When we transport the viewer to Kenny’s home and inside his bedroom, where he has cordoned himself off from the world, the user understands on a hauntingly visceral level the lasting impact of solitary confinement.
After Solitary is an immersive experience that places the viewer physically and emotionally inside an otherwise inaccessible world. The experience pushes the boundaries of immersive storytelling, while exploring what virtual reality can bring to journalism.
This VR experience was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW 2017 for best room scale VR. This project was also awarded the top prize at the World VR Forum this Spring. In an effort to make this journalism available to a wider audience, FRONTLINE and Emblematic Group created a 360° version published on Facebook, which has garnered over 2.2 million views to date.