Ever want to poke around an Iranian nuclear facility but didn't have the proper clearance?
A virtual reality project at Sundance is giving viewers just that opportunity. Yasmin Elayat's Zero Days VR takes the Oculus headset-clad participant deep inside the facility that was brought down by the Stuxnet virus. As centrifuges explode, viewers listen to a National Security Agency whistleblower explain how the cyber weapon worked.
The 12-minute project, based on Alex Gibney's feature-length documentary from Participant Media/Showtime also titled Zero Days, is certain to spark controversy given that it spills intelligence secrets and attributes the attack to U.S. and Israeli agents working in tandem. No nation has ever claimed responsibility for creating the computer worm, which had unintended consequences. Once it was discovered, it escaped its intended confines. The virus is said to have infected a nuclear power plant in Russia as well.
"I was driven by the idea of how can we make people aware of something invisible," said Elayat, who is at Sundance presenting the project that was produced by Scatter and financed by Oculus.
Not surprisingly, Elayat said she received some pushback from the U.S. government during production. "I had to redact some things," she said.
The New York Times reported that Stuxnet was part of a U.S. and Israeli intelligence operation called "Operation Olympic Games" that was started under President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama. In the VR project, a news clip highlights then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unequivocally denying that the United States played any role in Stuxnet.
"VR provided such a wonderful way to tell this story because it takes you places you could never go before," said Elayat, whose company DepthKit created the volumetric technology used in the project.
Added Gibney, who executive produced the VR experience, "I'm just delighted that [this project] got into the visceral feeling of what we were after, to convey an impressionistic sense of what it was like to be inside the code."
Oculus will release an expanded version on its platform in March.