Image above: A still from Highway of Tears showing Highway 16
On June 11, 1994, 16-year-old Ramona Wilson left her family home in Smithers, British Columbia, to go meet some friends in the next town over. Her body wasn’t found until ten months later, and to this day, her murder has never been solved. Community leaders say more than 40 women, most of them Indigenous, have disappeared along Highway 16, which has come to be known as the Highway of Tears.
CBC’s current affairs radio program The Current wanted to share Ramona’s story and explore the key issues that continue to plague Indigenous women and girls across the country. Secret Location teamed with The Current and director Lisa Jackson and flew to interior BC to capture the Highway of Tears in VR and let the voices of those most affected by it tell the story.
The result is a four-minute VR documentary told in stereoscopic, 360-degree video — the first of its kind for the CBC. In the piece, the viewer is transported to northern BC and the home of Ramona’s mother, Matilda Wilson, who describes the days before and after her daughter’s disappearance. As her voiceover carries the piece, viewers are taken through a range of vantage points along and above Highway 16.
“The piece reflects a pretty pure expression of virtual reality’s potential,” says Secret Location Creative Director Marty Flanagan. “The sense of isolation at the heart of this story can be uniquely communicated in VR, making it a natural application of the technology. We’re proud to be a part of the project.”
In order to share the VR film and engage the conversation surrounding MMIW with a wide range of Canadians, The Current is hosting a series of town hall forums across the country. So far, town halls have been hosted in Prince George, BC, on October 13, and Winnipeg, MB, on November 30, with more events planned for 2017. At the events, community members are invited to experience the VR documentary using Gear VR headsets, and to participate in discussions led by host Anna Maria Tremonti. The town halls are being broadcast on CBC Radio One’s The Current, and can be heard online at the links below.
Image above: The first forum in Prince George, BC, October 13, 2016
At this point, the federal government has designated $53.86 million to an independent inquiry with a mandate of examining and reporting “on the systemic causes behind the violence that Indigenous women and girls experience.” The hope is that CBC’s Highway of Tears will help raise awareness and further the national conversation about how we can protect those who are too often left to fend for themselves.
To experience Highway of Tears on Youtube (video below), make sure you have the Youtube app installed, then play.