Premiere of OIL IN OUR CREEKS: Revisiting Nigeria’s Bodo Oil Spills

Fovrth Director of Photography Alan Bucaria reflects on the production of new ContrastVR film

Oil In Our Creeks via ContrastVR x Al Jazeera
“You can see poverty written on the faces of many families” — Lessi’s voiceover calmly states this devastating fact

By Violet Jinqi Wang

BODO, NIGERIA — Almost a decade ago, two major oil spills in pipelines owned by Dutch Royal Shell left Bodo Village, Nigeria in ruins. Ten years after the incident, Fovrth Director of Photography Alan Bucaria captured immersive visuals that offer the audience a chance to experience the lives of locals who were hit hardest by the disaster and the aftermath. Oil In Our Creek is the second full-length documentary produced by Contrast VR, Al Jazeera’s cutting-edge immersive studio. Bucaria previously shot Contrast VR’s first virtual reality documentary, I Am Rohingya.

Photo via ContrastVR

Oil in Our Creek follows Lessi Phillips, who was only 16 when the oil spill dramatically changed the life of her community. In the documentary, Lessi guides us around the village market and through some of the most contaminated areas in town to show viewers the long-lasting detrimental effects of this environmental disaster.

Before the spill, Bodo was a thriving fishing and farming community with nearly 70,000 residents. Now, it is one of the most polluted areas in the world, with essentially an equivalent amount of oil spilled each year as the entirety of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil spills are no news to the Niger Delta River. According to Amnesty International, in 2014 alone, Royal Dutch Shell reported a total of 204 oil spills, a staggering number compared to the average 10 spills per year across the whole of Europe between 1971 and 2011. The reckless behaviors of the oil industry demonstrates a blatant disregard for the fundamental well-being of the local population.

“When you put your hand and touch the ground, you look at your fingers, and there’s very thick oil, like almost gasoline,” Alan recalls the first time he visited the polluted site. “It’s just devastating. Everything is dead.”

After seven years of campaigning and lawsuits, the Nigerian community finally forced Shell to offer up an $83.2m settlement for the Bodo village residents. According to Al Jazeera, each claimant received roughly 600,000 nairas (~$3000) in compensation. However, this one-time payment neither reverses the ruined ecosystem, nor is it sustainable for the population’s future.

In October 2017, almost a decade after the oil spill, Shell finally started the initial stages of the clean-up operation in the Niger River Delta. The film commenced its production four months before Shell’s initial efforts. The premiere of this film will refocus audiences’ attention on this critical event and encourage media to be a watchdog of Shell’s clean-up efforts.

What is unique about this VR film is that it juxtaposes images to create an experience of stark contrast. The 360-degree perspective is divided into two hemispheres that display different visuals. One of the halves shows the depressing and lifeless reality while the other half is packed with animated versions of Lessi’s recollection, recreating what the village looked like before the oil spill.

“We immersed audiences deeper in the story so they could powerfully experience the scale of devastation in the community,” said Zahra Rasool, Contrast VR’s editorial lead. Photo via Contrast VR

Although filled with heartbreaking visuals of the impoverished and polluted village, the film honors the agency and hope of the community members. Lessi now speaks in schools, educating hundreds of children on what is happening to their environment and how they can speak up and stand up for their communities.

“Even though it’s called a 360-degree film, you don’t see all the people that we met, that we laughed with, all the conversation we had,” recalls Bucaria. “They were gracious hosts, and we just hope the film conveys the urgency.”

The trip to Nigeria was Bucaria’s first visit to Africa. The people and children of Bodo left a lasting impression on him. Bucaria hopes the documentary will shine a spotlight on the unethical conduct of the Dutch Royal Shell and other oil companies who maximize profits at the cost of human lives. He asks the audiences to hold the oil companies accountable and to keep advocating for the resilient communities still fighting this battle — ten years on.

Violet Jinqi Wang is a multimedia fellow at Fovrth Studios.

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Press Round-Up

VR DOCUMENTARY EXPOSES DAMAGE OF GLOBAL OIL TRADE IN NIGERIA via VR SCOUT

NEW VR DOCUMENTARY HIGHLIGHTS EFFECTS OF OIL TRADE IN NIGERIA via VR FOCUS

CONTRAST VR DEBUTS ITS SECOND ORIGINAL VR DOCUMENTARY via HAPTICAL

WHEN REPORTING IN VR, DON’T FORGET THE STORY via MEDIA SHIFT

NEW 360 FILM REVEALS NIGERIA OIL SPILL DEVASTATION via AL JAZEERA