The iAnimal Film Series

Activating Empathy Through Virtual Reality

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  • 1 Co-founder and Project Coordinator of the Animals and Society Research Initiative (ASRI), University of Victoria, Canada
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Abstract

This article explores the innovative use of virtual reality (VR) technology in nonfiction documentary film formats by animal-advocacy organizations. I examine the potential of the VR medium to communicate the living and dying environments of factory-farmed animals, and to generate viewer empathy with the animal subjects in their short, commodified lives from birth to slaughterhouse. I present a case study of the iAnimal short film series produced by Animal Equality, which made its public debut at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Employing a critical animal studies framework, I engage Kathryn Gillespie's work on witnessing of the nonhuman condition as a method of academic research, and apply to it the embodied experience of virtual witnessing through virtual realty.

Contributor Notes

Holly Cecil is co-founder and project coordinator of the Animals and Society Research Initiative (ASRI), an interdisciplinary research hub located at the University of Victoria, Canada. Her research examines the intersection of critical animal studies and documentary filmmaking, and spans visual representations and interpretations of nonhuman animals, human-animal relationships, interspecies empathy and cooperation, and social movements promoting animal subjectivity. Cecil's MA research paper, exposing the underreported impacts of livestock agriculture on climate change and the documentaries bridging this awareness gap, was awarded the 2019 Lieutenant Governor's Silver (Other Than Thesis) Medal at the University of Victoria.

Screen Bodies

The Journal of Embodiment, Media Arts, and Technology

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