Student filmmakers start conversation, promote empathy

By Min Cheong Kim, Staff Writer

University students are asking audiences to put themselves in the shoes of others. The virtual reality film, “The Drive,” has been created to optimally evoke empathy and to strategically start a larger conversation on campus and in the C-U area about police and community relations.

“The Drive” is centered around an encounter between a black student driver and a white male cop. The perspective of the mother of the driver will also be included to showcase how these interactions affect parents. The film aims to highlight the nationwide conversation about the tensions between police and minorities.

Jewel Ifeguni, senior in LAS, and Adia Ivey, senior in Media, are the co-founders and co-producers of YouMatter Studios. Fueled by passion, Ifeguni founded YouMatter Studios two years ago.

“I was mainly inspired by my sister,” Ifeguni said. “I wanted to help create her representation in the media, especially when it came down to games because children feel a solid foundation when they’re represented in the media. I wanted to provide that for marginalized groups.”

YouMatter Studios creates content for a wide range of media platforms to experiment, using different technologies to most effectively deliver the projects’ respective messages. Since the mission of “The Drive” is to provide different perspectives missing from news reports, the studio thought it would be more impactful to have the viewer actually see the scenes from the characters’ point of view.

Vignesh Sivaguru, senior in LAS, is a researcher for YouMatter Studios. His role is to ensure the studio will execute a film that is factually accurate.

“By using VR technology, you are literally forced to put yourself in these characters’ shoes as they go through this experience,” Sivaguru said. “The purpose of it is to make you empathize with the different situations and perspectives that each of these people are coming from. When we see these events in the media and we hear about things in the way they are covered, it is not a very nuanced perspective. It is very one-sided based on the bubble of each person watching or whatever news station it is coming from.”

Jake Pisarski, senior in LAS, is a production assistant. As a part of the team of YouMatter Studios, he emphasizes the importance of the aftermath of watching the film.

“It is not just a film that you watch, but it is also a catalyst for a community conversation,” Pisarksi said. “We want to show it with the members of the community to help start a conversation about these issues.”

Equally as important as the film is the conversation the studio hopes it will evoke. They are planning on holding panel discussions with members of the community and the local police to establish a connection between civilians and cops.

“The police are such a mysterious presence in our lives that we don’t know what they do or their procedures,” Sivaguru said. “We are trying to engender that connection that we don’t have right now with the people who are supposed to protect us.” 

The studio was founded because someone’s sister recognized a lack of representation for certain groups, ultimately leading to individuals creating a platform for inclusivity and communication.

“It will be really interesting to use the technology we have today to show people different perspectives,” Ivey said. “That’s one of the things we want to show the community: how technology can intertwine with humanity.” 

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