Compelling documentary ‘Stay Alive, My Son’ uses compassion to stimulate action

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Prosecutor-turned-compelling storyteller Victoria Bousis has seen the often disparate parts of her professional life come together in unexpected ways while touring her recent project “Stay Alive, My Son.” Using Cineplay – a blend of cinema with gameplay mechanics – the immersive experience adapts the memoir of human rights activist Pin Yathay, allowing users to embody Yathay’s story of heartbreak and hope during the Cambodian genocide.

After premiering at South by Southwest and playing Venice Immersive, “Stay Alive, My Son” was showcased at the NewImages Festival in Paris this week and was recently selected for Annecy’s VR competition in June. By telling a personal story through evocations of wider historical atrocities, the project has had an impact beyond the XR festival circuit. shaping global policy.

“From my own experience as a lawyer, I know how files can build on top of files,” says Bousis. “That can only lead to increasing desensitization as you become more distant and forget that these files are not just filled with words – they represent people and real, lived experiences.”

Bousis studied ahead of her UN presentation and learned the key elements that prevent most refugee reunification before deploying her project to drive positive action.

“We wanted to put a human face on these issues and show what really happened to this beautiful family,” she says. “They were torn apart, and hopefully that will encourage these entities and organizations to help reunite and preserve more families. Opening such discussions can lead to more action – so my goal as a storyteller is to plant the seeds for this more human approach.”

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Just don’t call this empathy – as Bousis is angry about the term. “Empathy feels like cheating,” she says. “It just says ‘I feel really bad about your situation.’ Instead, I prefer to use “compassion,” because it implies action. It says, “I feel terrible about your circumstance, so now I’m going to act on those feelings and do something about them.”

Use whatever term you like, because the NewImages showcase stirred up a range of deep emotions. After fleeing Cambodia, Yathay built a new life in France – and the now 80-year-old author and subject was at this year’s festival to present his story and test his immersive experience. He gave it a thumbs up, despite initial misunderstandings.

“His first reaction was funny because he didn’t understand if this was going to be a video game,” Bousis says. “I explained that it would not be a game, but would instead use similar mechanics to help users actually experience and live its story. Pin said: If this appeals to future generations and prevents the past from repeating itself, then let’s go for it.

As she develops a new biographical experience about designer and fashion icon Peter Dundas, Bousis continues to iterate and reimagine her most recent work. Next, she hopes to introduce a version of “Stay Alive, My Son” optimized for LED walls and shared viewing experiences, and is in talks with cultural spaces in the Los Angeles area for a possible museum showcase.

“I’m not a traditional director, so I think the possibilities are limitless,” says Bousis. “These stories can live and breathe on headsets, devices, screens and physical spaces. All that really matters is reaching the audience and sparking dialogue.”

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