FRONTLINE, Brown Institute to Release “On the Brink of Famine,” a Virtual Reality Documentary Filmed in South Sudan, on Facebook 360

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February 21, 2016

Immersive Documentary Will Be Released in Stages, With Full Film Debuting March 1

The PBS investigative series FRONTLINE and the Brown Institute’s exploration of virtual reality (VR) in journalism continues today with the release of the first in a new series of 360-degree Facebook videos. Filmed on the ground in war-torn South Sudan, the series — On the Brink of Famine – transports viewers inside a hunger crisis that few people in the Western world are aware of.

On the Brink of Famine is supported by FRONTLINE and by a “Magic Grant” from The David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a collaboration between Columbia and Stanford Universities. The Ford Foundation also supported the development of the project via its funding for FRONTLINE’s Enterprise Journalism Desk, and via a Ford Foundation JustFilms Fellowship at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP.

The project is an immersive, up-close look at life in South Sudan, where more than 2.8 million people are going hungry and at least 40,000 are near starvation as a result of a devastating civil war. The human catastrophe captured by the filmmakers is made even more urgent by a recent report from the United Nations warning that the people of South Sudan are facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity, with the numbers expected to peak this summer.

FRONTLINE, which is based at WGBH in Boston, and the Brown Institute will release the immersive documentary in stages. In the first On the Brink of Famine story, published on FRONTLINE’s Facebook page, viewers are taken on a critical mission to deliver food by plane to those trapped in the swamplands of South Sudan.

In a second 360 video experience, coming to FRONTLINE’s Facebook page later this week, viewers will visit the country’s largest displaced persons camp — where more than 120,000 people have fled to escape the violence.

The full documentary, which also includes a look inside a clinic where Doctors Without Borders cares for children suffering from acute malnutrition, will be available on FRONTLINE’s Facebook page starting Tuesday, March 1.

“We wanted to transport viewers into the heart of this man-made catastrophe to meet the people who are experiencing it,” says the team behind the documentary, Evan Wexler (a former digital designer at FRONTLINE), Marcelle Hopkins and Benedict Moran. “We hope that viewers come away with a better understanding of the causes of this crisis and how it affects people in South Sudan.”

“At FRONTLINE, we’ve been exploring VR’s potential for journalism for some time, and we’re so proud of the work this team has done to tell a critically important story in a new way,” says FRONTLINE Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath, who oversaw FRONTLINE’s first virtual reality documentary, Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey, a collaboration with Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the interactive technology agency Secret Location.

“We’re excited to partner with the Brown Institute on this important project, and to release the resulting immersive experience on Facebook for a broad audience,” Aronson-Rath adds.

“The Brown Institute is proud to support the work of Evan, Marcelle and Ben – all three alumni of the Columbia Journalism School,” says Brown Institute Director Mark Hansen. “Their video is heartbreaking. Their story, told through VR, will help the world better understand the tragic dimensions of this disaster.”

On the Brink of Famine is our first formal partnership with FRONTLINE, but we hope it is the start of a series of experiments with technology to tell such important stories in new ways,” Hansen adds.

Visit FRONTLINE’s Facebook page to experience On the Brink of Famine.

FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 75 Emmy Awards and 17 Peabody Awards. Visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

About The Brown Institute

Established in 2012 by a gift from Helen Gurley Brown, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation is a partnership between Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford University’s School of Engineering. David and Helen Gurley Brown believed that magic happens when innovative technology is combined with great content and talented people are given the opportunity to explore and create new ways to inform and entertain. The Brown Institute annually awards fellowships, grants and scholarships, and designs public events and novel educational experiences in digital storytelling. For more information, visit and follow @browninstitute.

About Columbia Journalism School

For over a century, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has trained journalists in a program that stresses academic rigor, ethics, inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the School opened its doors in 1912 and offers master of science, master of arts and doctor of philosophy degrees. @columbiajourn

Patrice Taddonio,, 617.300.5375


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