Collisions: A Captivating Virtual Reality Warning on Nuclear Weapons

By Andrey Burin

August 5 marks the anniversary of the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, underwater, or in the atmosphere. This treaty was signed by representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, marking an important first step towards controlling and ceasing the harmful results of nuclear testing, such as the tests by the United Kingdom in Western Australia.

Collisions, directed by Australian filmmaker Lynette Walworth, takes viewers on a virtual reality (VR) journey into the center of a situation most would never want to be in—a nuclear test.

From the start of the film, the viewer is thrust into the broad and isolated Western Australian expanse. For those unfamiliar with VR technology, a thoughtful combination of sights—delivered in 360° video, and sounds—delivered through high-fidelity surround speakers, fuse together for a unique sensory experience.

On the power of virtual reality technology, Walworth says “I love the moment when the viewer experiences a new sensation for the first time. I know that moment gets seared into memory.” She also predicts that VR “will soon hit in a big way, very possibly to become ubiquitous.”

Nyarri Morgan, the subject of the film, is an unassuming and soft-spoken elder of the Martu tribe but carries an incredible screen presence whenever he is shown. The film thoughtfully shares his tribe’s perspective on treating the Earth and centers around Morgan’s first experience with Western culture, a nuclear test.

A recreation of the test Morgan witnessed is one of the most gripping scenes of the film. Having been completely isolated from modern civilization and technology, Morgan first thought this extraordinary event and towering cloud of smoke he saw was a spirit rising up to talk to him. This “collision” between his understanding of the world and the rapidly evolving technology of the West is one of several that the title refers to. The intensity of the blast and its immediate effects on the surrounding wildlife and landscape are somberly shown.

Collisions is the first film to be created as part of the Sundance Institute New Frontier-Jaunt VR Residency program for which Walworth was selected as the inaugural director. To emphasize the importance of collective experiences and cooperation in solving difficult problems, Collisions’ first public showings were synchronized screening events at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

The film was also screened at the June 2016 CTBT20 Ministerial Meeting and at the State Department's 2016 James Timbie Forum on Arms Control and Nonproliferation. Read more about Collisions on its official website and experience the film yourself with the Jaunt VR App.

Andrey Burin is the 2016 Summer Communications and Marketing Intern at the Arms Control Association and is a rising junior at Tulane University.