D.C. politicians can now live the immigrant experience through VR

Virtually there.
Virtually there.
Image: Emmanuel Lubezki
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Politicians in Washington D.C.— including the president—spend a lot of time discussing illegal immigration through the US-Mexico border.

Now they have the opportunity to get really up close to the issue through a virtual reality installation dubbed Carne y Arena, which opened Monday in the US capital. The piece, created by Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, puts participants in the sandy, desolate places where the US Border Patrol carries out federal immigration policies. Spoiler alert: it’s a far cry from the sheltered congressional chambers where those policies are made.

The goal of the project was to convey the despair that drives immigrants to come to the US and the dangers they face trying to get there, González Iñárritu said in an interview with Mexico’s Milenio Televisión. Many border crossers these days are fleeing gruesome violence in their home countries, not chasing jobs.

“There’s a geographic distance; there’s a lack of of understanding of the problem,” he said. The vast majority of people who decide immigration issues rarely have face-to-face encounters with immigrants, he added.

González Iñárritu interviewed dozens of Central Americans and Mexicans to distill their experiences crossing the border illegally. He worked with Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to recreate it, down to the sand that immigrants say takes over their shoes. (Arena means sand in Spanish; carne means flesh.)

The result, which lasts about six minutes, is “highly immersive and can feel extremely realistic including experiences with firearms,” the exhibit’s organizers warn. Participants have to sign a waiver and release form.

The piece, which earned González Iñárritu a special Oscar award, was originally shown at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and stopped in MilanLos Angeles and Mexico City before landing in Washington. Entrance to the venue, a former church, is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance.

Alfonso Cuarón, another Mexican director and close friend to González Iñárritu, is urging president Trump not to miss it.