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Virtual Reality Project Captures Experience Of Immigrants And Refugees


I once snuck across the border from Tijuana to San Diego. I was with NPR's Mandalit del Barco to watch people cross illegally into this country - at night, across a highway, through a fence, through sewers and over hills, we ran with them.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

SIMON: Here comes a van. Let's...

And, of course, immigration remains a polarizing issue. And the Mexican film director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's latest work addresses border crossings that are happening today. Mandalit went and checked it out.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: I was asked not to record the sounds of this 360-degree docudrama, but I can testify it felt almost as heart racing and harrowing as the real deal. I stood barefoot on a wall of sand and put on a virtual-reality headset. Then I was transported to the Arizona desert at night with a small group led by a coyote, a smuggler. A scared child was to my right. And a woman behind me collapsed from exhaustion and terror.

A helicopter and patrol cars rushed in, bright lights blazing. I crouched down with the others, but they had us. I dropped to my knees, with my hands up, as a Border Patrol agent barked orders and drew a gun straight at me, exactly like what happened to me when Scott and I crossed the border in 1990.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hey. I'm not going to tell you again. Get over here. You're getting in a lot of trouble, lady, if I think - if I...

SIMON: Good evening, officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You folks are in a lot of trouble. Come on over here.

DEL BARCO: It's a scenario like this that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has created for his installation "Carne Y Arena" - flesh and sand.

ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU: You become an immigrant. And I think it's the only way that really we can have empathy and compassion.

DEL BARCO: Inarritu asked Mexican and Central American immigrants to recreate their stories that they relayed to him about crossing over.

INARRITU: You know, they are raped. They are robbed. They are killed. And there's no even data about it. So there's something wrong when you treat your neighbor like that, you know. So it's a worldwide phenomenon that is so sad.

DEL BARCO: While he's critical of President Trump's immigration policies, Inarritu says "Carne Y Arena" transcends political statements.

INARRITU: Just to be present in a reality that is much more complex without going to politics, to the right or to the left.

DEL BARCO: Inarritu calls this a lucid dream that continues to be a nightmare for people crossing the border around the world. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 8, 2017 at 10:00 PM MDT
In his description of violence facing undocumented border crossers, Alejandro González Iñárritu was referring to violence before people reach the U.S. border, not once they cross. The VR experience "Carne y Arena" can be seen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.