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Submarine surfaces in Cannes

Submarine Channel’s The Industry VR, showcased within the 2019 Cannes XR program and supported by the Film Fund DocLab Interactive Grant, is a key component within the wide-ranging crossmedia project The Industry which offers a major insight into the Netherlands’ billion euro drug industry. The overall project comprises an interactive documentary, a podcast and the VR.

In the work, co-produced with broadcaster VPRO, we hear the accounts of sixteen anonymous people (or “entrepreneurs”) involved in the trade in marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy, from dealers to couriers to manufacturers. We are further allowed access to their virtually rendered 3D homes and working locations to hear how they ply their trade and why they chose this line of business in the first place. Twelve short animations offer further analysis via facts and figures about the drugs trade within the Netherlands.

One of the core findings from over a year of research was that the drugs industry operates everywhere in the Netherlands, offering varying levels of financial return and degrees of criminality. “The research that we did was much deeper than police are capable of as we don’t criminalise the perpetrators,” commented Submarine Channel’s Corine Meijers. “They are entrepreneurs, people who are good at what they do.”

She further explained how the idea for the project came to MD Bruno Felix following a conversation with a friend who began to feel unsafe in the watery (and ostensibly idyllic) Biesbosch region outside Rotterdam. The area was being increasingly used as a location for drugs-related behaviour with underground containers used as ecstasy labs, necessitating 24-hour armed surveillance. What’s more, the waterways were becoming contaminated drugs waste, rendering them unsafe to swim in.

Meijers underlines how the interactive project, admired by law enforcement organisations, will be used to educate school kids about the drugs industry in a measured and “non-parental” way. “There are a lot of problems with youth and drugs and they [the police] asked us if we would talk to a city mayor in the Netherlands who, together with a headmaster at a high school, saw the project and wants to use it to get the conversation started among the 15-16 year old students. Especially the lesser educated ones, as these are very often very vulnerable to being used as dealers and maybe don't realise how big this industry is, when compared to the small role they play in it… It is a very accessible project.” After this initial test case, interested parties will evaluate the project’s potential for roll-out to schools across the country.

Other Film Fund-backed Submarine projects are the AR/VR The Imaginary Friend, about a boy with a highly developed sense of imagination who is desperate to convince his parents that his special friend – you, the viewer - actually exists. In The Great Orator (VR/AI, which received €10,000 in ‘experimental’ funding) we are given a glimpse into a reality where a crowd of devoted followers find meaning in every word uttered by a spiritual guru.

Still: The Industry VR