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Filmmaker and aid worker David Darg with RYOT Films’ VR experience showing the devastation in Nepal.

Veteran aid worker and filmmaker David Darg was at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York last month when he saw the alert about the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Soon he was on his way, and with the help of some quick work by his RYOT Films co-founder Bryn Mooser, he traveled with some new equipment in hand: a cluster of six GoPro cameras, designed for capturing immersive video.

The result is a new virtual reality experience that gives people around the world an unprecedented view into the aftermath of a natural disaster. [Update: The VR film has now been released, and you can check it out here.]

Darg and Mooser represent a new generation of humanitarian aid and disaster relief workers — blending the worlds of filmmaking, technology and journalism to tell the stories of people in crisis around the world, while giving their viewers and readers the tools to help.

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RYOT films co-founders David Darg, left, and Bryn Mooser at Vulcan in Seattle yesterday.

“It’s our job to deliver food and water and rice, but it’s also our job to get the story out about what we’re seeing, to inspire people,” Mooser said. “There’s a moment when a disaster happens — you have a window to get people involved. Story, video and pictures are more important than ever in a disaster, because you have to be able to show people what’s happening.”

Darg added, “The way that we get into these places is as aid workers, initially, and that is a real help to develop the access that we have. Having been there first as aid workers has helped us create the relationships, where people are comfortable for us to get the camera and tell the deeper story.”

The filmmakers were speaking during a visit to the Seattle headquarters of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. on Monday for a special screening and discussion of their documentary short, Body Team 12, co-produced by Vulcan Productions and actress Olivia Wilde.

A scene from Body Team 12 (RYOT Films and Vulcan Productions.)
A scene from Body Team 12 (Credit: RYOT Films and Vulcan Productions.)

The film, the behind-the-scenes story of a Red Cross crew responsible for recovering bodies in Liberia at the height of the Ebola crisis, won the 2015 Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short at Tribeca. Vulcan’s involvement is an example of its own work across global health initiatives and media. Among other efforts, the Microsoft co-founder donated $100 million to fight the disease through his family’s philanthropic foundation.

Speaking with Vulcan Productions general manager and creative director Carole Tomko yesterday, the RYOT co-founders explained how they got into filmmaking and humanitarian work. Mooser was in the Peace Corps, and Darg got his start shooting a film for a non-profit group.

“In the course of making that film, I fell more in love with the work that I was documenting than documenting the work,” Darg said. “I got the bug and started working for non-profits.”

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Bryn Mooser and David Darg with Carole Tomko of Vulcan Productions.

Mooser noted that their work resonates especially well with Millennials, not only opening their eyes to the world but also giving them ways to help address the problems the filmmakers document.

One of their current initiatives, for example, is the Ebola Orphan Project, an outgrowth of their work on the Ebola documentary.

They also explained how their natural focus on short-form, quick-turnaround documentaries works increasingly well given the rise of mobile viewing.

“Because everybody gets all of their content on their phones now, it means for the first time in a long time there’s this real renaissance of content — documentaries, especially,” Mooser said. “That’s what has been really exciting for us: We can now tell these stories that we’ve been wanting to tell in totally new ways.

“It’s such an exciting moment. You don’t have to have a lot of money to tell a great story — you just have to be a great storyteller.”

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