Mark Zuckerberg has highlighted a touching short VR film, Step to the Line, featuring prison inmates striving to turn their lives around through education. Directed by Brazilian filmmaker Ricardo Laganaro and produced with non-profit Defy Ventures, the 11-minute film was shot with the new Nokia OZO camera and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, 21 April.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Zuckerberg said the film "puts you face-to-face with real inmates so you can experience their stories first-hand and understand what it's like to be a part of the criminal justice system today and how hard it can be to build a better future."
"One of the most powerful side effects of VR is empathy - the ability to understand other people better when you feel like you're actually with them," Zuckerberg wrote. "When I was in Alabama two months ago as part of my 'Year of Travel' challenge, one of the most powerful experiences for me was meeting Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who was exonerated and released after 30 years on death row.
"There's nothing like meeting someone like Anthony in person, but VR can get you pretty close. It's a reminder of how much work we have to do to guarantee equal justice for all."
The film is also part of the Oculus VR for Good program, an initiative launched by the VR company in May 2016 to highlight the medium's ability to convey stories in a unique and immersive way.
"I think empathy is a better emotion than pity," one of the inmates at a maximum security prison in California says in the video. "I believe in accountability for our actions - good or bad. I believe that people are talented. Some are given certain opportunities, others not so much.
"I don't believe in criminals. I only believe in people who have committed crimes. But above all, I believe in people. I don't believe in second chances. I believe in first shots in a first opportunity."
Founded by Catherine Hoke, Defy Ventures helps current and former inmates, who face difficulty finding employment after release.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also supported the film last week saying she joined Hoke during a visit to a California State Prison earlier this year.
"I saw her work with the Entrepreneurs-in-Training (what she calls inmates who participate in her program) define themselves by their future goals instead of their past traumas and mistakes," Sandberg wrote in a Facebook post. "Virtual reality has the power to build empathy by putting us closer to walking in another's shoes. Step to the Line helps us see life from behind bars – and how hard it can be to rebuild after past mistakes."