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‘Detroit’ Director Kathryn Bigelow On Impactful Storytelling

Deadline logo Deadline 7/15/2017 Amanda N'Duka
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“It’s a matter of what is the message, not necessarily the delivery method,” director Kathryn Bigelow said Friday speaking to attendees at the AT&T SHAPE Tech and Entertainment Expo, about the importance of storytelling in bringing awareness to humane issues.

For Bigelow, an important issue to highlight was the protection of elephants against the ivory trade. Before the panel — led by Greg Hittleman, Director of Communications of the Enough Project, which supports the end to crimes against humanity — audience members got to watch Bigelow’s virtual reality documentary short film The Protectors, which chronicles a day in the life of rangers in Garamba National Park, managed by African Parks, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These men are often the last line of defense in the race against extinction as poachers continue to slaughter elephants for their tusks.

“I found that there was a connection between terrorism and, in this case, elephant extinction that can also can be looked at as a question of national security,” said Bigelow about her initial draw to the project. “The ivory is sold and weapons are purchased. It’s really a vicious cycle.”

When asked about why she chose to use the VR medium to relay the issue, Bigelow said her goal was to “create a vehicle by which viewers” can understand and experience the rangers’ plight.  “What’s so great about VR technology is that it builds on empathy. Empathy is different from sympathy, where empathy is actually immersive and experiential… in this case, I was looking to put you in that park, and the technology enabled that to happen.”

Bigelow touched on her upcoming filmDetroit, which follows the civil unrest that descended upon the city for five days during summer 1967. The story revolves around the Algiers Motel incident during the racially charged 12th Street Riot, resulting in the deaths of three black men.

Similar to her approach with The Protectors, Bigelow said she set out “to unpack” the Detroit story “in an as real of a way as possible… wanting [the audience] to understand what it meant to be caught in the cross-hairs of this event.”

“It really was American tragedy. I had many eyewitnesses who I spent a lot of time with… so my desire to keep it authentic was heightened.”

Detroit, starring John Boyega, Will Poulter, and John Krasinski, hits theaters August 4.

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