Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow

National Geographic Channel will produce its first virtual reality (VR) documentary short film, The Protectors, which exposes the dangerous and grueling reality faced by rangers protecting African elephants from ivory poachers.

Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (“Last Days,” “The Hurt Locker”) and VR creator Imraan Esmail (“The Displaced,” “Valen’s Reef”) will co-create this 12-minute VR film in partnership with Here Be Dragons (formerly Vrse.works), one of the leading innovators in VR spherical filmmaking, and Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, known for their critically acclaimed films including “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Her,” “Foxcatcher” and “American Hustle,” The Protectors will transport users to a day in the life of African rangers protecting elephants from ivory poachers.

Over 30,000 African elephants die each year at the hands of poachers and despite the global outcry over the killings, trafficking continues. The biggest key to saving these elephants from extinction are the rangers working on the ground within Africa’s national parks. Until the world completely shuns ivory, these rangers are the only source of protection elephants have. The virtual reality film will showcase a day in these rangers’ lives, giving users the chance to experience the dangers that confront them on a daily basis and to be in the presence of the majestic elephants they protect.

National Geographic has been at the forefront of exposing the devastating effects of the global illegal ivory trade and its link to funding terrorist groups. Last year, they dedicated a cover story of National Geographic Magazine to the illegal ivory trade and they released the NGC special Warlords of Ivory.

The Protectors is a natural extension of National Geographic’s commitment to bringing these compelling stories to viewers and highlighting the issues that plague our environment. Users will be able to connect to elephants and the rangers in a profound way that transports them to the center of the issue.

“I can’t stress enough how we still need to do so much more to fight the devastating effects of the global illegal ivory trade and I made this film to shine a light on the heroic park rangers who are our front line in this battle,” said director Kathryn Bigelow. “The VR technology is a perfect way to take you into their day-to-day lives and highlight their passion and commitment to the vitally important work they do.”

“The power of virtual reality gives us the chance to take our viewers to the breathtaking yet deadly interior of the Democratic Republic of Congo as we witness and walk in the shoes of these courageous African national parks rangers. To have Kathryn Bigelow taking the helm of this project alongside Imraan Esmail is obviously an exciting and seminal moment for the medium and storytelling in VR,” said Patrick J. Milling-Smith, Producer, Here Be Dragons. “There are no stronger filmmakers to champion these rangers and viscerally show the world their humanity and bravery in the face or such horror.”

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