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Film Aims to Raise Funds by Showing Nepal Quake Experience

A Nepalese man runs to safety after a second earthquake hit Nepal in Kathmandu, May 12, 2015.

A virtual reality film aims to help raise funds for survivors of last month's earthquake in Nepal by giving viewers a firsthand experience of the disaster's aftermath, the director said Friday.

Los Angeles-based company RYOT — which produces news stories for audiences to act on — shot the footage in the days following the 7.8 magnitude quake, which struck the impoverished nation April 25, killing more than 8,000 people.

"As filmmakers, we always try to have people understand the magnitude of a disaster, but it's difficult in traditional video," said David Darg, RYOT's director and co-founder, who traveled to Nepal in the quake's aftermath.

"This is the first time that virtual reality technology has been harnessed after an earthquake to give a fully immersive experience and help connect potential donors to the need in the most direct way available," he said.

The four-minute film, which is narrated by Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, attempts to transport people to the Himalayan nation to be fully immersed in the destruction and understand the plight of survivors.

When seen in this medium, viewers will feel as if they are standing in the rubble and living through the experiences of the survivors who have lost their families, homes and livelihoods.

Aid agencies say the international community's response to the disaster has slowed in recent weeks, even though at least 2 million people are in need of food, water, shelter and proper sanitation facilities.

The United Nations has appealed for $423 million, but as of Friday, the U.N. Financial Tracking showed $113 million had been raised, 27 percent of the required funds.

Darg, who has filmed other humanitarian crises such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the cholera outbreak in Haiti, said traditional methods of collecting funds were still effective, but that it was important to find new ways of attracting larger audiences to engage and donate.

"For instance, after the Ebola outbreak, the aid community was shocked at the relatively low response from private donors in proportion to the amount of media coverage given to the outbreak," said Darg.

"By pioneering new ways to convey the very real messages of urgency and need, we can reinforce donor response and encourage a new demographic of donors and advocates to engage," he said.

Darg said funds raised would go through the RYOT Foundation to U.S. charity Operation Blessing to purchase items such as food, water, blankets and shelter for victims in Sindhupalchowk, one of the worst-hit districts.

The Nepal Quake Project was launched Thursday, but was debuted at the MountainFilm Festival last weekend.

"Attendees were fully invested in the experience and had immediate and visceral reactions," said Darg.

"People who have viewed the Nepal piece said that they experienced extreme empathy — and even made eye-to-eye connections with people in the film and were extremely moved."