VR Documentary Invites You to an Intimate Conversation on Abortion

Making the choice

When you pop on the Oculus virtual reality headset to watch "The Choice," you're greeted by a young woman with blue braids sitting comfortably in jeans and a sweatshirt about 3 feet away from you. A black void surrounds you both with soothing music, and you're offered some get-to-know-you questions to ask: Where are you from? What do you do?

The woman you're meeting is Kristen, a nanny and activist in Austin who chose, facing life-threatening complications, to have a late-term abortion – a choice which is the subject of empathetic scrutiny in this short film from Polish Canadian director and sociologist Joanne Popinska and cinematographer Tom C. Hall. Popinska and Hall describe "The Choice" as a sort of sociological experiment to shift anti-choice biases using VR technology: Popinska said, "We are always thinking, how are we going to use technology to tell the stories that we want to tell?" First and foremost, she added, "I wanted you to feel close to her. When you hear somebody like a politician or an activist talking about [abortion], it comes in one ear and goes out the other, you don't feel a connection with the person."

“[It] forces viewers to walk a mile in my moccasins; you’re not thinking, ‘I’m in a video game.’” – Kristen

The isolation of a VR headset eliminates the communal element of watching a film with outside influence, and interactive questions further a sense of reciprocal intimate conversation with Kristen. "I was like, ‘Oh my god, it looks like I'm talking to myself,'" Kristen recalled of the first time she watched it. "That was the moment I knew that this was powerful, that this was going to do good. I really feel like [it] forces viewers to walk a mile in my moccasins; you're not thinking, ‘I'm in a video game.'"

As personal as abortion is, trust between Popinska, Hall, and their interviewees was paramount. Popinska began reaching out to abortion access foundations in Canada in 2018, gathering written accounts for the film's website, and printing posters to distribute to clinics calling for anyone willing to tell their story on camera. Kristen responded to the call, and after a year of talking the filmmakers flew to Austin for the interview during SXSW 2020, right under the pandemic wire. Popinska said she offered an abortion psychologist's free services to each subject, and before the interview met with them to go through the questions – she had prepared 100 for Kristen, whose interview lasted four hours. Kristen added that she was "nervous that I didn't represent myself well, because sometimes I ramble. But I reached out to [Joanne] and she'd be like, ‘I want it to be authentic, so if you ramble, good!'" Popinska tells interviewees they can rescind consent, even during the editing process: "The most important part is to establish this trust."

Though Kristen's story happened five years ago, the film remains painfully relevant. Popinska's home country of Poland effectively banned abortion last year, and Texas' Senate Bill 8 has provoked a national battle that may possibly overturn Roe v. Wade. But Popinska and Hall have hope: Popinska said if they can secure the funding to continue making "The Choice" into a series, having already interviewed others in Canada and Austin, they want to expand to more of the U.S. and Poland and create an impact campaign, offering the film to different organizations for educational purposes. "We think our hypothesis that it expands people's horizons when they watch it is true," says Hall. "And at SXSW we'll be able to test that with an explicitly American audience."

XR Experience

“The Choice”

Sunday-Tuesday, March 13-15, 11am-6pm, Convention Center

Read more of the Chronicle's decades of reproductive rights reporting here.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Sound and Vision: The Meow Wolf/Spatial Connection
Sound and Vision: The Meow Wolf/Spatial Connection
Did SXSW give a preview of the technology behind the next portal?

Richard Whittaker, April 14, 2022

MSNBC Gets Behind the Story of <i>Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets</i>
MSNBC Gets Behind the Story of Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets
New documentary talks to the people who bought Gamestop shares

Ikram Mohamed, April 8, 2022

More by Lina Fisher
Art Review: “Encounters in the Garden”
Art Review: “Encounters in the Garden”
Laredo-based artist renders open interaction with the unfamiliar

July 12, 2024

Dinos, Sharks, Muppets, and Lots of Fireworks Lead Our Recommended Events
Dinos, Sharks, Muppets, and Lots of Fireworks Lead Our Recommended Events
Get ready for the Fourth or the weekend in general

July 5, 2024


SXSW 2022, SXSW Interactive, The Choice, Oculus VR, XR Experience, Roe v. Wade, Joanne Popinska, Tom C. Hall, SB8, reproductive rights, abortion access, Senate Bill 8, Kristen

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle