'Across the Line' Lets Viewers Run the Gauntlet of Anti-Choice Protesters

Oct 6, 2017

This week, the US House of Representatives passed a 20-week abortion ban. The announcement came just days after both houses of Congress failed to renew the Children's Health Insurance Program, and a day before the Trump Administration issued a rule limiting women's access to birth control.

Women throughout the country may hope to lean more heavily on Planned Parenthood, one of the only national health care providers that offers low-cost birth control and prenatal care. But when they get there, there's a good chance they will need to walk through crowds of angry, vocal protesters who rally in front of the buildings. 

"Going through this gauntlet of protesters in the middle of one of the hardest decisions that someone has to make in their life is not something that most people will ever experience."

Most people have no idea what that experience is truly like, but a virtual reality film called Across the Line is hoping to change that, and possibly, change the narrative around women's reproductive rights. The film was produced by Planned Parenthood and created in part by Milwaukee's 371 productions and Custom Reality Services

"Going through this gauntlet of protesters in the middle of one of the hardest decisions that someone has to make in their life is not something that most people will ever experience," says Jeff Fitzsimmons, co-founder of Custom Reality Services. "You can see it on TV, you can see it on YouTube, but it's very different from standing there in the middle of it, having them pointing at you, having them looking and yelling at you."

There are three scenes in the film. The first two are 360-degree documentary-style footage, the first set inside of a Planned Parenthood clinic and the second outside a clinic in view of protesters. The first scene was a reconstructed moment between an actual patient and the doctor she came to see, while the second is verité footage of the same patient approaching a group of protesters by car. 

"The motion capture actors that we used were similar scale [to the protesters]... We wanted to give people a sense of, you know: who are these protesters? What do they look and feel like? And the majority of them are male, and some of them are young and big and burly and terrifying."

The final scene features virtual reality figures as avatars for real protesters outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. That scene, directed by Nonny de la Pena, has viewers walk into a crowd of protesters while trying to access the clinic. 

"The audio in this piece is audio that was captured from across the country, so it's actual audio that protesters have said to patients," says Kelly Fitzsimmons, co-founder of Custom Reality Services. 

She explains, "The motion capture actors that we used were similar scale [to the protesters]. So you might have noticed some of them were really tall and big and burly, particularly the guy at the end [who says], 'You wicked Jezebel.' It's terrifying. I mean, he's looming over you, and that was really important. We wanted to give people a sense of, you know: who are these protesters? What do they look and feel like? And the majority of them are male, and some of them are young and big and burly and terrifying." 

Across the Line will be on display at the Milwaukee Film Festival's VR Gallery, which will be open through October 12.