Bigelow on VR after her first try: ‘I love it’

NEW YORK — As a filmmaker drawn to the most visceral forms of cinema, it was probably inevitable that Kathryn Bigelow’s high-adrenaline curiosities would lead her to virtual reality.

The Oscar-winning director on Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival premiered her first VR experience, “The Protectors: Walk in the Rangers’ Shoes,” an eight-minute, 360-degree plunge into the lives of the Garamba National Park rangers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bigelow directed it with Imraan Ismail, a virtual-reality veteran, and the two used the nascent, immersive medium to give a full sense of the dangers the 200 ragtag rangers face daily in guarding the Delaware-sized park, including its hundreds of perishing elephants, from the constant plundering of poachers and gunmen.

“The most important thing was to put a human face on this issue,” Bigelow said in an interview alongside Ismail in the back room of a Tribeca restaurant. “My hope was that if the eyes of the world realized and recognized the kind of sacrifice they’re making, then perhaps not only could they be better equipped but it also might raise recruitment.”

National Geographic will release the film May 1 on the VR app Within, and on YouTube and Facebook360 the following week. It’s a co-production of the VR company Here Be Dragons and the film production company Annapurna Pictures — making it a kind of fusion of both worlds.

Even in its brief eight minutes, viewers of “The Protectors” will readily recognize the same cinematic command Bigelow brought to her Academy Award winner “The Hurt Locker” and her most recent film, the Osama bin Laden hunt thriller “Zero Dark Thirty.”

“The Protectors” follows the rangers through the tall grass, on the trail of poachers and in an apparent fire-fight with attackers. In one memorable shot, a helicopter lands right on top of the viewer.

Bigelow’s virtual reality debut left her excited for its journalistic potential to inform and foster empathy.

“I love it,” Bigelow said of the medium. “I think it’s all about content, though. It’s not tech first; it’s content first.